The lion is used for both good and evil symbolism in the scriptures. Here are some of these:
Different names for the lion in Hebrew.
There are many different names for lions used in the Hebrew language. Some of the most common include:
- אריה (ari) – this is the commonest Hebrew name for lion. It symbolizes the lion’s majesty and power.
- גבר (gever) – this name literally means “strong man” but it is also used poetically to symbolize a lion. This symbolism relates to the reference of God as a man of war in Exodus 15:3
- שמש (shemesh) – this is the name of the sun, and it is often likened to the lion. In Revelation, Jesus (who is also the lion of Judah) is referred to as the light of the world (John 8:12)
What lions represent in the Bible
The lion is used as a metaphor for a number of things in the Bible. For the most part, the Lion is used to refer to Jesus (The Lion of Judah). However, the Lion can also be a symbol of courage or a symbol of the enemy.
Let us take a deeper look at these three symbolisms below:
The Lion of the Tribe of Judah
The term “Lion of Judah” was first alluded to in Genesis 49:9 when Jacob was blessing his 12 sons. When he reached Judah, he said the following words;
“Judah is a lion’s whelp;
From the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He couches, he lies down as a lion,
And as a lion, who dares rouse him up?
This was a prophetic declaration of the leadership role of Judah. Judah was only but a lion’s cub but with time, he would grow into a fierce lion. We see this prophetic declaration coming to pass many years later when Judah would lead Israel into war. For instance, when the tribes of Israel were at war with the Benjaminites, they consulted God on who should lead the attack and God told them, “Judah shall go first.” Judges 20:18. At first, it looked like Benjaminites were winning the battle but just as the prophecy had said (he crouches and lies down as a lion), Judah lead Israel in retreating as if in surrender only for them to pounce on the enemy when he least expected and they won the battle.
But the prophetic word was not just for the sake of leading Israel into war – it was a precursor for the coming messiah God had ordained would rise from the tribe of Judah. When the time was right, Jesus was born as a descendant of David and he grew into the role of Lion of the tribe of Judah. As John the Revelator would later note, this Lion of Judah was found worthy not only on earth but also in heaven.
and one of the elders *said to me, “Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals.” Revelation 5:5
Today, the Lion of the tribe of Judah (often shortened as the Lion of Judah), with reference to Jesus, is the most widely known and quoted Biblical reference to the Lion.
A symbol of Courage
The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion. Proverbs 28:1
The Lion is also used as a symbol of courage in the Bible. Among the many miracles that Samson did, he killed a lion with his bare hands (Judges 14:5-6) This can be seen as a sign of courage because while most people would run away, Samson faced the beast head-on and killed him. Many years later, David also went after a lion that had hunted one of his sheep and rescued the sheep from the Lion. On seeing this, the Lion tried attacking David but as scripture records, David “seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it.” (1 Samuel 17:34-37).
These two scenarios are the epitomes of courage – when one man can go against what is arguably the most majestic, fearsome, and courageous beast in the wilderness and kill it. The Lion is therefore used as a symbol of courage as demonstrated in Proverbs 28:1.
The enemy or the devil
The scripture also likens the devil to the lion in the following scripture:
Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 1 Pet. 5:8
This symbolism does not however draw from the courageous nature of the lion. We know this because in the next verse, Peter says to resist the devil and he will flee away. On the contrary, the symbolism mostly points to the lion’s hunting habits. Unlike other members of the cat family which are more agile, the Lion does better by moving stealthily and only pouncing at their prey when they are near enough. This serves the lion well because he is the biggest of the other hunters in the cat family.
Just like the Lion, the devil may not be very first in attack – he prowls around the believer patiently waiting for his chance to attack. As soon as your guards are down, he will pounce on you with every energy he’s got. This is why Jesus admonished his displays to watch and pray lest they fall into temptation (Matthew 26:41). Jesus obviously knew the hunting tactics of the devil and he was therefore telling the church not to put their guards down.
Jesus is the lion of the tribe of Judah. It means he is the ruler a bold ruler. This explains why the Bible says he does not give a spirit of fear but of power, love, and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7 ). According to Proverbs 28:1, the lion can also be a symbol of courage. However, the lion can also symbolize the tactics of the enemy – for he prowls around seeking a chance to attack.