[Heb., ʼar·yehʹ; ʼariʹ; la·viʼʹ; laʹyish; shaʹchal (young lion); kephirʹ (maned young lion); levi·yaʼʹ (lioness); Aramaic, ʼar·yehʹ; Gr., leʹon].
A large, tawny-colored mammal of the cat family having a long, tufted tail. The distinctive shaggy mane of the male begins to grow when the animal is about three years old. Although now extinct in Palestine, anciently lions were very plentiful there. They were found in the area of the Anti-Lebanon Range (Ca 4:8), the thickets along the Jordan (Jer 49:19; 50:44; Zec 11:3), and in “the land of distress and hard conditions,” that is, the wilderness to the S of Judah.—Isa 30:6; compare De 8:15.
There were times when shepherds had to protect the flock from lions. David on one occasion courageously struck down a lion and rescued the sheep it had taken. (1Sa 17:34, 35) This, however, was exceptional. Frequently even “a full number of shepherds” could not frighten away a maned young lion. (Isa 31:4) Sometimes the shepherd recovered merely a portion of the domestic animal from the lion’s mouth (Am 3:12), thereby enabling him to present the needed evidence to free him from having to make compensation.—Ex 22:13.
Although David, Samson, and Benaiah single-handedly killed lions (Jg 14:5, 6; 1Sa 17:36; 2Sa 23:20), others did not escape the lion’s paw. (2Ki 17:25, 26) Jehovah used lions to execute his judgment on a prophet who had disobeyed him (1Ki 13:24-28) and on a man who refused to cooperate with one of His prophets.—1Ki 20:36.
The Scriptures repeatedly allude to the characteristics and habits of the lion, including its thunderous roar and its growling. (Pr 19:12; 20:2; Am 3:4, 8) The lion does not usually roar when hunting wild animals. However, when trying to prey upon domestic animals in an enclosure, a lion often will roar. The terrifying sound is calculated to cause a stampede to break down the protective fence and to isolate individual animals from the flock. The animal does well in its pacing. (Pr 30:29, 30) Its strength is proverbial. (Jg 14:18; Pr 30:30) A single blow from the lion’s powerful paw is enough to break the neck of a small antelope. The lion can kill and carry animals larger than itself, and its short, strong jaws are equipped with teeth of sufficient strength to break large bones. (Ps 58:6; Joe 1:6; Isa 38:13) Little wonder that the lazy man is depicted as excusing his failure to act with the words: “There is a lion outside!” (Pr 22:13; 26:13) However, being carnivorous, lions may perish for lack of prey. (Job 4:11; see also Ps 34:10.) And “a live dog [although despised] is better off than a [once majestic but now] dead lion.”—Ec 9:4.
The lion generally spends part of the day sleeping in its lair and does most of its hunting at night. In procuring its food, the animal either resorts to ambush or stalks its prey until close enough to make a short rush. (Job 38:39, 40; Ps 10:9; La 3:10) Then it can move in at a speed of about 65 km/hr (40 mph). In order to gain necessary experience in killing prey, lion cubs begin to accompany their mother on hunts when three months old. They are weaned after six or seven months, reach sexual maturity in their fourth year, and attain full physical size in six years.—Eze 19:2, 3.
Lions have long been hunted by man. Pits and nets were employed to capture them. (Eze 19:3, 4, 9) In ancient Assyria, hunting lions was a favorite sport of the monarch. Either on horseback or in his chariot, the king, armed with bow and arrows, pursued the lions.—PICTURE, Vol. 1, p. 955.
Hungry lions were anciently used to inflict capital punishment. Protected by Jehovah’s angel, the prophet Daniel escaped this fate. (Da 6:16, 17, 22, 24; compare Heb 11:33.) In the first century C.E., the apostle Paul was delivered from “the lion’s mouth,” either literally or figuratively.—2Ti 4:17.
Ornamental and Figurative Use. Engraved lions ornamented the sidewalls of the copper carriages designated for temple use. (1Ki 7:27-36) And the figures of 12 lions lined the steps leading up to Solomon’s throne, in addition to the two lions that were standing beside the armrests. (1Ki 10:19, 20) Also, the temple seen in vision by Ezekiel was adorned with cherubs having two faces, one of a man and the other of a maned young lion.—Eze 41:18, 19.
Most of the Scriptural references to the lion are figurative, or illustrative. The entire nation of Israel (Nu 23:24; 24:9), and individually the tribes of Judah (Ge 49:9) and Gad (De 33:20), were prophetically compared to lions, representative of invincibility and courage in righteous warfare. (Compare 2Sa 17:10; 1Ch 12:8; Pr 28:1.) Jehovah likens himself to a lion in executing judgment on his unfaithful people. (Ho 5:14; 11:10; 13:7-9) And God’s foremost judicial officer, Jesus Christ, is “the Lion that is of the tribe of Judah.” (Re 5:5) Appropriately, therefore, the lion, as a symbol of courageous justice, is associated with Jehovah’s presence and throne.—Eze 1:10; 10:14; Re 4:7.
Because of the lion’s fierce, rapacious, and predatory characteristics, the animal was also used to represent wicked ones (Ps 10:9), persons who oppose Jehovah and his people (Ps 22:13; 35:17; 57:4; Jer 12:8), false prophets (Eze 22:25), wicked rulers and princes (Pr 28:15; Zep 3:3), the Babylonian World Power (Da 7:4), and Satan the Devil (1Pe 5:8). And the seven-headed, ten-horned wild beast out of the sea, which derives its authority from Satan, was depicted as having a lion’s mouth. (Re 13:2) At Psalm 91:13 the lion and the cobra seem to denote the power of the enemy, the lion being representative of open attack and the cobra of underhanded scheming, or attacks from a concealed place.—Compare Lu 10:19; 2Co 11:3.
At the time the Israelites returned to their homeland in 537 B.C.E., Jehovah evidently protected them from lions and other rapacious beasts along the way. (Isa 35:8-10) In the land itself lions and other predators doubtless had increased during the 70 years of its desolation. (Compare Ex 23:29.) But, evidently because of Jehovah’s watch care over his people, the Israelites and their domestic animals apparently did not fall prey to lions as had the foreign peoples whom the king of Assyria settled in the cities of Samaria. (2Ki 17:25, 26) Therefore, from the standpoint of the Israelites, the lion was, in effect, eating straw like a bull, that is, doing no harm to them or their domestic animals. (Isa 65:18, 19, 25) Under Messiah’s rulership, however, there comes to be a greater fulfillment of the restoration prophecies. Persons who may at one time have been of a beastly, animalistic, vicious disposition come to be at peace with more docile fellow humans and do not seek to do them harm or injury. Both in a literal and a figurative sense, peace will come to exist between lions and domestic animals.—Isa 11:1-6; see BEASTS, SYMBOLIC.