This image is clearly theological. Both the linocut phrase ‘It gives sufficeint [sic] time for repentance’ and the artist’s title (in pencil at the bottom) ‘God wants his people’ declare a theological theme. What is not as clear is the reference to Job 40 and 41, until one remembers that isiZulu and isiXhosa Bible translations of these chapters translate Behemoth as ‘hippopotamus’ and Leviathan as ‘crocodile’.
Here Trevor Makhoba conjures a combined hippopotamus/crocodile beast, with millenarian nostrils (shaped from the number 2000) and tombstone teeth. The mouth of this great beast gapes at us. The attentive viewer is forced to take a step back, such is the power and threat of this open jaw. This image draws on the implied threat of the biblical Behemoth and Leviathan towards humans (Job 41:25, 34), and the clear incapacity of humans to control either (40:24; 41:1–8, 26–29). Indeed, this work invokes the sense in the biblical text of God’s tenuous control of these most mighty of God’s creatures: ‘He is the first of the ways of God; let his maker bring near his sword’ (Job 40:19 own translation).
In the context of a rampant HIV pandemic in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, Makhoba’s homeland, the question that haunts Makhoba’s image is: ‘Is God for or against this terrifying beast?’ The night’s sky and the stars allude, perhaps, to the beginning of Job’s lament (Job 3), where he imagines creation undone. In his anguish Job reverses the order of creation: ‘May the day be darkness’ (3:4). The stars and the white arrows in the right-hand panel portend redemption from the ‘black gloom’ (3:5). But the black arrows point to certain destruction for those drawn into the monstrous mouth. As with Leviathan, ‘Around its teeth there is terror’ (41:14). However, the words of Scripture, though not from the book of Job, offer words of hope: ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’ (2 Corinthians 12:9). ‘God wants his people’, provided they repent. Only then are we safe from Behemoth–Leviathan.
40 And the Lord said to Job:
2“Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty?
He who argues with God, let him answer it.”
3Then Job answered the Lord:
4“Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer thee?
I lay my hand on my mouth.
5I have spoken once, and I will not answer;
twice, but I will proceed no further.”
6 Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:
7“Gird up your loins like a man;
I will question you, and you declare to me.
8Will you even put me in the wrong?
Will you condemn me that you may be justified?
9Have you an arm like God,
and can you thunder with a voice like his?
10“Deck yourself with majesty and dignity;
clothe yourself with glory and splendor.
11Pour forth the overflowings of your anger,
and look on every one that is proud, and abase him.
12Look on every one that is proud, and bring him low;
and tread down the wicked where they stand.
13Hide them all in the dust together;
bind their faces in the world below.
14Then will I also acknowledge to you,
that your own right hand can give you victory.
which I made as I made you;
he eats grass like an ox.
16Behold, his strength in his loins,
and his power in the muscles of his belly.
17He makes his tail stiff like a cedar;
the sinews of his thighs are knit together.
18His bones are tubes of bronze,
his limbs like bars of iron.
19“He is the first of the works of God;
let him who made him bring near his sword!
20For the mountains yield food for him
where all the wild beasts play.
21Under the lotus plants he lies,
in the covert of the reeds and in the marsh.
22For his shade the lotus trees cover him;
the willows of the brook surround him.
23Behold, if the river is turbulent he is not frightened;
he is confident though Jordan rushes against his mouth.
24Can one take him with hooks,
or pierce his nose with a snare?
41“Can you draw out Leviʹathan with a fishhook,
or press down his tongue with a cord?
2Can you put a rope in his nose,
or pierce his jaw with a hook?
3Will he make many supplications to you?
Will he speak to you soft words?
4Will he make a covenant with you
to take him for your servant for ever?
5Will you play with him as with a bird,
or will you put him on leash for your maidens?
6Will traders bargain over him?
Will they divide him up among the merchants?
7Can you fill his skin with harpoons,
or his head with fishing spears?
8Lay hands on him;
think of the battle; you will not do it again!
9Behold, the hope of a man is disappointed;
he is laid low even at the sight of him.
10No one is so fierce that he dares to stir him up.
Who then is he that can stand before me?
11Who has given to me, that I should repay him?
Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine.
12“I will not keep silence concerning his limbs,
or his mighty strength, or his goodly frame.
13Who can strip off his outer garment?
Who can penetrate his double coat of mail?
14Who can open the doors of his face?
Round about his teeth is terror.
15His back is made of rows of shields,
shut up closely as with a seal.
16One is so near to another
that no air can come between them.
17They are joined one to another;
they clasp each other and cannot be separated.
18His sneezings flash forth light,
and his eyes are like the eyelids of the dawn.
19Out of his mouth go flaming torches;
sparks of fire leap forth.
20Out of his nostrils comes forth smoke,
as from a boiling pot and burning rushes.
21His breath kindles coals,
and a flame comes forth from his mouth.
22In his neck abides strength,
and terror dances before him.
23The folds of his flesh cleave together,
firmly cast upon him and immovable.
24His heart is hard as a stone,
hard as the nether millstone.
25When he raises himself up the mighty are afraid;
at the crashing they are beside themselves.
26Though the sword reaches him, it does not avail;
nor the spear, the dart, or the javelin.
27He counts iron as straw,
and bronze as rotten wood.
28The arrow cannot make him flee;
for him slingstones are turned to stubble.
29Clubs are counted as stubble;
he laughs at the rattle of javelins.
30His underparts are like sharp potsherds;
he spreads himself like a threshing sledge on the mire.
31He makes the deep boil like a pot;
he makes the sea like a pot of ointment.
32Behind him he leaves a shining wake;
one would think the deep to be hoary.
33Upon earth there is not his like,
a creature without fear.
34He beholds everything that is high;
he is king over all the sons of pride.”