Behemoth: A Tail Like a Cedar?

From Issue: R&R – December 2011

In His description of behemoth, God states emphatically that the creature “moves his tail like a cedar” (Job 40:17). Yet many commentators have insisted that behemoth is to be identified as either the elephant, or more likely, the hippopotamus (cf. the NIV footnote at Job 40:15: “Possibly the hippopotamus or the elephant”). Since both of these animals have farcically tiny tails, the comparison of behemoth’s tail with a cedar must be explained in some way.

One explanation is to claim that the term “tail” (zah-nahv) refers to a general appendage and so may refer to an elephant’s “trunk” (e.g., Harris’ note in Harris, et al., 1980, 1:246). Of course, this position logically surrenders the view that behemoth was a hippopotamus. In either case, however, no linguistic evidence supports this speculation, as Hebrew lexicographers uniformly define the word as the “tail” of an animal (Brown, et al., 1906, p. 275; Holladay, 1988, p. 90; Davidson, 1850, p. 240; Gesenius, 1847, p. 248; Hebrew-English…, n.d., p. 75). Further, a simple perusal of the use of the term elsewhere in the Old Testament confirms this definition. Occurring 11 times in the Hebrew text of the Old Testament (Wigram, 1890, p. 389), the word is used one time to refer to the tail of a snake (Exodus 4:4), 3 times in Judges 15:4 to refer to fox tails, 4 times in a figurative sense to refer to persons of lower rank in society in contrast to the “head,” i.e., persons of higher rank (Deuteronomy 28:13,44; Isaiah 9:14; 19:15; see Barnes, 1847, 1:197-198,336-337), one time in a figurative sense to indicate the contemptible, lying prophet in contrast with “the elder and honorable” (Isaiah 9:15), and once in Isaiah 7:4 to refer figuratively to King Rezin of Syria and King Pekah of Israel as the tail ends of smoking firebrands (wooden pokers—Gesenius, p. 18). The final occurrence is the reference to the tail of behemoth in Job. Obviously, like the foxes of Judges 15 and the snake of Exodus 4, the tail of behemoth refers to the animal’s literal tail.

Another explanation suggests that only a branch of the cedar is being compared to behemoth’s tail. On the face of such a suggestion, it is difficult to believe that God would call Job’s attention to the tail of the hippopotamus, as if the tail had an important message to convey to Job. In essence, God would be saying to Job: “The behemoth is such an amazing creature—it has a tail like a twig!” Since the context of Job 40 indicates God’s words were intended to impress Job with his inability to control/manage the animal kingdom, such a comparison is meaningless, if not ludicrous.

The Hebrew term rendered “cedar” (eh-rez) refers to a tree of the pine family, the cedrus conifera (Gesenius, 1847, p. 78), more specifically and usually, the cedrus libani—the cedar of Lebanon (Harris, et al., 1980, 1:70). The tree and its wood are alluded to frequently in the Old Testament (some 72 times—Wigram, 1890, p. 154). The renowned cedars of Lebanon grew to an average height of 85 feet, with a trunk circumference averaging 40 feet, and branches that extended horizontally as long as the height of the tree itself (Harris, et al., 1:70). Indeed, the branches themselves were tree-like in size. King Solomon made extensive use of the cedars of Lebanon in his construction projects. The House of the Forest of Lebanon which he built was 45 feet high (comparable to a four-story building today), with its top horizontal beams situated on rows of cedar pillars (1 Kings 7:2-3). No longer the prolific trees they once were, in antiquity they grew in abundance (cf. 1 Chronicles 22:4; Ezra 3:7; Psalm 92:12; 104:16).

“Prodigious Bulk”

Even as Ophir was renowned for the unique quality of its gold (e.g., Isaiah 13:12), the allusions in the Bible to cedars make it clear that the tree was distinguished for its mammoth size, height, and stability. Respected biblical lexicographer John Parkhurst alluded to its “prodigious bulk” (1799, p. 678). In his 1878 book Bible Lands, Henry Van-Lennep observed that the cedar was known as “the image of grandeur and glory” (p. 146). In his Bible Lands Illustrated, Henry Fish described its majesty:

[T]heir massive branches, clothed with a scaly texture almost like the skin of living animals, and contorted with all the multiform irregularities of age, may well have suggested those ideas of regal, and almost divine strength and solidity which the sacred writers ascribe to them…. How natural that Hebrew poets selected such…colossal trunks as emblems of pride, and majesty, and power (p. 685-686, emp. added).

The cedar stands out from all other trees alluded to in the Bible in terms of its size, including the olive, fig, sycamore, pomegranate, almond, acacia, terebinth, myrtle, tamarisk, and even the oak (Padfield, 2011; “Trees in the Land…,” 2011; Baker, 1974).

The cedar is often used metaphorically in the Bible to accentuate these qualities in the object of comparison. For example, consider Isaiah’s prediction of the coming Day of the Lord, which would be a day in which everything that is “high and lifted up” would be brought low—beginning with the cedars of Lebanon, but also including high mountains, high towers and fortified walls, the large and seaworthy ships of Tarshish, and most certainly, man’s pride and haughtiness (2:12-18). Similarly, God pronounced judgment on the mighty Assyrian king Sennacherib because he dared to reproach the Lord and boast: “By the multitude of my chariots I have come up to the height of the mountains, to the limits of Lebanon; I will cut down its tall cedars and its choice cypress trees; I will enter its farthest height” (Isaiah 37:24, emp. added; cf. 2 Kings 19:23).

God declared through the prophet Amos that it was He who enabled the Israelites to occupy the land of Canaan by clearing Palestine of the Amorite “whose height was like the height of the cedars” (Amos 2:9, emp. added; in the same verse, the oak tree symbolizes strength). God instructed Ezekiel to speak a parable to his fellow citizens that described how a great eagle “came to Lebanon and took from the cedar the highest branch” (Ezekiel 17:3), i.e., the highest official (King Jehoichin), but one day God would take from the highest branches of the cedar a great replacement, i.e., the Messiah (vs. 22-24). Consider God’s instructions to Ezekiel concerning the speech he was to make to the Egyptian Pharoah:

Son of man, say to Pharaoh king of Egypt and to his multitude: “Whom are you like in your greatness? Indeed Assyria was a cedar in Lebanon, with fine branches that shaded the forest, and of high stature; and its top was among the thick boughs. The waters made it grow; underground waters gave it height….Therefore its height was exalted above all the trees of the field; Its boughs were multiplied, and its branches became long because of the abundance of water, as it sent them out” (Ezekiel 31:2-5, emp. added).

When King Amaziah tried to goad King Jehoash into armed conflict, Jehoash sent a parable that portrayed Amaziah as a measly thistle in contrast to Jehoash the cedar (2 Kings 14:9). Ezekiel compared Tyre to a mighty ship whose mast was made from a cedar from Lebanon (27:5). Zechariah pronounced disaster on those who attack Israel, comparing their downfall to the falling of the “mighty” (“glorious”—ASV/ESV) cedar of Lebanon (11:2).

In all these references, size and height are inherent in the comparison between the cedar trees and their moral or spiritual counterpart. What’s more, though the cedar tree, and especially the cedar of Lebanon, was considered mammoth in its strength and size, the psalmist assures us that the Lord’s voice alone can easily break, splinter, and crush the mighty cedar (Psalm 29:5). So for God to bring to Job’s attention the tail of behemoth, comparing it to a cedar, most certainly means that God intended to dazzle Job with the sheer magnitude of even the creature’s tail (let alone the rest of him!). This creature’s brute strength and size were such that Job would not even consider attempting to subdue or control it. God’s point? The same as it was for describing leviathan: “Who then is able to stand against Me?” (Job 41:10).

How intimidated would Job have been—what weight would God’s argument have carried with Job—if God compared behemoth’s tail merely to a twig or branch? How powerful and effective would God’s argument have been in Job’s mind if God were referring merely to the tail of an elephant, hippopotamus, rhinoceros, or even a wooly mammoth? The argument would have fallen flat. An elephant or hippo’s tail would be better likened to a short, pliable whip or cord that swishes quickly from side to side—not the movement of a cedar which sways slowly due to its enormity. Even the purpose of a hippo’s tiny, stump-like tail is hardly noble: “The hippo’s flat, paddle-like tail is used to spread excrement, which marks territory borders and indicates status of an individual” (“Hippopotamus,” n.d.). No, God had to be referring to a creature, with which Job was fully familiar, that was so gargantuan and possessed such strength that even its tail was beyond human control. What other land creature on Earth possesses a tail that merits being compared to a tree? There is no such creature—except a dinosaur.


Take, for example, Apatosaurus, whose overall body length could reach 90 feet, which included a long, prodigious tail “held together with 82 bones” (Viegas, 2011). Argentinosaurus stood 70 feet high (about the size of a six story building), weighed 100 tons, and was some 120 feet in length (three long school buses placed end to end), with over a third of that length consisting of its massive tail. Diplodocus was an enormous-tailed giant, measuring some 90 feet long, with a 26 foot long neck and a 45 foot long tail (Col, 1996a). The creature’s name derives from the Greek words diploos (double) and dokos (beam), a reference to its double-beamed chevron bones located in the underside of the tail (“Diplodocus,” 2011). Scientists think the 85-foot-long Brachiosaurus used its long, thick tail to brush away most attackers (Col, 1996b). Similarly, Supersaurus measured about 138 feet, with perhaps nearly half that length consisting of its tree-like tail also used for protection (Col, 1996c). Seismosaurus measured from 130-170 feet long with a tail that contained at least one unusual wedge-shaped vertebra that gave it a kink, again, enabling it to use its movable tail for protection (Col, 1996d). [NOTE: The word translated “moves” (NKJV/ASV), “bends” (NASB), “sways” (NIV), or “makes stiff” (ESV/RSV) is from a Hebrew verb (chah-phetz) that means “to bend down” (Brown, et al., p. 343; Harris, et al., p. 311), “to bend, to curve” (Gesenius, p. 296), “to bend, incline” (Davidson, 1850, p. 270), “let hang” (Holladay, 1988, p. 112), or “stretch out” (Botterweck, 1986, 5:92).]


Picture a mere human wrapping his arms around a 40-foot circumference cedar tree that is 85 feet long, and then attempting to sway or swing it back and forth like the tail of an animal. The image is laughable! And God’s point was just that poignant and penetrating. The comparison was sufficient to evoke the desired effect in Job, who humbly exclaimed: “I know that You can do everything, and that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You…. Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know…. Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:2-6).

The imposing intimidation of modern pseudo-science, that dominates the intellectual landscape of the world, has succeeded in pressuring many to compromise the biblical text in hopes of retaining what they conceive to be academic legitimacy and sophistication. Nevertheless, abundant bona fide evidence exists to demonstrate that dinosaurs were created by God on the same day of Creation as humans (Genesis 1:24-31), that dinosaurs and humans once cohabitated (cf. Lyons and Butt, 2008), and that the incredible creature of Job 40 was, in fact, some kind of dinosaur.


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Barnes, Albert (1847), Notes on the Old Testament: Isaiah (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2005 reprint).

Botterweck, G. Johannes and Helmer Ringgren (1986), Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).

Brown, Francis, S.R. Driver, and Charles Briggs (1906), The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2004 reprint).

Col, Jeananda (1996a), “Diplodocus,” Enchanted Learning,

Col, Jeananda (1996b), “Brachiosaurus,” Enchanted Learning,

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“Diplodocus” (2011), Nature: Prehistoric Life, BBC,

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Parkhurst, John (1799), An Hebrew and English Lexicon (London: F. Davis), RA1-PA678&lpg=RA1-PA678&dq=cedrus+conifera&source=bl&ots= HfK67OCFSi&sig= n1AMTXpHWZKCyXj5qev3h3g_jpU&hl=en&ei=1YSsTdvMH4_AgQfdkO3zBQ&sa= X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum= 2&ved= 0CBsQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=cedrus%20conifera&f=false.

“Trees in the Land of the Bible” (2011), Jewish National Fund, main_subject/education/education/ trees%20in%20the%20land%20of%20the%20bible.x.

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Viegas, Jennifer (2011), “Apatosaurus: The Dinosaur Formerly Known as Brontosaurus,” Discovery Channel,

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