Leviathan, Tannin, and Rahav–Part 3
2 Samuel 7:18–29; Psalm 89:10
Samuel Lesson #176
June 25, 2019
“Father, we are so thankful for Your mercy, for Your goodness to us, for Your grace, for Your love toward us that is exemplified in our salvation; that You demonstrated that love by sending Your Son to enter into human history and to die on the Cross for our sins. And Father we’re thankful our salvation is based on something as simple as faith where there’s no merit involved on our part because all the merit is in the work of Christ on the Cross.
“Father we pray tonight that as we study some obscure passages in Scripture, difficult for many to interpret, fitting it within the framework of our understanding of Scripture and the angelic conflict, that You will help us to understand these things and will open our eyes to a greater understanding of the role that we play in the angelic conflict as witnesses, as those who testify to Your grace and demonstrate Your justice and righteousness. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”
Let’s do a little review, talk through what’s going on here as we are in the midst of a sub-series, as it were, as part of our study of the Davidic Covenant. We got to Psalm 89, which is a meditation on the Davidic Covenant, but it is a prayer that is a demonstration of the Faith-Rest Drill where the writer of the psalm is praying to God that He would fulfill His Covenant at a time when he sees the Davidic family under attack.
As I said, I think this probably relates to the time when God was splitting the kingdom—the 10 nations in the north away from the two southern kingdoms of Judah and Benjamin—and so, he is praying that God will fulfill His promise to David and continue to keep a Davidic heir upon the throne.
Slides 3 and 4
In the midst of that, as we’re studying through the Davidic Covenant, he mentions some examples of God’s power. So, let’s not lose the forest for the trees here, that this is an example of God’s omnipotence, that God has done incredible things in the past and will in the future. So, there’s nothing too great for God to do.
In Psalm 89:10, he mentions this creature Rahab—Rahav. Even though in the English, the words are spelled the same, in Hebrew they’re different. This is not the name of Rahab the prostitute in Joshua 2, this is Rahav, the sea monster related to Leviathan.
The term is actually used four times: in Job 9:13, in Job 26:12, our passage in Psalm 89:10 and in Isaiah 51:9. The noun has the idea of arrogance. So, this is “the arrogant one.” If it were translated, that would be the way to do it, but it’s translated a variety of ways in different versions, which lends to confusion. In fact, I’d be interested to find out how this is translated. I’ve asked a couple people in the congregation who are using other than English translations to let me know how these words that we’re studying are translated in those other languages.
We saw last time that God created all living things including Rahav. This is a foundational reality that God created these literal creatures, and then they are co-opted by pagans and used in their pagan mythology. But at the very beginning, God has created these creatures, and they are designed a certain way and God will use that, but they’re not inherently mythological creatures.
When we see some of the terms like Leviathan related to the tannin—sometimes the word tannin is translated as dragon—we might translate it as dinosaur—we’re going to see some interesting things there when we get to it. These are real creatures that then pick up a symbolic meaning.
The second thing we saw is that God in His omniscience designed those creatures with the form and function that they had knowing that they would be used on the one hand by pagans—be distorted and corrupted in pagan mythology—but also that He would use it in His Word to describe something that is going on in the spiritual realm. That’s a point that is missed in a lot of the articles that you read about this, and it changes ever so subtly, but ever so importantly, how we’re going to understand these things.
We have these terms that are used in the in the Hebrew, and generally, they’re classified as terms related to sea monsters. The yam is the Hebrew word for sea; sometimes it simply means the salt sea. Remember, there’s no salt sea in the new heavens and new earth, and the absence of the salt sea is often thought by those who are more conservative in their interpretation, to indicate that there is something about the salt sea in the way it is used during our life on the earth that this represents sin, corruption, and chaos, and that, in turn, was used and perverted into in a pagan mythology.
So, yam represents not an individual as much as a corporate entity, the dwelling place of those who are the source of the chaos, and that word chaos was introduced into Creation by the sin of Satan and the sin of the one third of the angels that followed Satan.
The second word is a word tannin—sometimes translated “sea creatures,” “sea monsters” or “dragon”—we have to look at those. How these terms are used, and to whom they refer, differs in context each time, and you have to take a look at it.
Then Leviathan, which we studied last time, which seems to be related more to a dragon or creature of that nature. Huge. Something that man cannot control at all in any way. Then we have Rahav who is related to Leviathan.
We’ll look at those passages in a few minutes; this is the focus of our study. And then behemoth is only mentioned in Job, and this is an extremely large creature. Sometimes it’s been identified as various creatures we see today, but it was probably some sort of creature that did not survive long beyond the Flood, or maybe it did, and there were still some remnants of behemoths in the ancient world.
I devised this little chart for us that God first creates all creatures, including yam, Leviathan, behemoth, tannin, and Rahav and they’re designed with a purpose. This is summarizing what I just said: the literal is that they are referred to in the Bible as actual, historical creatures, but also with a view to what we have in the right column, that they were used by pagan mythology to represent their pagan deities.
The Old Testament and New Testament both confirm that there are demons behind the deities, the gods and goddesses, of all the different mythological systems are all empowered, and they all represent different demonic forces. So, God in His omniscience knows both of these things are true, and so He oversees its particular use.
Then we got into looking at various terms and how they were used in the Scriptures, and we started in Job last time. We looked at the purpose of Job as the setting of a trial where Job is the evidence of God’s grace, and Satan accuses God of giving Job so much so that Job will worship Him and Job will be obedient.
So, in Job 1, the Lord gives him permission to test Job, but he can’t touch him. He can’t take away his health. So, Satan takes away his children, all of his possessions, he wipes out most of the details of life that people rely on for happiness and prosperity and joy in life, and yet, Job refuses to curse God.
So, Satan comes back and says, “Well, let me attack him personally now. Let me take care of his health.” So, there is a second attack, and this time Job’s health is attacked and he’s absolutely miserable. He has these various skin sores, and he’s scraping at his body in order to take care of the terrible pain and the itching and everything that comes along with that.
Then, we get into these various passages related to Leviathan where it should be translated, “the proud one,” such as in Job 9:13: “God will not turn back His anger; beneath Him crouch the helpers of Rahav.” The New King James translates it, “allies of the proud,” and we can translate, “the allies of the proud one,” and the proud one is Lucifer.
Now what we see as we look at these particular passages is that there is a connection between Rahav and Leviathan, and so in Isaiah 27:1, we read: “In that day the Lord with His severe sword, great and strong, will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent.” And there, the word for serpent is nahash. Leviathan is then described in the next line as the “twisted serpent.” [Isaiah 27:1] “And He will slay the reptile.” And that’s the word tannin—sometimes it’s translated as “monster,” and as we see in the NET, makes a note in the translation in the text that’s according to Ugaritic and some other translations, that this is translated in some of these texts as “dragon”.”
So, as we look at these passages, we see a connection that Rahav is the proud one—we’ll hold that. We see in Isaiah 27:1, Leviathan is identified as a serpent, a fast-moving serpent, a wiggling squiggling serpent, and then paralleled to that is, He will kill the sea monster. So, the Lord will punish Leviathan and kill the sea monster. So, the tannin are separate and distinct in this passage from Leviathan. Leviathan, I believe, represents Satan, and the tannin represent the demons. So, we’re going to see this connection develop.
Now remember in Revelation 12:9 and throughout Revelation 12 and 13, numerous references are found there referring to the dragon who is identified specifically in Revelation 12:9 as “that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth and His angels were cast out with him.” In Revelation 20:2, after the Tribulation is over and the Lord returns, “He laid hold of the dragon,—this is one of the angels that lays hold—that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan.” So, in Revelation we get this key that the terms dragon, serpent, Satan, and devil are all related to the same individual.
It’s interesting, as we look at the imagery that we have in different kinds of mythology. For example, in Mexico you have Quetzalcoatl who is a serpent deity. Anytime we see the serpent show up in mythology, we should always be thinking this is some sort of perversion, a reference to Satan. So, Quetzalcoatl is worshiped, and on the right [Slide 13], you see some artifacts from Aztec temples giving you the images they pictured as the serpent. Then on the left, in the next couple of images, I will show you pictures of modern representation of this feathered or plumed serpent.
Here’s one that I thought was quite dramatic and very colorful and has very evil eyes. We notice how they have eyes that look like this now on some cars with their headlights. If you look in your rearview mirror, you’ll see that they’re being quite graphic in the way they’re drawing headlights on some cars. In our culture anyway, we look at that as a representation of evil, but the whole depiction here is quite colorful and attractive.
I think it’s interesting now in the development of the study of dinosaurs in the evolutionary theory, they’re saying, “No they’re not reptiles that are total reptiles, but they’re transitioned in some way between reptiles and birds.” And so, here we have it pictured in mythology, plumed serpents that are not at all unlike certain types of dinosaurs.
Here’s another depiction, and I have the opinion that the nahash, the serpent that shows up in the Garden, is not some small little snake but is something more on the order of what we see depicted here—something quite large, quite grand, and quite beautiful. Here we have a depiction from some science fiction art related to Quetzalcoatl.
Now in the sovereign plan of God, under the category of pure coincidence, I got an email from Sandy from CMI, Creation Ministries International, they’re a creationist organization out of Australia, and they had an article in there entitled Leonardo’s Dragon. I don’t know if any of you have read that, but it starts off saying that this year in the month of May 2019 is the 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo da Vinci whose dates were from 1452 to 1519. At this same time, there is an exhibit in the United Kingdom’s Royal Collection Trust of twelve different exhibits of Leonardo’s drawings in twelve different locations in the UK.
There’s one drawing that is causing quite a stir. It is this drawing—you may not see it very well here, but it shows the whole picture. We have cats in several places, and we have some dogs and some other creatures there, and it’s called Cats, Lions, and a Dragon. It was drawn somewhere around 1517 or 1518, and the author of the piece—it’s a short article—says: “You may begin to guess what the fuss is about, once you hear the title. It’s a pen and ink picture vividly showing cats and lions in various lifelike poses. The note at the bottom of the drawing reads quote (this is what Leonardo wrote): ‘A flexion and extension. This animal species of which the lion is the prince because of its spinal column which is flexible.’ ”
So, it’s anatomically correct—and he points out that what is clear is that there are live animals that are in front of Leonardo that he is using as models for these anatomical studies. He writes, “Leonardo would have been able to observe ordinary cats easily,” and quote: “Lions were well enough known in Italy at the time; they were, for example, kept in a cage behind the Palazzo Della Signoria in Florence, as one of the symbols of the city. He even built a moving robot lion as a gift to entertain King Francis I of France.”
Now all the drawings of the cats and lions on here lead to the same conclusion, that is, that they were drawn from direct observation. However, the author points out, “When it comes to the dragon in the picture, the Royal Collection Trust states, ‘The dragon was added simply as a still more extreme case (as limited only by the artist’s imagination rather than by real anatomy).’ ” So, the issue here is, are these a study of actual living creatures—the lions and the cats? And then, why would Leonardo stick a mythical creature that’s just the product of his imagination in the middle?
See, this is the dragon located right here in this picture [indicating lower, center right of Slide 16], and that is a close-up look. So, you see that there are some interesting things about the tail coming out, and you see some interesting things about the anatomy of the hind legs and some other things that he’s going to relate to here.
So, they say (the Royal Collection Trust) that this is limited only by the artist’s imagination; it’s not real anatomy, and the author here then says, “Surely this is a pure assumption and a huge one at that. It appears to be based solely upon an evolutionary understanding of history which alleges that dinosaurs or dragons died out 65 million years ago, never living with mankind. It would make much more sense to be consistent and also attribute the dragon drawing to direct observation rather than the drawing of an imaginary animal amongst real ones.”
Most of you are saying, “So what.” Let me point out a couple of other things the author brings out as he’s describing this; he says, and he quotes from a dinosaur artifact researcher named Vance Nelson that, “This was a typical depiction in Europe of what used to be classified in evolutionary dinosaur terms as a prosauropod; they’re now classified in various groups within larger groups, the basal sauropodomorphs.
“Though the head was the typical stylization of the 16th century, the morphology nevertheless makes it easy to identify this within this group of dinosaurs. What’s interesting about dinosaurs that fall within this group, such as the
Lessemsauridae, is that their front and rear legs had a distinctive bend as opposed to straight up and down columnar limbs. They also had five claws just as depicted by Leonardo (see the right rear foot). Could such particularly detail be fabricated by Leonardo’s imagination? Had he seen such a fossil? Had he understood the morphology of such a fossil of a dinosaur? Not at all; these things had not been discovered at that point.”
He goes on to point out that, “Leonardo’s rendering of the dragon with a coiled tail is not uncommon throughout history, and it may have been an artistic device. However, noting that the first portion of the tail attached to the body is relatively stiff, just like other sauropod dinosaurs, there are other options. It may be that some dinosaurs had a prehensile—that’s a grasping tail— such as some lizards today, easily able to make the same shape as in his drawing.” So, it’s first stiff and then it coils back on itself, and he points out that it’s hard to conceive that all of that could just be the product of his imagination.
Here is an example of the type of dinosaur that he was talking about earlier. I just bring that to point, I’m not sure how all of this should be taken. But I do know, as I pointed out last time from this book After the Flood by Bill Cooper, that there’s a tremendous amount of evidence from the early and late Middle Ages that these dragons myths that originated during those times, and evidence that there were actually dinosaurs or dragons that threatened villages, are at the root of these hero stories.
So, that just gives us a little bit of an idea that maybe something more is going on here than just pure imagination and the imagination, I think, is all on the part of the evolutionists.
In the ancient world, what you had was also the use of the word tannin, and the note in the NET I thought was interesting as it’s described why they’re translating things the way they did in Isaiah 27:1.
In Job 26:12, it says: “He quieted the sea with His power”—God is in control of yam. Yam represents chaos, so there’s a double meaning here. God controls even chaos; God is omnipotent—“and by His understanding He shattered Rahav.” The NKJV says “storm,” but the Hebrew is Rahav.
So again, this is demonstrating the power of God. As Rahav is used and Leviathan is used in the psalms and other places, it’s always used in examples of God’s control over these forces. And in the mythology of the day, this has become normal, and the imagery has entered into the normal use of language, so this is just simply borrowed.
As I’ve given illustrations in the past, you find the same thing today and in the Protestant Reformation period where there’d be allusions to these various mythological gods and goddesses and personages: Apollo and Zeus, whatever. And none of those Christian writers believed those were literal or accurate, but they knew that it communicated as an analogy to their audience.
Here we have God’s power, demonstrated in Job 26:12, “He shattered Rahav.” When did that happen? When did He quiet the sea? Job is writing here, so this isn’t depicting something in the future; this is depicting something in the past. A couple of options might be the Flood; it could also be at the time of Creation since it says, [Job 26:13] “By His Spirit He adorned the heavens; His hand pierced the fleeing serpent.”
Now, the use of Spirit adorning the heavens is reminiscent of language in Genesis 1:1–3, and that’s what we see in a number of these passages we’re going to go to is that it’s difficult to pin down exactly when he’s talking about, because the language is often reminiscent of Creation language in Genesis 1.
But sometimes, as we’ll see in Psalm 74, it also is language related to the Exodus event. So in the other translations, for example, in Job 26:13 where we have “By His Spirit He adorned the heavens,” these are all perfect tenses in the Hebrew, which can refer to something that happened in the past.
Job 3:8 talks about “arousing Leviathan.” We looked at that last week. So, Leviathan is treated as an actual creature that man cannot control and that brings incredible damage.
Now, we begin to look at Leviathan the dragon
At the end of Job 41:34, which we looked at, he’s identified as the “king over all the children of pride.”
So, God in the midst of Job 41, is demonstrating that He is the One who is in control of Leviathan.
And He is also the One who brings the sea under control.
Slides 25 and 26
All of these things are designed to teach God being in control.
That brought us to where we stopped last time in Psalm 74:14. Let’s look at Psalm 74. Turn with me there, and let’s look at the context and see what is happening in Psalm 74.
This is a Psalm of Asaph. Now Asaph lived at the time of David, but he is writing a psalm where he is calling upon God. He too is exercising the Faith-Rest Drill, and he’s calling upon God to deliver Israel from some crisis. In this hymn, this psalm, he is going to call upon God to destroy the serpents and Leviathan.
In it he says that God has destroyed the serpents and Leviathan, and He’s divided the sea by His strength as examples of His omnipotence. So, he talks about God’s victory over His enemies in Psalm 74:3, 4 and following.
Then, when we get down to Psalm 74:13 we read, “You divided the sea (yam) by Your strength.” That’s language that is very reminiscent of Genesis 1 that God separated the waters from the land, but it is more precisely, I think, related to the Exodus event. The language, however, could be chosen in such a way to make us think of both, even though the main emphasis is on the Exodus event.
[Psalm 74:13] “You divided the sea—and it shows God’s power; there’s always a polemic there against the gods of the of the pagans—You divided the sea by your strength; You broke the heads of the sea serpents in the waters.” See, sometimes they’re sea monsters; sometimes they’re dragons—the translations muddy the water by always using different terms.
[Psalm 74:13b–14] “You broke the heads of the sea serpents (the tannin) in the waters. You broke the heads of Leviathan in pieces, And gave him as food to the people inhabiting the wilderness.” This is clearly using a battle metaphor to demonstrate God’s victory over the sea, and this is the same language that we find in Exodus 24:21.
[Exodus 14:21] “Then Moses stretched out His hand over the sea; and the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea into dry land, and the waters were divided.” It uses the same language like as you find in Genesis 1.
Then in Ezekiel 29:3, we have the same kind of reference again to the tannin. Ezekiel 29 is the first of the judgment visions against Egypt that will be fulfilled in the future. [Ezekiel 29:3] “Speak, and say, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Behold, I am against you, O Pharaoh king of Egypt—and then the Pharaoh is called a sea monster—O great monster [tannin] who lies in the midst of his rivers.” ’ ”
This word tannin is not specific. We’ll see that it’s translated just “sea creatures” in places, but here it clearly is identifying them as a specific kind, possibly a crocodile. That’s a common interpretation here because the Pharaoh was identified with the various gods in the pantheon of Egypt, and the crocodile was a picture of the Nile god. So God is referring to him in that way that, “You think you’re a god, and you think you control everything, and you think you control the river, and that the river is your own, but I have made it Myself.” So, it’s a clear polemic against the mythology of the Egyptians.
We see it again in Ezekiel 32:2, “Son of man, take up a lamentation for Pharaoh king of Egypt, and say to him: ‘You are like a young lion among the nations, And you are like a monster—again using that word tannin—in the seas, Bursting forth in your rivers, Troubling the waters with your feet, And fouling their rivers.’ ” It’s a real indictment of the Pharaoh, but there’s something else behind this that we see in the other passages where tannin is used.
It’s a reference and allusion to the demons, and I believe this is indicating that the real power behind the Pharaoh was demonic, and it was Satan, and that connects all these dots that Pharaoh is then identified with these various terms as we’ll see from tannin to Rahav because the real power behind Pharaoh was Satan and the demons.
Back to Psalm 74:14: “You broke the heads of Leviathan in pieces, And gave him as food to the people inhabiting the wilderness.” That’s a pretty graphic image there, but in Exodus 14:30, after the armies of Pharaoh are drowned in the Red Sea, we read: “So the Lord saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore.” They weren’t going to eat them, but they destroyed them; that’s the imagery there: giving them for food. That is, now they are free, and it’s a picture of God sustaining them into the wilderness by destroying their enemies.
In the NET Bible it says, “You crushed the heads of Leviathan,” so Leviathan is connected now to the armies of Pharaoh. Tannin was the other term that was used, so now we see that Leviathan, tannin, and Rahav are all applied to Pharaoh, and all of these demonic forces then become terms that are related to describing the demonic and satanic power behind the Pharaoh of Egypt.
So, the NET translates Psalm 74:14: “You crushed the heads of Leviathan; You fed them to the people who live along the coast.” The NASB95 translates it, “You crushed the heads of Leviathan; You gave him his as food for the creatures of the wilderness.” There’s quite a difference between people who live along the coast and the creatures of the wilderness. I think the NASB is much better there.
I want to make a couple of other comments on Psalm 74. Allen Ross makes some interesting observations here that, “The thrust of the psalm is to demonstrate the overwhelming power of God so that the people in their present crisis, when Asaph is writing, will gain confidence because of what God has done for Israel in the past.”
He says, “There’s some question whether the next few verses refer to creation or the Exodus from Egypt. It’s not entirely possible to separate them since some of the language of Creation is applied for the formation of Israel as well. The psalmist seems to start with Creation, but moves to the Exodus experience, and in this description, he makes use of expressions that were used in pagan mythology. They cannot simply be explained as common poetic expression for it’s too specific.”
And then he goes on to explain basically what I have said: that these pagan myths depict a primordial battle between the gods and chaos and these sea monsters. But the reality is that in eternity past when Satan fell, there was a battle between God and the fallen angels, and that is what’s being alluded to here. In the metaphor of these myths, there’s no validation of those particular myths.
When we look at Psalm 74, we see that it’s primarily about Israel and the problems that they are facing. That tells us that there may be language that alludes to Creation, but it’s primarily speaking about the event of the Exodus.
We also see that in Exodus 14:21, as we saw a minute ago, it uses that same language of dividing the sea, and then in Exodus 29:3 and Ezekiel 32:2, it also speaks of Pharaoh as a tannin. Psalm 74:14 speaks of it as Leviathan. So, you see all of these come together here and help us see how this language is used to depict the demonic forces that are behind—in this case—the king of Egypt.
When we come to Psalm 104, we find another use of Leviathan, and here I think that this is simply a reference to a literal creature. There’s no allusion here to Leviathan as a representative of satanic power, satanic forces, or anything of that nature. In Psalm 104:26, we read: “There the ships sail about; There is that Leviathan which You have made to play there.”
“The ships sail about—this is talking about on the ocean, on the sea that the ships sail about— there is that Leviathan which You have made to play there.” As if God made this literal creature Leviathan as just an example of His creative power, and He created Leviathan as His plaything, as it were.
The NET translates Leviathan as “the whale.” You lose the whole sense of what’s going on here if you translate Leviathan as “the whale” because it disconnects it from all the other uses of Leviathan in the Old Testament. The New American Standard Bible also translates it as Leviathan and then translates the last phrase, “which You have formed to sport in it,” which indicates that idea that God created—He he’s having fun with His creatures and with His Creation.
Then we come to Leviathan’s use in Isaiah 27:1, which is a very significant passage, and we’ve mentioned this already. I’ll deal with it a little more here. It starts off with the phrase, “In that day.” So often in Isaiah when we read the phrase “in that day,” it’s talking about that future time when God is going to restore Israel to the land, and it’s referring to that future time that is “the day of the Lord”; that would refer to at least the end part of the Tribulation prior to the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. At the Second Coming, in that day God is going to destroy the forces of Satan, so [Isaiah 27:1] “In that day, the Lord with His severe sword”—and we saw when I started this study that when the Lord Jesus Christ returns, He’s depicted as having the sword of the Word coming out of His mouth.
So, here we have Him coming with His severe sword—“great and strong, Will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent.” So, this is yet future. The passages in Job are talking about something that happened in the past; here, you’re talking about something in the future, [Isaiah 27:1] “… Will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan that twisted serpent.” Both times this is nahash, the same word used for the serpent in the Garden, but here it’s depicted as Leviathan, a great monster, not a common serpent as we think of today.
Then the last line: [Isaiah 27:1] “And He will slay the reptile that is in the sea.” This is the phrase tannin; it’s plural. So, the sea here is yam. This depicts not just the sea itself, but it depicts the sea as a representative of all the demonic forces and those are representative of the tannin who are in that corporate entity of the sea, the corporate entity of the fallen angels.
The NASB translates Isaiah 27:1: “In that day the Lord will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, With His fierce and great and mighty sword, Even Leviathan the twisted serpent; And He will kill— not the reptile—He will kill the dragon who lives in the sea.” That’s how this word is understood in a lot of a cognate languages.
Then we have the NET that translates in the last line as just a “sea monster.” So, which is it? Sea monster, dragon, or reptile? The best language from the Ugaritic text is that idea of a dragon.
This takes us back to looking at this word tannin where we first see it back in Job 7:12, where Job is referring to himself in a rhetorical question: “Am I a sea—a yam, that is chaos that had to be controlled, so it’s more than just the sea. God put a boundary on the sea which is the sand, but it’s a picture of the fact that God controls the chaos, so there’s a polemic there against all of the chaos brought into the universe through Satan’s fall—[Am I a sea] or a sea serpent [tannin], That you set a guard over me?”
The first time we see the word tannin mentioned it’s in Genesis 1:21: “So God created great sea creatures [tannin].” It seems to have a generic meaning, but it is also used with specificity in a number of these passages where you have Leviathan and Rahav. Pharaoh is called tannin. This is important for understanding that it has a demonic symbolism to it.
We also find it in the episode where Pharaoh’s magicians come out, and they turn their staffs into tannin, and it’s translated there as a “serpent,” these creatures. So, it’s a broad term. Some things I’ve read say this should really be translated a “dragon”; it’s not something that is necessarily a small serpent or a cobra, but something that is much greater than that. There’s something going on here, and it indicates the demonic power that they had, and Moses is able to create from his staff the same kind of creature that destroyed the others. Again, a polemic that the God of the Hebrews, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is superior to the gods of the Egyptians.
We have the use here in Job 7:12 related to the sea and the sea serpent, and the NET translates it “Am I the sea, or the creature of the deep …?” I’m just using these as examples to show how they’re translated, and I think confusion enters in because people don’t see the connections from the Hebrew.
The NIV translates tannin as a “monster of the deep.” One of the commentaries on Job writes, “Am I yam or tannin?” It just brings those words over from the Hebrew and personifies them. Another author who wrote a commentary on Isaiah translates it, “Am I Sea—not “the sea” but— am I Sea bringing in that whole idea of chaos—and I the monster Tannin, that you keep me under guard.” So, these are just some of the different ideas there.
Then we get into Job 9:13: “God will not turn back His anger; beneath Him crouches the helpers of Rahav.” Then in Job 26:12, “… He shattered Rahav.” So there’s the helpers or allies of the proud one, and then the “proud one” is shattered. All of this depicts something significant that is going on in the past related to these monsters, a time when there is a battle with God, and a time where, again and again, God has to control the power of these demonic forces.
This is stated in Psalm 74:12–15.
Now we come to Isaiah 51:9, “Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord! Awake as in the ancient days, in the generations of old. Are You not the arm that cut Rahav apart, And wounded the serpent [tannin]?” These last two lines are parallel to one another; “the arm—that represents the power of God—that cut Rahav,” is parallel to “wounded the serpent.” So here, Rahav and tannin are synonymous. They are connected to one another.
Ezekiel 29:3, we referenced this earlier, where God addresses Ezekiel: “Speak and say, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Behold, I am against you O Pharaoh king of Egypt, O great monster who lies in the midst of his rivers.” So, there’s a connection there that he is the tannin, or the “great monsters.”
And that connects it so that when we come to Psalm 89:10, and it references the defeat of Rahav in Psalm 89:10: “You have broken Rahav in pieces.” There is nothing there that necessarily connects it to Egypt, but it is a picture of the power, the one who’s defeated, whose power is behind the Pharaoh. [Psalm 89:10] “You have broken Rahav in pieces.”
If we look at Psalm 89:9, “You ruled the raging of the yam; when its waves rise, You still them.” That is a depiction of the chaos that’s brought by this corporate entity of the sea, all of the demonic forces. “You ruled the raging of the sea …” and [Psalm 89:10] “You have broken Rahav in pieces—this again refers to something that has happened in the past—You have scattered Your enemies with Your mighty arm.”
This is not just an allusion to the Exodus event, which is where a lot of people will put this, but I think it is a reflection of the original satanic rebellion against God. There’s nothing here that specifies that this is at the time of the Exodus.
When you get into the next two verses in Psalm 89:11–12, we read: “The heavens are Yours, the earth also is Yours;”—this is a direct allusion now to Creation. The context seems to favor Creation, not the time of the Exodus event, that God controls the heavens and the earth, that He created and that He controls it and keeps it protected from the forces of Satan.
[Psalm 89:11] “The world and all its fullness, You have founded them.” The emphasis throughout this whole section of this appeal to God to fulfill the promise of the Abrahamic Covenant is to go back and show God’s power in the past and how He has destroyed the forces that would attack and seek to destroy what God created, and that now God will exercise that power in favor of Israel.
[Psalm 89:11–12] “The heavens are Yours, the earth also is Yours; The world and all its fullness, You have founded them. The north and the south, You have created them; Tabor and Hermon rejoice in Your name.” These are two well-known mountains in the north of Israel; Mount Hermon is the northernmost peak in Israel. It’s right on the border with Syria. They have a nice ski slope up there if you want to go there and go skiing in the winter. It has snow up there during the winter months. That’s not something you typically associate with Israel, especially if you’ve been down in the more southern areas, but this is the northernmost border.
Tabor is located further south, just a little bit east of Nazareth; it’s got a funny shape to it. It’s the name that’s been applied to an urban assault weapon, the Tavor, that is popular among the troops of the IDF, but here it represents just Israel, the land that God has given them. [Psalm 89:12] “The north and the south You have created them; Tabor and Hermon rejoice in Your name.” It’s an allusion to the fact that God controls the history of Israel.
Then we come to Psalm 89:13: “You have a mighty arm—again, this emphasizes God’s omnipotence—strong is your hand and high is Your right hand.” These are metaphors that emphasize God’s omnipotence and power over anything that opposes Him.
When we go back and we look at Psalm 89:6–13, we see this emphasis on God’s power and control of anything that opposes us, anything that opposes His plan, that He is in control of the forces of evil. He is in control of Satan. He has defeated them in the past; He will defeat and destroy them in the future. When we look at that whole imagery that comes to play by using the metaphor, “You have broken Rahav in pieces,” it pulls all of that together.
Yet, what happens is because of the English translation, it looks like “Rahab,” and people think it’s talking about the prostitute in Joshua 2, and because they don’t understand the significance of Leviathan—and so often these things are confused in translation—they miss the whole point of what’s being said here.
It should give us tremendous confidence that no matter what we face, no matter what Satan has in mind, no matter what agenda the demons have in mind, God is more powerful, and He’s the one who protects us. So, all of these things that you see that go on today about exorcism and many other things, it’s just mysticism and paganism. Frankly, it has nothing to do with the biblical view of Satan and the demons who are held at bay.
God protects us, He keeps us from the evil one—that’s the promise in the New Testament in 1 John—and He provides for us. So, we can trust in Him to bring about His plan and His purpose. The next time we’ll start making progress as we move through Psalm 89 now that we have finished this look at the sea monsters that represent the demons, Satan, and the demonic forces, and we’ll move forward in our further understanding of the Davidic Covenant.
“Father, thank You for this opportunity to look at this study, one that few people ever engage in, trying to put together all these different passages to understand what You are communicating through the use of these common metaphors that were part of the culture, part of the language at the time the Bible was written, that communicated to the original audience but doesn’t communicate so well to us today.
“Help us to understand these things and that this will give us great confidence to trust You no matter how dark the days, no matter how difficult the times. No matter how we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we know that You are in control, and we can trust You and that Your power is greater than all the forces of evil and all the corruption of sin in this world. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”