Although most Hebrew and Greek words for lion are used in a figurative sense, nevertheless we can draw a number of inferences regarding the perceived characteristics and behavior of literal lions. They are, among other things, strong ( Pr 30:30 ), especially in their teeth ( Job 4:10 ) and paws ( 1 Sam 17:37 ), fearless ( Prov 28:1 ; 30:30 ), stealthy ( Psalm 17:12 ), frightening ( Ezra 19:7 ; Hosea 11:10 ; Amos 3:8 ), destructive ( 1 Sam 17:34 ; Micah 5:8 ), and territorially protective ( Isa 31:4 ). Yet for all its seeming autonomy, the lion is ultimately dependent on God ( Job 38:39-40 ; Psalm 104:21 ), answerable to him ( Job 4:10 ), and subdued in the millennial age ( Isa 11:6-7 ).
The many notable qualities of the lion are often applied figuratively in a variety of ways to individuals and nations. The king is frightening in his anger ( Prov 19:12 ; 20:2 ), the soldier courageous ( 2 Sam 17:10 ), national leaders vicious ( Ezek 22:25 ; Zeph 3:3 ), enemy nations destructive ( Isa 5:29 ; Jer 2:15 ) and protective of their conquests ( Isa 5:29 ), and personal enemies stealthy in their pursuit to harm ( Psalm 10:9 ; 17:12 ).
God is described with a number of leonine features. He is strong ( Isa 38:13 ), fearless in protecting his own ( Isa 31:4 ), stealthy in coming upon his prey ( Jer 49:19 ; Hosea 13:7 ), frightening ( Hosea 11:10 ; Amos 3:8 ), and destructive ( Jer 25:38 ; Lam 3:10 ; Hosea 5:14 ; 13:8 ). In am 3:8 "The Lion" even appears as a title for God.
The idea of a Lion of the Tribe of Judah is problematic because the fundamental passage ( Rev 5:5 ) is grammatically ambiguous and because there is no exact antecedent parallel. First, it is unclear whether in Revelation 5:5 we have one title of Christ (Lion of the Tribe of Judah) or two titles standing in apposition (The Lion; The One of the Tribe of Judah). Second, the alleged parallels are only approximate parallels. In Genesis 49:9 there is no lion of Judah; rather, Judah is a lion. In 2 (4) Esdras 11:37; 12:1, 31 the Messiah is pictured as a lion, but not specifically of Judah. In the Testament of Judah 24:5 the Messiah is from Judah but not specifically as a lion. Given the imprecision in the alleged parallels, the cautious interpreter would not make much of the tradition that combines "lion" and "of the Tribe of Judah" into one idea, but rather would understand Jesus the Lamb to be called Messiah under two images derived from separate traditions.
Finally, the lion figure is expansive enough in its manifold facets to suggest its application to Satan. Such meaning is possible in 2 Timothy 4:17, but 1pe 5:8 is its classic occurrence. Here Satan is portrayed as both frightening his prey and silently stalking it to devour it. This devouring is best seen as potentially successful and as consisting of physical death. Therefore, professing believers should not lose faith, even in the face of the devil's most relentless pressures to give up.
David K. Huttar
Bibliography. G. J. Botterweck, TDOT, 1:374-88; R. K. Harrison, ISBE, 3:141-42; W. Michaelis, TDNT, 4:251-53; J. R. Michaels, I Peter.
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan USA.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.
For usage information, please read the Baker Book House Copyright Statement.
[N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible
[S] indicates this entry was also found in Smith's Bible Dictionary
Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Lion'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".