Biblical Animals: Lions
All this month we will be taking a closer look at some of the animals in the bible. From whales to bears, we will learn some interesting and important facts about these animals.
Lions, and Tigers and Bears, oh, my! While you will never see lions and tigers in a European forest, there was a time when all three roamed in the Middle East. (Considering Oz was a strange and marvelous place surrounded by desert, it kinda makes you wonder if Dorothy was really dropped into the Middle East.) Of the three animals, only the bear can still be found in the area. The Caspian tiger became extinct in the late 1960's. As the bible mentions nothing about any tiger, we will not be discussing them. Lions, however, are mentioned more than a few times.
With all the lions in the bible, where did they go? We've all heard of African Lions. We know how dangerous they are. Well, from texts and images, like the one to the left, we've learned they were heavily poached by the royalty of the time. In fact, the only place this animal exists today is in a small pocket in Asia. They have been completely wiped out of the Middle East.
These lions also look a little different than their African counterparts. First of all, their mane is thinner while their coat is thicker. Secondly, the tassel on their tail is thicker. They are the same in their general demeanor. These animals were strong and dangerous.
Lions are all over the place in the bible. New Testament. Hebrew bible. Allegory. History. I want to hit upon some major themes surrounding this beast. If I don't hit on a big one you know, perhaps it will come back on Sunday when I share my Lion sermon.
When a lion attacks in scripture, it usually means death will soon follow. It could be the lion, or it might be the person being attacked.
Sometimes the person being attacked overcomes the lion:
The fighter of Kabzeel: "Benaiah son of Jehoiada, a valiant fighter from Kabzeel, performed great exploits. He struck down Moab's two mightiest warriors. He also went down into a pit on a snowy day and killed a lion." (2 Sam 23:20 NIV)
David, King of Israel: "But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God." (1 Sam 17:34-36 NIV)
The action of Samson: "The Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon him so that he tore the lion apart with his bare hands as he might have torn a young goat. But he told neither his father nor his mother what he had done." (Judges 14:6)
Sometimes the lion wins the battle:
At defying God's words a man from Judah is torn apart by a lion: "When the man of God had finished eating and drinking, the prophet who had brought him back saddled his donkey for him. As he went on his way, a lion met him on the road and killed him, and his body was left lying on the road, with both the donkey and the lion standing beside it. Some people who passed by saw the body lying there, with the lion standing beside the body, and they went and reported it in the city where the old prophet lived." (1 Kings 13:23-25 NIV)
While the scripture doesn't mention it, we know lions, among other deadly animals, were used in the coliseum to kill early Christians. Probably the reason these stories don't make into our biblical narrative is because, they happened rather late, but also over the subtext to being destroyed or overcoming a lion. If the bible story has the person overcome the lion, they are favored in God's eyes. If the story has the person devoured by the lion, they have lost favor in God's eyes. Those who died in the coliseums were in a situation where they were raised up as martyrs, favored by God. Yet, they still suffered death at the jaws of the lion. In a way, it is almost respectful not to have their story shared biblically.
Isaiah has a couple of symbolic images of lions worthy of our attention. In both places it shows peace as a lion acting outside its natural behavior. There are lions lying with calves, (Isaiah 11:6). There are also an image of a lion choosing to eat straw, (Isaiah 65:25). It's a beautiful image of peace, where that which is dangerous chooses not be dangerous anymore.
Sampson, having killed a lion, leaves it. A while later he finds it and bees had made a beehive inside of it. Being a Nazarite, eating wild honey from a dead animal was a big no-no. He does it anyway. While this incident doesn't take Sampson's power, it does show how disconnected from God Sampson has become. Sampson killed the lion, but would eventually die to be in God's good will again.
Join me Sunday afternoon as I deal with Daniel and the Lion's Den! See you then.