The lion is the strongest among beasts (Prov. 30:30). With his sharp claws he can rend a man in pieces (Ps. 7:2). With his powerful jaw he can crush bones and devour a man before he hits the floor (Dan. 6:24). His roar is like the battle cry of nations or the crashing of the seas (Is. 5:29).
In the Scriptures, the strength of the lion is a powerful warning for the fierceness of our foes. The devil is not just any adversary, but a roaring lion who seeks victims to devour (I Pet. 5:8). The wicked man is a lion greedy of his prey, lurking in secret places to catch the poor in his net (Ps. 10:9; 17:12). The false prophet is a ravening lion who devours souls (Ezek. 22:25). Antichrist, too, shall be a terrible beast with the mouth of a lion (Rev. 13:2). Our Lord knew all about this fearsome strength as He hung on the cross, His enemies gaping upon Him with their mouths “as a ravening and a roaring lion” (Ps. 22:13).
The great strength of the lion says a lot, then, about the power of the one who slays him. It was testament to the bravery of one of David’s mighty men that he slew two lion-like men of Moab, and then for good measure “went down also and slew a lion in the midst of a pit in time of snow” (II Sam. 23:20). Samson showed his strength when he rent a lion in pieces with his bare hands as easily as the lion himself might have rent a baby goat (Judg. 14:6). David, too, showed his kingly prowess already as a shepherd boy when he took a lion by the mane to kill him, with the promise to do the same to that heathen menace named Goliath (I Sam. 17:35). All these, of course, were victories won in the power of God, as Daniel, who by faith “stopped the mouths of lions” (Heb. 11:33).
A corollary to the lion’s strength is his boldness. Because the lion is strongest among beasts, “he turneth not away for any” (Prov. 30:30). His upright head, his flowing mane, his proud face, and his graceful strut declare a confidence that is up for any challenge. This is the confidence the Word of God ascribes to the righteous. Do you see a Jesus in the gospel who backs down at the first whisper of opposition from the Pharisees? Do you see a Lord who whimpers in the garden of Gethsemane with a plea for His life? Do you see a Man who flees at all, even when the whole world pursues Him? Oh, the wicked man who knows his guilt will run when not a single man pursues. But Jesus Christ the Righteous is “bold as a lion” for the perfect will of God He came to do (Prov. 28:1). Despite all who clamor against Him, He shall fight for mount Zion fearlessly “like as a lion and the young lion roaring on his prey” (Is. 31:4).
Yet there is one more attribute of the lion that makes him such a striking figure—his nobility. He is counted among the four things that go well upon the earth and are comely in their going, which include the lion, the greyhound, the goat, and the king (Prov. 30:29-31). Solomon seems to have been particularly enamored of the kingly qualities of the lion, which is why he flanked his own throne on either side with twelve of them carved out of gold (II Chron. 9:18, 19). Imagine seeking an audience with the king surrounded by his golden lions! Take heed that you watch your step when you are in his presence, though, for “the king’s wrath is as the roaring of a lion” (Prov. 19:12), and “whoso provoketh him to anger sinneth against his own soul” (Prov. 20:2).
But, oh, how that kingly wrath is so often misguided! Oh, how the bold king, mustering all his strength like a lion, will sometimes plunge himself and his people into ruin! Solomon knew this, too, from bitter experience. Was Solomon a great king with many resources? Was he determined to pass on his throne to his son with lion- like tenacity? But that would not prevent his kingdom from being rent in pieces after his death, only to be usurped in large part by the living Jeroboam. Even Solomon in all his glory had to conclude, “a living dog is better than a dead lion” (Eccl. 9:4).
Is there any king, then, who is able to keep the kingdom intact? Is there anyone found who is worthy to assume the mane and the mantle of the lion? John the Apostle sought an answer to this question with tears in his eyes: “Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof? And no man in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the book, neither to look thereon” (Rev. 5:2, 3). Who is strong enough? Who is bold enough? Who possesses the nobility of person to be worthy even to look on this book, containing all the counsels of the highest God? John, cease your weeping, and behold! “The Lion of the tribe of Juda, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof” (Rev. 5:5; cf. Gen. 49:9).
Here we find the figure of the lion at his most glorious, that is, precisely in the way the gospel flips him on his head. For John looks, and what does he see? A proud face with a golden mane? Claws and fangs? No, he sees “a Lamb as it had been slain” (Rev. 5:6). Ah, there is your Lion who is worthy to take the book! The One who embodies the character of the Lamb! And not just any Lamb, but the Lamb who allowed Himself to be led to the slaughter by wicked hands for the sake of your redemption. Meekness, then, must be the final and definitive attribute of the Lion. Meekness that sets apart the true Lion, Jesus Christ, from all the ugly caricatures who prowl about seeking whom they may devour.
And it is thus that we will even find lions in the final paradise. Lions whose powerful jaws are no longer used to crush bones but instead to chew straw like an ox (Is. 65:25). Lions who are no less strong and mighty than the lions of today, but who nevertheless allow themselves to be gently led about on a halter by a little child (Is. 11:6). Lions who never lack or suffer hunger as they might today (Ps. 34:10). Lions, who for all their might and boldness, seek their meat from the hand of the God who feeds them (Ps. 104:21).