Around 370 years ago, during the English Civil War, the philosopher Thomas Hobbes wrote an early and influential treatise on social contract theory. The war of ‘all against all’ in a nation could only be avoided, he said, by strong undivided government under an absolute sovereign who ruled through a social contract with the people.
He called his work, Leviathan, or The Matter, Forme and Power of a Commonwealth Ecclesiasticall and Civil, naming it after the biblical sea monster described in detail in the Book of Job. This might seem like a strange choice for a title but Hobbes actually understood the nature of Leviathan far better than we do today.
The name, Leviathan, is composed of Levi, meaning joined, and ‘tan’ sea monster or dragon. It’s the heavenly counterpart of an earthly institution—the Levitical priesthood. It’s no coincidence Levi is part of its name.
The Levites were the tribe that did not receive an allotment during the distribution of land after the conquest during the time of Joshua. Instead they were given towns scattered throughout the different clan territories where their presence would act as a unifying force, bringing the people together to worship the one God so that all the peoples would be joined through devotion to their king—Yahweh. It was a commonwealth for the common good.
Well, that was the theory anyway.
It was a prophetic image of the Body of Christ. Or at least, once again, the theory of the Body of Christ. In practice, we’re not so good at implementing the ideal—we simply don’t keep that direction in Peter’s epistle to ‘honour everyone’. This affords Leviathan legal rights to lash us back across the threshold, smacking us right around to where we came from.
Scripture describes Leviathan as having multiple heads and as food for the people (Psalm 74:14), as having smoking nostrils and breath that sets coal ablaze (Job 41:20–21). Generally speaking, over the ages, people who’ve had visions of this spirit describe it was having seven heads. This is consistent with the number of heads possessed by Lotan, the counterpart of Leviathan in Canaanite mythology.
These three aspects—food, smoking coals and fire from seven heads—describe the items in the inner sanctuary of the temple, the court where only the Levites could minister. It was there that the Bread of the Presence was displayed before God; it was there that the coals sent up smoky perfumed prayer from the altar of incense; it was there that the seven-headed menorah blazed forth with light.
Leviathan pictures the ‘body’ of this heavenly court because that’s its natural ground. It is a courtier of God, charged with preserving the honour and holiness of His throneroom. And just as you’d have been whipped out of the Inner Temple Court by the Levites for dishonouring its sanctity, so Leviathan does the same when you cross the threshold into your calling reeking of dishonour.
This is Grace Drops and I’m Anne Hamilton. May you enter God’s courts with praise and honour.
Thank you to Lorna Skinner of www.riversofmusic.co.uk for the background music.