The lion is one of the commonly referenced animals in the Bible. For the most part, we think of it as the king of the jungle and therefore relate it easily to the king of kings. Indeed, one of the names of Jesus is the lion of the tribe of Judah. But there are other meanings of the Lion in the Bible. For instance, there is a symbolism of the Lion of God.
What does the Lion of God mean?
The term lion of God is derived from the name of one of the judges of Isreal who was known as Othniel. The name Othniel literally means “Lion of God.” The lion of God can therefore represent God’s servant who executes God’s judgement on God’s enemies.
The book of Judges documents an interesting time in Israel when the Israelites were oscillating between worshipping the true God and idolatry. God would raise a judge who would rally the nation back to Him and after his demise, the nation would sink back into sin. The scripture below summarises the state of affairs in Israel during that time;
In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes. Judges 17:6
It was against this backdrop that God raised Othniel as the first judge to rule Israel in the Book of Judges. In Judges 3:9, Othniel is introduced as the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s brother. Othniel had taken up the challenge of conquering the city of Debir and driving out the Canaanites. God had commanded Israel to dispossess the Canaanites but when they reached the land, they failed to do as God commanded. As a consequence, the Canaanites would often attack and impoverish Israel. After Otheniel conquered the city, he was rewarded by Achsah, Caleb’s daughter whom he was given as wife. As the book of Chronicles records, Othniel then had two sons namely Meonothai, and Hathath. (1 Chronicles 4:13).
Symbolism of transition
Othniel, the Lion of God, symbolized transition. This is because Othniel represents a new dispensation of leadership since he was taking over from Joshua and God was introducing the season of the 12 judges of Israel that were recorded in the book of Judges. By being placed between Joshua and Ehud, Othniel goes down in history as one of the most significant leaders of Israel. Othniel was related to Caleb who was part of the team that left Egypt and so he was the perfect person to lead Israel into the new dispensation now that they were in the promised land.
The story of Othniel serves to show how God orchestrates events to ensure his purpose prevails. Job summarised it by saying,
“I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted. Job 42:2
There are times when it may feel like God has abandoned his people but in reality, God has promised never to leave us nor forsake us. When Joshua had left the scene, there was no teaching priest in Israel and everyone did as they pleased. It seemed like God had kept quiet and was not coming to their rescue. But behind the scenes, God was preparing Othniel to start a new dispensation of leaders that would deliver them from their oppressors. It is therefore fitting that his name means the lion of God.
Restoration of peace
It had been a long while before Israel had enjoyed true and lasting peace. But after God raised Othniel, the Bible records that peace was restored in Israel from the time he took the reigns of leadership until his death.
So the land had rest forty years. Then Othniel the son of Kenaz died. Judges 3:11
Othniel was arguably one of the longest-serving leaders in Israel and it is believed he ruled from 1350—1310 BC. The establishment of peace under him can be seen as a symbol of the coming Messiah. Because Othniel was from the tribe of Judah, it is interesting to note that he was a precursor of the lion of the tribe of Judah that was to come. Just like Othniel fought and overpowered the enemies of Israel, the Lion of Judah would also conquer the enemy and thereby establish a peaceful kingdom.
As Isiah was later to observe, the messiah would come as a prince of peace (Isaiah 9:6). Ironically, Othniel restored peace through war. This is an interesting parallel to what the messiah was coming to do. Even though he was coming as a prince of peace, he also came as a warrior. A study of the ministry of Jesus reveals how zealous he was for the kingdom. So much so that he once flogged the traders who had converted the temple into a market. In Mathew 10, he said the following controversial words;
For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law — a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household. Mathew 10:35
From the scripture above as well as other references, it is clear that Jesus was against anything that tried to compete with God’s kingdom. That is because even though he was the prince of peace, he also came as a lion of the tribe of Judah. On one hand, he carried the peace of God but on the other, he carried the sword of God’s judgment.
As we have seen, the term lion of God was derived from the meaning of Othniel, who was the first judge in Israel. Just as Othniel served as an extension of God’s vengeance over the enemies of God, you can also be a servant of God to do the same. Granted, we live in different days and you may not have to fight any physical war. However, as Paul documents in 2 Corinthians 10:3, we still have spiritual weapons to use in spiritual warfare.