One of the most important symbolic animals in the Bible is the lion. It is a Jewish national and cultural symbol, traditionally regarded as the symbol of the Israelite tribe of Judah. In more recent history it has also been adopted as a symbol for the peoples of the English Commonwealth, and the English language. It was also used as a symbol for the emperors of Ethiopia, and in more recent times for the Rastafarian movement.
THE BLESSING THAT CREATED THE LION OF JUDAH
According to the Torah, the tribe consists of the descendants of Judah, the fourth son of Jacob. The majority Jews are descended Jacob’s fourth son Judah, the patriarch of the tribe of Judah. The association between Judah and the lion can first be found in the blessing given by Jacob to his son Judah in Genesis, chapter 49, verses 8-10:
8 Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise: thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies; thy father’s children shall bow down before thee.
9 Judah is a lion’s whelp: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up?
10 The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.Genisis 49:8-10
The Tribe of Dan can also be associated with the Lion of Judah from Moses’ blessing in Deuteronomy 33:22, “Dan is a lion club, leaping forth from Bashan.”
WHAT TYPE OF LION IS THE LION OF JUDAH?
In the blessing above, Jacob first refers to Judah as a lion’s cub. The Hebrew word that is pronounced gur. This word almost always means “a lion’s whelp.” The sense of what kind of lion is specified by the following word that is pronounced aryeh, meaning the King of Beasts.
At the time of the blessing there were various types of lions that were familiar to Jacob and his sons. There were mountain lions, but they are not generally referred to by the Hebrew word that is pronounced , At the time of Jacob’s blessing, he, and his sons, including Jacob and Joseph, were in Egypt. Back then Asiatic lions (now mainly in Gujarat, India) and Barbary lions (now extinct) were known in the areas where Jacob and his sons had lived: Egypt and the lands of and near ancient Israel. These lions were large, and the males had “kingly” manes. They strongly resemble the African lions that are familiar to us from zoos and Hollywood movies. It is probable that these were the lions meant in Jacob’s blessing.
The rampant Lion of Judah is a favorite embellishment of the synagogue ark, the mantle covering the scroll of the Torah, and other decorations for synagogues. The Lion of the Divine Chariot is one of the four figures of Ezekiel’s merkavah (divine chariot) which consisted of a human being, a lion, an ox, and an eagle. Despite different opinions expressed in the Talmud as to the permissibility of artistically reproducing these figures, the general consensus is that the only reproductions wholly forbidden are either the four together or the complete human form. Yet, it was completely permissible to create images of the lion, especially symbolizing the Lion of Judah. There were figures of lions upon the laver of lions upon the laver in Solomon’s Temple (I Kings 7:29) and especially in the steps leading to his throne and on its sides (ibid. 10:20).
WHY IS THE LION AN IMPORTANT BIBLICAL SYMBOL?
Lions appear over 150 times in the Hebrew Bible.
Lions are one of the most important animals in the Bible. References to them may simply descriptive, or metaphorical, symbolic, allegorical, and even prophetic.
Lions symbolize power, fierceness, and majesty. Lions are the king of the beasts, and the Lion of the tribe of Judah is the king of everything. In the Old Testament, God is sometimes described as being like a lion.
“…as a lion growls, a great lion over its prey—and though a whole band of shepherds is called together against it, it is not frightened by their shouts . . . so the LORD Almighty will come down to do battle on Mount Zion and on its heights.”Isaiah 31:4
Lions symbolize power, fierceness, and majesty. Lions are the king of the beasts, and the Lion of the tribe of Judah is the king of everything. God says:
“I will be like a lion to them. . . . like a lion I will devour them. . . . You are destroyed, Israel, because you are against me, against your helper.”Hosea 13:7-8
In addition to the tribes of Judah and Dan, lions are compared to the all the by Balaam when he said:
“Behold a people that riseth up as a lioness (lavi), and as a lion (aryeh) doth he lift himself up,”Numbers 23:24.
The mother of the kings of Judah was compared to a lioness and her sons to lion cubs by Ezekiel in Ezek. 19:2-3.
Speaking of David, the Bible says that his “heart is as the heart of a lion” (II Sam. 17:10), where it declared in the lament over Saul and Jonathan that “they were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions” (ibid. 1:23). and occurs in Ezekiel’s vision of the lion, the ox, the eagle, and the cherub (Ezek. 1:10; 10:14).
Daniel prophesizes a Lion that then has eagles’ wings, which are plucked so that then is turned into a man with a heart in Daniel 7:4.
I Kings 7:29 describes the Temple carvings of “lions, oxen, and cherubim”.
The lion is mentioned several times together with the bear as the most powerful beasts of prey in Lam. 3:10; Prov. 28:15; and I Sam. 17:34.
Lion attacks are mentioned in biblical stories and parables. Amos (3:12) declares that a shepherd can rescue out of its jaws no more than “two legs, or a piece of an ear.”
A Lion is not frightened when shepherds gather to chase it away according to Isa. 31:4.
It is rare for a lion to be slain by a man, but a few biblical leaders and heroes accomplished that, due to their exceptional leadership, courage, and strength. Samson (Judg. 14:6), David (I Sam. 17:34), and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada (II Sam. 23:20).
LIONS IN ISRAEL
“Come with me from Lebanon, my spouse, with me from Lebanon: look from the top of Amana, from the top of Shenir and Hermon, from the lions’ dens, from the mountains of the leopards”…—Song of Songs 4:8
The Bible’s accounts show that lions roamed but did not permanently inhabit populated areas. Lions roved the mountains of Lebanon (Song of Songs 4:8), Bashan (Deut. 33:22), the thickets of the Jordan (Jer. 49:19), and the desert regions of the Negev (Isa. 30:6).
Particularly during times of drought, when their wild pray decreased in numbers, Lions invaded human communities seeking their flocks. V Lions also multiplied when the country lay destroyed and derelict. In the neighborhood of Eretz Israel long-and short-maned lions were to be found. There is evidence that there were lions in the country in Mishnaic and Talmudic and even in crusader times (in the Negev). The last lions in the Middle East were destroyed in the 19th century.
EMBLEM OF JERUSALEM
The Lion is the symbol of Jerusalem of the modern capital of Jerusalem. It appears on both the flag and coat of arms of the city.
CHRISTIAN SYMBOL OF THE LION
Revelations 5:4 states that no man is found worthy to open the book, or even look upon it, until in chapter 5 “And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof.” According to Christian theology, this shows that Jesus is the only one able to open the book, and hence, Jesus becomes the Lion of Judah.
Since the time of the Roman Empire many countries, principalities, duchies, provinces, states, cities, and, noble families, of Europe and the Middle East have used symbols of lions on their banners, flags and heraldry. A few are most notable and prominent to this day as symbols.
The Barbary lion is a national animal symbol of England. There are various stories explaining why this came to be, especially since there were no lions who were native to the British Isles.
Some of the reasons for use of this symbol:
When Scotland joined England to form the United Kingdom the banner of Scotland was incorporated into the English culture.
The earliest recorded use of the Lion rampant as a royal emblem in Scotland was by Alexander II in 1222. The additional adornment of a double border with lillies occurring during the reign of Alexander III (1249–1286).
During the Middle Ages Barbary lions were kept in the menagerie at the Tower of London.
English medieval warrior rulers with a reputation for bravery attracted the nickname “the Lion”. Richard I of England, also known as Richard the Lionheart, is the best known example of use of this nickname.
Lions are frequently depicted in English heraldry. From use on banners and shields for was, the easily migrated to English sports teams, such as England’s national cricket team.
Lions appear in sculpture, and sites of national importance. Lions are also represented as statues outside of English Language libraries. They have come to also represent the English language, and appear on flags, crests, banners and as statues in lands that were or are part of the English Commonwealth.
In New York City, the famous lion statues namesFortitude and Patience guard the New York City Public Library.
Most famously in English literature, C.S. Lewis used a lion named Aslan to represent Jesus in in The Chronicles of Narnia. According to Lewis in one of his last letters,
“Since Narnia is a world of Talking Beasts, I thought He [Christ] would become a Talking Beast there, as He became a man here. I pictured Him becoming a lion there because (a) the lion is supposed to be the king of beasts; (b) Christ is called “The Lion of Judah” in the Bible…”C. S. Lewis
In both Jewish and Christian Ethiopian history state that members of the Tribes of Dan and Judah accompanied Makeda (Queen of Sheba)back from her visit to Solomon; hence the Ge’ez motto Mo`a ‘Anbessa Ze’imnegede Yihuda (“The Lion of Judah has conquered”), included among the titles of the Emperor throughout the Solomonic Dynasty.
The monument above is located in the square of the Addis Ababa railway station in Addis Ababa and marks the end of Winston Churchill Avenue, one of the main arteries of the city. The sculpture of the Lion of Judah, in gilded bronze, is placed on a black granite pedestal decorated with relief portraits of emperors Menelik II, Haile Selassie I, Zewditu, and Ras Makonnen Wolde Mikael. The work was made by the French sculptor Georges Gardet in 1930, on the occasion of the coronation of Emperor Hailé Selassié on 2 November 1930.
Ethiopia’s history as recorded and elaborated in a 13th-century treatise, the Kebre Negest, asserts descent from a retinue of Israelites who returned with Makeda, the Queen of Sheba from her visit toKing Solomon in Jerusalem, by whom she had conceived the Solomonic dynasty’s founder Menelik I. As Solomon was of the tribe of Judah, his son Menelik I would continue the line, which according to Ethiopian history was passed directly down from king to king until Emperor Haile Selassie I (ostensibly the 225th king from King David) was deposed in 1974
The Lion of Judah motif figured prominently on the old imperial flag, currency, stamps, etc. and may still be seen gracing the terrace of the capital as a national symbol.
The Lion of Judah is a prominent symbol in the Rastafari movement. It represents Emperor Haile Selassie I as well as being a symbol of strength, kingship, pride and African sovereignty. Rastafari consider the mention of “The Lion of Judah” in Genesis 49:9 and Revelation 5:5 of the Bible to refer to Emperor Haile Selassie I. Rastafari hail Haile Selassie I with the titles “King of kings, lord of lords, conquering Lion of Judah, elect of God, the light of the world”
Rastafari began in the now former English colony of Jamaica. as such their use of the lion symbol could possibly be credited to the English Commonwealth, however the strong connection to Ethiopia’s former emperor Haile Selassie, seems to account for the use of the Lion of Judah symbol.
LION OF JUDAH ART
The artwork below was conceived as an adult coloring page that will be included in a soon to be released book. Obviously, it can also be a stand-alone frameable black and white artwork. Can you see the words of Psalm 57 interwoven within the colorable sections?
Judy Rey Wasserman’s Lion of Judah is created from strokes that are the Torah font letters of Genesis 49:8-10.
Below is a close up of an area to show the strokes.
This artwork is currently available as a downloadable PDF. See the shop at Art of Seeing The Divine for details CLICK –> https://artofseeingthedivine.com/product/lion-of-judah/
Additional Art & the Bible Articles:
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Judy Rey Wasserman is an artist and the founder of Post Conceptual Art theory and also the branch known as UnGraven Image Art.
Check out the Fine Art Limited Edition prints, decorative prints, books, and printables that are currently available to you through Judy Rey’s Art of Seeing The Divine Shop. You don’t have to buy to avail yourself of the art and inspiration available there. However, if you select to collect investment quality archival art, or decorate your home with images created with strokes that are original letters from Bible texts, or buy a gift for someone special, there is a secure shopping cart that accepts most credit cards so your purchase is easy to accomplish. https://artofseeingthedivine.com