Fire-Breathing Dragons — Fact or Fable?

Folklore includes magnificent creatures such as fire-breathing dragons, and these particular monsters have crept into imaginary stories of all types, written for enjoyment, and a brief escape from our everyday lives. But the question remains to the curious mind, was this type of creature created exclusively in the minds of ancient story tellers and passed down through the centuries, or was there actually, at some point in time, a real, live, fire-breathing monster from which the fictional description evolved? Interestingly enough, the Bible has the answer. In Psalm 104, which is attributed to David, in describing the marine life that the sea contains, includes a creature called leviathan, who plays in the sea. There go the ships: there is that leviathan, whom thou hast made to play therein. (Psalm 104:26). This verse gives the idea of a playful, marine animal. But a fuller description of this sea creature is found in the Book of Job. God, in talking with Job, describes for him (and for us today) the creature He called “leviathan” — the original, fire-breathing dragon of the deep.

The theme of the Book of Job is why do the righteous suffer? A quick summary of its content is Satan challenging God to a sort of cosmic bet. Job was both a righteous and a rich man, and Satan was sure that Job worshiped God because God was good to him. Satan figured that if God would not be good to Job, then Job would curse God. God allowed Satan to strip away from Job his wealth, his children, and his health, all in a very short period of time. The majority of the Book of Job consists of Job complaining about his plight to his three friends who came to comfort him. They, in turn, accused Job of secretly being evil, and thus, his misfortunes were punishment from God. In the last five chapters of Job, the LORD (Jehovah) God speaks directly to him. In chapter 41, Jehovah described in great detail one of His terrible creatures, a sea monster called leviathan. The entire chapter is devoted to the description of leviathan, but in particular, verses 18 through 21 show the fiery attributes of this terrible creature. “By his neesings a light doth shine, and his eyes are like the eyelids of the morning. Out of his mouth go burning lamps, and sparks of fire leap out. Out of his nostrils goeth smoke, as out of a seething pot or caldron. His breath kindleth coals, and a flame goeth out of his mouth.” (Job 41:18-21).

His mouth and nose, the openings of the respiratory system, produced intense heat, making him what we would describe as a “fire-breathing dragon.” “Neesings” are the microscopic water droplets expelled from the nose after a sneeze. When leviathan sneezed, he lit up the area around him, perhaps like a fire that lights up the night. Jehovah said that heavy smoke, similar to what would be expected from a large, boiling container, also came out of his nose. Leviathan’s mouth also produced flames, and “sparks of fire.” His breath was so intense that it could set coal on fire. Leviathan’s eyes may not have produced heat, but they were extremely bright, maybe producing light, instead of merely reflecting it.

You may think that this description is simply figurative language because it is logical that a creature who produced fire would be in danger of igniting itself. I don’t pretend to understand the biology, but I accept this detailed account of leviathan as literal truth. Fortunately (or unfortunately, perhaps) leviathan and all of his offspring are extinct. As powerful and as terrible as these creatures were, God allowed them to perish, He even told us He Himself broke the heads of leviathan and allowed people, not the fire-breathing creature this time, to have a barbeque! “Thou brakest the heads of leviathan in pieces, and gavest him to be meat to the people inhabiting the wilderness.” (Psalm 74:14). God created this creature, and He could dispatch it at will.

But back to Job.

God restored double to Job what he had prior to his trial. God’s dialogue to his suffering servant, which included this wonderful description of the sea monster, leviathan, was not only an object lesson to Job, but also a glimpse into the animal life of the ancient past, which lives today only in the safe realm of fiction. No matter in what story you encounter a fire-breathing dragon, the fictional beast gives a subconscious tribute to not only the original, but also to his Creator — God.

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