Can you put a rope in his nose? or pierce his jaw through with a hook?
All Commentaries on Job 41:2 Go To Job 41
Gregory The Dialogist
21. As stratagems are signified by ‘nostrils,’ so by a ‘ring’ is designated the omnipotence of Divine Power. For when it keeps us from being seized by temptations, it encircles around and holds firm in wondrous ways the snares of the ancient enemy. A ring is, therefore, put into his nostrils, when by the strength of heavenly protection drawn around us, his cunning is so restrained, as not to prevail so far against the weakness of man, as far as it secretly searches out its fatal arguments. But by the name ‘ring’ can be designated also the aid of the secret judgments, which is put into the nostrils of this Behemoth when he is restrained from his artful cruelty. Whence it is well said by the Prophet to the King of Babylon, when he is kept from injuring the Israelites; I will put a ring in thy nostrils. [Is. 37, 29] As if it were plainly said; Thou breathest hard with thoughts of guile; but from being unable to fulfil thy desires, thou bearest in thy nostrils the ring of My omnipotence, in order that when thou pantest more eagerly for the death of the righteous, thou mayest return unsatisfied from their life. But that which Holy Scripture calls in this place a ‘ring,’ it calls a ‘sickle’ by John in the Apocalypse. For he says, I looked, and behold a white cloud, and upon the cloud one sitting like the Son of Man, having on His head a golden crown, and in His hand a sharp sickle. [Rev. 14, 14] For the power of Divine judgment is called a ‘ring,’ because it binds on every side; but because in its cutting it embraces all things within it, it is marked out by the term ‘sickle.’ For whatever is cut by a sickle falls within it, in whatsoever direction it is turned. And because the power of the heavenly judgment cannot be in any way avoided, (for we are in truth within it, wherever we may endeavour to escape,) when the Judge Who is to come is represented, He is rightly said to hold a sickle. Because when He comes to meet all things in His might, He surrounds them in cutting them off. The Prophet saw that he was within the sickle of judgment, when he said, If I ascend into heaven. Thou art there: if I descend into hell, Thou art present. If I take my wings before the light, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there also shall Thy hand lead me, and Thy right hand shall hold me. [Ps. 139, 8. 9.] He saw himself to be within a kind of sickle, when he knew that there was no way of escape open to him from any place, saying, For neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the desert mountains, [Ps. 75, 6] thou understandest, ‘a way of escape is open.’ And he proceeded immediately to speak of this all-embracing comprehension of the Divine power, saying, For God is the Judge. [ib. 7] As if he were saying, A way of escape is wanting on every side, because He judges Who is every where. Therefore as the Divine judgments are signified by a sickle, because they encircle and cut down, so are they expressed by a ring, because they bind on every side. A ring is, therefore, put by the Lord in the nostrils of Leviathan, because he is restrained by the power of His judgment from prevailing as much as he wishes in his stratagems. Let it be said then, Wilt thou put a ring into his nostrils? Thou understandest, As I, Who restrain by Almighty judgment his crafty stratagems, so that he neither attempts as much as he wishes, nor succeeds as far as he attempts. It follows,
Or wilt thou bore through his jaw with a bracelet?
22. A ‘bracelet’ differs not in meaning from a ‘ring,’ because this also binds and encircles the spot where it is placed. But because a bracelet extends wider, by a bracelet is designated the more careful protection of His secret judgment over us. The Lord, therefore, bores through the jaw of this Leviathan with a bracelet, because by the ineffable power of His mercy He so thwarts the malice of the ancient enemy, that he sometimes loses even those whom he has seized, and they, as it were, fall from his mouth, who after the commission of sin return to innocence. For who that had once been seized by his mouth would escape his jaw, if it were not bored through? Had he not seized Peter in his mouth, when he denied? Had he not seized David in his mouth, when he plunged himself into such a gulph of lust? But when they returned each of them through penitence to life, this Leviathan let them escape, as it were, through the holes of his jaws. Those, therefore, are withdrawn from his mouth through the hole of his jaw, who after the perpetration of such great wickednesses have come back with penitence. But what man can escape the mouth of this Leviathan, so as not commit any thing unlawful? But hence we know how much we are indebted to the Redeemer of mankind, Who not only restrained us from falling into the mouth of Leviathan, but granted us also to return from his mouth; Who bereft not the sinner of hope, because He pierced his jaw that He might make a way to escape, so that he, who at first was incautious and not afraid of being bitten, might at least escape after the bite. The heavenly remedy, therefore, every where comes to our aid, because He both gave man precepts, that he should not sin, and yet furnished him with remedies when in sin, that he should not despair. There must, therefore, be exercised the greatest caution; that no one through pleasure in sin be seized by the mouth of this Leviathan. And yet, if he has been seized, let him not despair, because if he thoroughly bewails his sin, he finds a hole in his jaw, by which to escape. He is even now being crushed with his teeth; but if a way of escape is still sought for, a hole is found in his jaw. He who would not keep a look out, so as not to be taken, has, even when taken, a place to escape at. Let every one then who is not yet taken, avoid his jaw; but let every one who has been already taken, seek for a hole in his jaw. For our Creator is merciful and just.
23. But let no one say, Because He is merciful, I sin venially. And let no one who has sinned say, Because He is just, I despair of the remission of my sin. For God looses the sin which is bewailed; but let every one be afraid of sinning, because he knows not whether he can worthily bewail it. Before sinning then, let him fear His justice; but after sinning, let him presume on His mercy; and let him not so fear His justice, as not to be strengthened by any consolation of hope, nor be so confident of His mercy, as to neglect to apply to his wounds the medicine of worthy penitence. But let him always think also, that He Who he ventures to hope spares him in mercy, judges also with severity. Let the hope of the sinner then rejoice in His mercy, but let the correction of the penitent tremble under His severity. Let the hope, therefore, of our confidence have also a sting of fear, in order that the justice of the Judge may frighten into the correction of his sins him whom the grace of the Forgiver invites to the confidence of pardon. For hence it is said by a certain wise man; Say not, the mercies of the Lord are many, He will not be mindful of my sins. [Ecclus. 5, 6] For he immediately speaks of His mercy and justice, saying, For mercy and wrath are from Him. [ib. 7] The Divine clemency, therefore, by piercing the jaw of this Behemoth, comes to the aid of mankind on every side, both mercifully and powerfully, because it did not abstain from giving them caution and admonition when free, nor took from them the remedy of escape when they had been captured. For the sins of such persons, that is, of David and Peter, are recorded in Scripture for this end, that the fall of their betters may be a caution to inferiors. But the penitence and the pardon of both are alike inserted to this end, that the recovery of the lost may be the hope of the perishing. Let no one boast then of standing firm himself, when David falls. Let no one also despair of his own fall, when David rises. Behold how marvellously Holy Scripture humbles the proud with the same word with which it raises up the humble. For it recorded but one circumstance, and recalled, by a different effect, the proud to the fearfulness of humility, and the humble to the confidence of hope. O the surpassing value of this new kind of remedy! which applied in one and the same manner, dries up the swollen by pressing on it, and restores the withered by upraising it. For it alarmed us at the fall of our superiors, but strengthened us by their restoration.
24. For thus, in truth, thus does the mercy of the Divine dispensation ever check us when proud, and support us from sinking into despair. Whence He also warns us by Moses, saying, Thou shalt not take either the upper or the nether millstone to pledge. [Deut. 24, 6] For by ‘take’ we sometimes mean ‘take away.’ Whence also those birds which are eager in seizing other birds are called hawks [accipitres, ab accipio]. Whence the Apostle Paul says, For ye suffer, if a man devour you, if a man take. [2 Cor. 11, 20] As if he said, If any one takes away. But the pledge of the debtor is the confession of a sinner. For a pledge is taken from a debtor, when a confession of sin is obtained from a sinner. But the upper and nether millstone are hope and fear. For hope raises up the heart, but fear weighs it down lower. But the upper and the nether millstone are so necessarily joined together, that one is possessed in vain without the other. Hope and fear, therefore, ought to be unceasingly united in the breast of a sinner, because he hopes in vain for mercy, if he does not also fear justice; he in vain fears justice, if he does not also rely on mercy. The upper or the nether millstone is, therefore, ordered not to be taken as a pledge; because he who preaches to a sinner, ought to order his preaching with such management, as not in leaving hope to remove fear, nor yet in withdrawing hope, to leave him in fear only. For the upper or the nether millstone is removed, if by the tongue of the preacher, either fear is severed from hope, or hope from fear, in the breast of the sinner.
25. But since on having brought forward David, as the case demanded, we have made mention of so great a sin, the mind of our reader is perhaps moved to enquire, why Almighty God does not keep uninjured by bodily sins, those whom He has elected for ever, and has also taken up to the height of spiritual gifts. To which, because we believe they will be speedily satisfied, we give a brief reply. For some through the gifts of virtues they have received, through the grace of good works bestowed on them, fall into the sin of pride, but yet know not whither they have fallen. Accordingly, the ancient enemy, because he already rules over them within, is permitted also to rage against them from without, in order that they who are elated in thought, may be brought down by the lust of the flesh. But we know that it is sometimes much less to fall into corruption of body, than to sin in our silent thought from deliberate pride. But when pride is believed to be less disgraceful, it is less avoided. But men are more ashamed of lust, the more they all alike know it to be disgraceful. It is hence frequently the case that some persons on falling into lust after pride, are, from their open fall, ashamed of the guilt of their latent sin. And they then also correct their greater faults, when they are more sorely confounded from having been overcome in those that are less. For they who believed that they were free when living in greater sins, behold that they are guilty even amid smaller ones. This Behemoth then, when let loose by the merciful dispensation of God, leads on from sin to sin, and while he strikes the more heavily, loses thereby him whom he has seized, and is conquered by the very means by which he seems to have triumphed. It is pleasing to consider within the well guarded bosom of grace, with what great favour of compassion God surrounds us. Behold! he who prides himself on his virtue, through sin comes back to humility. But he who is puffed up by the virtues he has received, is wounded not with a sword, but, so to say, with a remedy. For what is virtue but a remedy, and what is vice but a wound? Because, therefore, we make a wound of our remedy, He makes a remedy of our wound; in order that we who are wounded by our virtue, may be healed by our sin. For we pervert the gifts of virtues to the practice of vice; He applies the allurements of vices to promote virtues [‘in artem virtutem’], and wounds our healthy state in order to preserve it, and that we who fly from humility when we run, may cling to it at least when falling. But it should be understood in these matters, that the more the greater number of men fall in many things, the more firmly are they bound; and that when this Behemoth smites them with one sin to make them fall, he binds them also with another to keep them from rising. Let a man, therefore, consider with what an enemy he is waging war; and if he perceives that he has already offended in any matter, let him at least be afraid of being drawn from sin to sin, in order that the wounds may be carefully avoided, with which he frequently destroys. For it is very seldom that our enemy subserves the salvation of the Elect by actual wounds.
26. But the perforated jaw of this Behemoth can be understood in another sense also; so that he may be said to hold in his mouth not those whom he has already completely entangled in sin, but those whom he is still tempting by the persuasions of sin: so as that his chewing any one may be his tempting him with the pleasure of sin. He had received Paul to be chewed, but not swallowed, when he was harassing him, after so many sublime revelations, with thorns of the flesh. [2 Cor. 12, 7] For when he received permission to practise temptation against him, he then held him in his jaw, which yet had been pierced through. But he who could perish through pride, was tempted, that he might not perish. That temptation was, therefore, not an abyss of vices, but a protection of his merits; because this Leviathan by wearying him crushed him with affliction, but did not devour by involving him in sin. But he would not lose men who were elated by their sanctity, unless he tempted them. For they would not be holy, if they boasted of the glory of their sanctity, and would fall the more under his power, the more they extolled themselves for their virtues. But by the wonderful course of the dispensation, when they are tempted, they are humbled; when they are humbled, they cease at once to be his. The jaw of this Behemoth is, therefore, well said to have been pierced through, because he loses the Elect of God by crushing them, by attempting to destroy, he keeps them from perishing. The ancient enemy, therefore, subserving the secret dispensations of God, willingly tempts the souls of the holy to their ruin, but, by tempting, unwillingly preserves them for the kingdom. His jaw is, therefore, pierced through, because those whom he crushes by tempting, that is, by chewing them, he loses as it were, when he goes to swallow. But since it is the work not of human, but divine, forethought, that the very craft of the ancient enemy promotes [‘suffragetur’] the benefit of the just, (so that when he tempts the Elect he protects them the more by his temptation,) it is well said to blessed Job; Or wilt thou bore through his jaw with a bracelet? Thou understandest, As I; Who providently disposing all things, preserve My Elect more firmly in their integrity, by permitting them to be moved [‘labefactari’] in a measure from their integrity by the jaw of this Leviathan.