In a few places in the Bibles, the term beast is used in its modern descriptive sense of la menacing or mindless animal whose behavior is somewhat unpredictable. Jacob compared his son Issachar to a donkey or beast of burden (Gen 49:14), creating a picture of capacity and stubbornness as strong traits in his ninth born. Many biblical monsters seem to be mythical, or at least are symbolic of threats of God’s order and authority in the world. But unlike the monstrous beasts of surrounding cultures and religions, God retains power over all the beasts and chaos in the world, and will ultimately defeat them.
Beast (or animal in GOD’S WORD) takes on a particular prophetic role in Daniel 7 where four nightmarish creatures appear, each made up of combined features from familiar animals and representing future kingdoms that will rise to control the world. This vision of Daniel parallels the prophetic sequence in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the gigantic statue in Daniel 2; but whereas the earlier vision pictures the political rise and fall of the nations, this vision of beasts centers on the moral decay that dooms each of these kingdoms.
BEHEMOTH AND LEVIATHAN
In God’s extended monologue with Job (Job 40:15-24) a creature called Behemoth is describe at length. The term is the transliterated Hebrew word for “beast,” sometimes also translated “dragon.” Although this animal is not clearly identified, its somewhat nonaggression nature and herbivore diet appear to be that of a hippopotamus. God uses this animal as a reminder to Job that God created such impressive creatures that humans cannot tame, much less invent. Behemoth symbolizes God’s unique creative power that we reflect as creatures made in God’s image but that we cannot duplicate.
Job then describes a sea creature called Leviathan (41:1-34). This twisting serpent of the water is a literal creature, but seems to be described hyperbolical rather than scientifically. Despite the terror this creature elicits, Psalm 104:25-26 uses Leviathan as an example of God’s creative power: “The sea is so big and wide with countless creatures, living things both large and small. Ships sail on it, and Leviathan, which you made, plays in it. ” Like Behemoth, this giant beast is a symbol for God’s creativity and his power over creation.
THE BEAST OF REVELATION
The book of Revelation uses the term beast more than the rest of Scripture. More than forty times John refers to certain participants in the final rebellion against God as beasts, or “the beast.” In biblical language, the primary beast of Revelation is also known as the Antichrist (see 1 John 2:18-19). Two beasts figure prominently in Revelation. One is introduced in 13:1 as a beast from the sea, displaying many of the characteristics of Daniel’s four beasts. In an obscene mockery of the great idea that we are made in the image of God (Gen 1:27), the first beast appears to be made in the image of the dragon/serpent Satan, from whom he gets his power and authority. This is beast (the Antichrist) also becomes the object of worship by much of humanity (Rev 13:3-4). He is a symbol of all that is opposed to God. The second beast arises from the earth and functions as the enforcer for the first beast (see Rev 13:11-14). Both beast appear to symbolize humans who operate under the control of Satan. Like the beasts of Daniel, they are heads of systems of power, but they function under the evil authority of Satan who can only exercise as much power as God allows.
The first beast represents the fact that governing leadership and authority can be twisted into the service of evil: “The serpent gave its power, kingdom, and far-reaching authority to the beast” (Rev 13:2). When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, this was the final offer made by the tempter: “Once more the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms in the world and their glory. The devil said to him, ‘I will give you all this if you will bow down and worship me’ ” (Matt 4:8-9). What Jesus rejected Satan eventually finds someone to accept. The dragon/serpent/Satan of Revelation 12 and the two beasts form an obvious and offensive trinity in their determined efforts to resists and overthrow God. Their fate is sealed and made apparent in Revelation 19:19-20 when the Word of God, Jesus, arrives with the armies of heaven and defeats Satan and his armies.