Aryeh: אַרְיֵה (aleph, resh, yod, hey). [Sounds like: ar-YAY].
The lions in the Bible were Asiatic lions, not the more commonly identified African lions. There’s not much difference between the two, although the Asian lion is a bit smaller with a smaller mane and a larger tail tuft. Unfortunately there are less than 500 Asiatic lions remaining in the wild. They all now roam in the country of India.
With so few of these great creatures left I thought lion would be an interesting Hebrew word to research. I also thought it would be an easy word to study. What I didn’t account for was that in the Bible there was a generic word for lion (aryeh), a rarer word for lion (shakhal), a word for lioness (laviy), a word for young lion (kefir), and a word for a lion cub (gur). And it turns out that lions are all over the Bible… like, everywhere! They play a role in histories, in metaphors, in prophecies, and in poems.
In many instances lions denote the fierceness, stealthiness, destruction and greed of enemies:
They have now surrounded us in our steps;
They set their eyes to cast us down to the ground.
He is like a lion that is eager to tear,
And as a young lion lurking in hiding places.
Arise, O YHWH, confront him, bring him low;
Deliver my soul from the wicked with Your sword.
“Lift up a standard toward Zion! Seek refuge, do not stand still,
For I am bringing evil from the north, and great destruction.
A lion has gone up from his thicket, and a destroyer of nations has set out;
He has gone out from his place to make your land a waste.
Your cities will be ruins without inhabitant.”
The roar of a lion also provides strong imagery in the Bible. It often represents the powerful voice of God:
YHWH: I will not execute My fierce anger; I will not destroy Ephraim again.
For I am God and not man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.
They will walk after YHWH, He will roar like a lion;
Indeed He will roar and His sons will come trembling from the west.
They will come trembling like birds from Egypt and like doves from the land of Assyria;
And I will settle them in their houses, declares YHWH.
Clearly a lion is something to be saved from. Psalm 22 foreshadows the horrors of crucifixion that Yeshua (Jesus) faced and describes his accusers as roaring lions:
Psalm 22:1, 10-23
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning…
…Upon You I was cast from birth; You have been my God from my mother’s womb.
Be not far from me, for trouble is near; For there is none to help.
Many bulls have surrounded me; Strong bulls of Bashan have encircled me.
They open wide their mouth at me, as a ravening and a roaring lion.
I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint;
My heart is like wax; It is melted within me.
My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue cleaves to my jaws;
And You lay me in the dust of death.
For dogs have surrounded me; A band of evildoers has encompassed me;
They pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones.
They look, they stare at me; they divide my garments among them,
And for my clothing they cast lots.
But You, O YHWH, be not far off; O You my help, hasten to my assistance.
Deliver my soul from the sword, my only life from the power of the dog.
Save me from the lion’s mouth; From the horns of the wild oxen You answer me.
I will tell of Your name to my brethren; In the midst of the assembly I will praise You.
You who fear YHWH, praise Him; all you descendants of Jacob, glorify Him,
And stand in awe of Him, all you descendants of Israel.
Israel like a lion
The young lion is also a metaphor for the Hebrew people. Ezekiel draws the picture of a great lioness and her cubs. The first cub she raises and trains to be mighty but he is taken down by Egypt. The great lioness tries again with another son. He becomes strong and mighty but is taken down by Babylon. It is a beautifully tragic picture of the harshness of the animal kingdom and a mother’s love who waits for her first son until all hope is lost. How dreadful to lose a second son in the same way. Yes they were being destructive and their mighty roar was terrifying to the people, but they were being what lions were meant to be. In the same way, the Hebrew people were trying to be what they were meant to be:
“As for you, take up a lamentation for the princes of Israel and say,
‘What was your mother? A lioness among lions!
She lay down among young lions, She reared her cubs.
When she brought up one of her cubs, He became a young lion,
And he learned to tear his prey; He devoured men.
Then nations heard about him; He was captured in their pit,
And they brought him with hooks to the land of Egypt.
When she saw, as she waited, that her hope was lost,
She took another of her cubs and made him a young lion.
And he walked about among the lions; He became a young lion,
He learned to tear his prey; He devoured men.
He destroyed their fortified towers and laid waste their cities;
And the land and its fullness were appalled because of the sound of his roaring.
Then nations set against him on every side from their provinces,
And they spread their net over him; He was captured in their pit.
They put him in a cage with hooks and brought him to the king of Babylon;
They brought him in hunting nets so that his voice would be heard no more
On the mountains of Israel.”
Interesting that the word for lioness is laviy and the root of that word means great (Strong’s 3833). A lioness is a great, formidable, force and the Bible supports that claim. As you might say: you don’t mess with a lioness! In Genesis 49 we read that a lion lies down but who would dare wake up a lioness?!
Lion of Judah
“Judah, your brothers shall praise you;
Your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; Your father’s sons shall bow down to you.
The cub of a lion is Judah; From the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He crouches, he lies down as a lion; Like a lioness who dares rouse him up?
The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until Shiloh comes,
And to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.”
In this passage Jacob gives a blessing over his sons, and he calls Judah the cub of a lion. But there is so much more to this verse. First of all it points out that Judah’s brothers will praise and bow down to him, which is extraordinary considering he is the fourth born son. The prophecy continues saying that the scepter or ruler’s staff shall not depart from Judah until Shiloh comes.
It is from this verse that we get the phrase the Lion of Judah, and the Lion of Judah is generally identified as the coming Messiah.
In the fiftieth chapter of Jeremiah there is a verse that has a wide array of translations, but using the Hebrew root words this seems to be the closest rendering:
Behold, like a lion he shall come up from the thicket of Jordan unto the dwelling place of the ever-flowing, for I will make them [the Babylonians] suddenly run away from it. And who is the young man who I might appoint over it? For who is like me and who will meet with me? And who is the shepherd that will stand before me?
Who is this man that is like God and who meets with God, who comes from the thicket of Jordan? And most telling, who is the shepherd that stands before God?
Yeshua referred to himself as the shepherd:
I am the good shepherd. I know My sheep and My sheep know Me, just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father. And I lay down My life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them in as well, and they will listen to My voice. Then there will be one flock and one shepherd.
There is only one great shepherd who is like God and has direct access to Him… Yeshua.
In the book of the Revelation we read in chapter 5 about three of the strongest Messianic symbols: the Lion of Judah, the root of David, and the slain Lamb:
Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, has triumphed to open the scroll and its seven seals.”
Then I saw a Lamb who appeared to have been slain, standing in the centre of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. The lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, which represent the sevenfold Spirit of God sent out into all the earth. And He came and took the scroll from the right hand of the One seated on the throne.
When He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp, and they held the golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song:
“Worthy are You to take the scroll and open its seals, because You were slain, and by Your blood You purchased for God those from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. You have made them into a kingdom, priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”
This prophetic statement of the Lion and the Lamb is about the Messiah. He was the lamb that was slain and became the conquering lion, over death, upon His return. This issues in a great peace when nature makes an about turn:
Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit.
The Spirit of YHWH will rest on Him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of YHWH.
And He will delight in the fear of YHWH, and He will not judge by what His eyes see, nor make a decision by what His ears hear;
But with righteousness He will judge the poor, and decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth;
And He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked.
Also righteousness will be the belt about His loins, and faithfulness the belt about His waist.
And the wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little boy will lead them.
Take away all the metaphors and prophecies and this truth remains: God carefully designed the lion, He cares for these majestic creatures, and they belong in this world.
He [God] made the moon for the seasons; The sun knows the place of its setting.
You appoint darkness and it becomes night in which all the beasts of the forest prowl about.
The young lions roar after their prey and seek their food from God.
When the sun rises they withdraw and lie down in their dens.
Man goes forth to his work and to his labor until evening.
O YHWH, how many are Your works!
In wisdom You have made them all; the earth is full of Your possessions.
Next week: Truth