So there’s this juxtaposition with the beautiful, scary, graceful and powerful animal our God has created: the lion. Reading the Chronicles of Narnia series with my son has reinvigorated the majesty of the lion and emphasis that God is the “lion of Judah” (Rev. 5:5). Yet, as I’ve led worship for years, one of the favorite kids songs I do is “Lions” by Lost & Found. It is a direct quote from 1 Peter 2:5, “the devil prowls like a lion seeking whom he may devour.” How can Aslan, the Christ-figure in Narnia, be a lion while the devil is a lion also? It intrigues me, but I think with careful thought there’s some clear answers.
When you search lion in the Bible, you turn up 126 references (note: one of my favorite resources for this kind of stuff is the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery). Upon further research of these mentions of lion, you really get the same imagery we conjure when we think of lions: predator and raider of livestock (1 Sam 17; Amos 3:12); no way to prepare for its often secret attack (Psalm 10:9); and, eager to tear, lurking in ambush (Ps. 7:3; 17:12; 22:13, 21). All these references are not so kind to the “good guys” in Scripture, providing fear and eminent demise. However, Israel is also depicted as a lion in Numbers 23:24 through Balaam’s prophecy, “Behold, a people! As a lioness it rises up and as a lion it lifts itself; it does not lie down until it has devoured the prey and drunk the blood of the slain.” Then, of course, after Israel becomes that lion and blows it, God is referenced as a lion in Hosea 13:10. Because of Israel’s adultery to other gods He vows to devour them like a lion and rip them open like a beast. Confused yet? Yeah, seriously. Pick a metaphor and stick with it consistently, right!
The good ol’ local NBA team Sacramento kings have a mascot named Slamson. It’s a play on Slam Dunking and a biblical reference ironically. Samson, arguably the strongest dude to ever live, tears a lion to shreds with his bare hands (the Spirit of the Lord having been upon him). A few days later, Judges 14 reads, he decides to scrape some honey from carcass of the beast, licking it as he travels like a lollipop. Upon his return to mommy and daddy, he gives them some, not telling them it came from a lion. Point there: Samson is more beast than a lion.
But I like the Kings use of Samson with their mascot. Not only did they use a Biblical name and image, they echo the royal tone of a lion. Much like our culture symbolizes lions as royal, so lions were used as royalty in Scripture. In fact, most of the references in Scripture applied to nations speak to the most powerful nations as lions. It makes sense then that Satan is a lion because he does rule here on earth. We have hope in Jesus, but we must maintain the realization (without complaining, people!) that Satan has a grip until Jesus comes back. We see the beginning of that reign of Christ through the most unique ways. It’s an amazing story: check it out.
Before Balaam’s risky prophecy, the patriarch Jacob says in his goodbye speech (blessing), “Judah is a lion’s cub; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He stooped down: he crouched as a lion and as a lioness; who dares to rouse him?” (Gen. 49:9, ESV).
Jacob knows Judah is where his line, the line of God’s choosing, would reign ultimately. Judah was the fourth-born son of Leah, the ugly (Gen. 29:17) and hated wife (29:21) of Jacob. He was the kid who had the idea to sell daddy’s favorite son Joseph so that they wouldn’t just get rid of him, but make a profit from the prophet. He was the one who left his brothers to find a wife from another country, marry her and have two evil kids. The first died and the other refused to make babies with the first’s wife so he died too (now there’s a crazy and graphic story!) You gotta read it in Gen. 28, it gets even weirder. After his sons were all gone, he is tricked into having sex with his daughter-in-law who was dressed like a prostitute (of course, we know you can’t be “tricked” into having sex, but he had no idea it was her). Then that one act births twins (as if this reality isn’t crazy enough). During labor, the baby who was in back of the other sticks his hand out before the first and the sneaky one, Perez, becomes the patriarch for all the line of Judah (there’s a miracle in and of itself with the baby’s hand popping out first – having twins, I know). Seriously!?!?!?!
Oh, and that line of Judah, yeah, it’s the line that Jesus comes from. It’s plain as day in Matthew 1:2. Jacob, Judah, Perez … Jesus the Christ. And so why do I say all this? Because Jesus is the LION of Judah. This line of one of the most dysfunctional, bizarre families in all of human history is where the one who saves the entire human race comes.
Jesus as a lion provides so much hope. He’s bold, he’s to be respected and feared. He snuck up on the Pharisees and religious leaders with questions, miracles and statements that bite. He’s all powerful, yet restrains his power for when and how it is necessary. He’s absolutely beautiful and majestic as we look back at his character and how he acted on earth. And yet, like Aslan, he knows the only way for Him save all is to die. And ironically, he dies at the hand of those he was trying to protect. He called us sheep and Him dying to us was like sheep killing a lion. He could simply kill with an opening and closing of the mouth to us. Anyone would ask how a lamb could kill a lion? It’s impossible. Unless the lion lets it. We dumb sheep did it. We killed the powerful lion sent to save us. But that sacrifice proved how bold, powerful, majestic and graceful Jesus the Lion is. He is Royal. He is to be Feared. He has conquered through that unbelievable sacrifice (Revelation 5:5). And He is coming again where He will reign forevermore.
I love lions. And they make complete sense to me in how they are a biblical figure.
Thank you, Lord, for being the ultimate lion who has conquered Satan and will reign forever. We don’t deserve You, yet You chose to love us despite what we’ve done to You. Thank You that there’s nothing we can DO to “make up for it,” or “earn” what you want to give us. But know, oh Mighty One, that our response to the realization of all You’ve done, and more importantly, Who You Are, is our worship, sacrifice and life lived to honor You. May You be glorified as the majestic lion You Are. In that name of the Lion of Judah, Jesus the Christ. AMEN.