The lion does triple duty in the Bible. Mostly, it is a beast, doing what lions do best. As a beast, it represents countries, kings, and people who are opposed to God and/or his Chosen People. The lion will bring destruction upon the people and sometimes on individuals, but generally at God’s command. None can stand before the lion and live. Once God releases the lion, destruction is certain.
Punishment is always an issue for God fearing people. For many, it is about fear, a life lived in uncertainty; when and why will God strike me down. That has to be a hard life, especially since the Good News is that God is a God of Mercy. Even as I sin, I know that God will forgive me. I need only ask.
For others, punishment is about what God will do to others, that is, sinners. I don’t have to worry because I’m not a sinner. That way of thinking gives rise to hatred. If God hates ‘those people,’ I should hate them too. It’s easy to forget that God loves all, no exceptions. The lion will be released only with great sadness.
A third group believes that God expects to destroy all people because all have sinned, but that He has also provided a way to avoid that destruction. He has given us the Mashiach, the Messiah, the Christ. Like Noah, an early messiah, we will rise above the destruction we deserve on the wood of his cross.
The lion is a symbol of strength. That is no surprise. We use the image often. The Bible speaks of that strength several times in demonstrating God’s strength. It is not about destruction, but rather standing strong, standing for what is right.
Closely related to strength is the idea of the Lion of Judah. It is a familiar phrase and idea in both Judaism and Christianity, though the phrase is not used as such in the Bible. In Hosea 5, we read, “For I will be like a lion to Ephraim, like a great lion to Judah.” That is the Lion of Judah, a clear reference to the Messiah. This lion is a saving lion.
Isaiah expands this image of the lion; he will lie down with the lamb, he will eat grass. In this contradiction, we catch a glimpse of God and his way of working in the world. Our worldly lions eat lambs, not grass. God, like a lion, can eat lambs, but He chooses to eat grass and sleep with the lambs. God does not do as the world does. He does not practice an eye for an eye. God extends mercy even to those who oppose him. Satan himself is free to return to God.
We live in a world full of contradictions. We humans are forever trying to make it up as we go. Plants and animals live the lives they were given and do not attempt to be anything else. We are always trying to become something else, trying to become like God.
The Good News is that we can be like God only if we give up trying to be like him and live the lives we have been given. Be righteous and do good.