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Lions In The Bible: Symbolism, References, & Meaning

In this article, we will learn about lions in the Bible and discover the Biblical meaning of these majestic cats and where we can find them in scripture. So, grab your Bible, and let’s dive in…

When reading the Bible, one is bound to encounter animals being mentioned. Many verses in scripture refer to animals as part of a story, but animals also often appear in dreams, visions, and prophecies, which makes them even more fascinating because the depth of their meaning changes.

One animal which appears to be quite significant in scripture is the lion. And you may wonder, though, how often and why lions are mentioned in the Bible. I know this has been an animal I have been curious to study in the Bible.

The word “lion” and its derivatives appear more than 100 times throughout the King James version of the Bible, which is huge in comparison to cats.

Lions typically symbolize characteristics like courage, strength, and power and are also often used as a symbol of royalty. The Bible uses a lion to describe both good and evil. But we will dive deep into this later.

Although the lion is often used to symbolize something and often appears in visions and prophesies, not all mentions of lions in the Bible are symbolistic. Lions were common in the Middle East in Biblical times and often hunted sheep or attacked people.

However, to truly understand the purpose of lions in the Bible, one would have to look at the context within which they are mentioned.

lions in the Bible

What Does The Bible Say About Lions?

Lions appear in a few key stories in the Bible. They are, however, more often used as symbolism to describe characteristics of God, Satan, or even men and often appear in visions and prophesies.  Pretty interesting right?

The lion is often regarded as the most powerful of all carnivorous animals, even to this day. Ask a child to pick a ferocious animal that could eat you, and the lion is at the top of that list. Which is why it is often referenced in the Bible as a symbol of strength.

Although lions are not currently found in Palestine, they were once very numerous there. Here are some interesting facts about lions in the Bible:

lion bible verse
  • The lion had its lairs in the forests, caves of the mountains, and in the canebrakes on the banks of the Jordan. (Jer. 5:6; 12:8; Amos 3:4)
  • Lions of Palestine were most likely the Asiatic variety, described as having a short, curly mane and a shorter, rounder shape.
  • While the lion was less daring than other species of lions, it was still known to attack flocks in the desert in the presence of shepherds and even lay waste to towns and villages. (1 Samuel 17:34; Isaiah 31:4)
  • The lion’s fierceness and cruelty made it an appropriate metaphor for a fierce enemy.
  • The lion was the symbol of the tribe of Judah, while in the book of Revelation, it received a deeper significance as the emblem of Jesus who “prevailed to open the book and loose the seven seals thereof.”

    Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.” – Revelation 5:5

It’s fascinating to see how the lion was depicted throughout the Bible and what role it played in the stories. Now, let’s take a look at those stories!

Bible Stories About Lions

With 119 mentions of lions in the Bible, here are probably the most well-known stories in the scriptures that mention lions. For overall Bible verses about lions, please check out this article: Interesting Bible Verses about Lions

Daniel In The Lion’s Den

Probably the best known Bible story about lions is found in Daniel 6. While Israel was in exile, a man named Daniel served the Persian king. Daniel was a faithful man and prayed to God three times a day. Because of his faithfulness, he had a high position in the king’s government, and others envied him, so they devised a plan to have him executed.

Daniel in the Lion’s Den – Gustave Doré (colorized by me)

On their advice, the king approved a law that no-one was allowed to pray to any God for thirty days. This law did not stop Daniel from praying to God three times a day. When those who schemed against him told the king, he had no choice but to have Daniel thrown in the lion’s den. However, God sent an angel to close the lions’ mouths, and Daniel came out of the lion’s den unharmed.

Samson Ripped A Lion Apart

Another well-known story featuring a lion, is that of Sampson, a Judge of Israel. In Judges 14:5-6, we read that Samson and his parents were traveling to Timnah to find him a wife when they were stormed by a young lion. Sampson was filled with power from the Spirit of God, and he ripped the lion apart with his bare hands but told no-one about what happened.

Samson Wrestling the Lion – Gustave Doré (colorized by me)

Later in the same chapter, we read that bees made a nest in the lion’s carcass, and Sampson ate some of their honey. Then, at his wedding, Sampson challenged some young men with a riddle:

Out of the eater came something to eat. Out of the strong came something sweet.

This riddle referred to the honey that Sampson took out of the lion’s carcass.

David Struck Down The Lion

In 1 Samuel 17, we read the story of David and Goliath. When David, a shepherd boy, wanted to take on the giant Philistine, Goliath, king Saul spoke to him first, trying to dissuade him. But in 1 Samuel 17:36 we read that David told Saul what he did when lions and bears grabbed sheep:

“Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them…”

Lions in the Bible: Symbolism & Meaning

What do lions symbolize and mean

Lions As Symbolism Of God In The Bible

Lions are often used to symbolize different aspects of God.

  • Judgment – In Hosea 5, the prophet prophecies about God’s judgement over Israel. In Hosea 5:14, it is prophesied: “For I will be like a lion to Ephraim, and like a young lion to the house of Judah. I, even I, will tear and go away; I will carry off, and no one shall rescue.” 
  • Authority The prophet Hosea also likens God calling His people to a lion’s roar. Hosea 11:10 reads: “They shall go after the Lord; he will roar like a lion; when he roars, his children shall come trembling from the west.”
  • Strength – Isaiah also used a lion to describe God’s protection of Jerusalem. In Isaiah 31:4 we read: “…As a lion or a young lion growls over his prey, and when a band of shepherds is called out against him he is not terrified by their shouting or daunted at their noise, so the Lord of hosts will come down to fight on Mount Zion and on this hill.”
  • Triumph – Jesus is likened to a victorious lion in Revelation 5:5: “…Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals”. Genesis 49:8-12 also foretells of Jesus, the young lion, who will come from the tribe of Judah.

Lions Symbolizing Evil In The Bible

The symbolism of lions is also often used to describe evil, sometimes referring to the enemy of a righteous person, and even used to describe Satan himself. The power and viciousness of lions and the fear they instill in humans make them a good symbol of evil.

So they spoke to the king of Assyria, saying, “The nations whom you have removed and placed in the cities of Samaria do not know the rituals of the God of the land; therefore He has sent lions among them, and indeed, they are killing them because they do not know the rituals of the God of the land.” – 2 Kings 17:26

In many Psalms, the psalmist uses the symbolism of a lion to describe his enemies:

Lest they tear me like a lion,
Rending me in pieces, while there is none to deliver. – Psalm 7:2

Lord, how long will You look on?
Rescue me from their destructions,
My precious life from the lions. – Psalm 35:17

He sits in the lurking places of the villages;
In the secret places he murders the innocent;
His eyes are secretly fixed on the helpless.
He lies in wait secretly, as a lion in his den;
He lies in wait to catch the poor;
He catches the poor when he draws him into his net. – Psalm 10: 8-9

The apostle Peter likened Satan to a lion. In 1 Peter 5:8:

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.

Again, the growling of the lion instills fear in those who hear it, which makes it a good symbol of evil.

As Paul wrote in 2 Timothe 1:7: “…for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love…

Lions As Symbols Of Royalty In The Bible

Lions are often used as a symbol for royalty. The beauty, strength and fearlessness of a lion, and its ability to instill fear in its enemies, are all characteristics that royalty, whether Biblical or secular, would like to attribute to themselves. In the Bible, the lion was also used as a symbol of royalty.

  • King Solomon’s Throne – In 1 Kings 10 we read about Solomon’s throne. There were two lions beside its armrest. There were also six steps leading to the throne, and on the ends of each step there was a lion, twelve in total.
  • Daniel’s Vision – In Daniel 7 we read of a vision that Daniel had of four beasts coming from the ocean. In verse 4 he describes the first as being “…like a lion and had eagles’ wings.” This beast is believed to be depicting the kingdom of Babylon.
  • Solomon’s Temple – King Solomon built a temple for God. In 1 Kings 7:29, the temple furnishings are described to have images of “lions, oxen, and cherubim.” The temple was God’s royal palace and the images depicted was to demonstrate God’s majesty.

Lions are mentioned over a hundred times in the bible. Although there are some stories told where lions were involved, lions are more often used in symbolism. Lions’ characteristics are used to describe God, the devil, and even individuals. Lions also often appeared in visions and prophecies, where they represented God, evil, and even kingdoms. Lions were also used as a symbol of royalty.

More Animals Of The Bible

Did you enjoy this article on lions in the Bible? Then I would encourage you to check out other animals and critters I have written about! I think this is such a fun way to look at different topics of the Bible. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have enjoyed writing them.

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