One of the more impressive of the beasts of the field known to, and most often mentioned by the authors of the Old Testament Scriptures, is the proverbial King of Beasts, the lion. Though inhabiting the wilder regions of Biblical lands, it was frequently driven from its lair by either flood or its ravenous hunger to roam the more domesticated regions in search of prey. Besides its usual prey of deer, antelope, and the like, it was also known to attack the shepherds’ flocks upon mountainside and in the valleys, the beast of burden at pasture and upon the highways, and even men. Relentlessly and noiselessly stalking its prey until the opportune moment, with a heart-rending and fear-inspiring roar it would attack its. unsuspecting victim, and would, almost without exception bring it to the ground, only then to rend and tear the carcass, with powerful jaws and dagger like teeth, until wholly devoured. And with none like it in power and fierceness among the brute beasts to compare to, or challenge its terrible and bestial excellence, the imposing and indomitable figure of the lion has left a deep and abiding impression upon all acquainted with it; and in turn, has drawn from the authors of Holy Writ its proverbial share of mention in the Old Testament.
Although the actual appearance of the lion in the historical narratives does not occur until a much later date, Scriptural mention of the lion is made as early as some three hundred years after the flood. Already then, Job and Eliphaz his friend, generally considered as contemporaries of Abraham, refer to this noblest of beasts. Eliphaz, the first to allude to the lion, gives notice to its “roaring” and “fierce voice” as well as to the exceptionally long and sharp “teeth” (Job 4:10). Job, on the other hand, indicating the fierceness and relentlessness with which his afflictions came and prevailed upon him, accuses God of hunting him “as a fierce lion” (Job 10:16). Both of these references to the lion point to the fact that, already at this early date subsequent to the flood, the repute of the lion was well established. And from this we rather easily conclude its impressive history to have its beginning as early, at least, as the release of the animals from the ark.
The frequent allusions to lions by the sacred writers, and the familiar acquaintance with their habits evinced by them, as well as the Variety of names by which the various circumstances of the lion’s growth are distinguished, shows how common this noble beast was in former times in Palestine. In the Old Testament alone the lion is mentioned approximately one hundred and fifty times; is outnumbered only by the meek and timid lamb, which receives mention about one hundred and eighty times. Predominating in all other respects, it is spoken of in twenty-seven of the thirty-nine Old Testament books; the lamb in only sixteen. It receives mention in many and various contexts, is alluded to as it is in connection with the righteous and the wicked, heathen nations as well as God’s people, the prophets, the judges, the psalmists and is noted even in comparison with the Lord Himself. It is further referred to in connection with suffering and destruction, victory and defeat; it is seen in visions and dreams, is represented by images and as well appears in actual historical narratives. And worthy of mention in this connection is the fact that, in the New Testament, both Christ and the devil are though from different aspects, compared with the lion. But even in the Old Testament alone, the lion predominates also over the lamb, mentioned as the lamb is almost always literally, and then too, almost always in connection with the ceremonial life of Israel.
The presence of the lion in the land of Palestine is shown in the historical narratives in which the lion actually appears, most of which are well-known to all of us. Such familiar incidents include Samson’s empty-handed slaying of the lion in the vineyards of Timnath (Judges 14:5, 6); David’s combat with a lion in defense of his flock (I Sam. 17:23); the slaughter of a lion in a pit in winter by one of David’s notable companions in hiding (II Sam. 23:20); and the tribe of lions which, sent by the Lord, descended upon godless Samaria and killed some of them (II Kings 17:25), as well as the destruction of the disobedient prophet by a lion, mentioned in I Kings 13, and Daniel’s experience in the lion’s den (Dan. 6).
Not too far removed from the above literal mention of the lion are the passages that refer to the lion as represented by images upon the stairs ascending to the throne of Solomon, (I Kings 10:19, 20); its likeness as seen in the visions of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:10, 10:14), and of Daniel (Dan. 7:4). Further, in this connection, we call attention to the passages depicting the radical change that shall have come about with the renewal of the creation, and in which God Himself declares that in the new heavens and earth “The lion shall eat straw like the ox” (Is. 11:7), and “the lion and the calf and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them” (Is. 11:6). And again “no lion shall be there, nor any ravenous beast . . . . .” (Is. 35:9a), “The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock” (Is. 65:25).
These passages to which we have referred above are only some of the approximately fifty in which the lion is mentioned, loosely speaking, literally. And from these passages we learn comparatively little about the true nature of this fierce and indomitable King of Beasts. It is only when we view it in the light of the other remaining passages of the Old Testament Scriptures that we learn to know this imposing figure, that we begin to comprehend the tremendous impress the lion left upon the Old Testament saints, and also, that we begin to understand the purpose of God in giving to this creature such a prominent place in the lives of the sacred writers, not to mention His people in general. And these remaining passages are about one hundred, in number. In them the lion is made mention of by way of comparison. From them we learn much about its notable characteristics.
That the lion was known to possess a strength superior to that of any other beast of the field is clearly stated in Prov. 30:30, “A lion which is strongest among beasts . . . “; is clearly indicated in Judges 14:18 where, in answer to the riddle of Samson, the Philistines state “What is stronger than a lion?” positively implying that there is no beast stronger. Again this superiority is alluded to by David, when, unable to find a more suitable comparison with which to express his own high esteem for the prowess of Saul and Jonathan, declares “they were stronger than lions” (II Sam. 1:23).
The cunning and relentlessness with which the lion stalked its prey is depicted to us when in the Psalms we read of the wicked that “He lieth in wait secretly as a lion in his den” (Ps. 10:9), that “like as a lion that is greedy of his prey, and as a young lion (only recently come to full strength) lurking in secret places” (Ps. 17:12). Job evidently alludes to these same characteristics of the lion when, of God, he says “Thou huntest me as a fierce lion” (Job 19:16).
The fearlessness with which this brute beast was endowed is implied in such passage as Prov. 30:30where it is said that the lion “turneth not away from any”; as Isaiah 31:4, where of the lion it is noted that “when a multitude of shepherds is called against him, he will not be afraid of their voice, nor abase himself for the noise of them;” and again, as II Samuel 17:10, where reference is made to valiant men “whose heart is as the heart of a lion.”
Another of the notable characteristics in which the lion excels is the thunderous roar it utters at the moment it attacks its intended victim, supplanting strength with weakness and boldness with fear. And well-known this awful, bestial thunder must have been to the authors of the Scriptures for they compare with it the speaking of God, “The lion hath roared, who will not fear? The Lord God has spoken, who can but prophesy?” (Amos 3:8); they allude to it when remarking that “The king’s wrath is as the roaring of the lion” (Prov. 19:12), and “The fear of a king is as the roaring of the lion; whoso provoketh him to anger forfeiteth his life” (Prov. 20:2 ).
Furthermore, the incomparable fierceness with which the lion” (vs. 13), causing him to cry to the Lord, “save me claws, crushing its limbs with vise-like jaws, and bearing it down torn and bleeding—as well as the ravenous greed with which it rends and devours its victim until wholly consumed—all this was only too real to David when, in the Messianic 22nd Psalm, he depicts the wicked as gaping “upon me with their mouths” as a ravening and a roaring lion” (Ps. 22:13), causing him to cry to the Lord, “save me from the lion’s mouth,” “lest he tear my soul like a lion, rending it in pieces, while there is none to deliver” (Ps. 22:21, Ps. 7:2 respectively). And no less real and vivid is this fierceness of the lion to the, mind of the. weeping prophet Jeremiah when lamentingly he expresses that the Lord was to me as a roaring lion in secret places. He hath turned aside my ways, and pulled me in pieces” (Lamentations 3:10, 11). Equally as able as Jeremiah, and despairing of a son to follow him upon the throne of his father David, Hezekiah could say, “I reckoned till the morning that, as a lion, so will he break all my bones: from day to night wilt thou make an end of me” (Is. 38:13). Moreover, when the Lord declares to Israel “I will be to them as a lion,” and, “I will destroy them as a lion” (Hosea 13:7, 8), we cannot but conclude that Israel was well aware of the fierce and awful ways of the lion, and consequently, fully understood the terrible implications of this Word of the Lord. For, the lion, unexcelled in fierceness, will “not lie down until he eat of the prey, and drink the blood of the slain” (Num. 23:24b).
Combining these various predominant characteristics of this most awesome of beasts, we have before us a clear picture of the lion as it lived before the minds of those instrumental in setting forth the Word of God. Relentless in pursuit, fearless in attack: fierce and awful in battle, terrible in victory. Driven on by an insatiable hunger, armed with invincible strength, bold and undaunted before man or beast, it roamed both forest and field, both hill and plain. Vanquished never, but conqueror ever, this majestic beast ruled supreme, the King of Beasts.
Such is the lion in the Old Testament!
And with this portrayal of the lion in the Old Testament before us we can begin to grasp the meaning of the Word of God as it comes to us in the prophecy of Micah, “The remnant of Jacob shall be among the Gentiles, in the midst of many people as a lion among the beasts of the forest, as a young lion among the flocks of sheep who, if he go through, both treadeth down, and teareth in pieces, and none shall deliver” (Micah 5:8, 9); and as the same Word comes to us in Rev. 5:5, where it is said of the victorious Christ, “Behold, the lion of the tribe of Judah . . . .” But this is also true with respect to all the passages of Scripture in which the Word of God comes to us by way of comparison with the lion.