Lions are iconic in numerous cultures, and the Middle Eastern culture where the Bible is based is no exception – throughout my reading of the Bible, I noticed lions featuring prominently in both the Old and New Testaments. In my view, these animals are some of my favorite creatures, as they have a majestic quality about them. Therefore, in this article, I will attempt to answer a question I have wondered for a long time: What does a lion symbolize in the Bible?
Bible scholars suggests that lions in the bible symbolize God’s authority and power, as well as the power of evil, protection, punishment for wrongdoers, and as a symbol of angelic beings.
In this article, I seek to cover the symbolism behind lions in the Bible, and not just that – but also what they mean in other cultures outside those that are outlined in the Bible. Read on for an in-depth study on these animals, and you may be surprised as I was by certain facts about their symbolism.
What is the biblical meaning of a lion?
In the Bible, lions are known for their courage, beauty, and strength, so they have mainly been used as a sign of God’s power and authority. This is noted in several passages such as Revelation 5:5, which refers to Jesus as the “Lion of Judah” to show His power over creation and sin.
And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” Rev. 5:5
Lions are used in many contexts in the Bible – in some cases, they are used in a positive way to reveal God’s attributes, while there are other cases where they symbolize the destructive power of evil, such as:
Like a roaring lion or charging bear, is a wicked ruler over a poor people. Proverbs 28:15
The power that lions have is terrifying, and the Bible uses this analogy severally to illustrate the power that God holds and that evil also has over human beings. A good example is using a roaring lion as a way to show that Satan roars at believers and the fear a Christian has in response easily leads to discouragement and doubts – but that this “lion-like” threat has no power if a believer stands firm in Christ.
Additionally, many traits of the lion are used in the Bible to refer to nations and individuals. For instance, national leaders are referred to as lions in their viciousness (Zephaniah 3:3), a soldier is compared to lions because of his courage (2 Samuel 17:10), and enemy nations have the destructive qualities of lions (Isaiah 5:29).
4 biblical symbolisms of a lion
These are the most common uses of lions in biblical symbolism:
As ways for God to punish wickedness
Several instances in the Old Testament narrate God’s use of animals to punish people for willful wickedness and disobedience, including lions. An example of this is in 1 Kings 13:24 when God sent a lion to kill a prophet who willfully disobeyed His command:
And as he went away, a lion met him on the road and killed him. And his body was thrown on the road, and the donkey stood beside it; the lion also stood beside the body.
Rulers also punished disobedient subjects at times by throwing them to the lions to die – such as Daniel in Daniel 6:16 when he refused to worship the king, and God responds by preventing the lions from killing and eating him.
God also uses the analogy of lions killing and devouring their prey to illustrate that Israel’s power will be reduced to nothing due to their evil deeds when he sends enemy nations to destroy them.
A lion has gone up from its thicket, 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 inhabitants. Jeremiah 4:7
Lions are a symbol of evil
Additionally, the Apostle Peter warns believers about Satan seeking to overcome them through evil in 1 Pet. 5:8:
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8
The Bible continuously encourages believers to be on spiritual guard to overcome the attacks of the enemy, which show up like a lion hunting its prey. This is because Satan is shown to prowl around stealthily and majestically, with a singular determination to destroy you like a lion is determined to kill its target.
Equating evil and destruction to a lion also showcases its power and ferocity, and reminds Christians to understand the kind of enmity they should expect.
Lions show the authority and character of God
The Bible repeatedly refers to Jesus Christ as the Lion of Judah, but there are also other ways God uses lions to showcase His character and attributes to help human beings understand Him better. An instance that the Bible records is in Hosea 11:10:
They shall go after the LORD, he will roar like a lion; when he roars, his children shall come trembling from the west… Hos. 11:10
God also uses lions to show believers His protective qualities, which assures them through difficulties and struggles with sin. Because lions are courageous, God uses them to show believers that He will give them the courage they need to overcome all things and a place of refuge where they are safe and feel safe.
For thus the LORD said to me, “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 its hill. Isaiah 31:4
Lions symbolize angelic beings
In the accounts of various prophets, God gave them visions of things that were happening and about to happen, and their descriptions used various animals to give a more understandable picture to their audiences. This is particularly common when the Bible talks of heavenly beings – the elders and the angels.
A good instance of this is in Ezekiel 10:14 when he was lifted to the heavenly realms in a vision and saw celestial beings known as cherubim. He describes them as having four different faces, with each face possibly showing a facet of God’s character:
And everyone had four faces: the first face was the face of the cherub, the second face was a human face, the third was the face of a lion, and the fourth was the face of an eagle. Ez. 10:14
In this case, the “lion-like” face on these beings is a symbol of the being’s power to defend God’s honor, as well as defend believers and destroy God’s enemies.
What is the prophetic meaning of a lion?
The spiritual and prophetic meanings of lions are the same in most cultures, and these meanings include strength, royalty, power and authority, and protection.
In many cultures, lions were prophetic insights into kings or royalty, such as the depiction of Jesus as an all-conquering lion. The prophet Daniel also saw four beasts that represented four kingdoms in a vision, and one of them was a lion.
Additionally, lions could also be signs of God’s power, such as God using them to prophecy his judgment of human sin and his ultimate authority over all creation.
What do lions mean in different cultures?
Some of the iconic depictions of lions in various cultures include:
Among the Native Americans
Various tribes among the Native Americans revered lions (which they knew as cougars or mountain lions) but also saw them as a threat to their survival because of competition for food. For instance, the Zuni people associated the North with the mountain lion, as they believed he ruled over the place.
There was also great respect for the lion’s relatives such as pumas and panthers because they observed its silence. They saw this as a representation of holiness, and that its silence was a symbol of the Great Mystery.
In Eastern Religions
In ancient India, lions were revered because they were seen as Narsimha, the half lion-half man avatar of Lord Vishnu. Hindu legends state that he was sent to Earth to restore peace by the gods.
Similar reverence for lions exists in Buddhist and Taoist religions, such as the Guardian Koma-inu in Japan. He is depicted as a lion and is seen as the protector of shrines. This depiction also exists in Chinese architecture, where the lion represents nobility and strength, as well as in other cultures in the region. Among Buddhists, the Lord Buddha is said to have the wisdom and power of a lion.
In the Middle East
Lions were common in the Middle East and North Africa, so these cultures borrowed lion symbolism from each other.
In Egypt, for instance, people believed that the lion controlled the annual Nile floods since the entry of the sun in the Leo constellation (borrowed from the Babylonian and Mesopotamian calendars) coincided with the beginning of the floods.
Lions were seen as symbols of God through their watchfulness, evil, and resurrection – especially during the Middle Ages when people believed lions slept with their eyes open. The Bible depicts the lion in two ways: as a symbol of Christ, and as a symbol of the Devil.
In Celtic culture
Lions were symbols of warriors, so it was common to see them on the coats of arms in different clans. Certain legends also talk of the lion’s mane symbolizing uprightness, authority, boldness, and confidence.
In African cultures
Various African communities saw the lion as a symbol of power, such as its symbol being used in West African voodoo rituals. It was also viewed as a link between human beings and spirits in shamanic ceremonies, and certain African cultures viewed it contrastingly as a symbol of laziness.
What is the spiritual meaning of lions?
Lions are generally seen as symbols of leadership, strength, and courage, and this also echoes in their spiritual meaning. Some common spiritual interpretations include:
Since lions are seen as symbols of regal authority, they are used in many instances to echo the spiritual authority and traits of kings and queens. This is because of its majestic appearance and powerful presence even in nature.
These animals are used to show pride in both positive and negative ways. In positive aspects, they can spiritually show courage and confidence in themselves, while negative depictions can show arrogance and domineering attitudes.
Both spiritual and physical traits of lions can reveal strength and force, such as the mental fortitude to persevere through difficulties.
Because lions are closely linked to spiritual royalty and leadership, they are also symbols of great wisdom and stoicism.
Family and protection
Since lions live in very intricate family systems, they are used as spiritual symbols of families and social foundations. Lionesses are very protective of their cubs, and various cultures and religions used this as a symbol of spiritual protection from the gods.
What does it mean to see a lion in your dreams?
Some of the interpretations behind seeing lions in dreams include:
The appearance of lions in your dream can be an indicator of the traits you want to possess or desire – in this case, to be in control or dominate others.
This may indicate that you hate other people controlling you or constraining your decisions; instead, you probably want to be the one in control.
Lions are referred to as “leaders” among animals because of their strength and power. In the same way, seeing a lion in your dream may be a sign that you have leadership qualities – whether you know it or not. These qualities may compel you to control things or be in charge when you need to, even in difficult circumstances.
Leadership qualities can also include composure when under pressure, thinking logically in emergencies, and the tendency to lead others instead of following them.
While you need to be fierce as a leader, it is also as important to tune the fierceness accurately. Lions are famous for showcasing controlled tempers, as observing them in nature reveals their coolness while they are with their packs while remaining fierce in the face of enemies.
Lions in your dream may show you that you have an aggressive temper – but you also have control over it. They can also reveal that you use your temper to threaten your enemies and make them submit to your control.
The anger of God
In the Bible, God used lions metaphorically and literally to show His anger towards disobedience and wickedness, and this could also be an interpretation of seeing lions in your dream.
God may direct his anger towards you or the evil causing you harm, similar to a king defending his subjects when they are under threats from enemies.
It is common for lions to act as symbols of knowledge and wisdom, so they may indicate that you have a mature and wise mindset. This can show that you are a truth seeker and are curious about things around you, as well as your preference for observing things and seeing between the lines.
Many cultures depict lions as courageous animals, so this may be the same meaning if you see it in your dreams. The lion you see might show that you have an outgoing, bold nature, and are not intimidated by challenges or limited opportunities – instead, you are looking for ways to transcend your limitations.
Not everything about the lion is positive; there are some negative traits it has, particularly destruction and killing. Because of its strength, it can become overwhelming and its actions may result in chaos and destruction.
Therefore, seeing lions in your dream may show that you need to control your temper because your emotions might be all over the place. If you fail to do so, you may destroy the people around you.
A lion as a spirit guide animal
Using lions as your spirit guide may symbolize:
This can be an interpretation of great self-confidence or power since the lion is a symbol of courage, assertiveness, and strength. Lions naturally dominate other animals, so using it may indicate your great ability to lead or your tendency to dominate others.
Upcoming or ongoing challenges
Lion spirit guides may point to difficult situations ahead or those you are facing. Thanks to its natural courage, the animal might reveal ways you can solve the issue or continue ahead.
Additionally, since the animal is a symbol of authority, it might also reveal your issues with authority or someone else overpowering you – especially when the lion seems to pose a threat to you.
As a devout Christian, I have always been passionate about the Christian faith. This inspired me to pursue a degree in Religious studies and a Masters in Theology in college. I have also been privileged to teach 4 Christian courses in a college and university. Since I am dedicated to spreading the word of God, I am actively involved in the Church. Additionally, I share his word online and cover diverse topics on the Christian faith through my platform. You can read more about me on the about us page.