LION OF THE BIBLE
Buffon gives us a description of the lion, which, if somewhat enthusiastic, contains so genuine an appreciation of his good qualities that we cannot afford to lose it. He says:
History tells us of lions attached to triumphal cars, of lions conducted to war or led to the chase, and which, faithful to their master, employed their strength and courage only against their enemies. It is certain that the lion, taken young and brought up among domestic animals, easily accustoms himself to live and even to play innocently with them; that he is gentle towards his masters, and even caressing, especially, while young; and that, if his natural ferocity reappears sometimes, he rarely turns it against those who have done him good. As his movements are very impetuous, and his appetites very vehement, we must not suppose that the impressions of education can always balance them. There is danger in allowing him to suffer too long from hunger, or in tormenting him without purpose. Not only is he irritated at ill treatment, but he remembers it, and seems to meditate vengeance, as he also preserves the grateful memory of benefits. I could cite a great number of facts, in which I confess that I have found some exaggeration, but which, nevertheless, are sufficiently well founded to prove at least, taken together, that his anger is noble, his courage magnanimous, his nature impressible. He has been seen often to disdain small enemies, to despise their insults, and to pardon their offensive liberties. He has been seen, led into captivity, to be wearied with his condition without becoming irritable, to assume, on the contrary, gentle habits, to obey his master, to caress the hand that feeds it, sometimes to give life to the animals that had been thrown to him for prey, and, as if attached to them by his generous act, to continue afterwards the same protection to them, to live peaceably with them, give them a part of his subsistence, sometimes even allow them to carry it off altogether, and rather suffer hunger than lose the fruit of his first kind deed.
It can also be said that the lion is not cruel, since he is so only from necessity; that he destroys only as much as he consumes; and that as soon as he is fed he is entirely peaceful; while the tiger, the wolf, and so many animals of inferior kinds, such as the fox, the martin, the polecat, the ferret, etc. put to death for the mere pleasure of killing, and in their many massacres seem rather to wish to satisfy their rage than their hunger.
Buffon also remarks upon the perfect symmetry of the lion, his form being the most perfect expression of effective power and the nobleness of his species—not akin to any other species, nor running into them by imperceptible degrees. He speaks of the strong odor of the lion; of his roar, which resembles thunder; of his short, reiterated, terrible cries of anger, in uttering which “he beats his sides with his tail, beats the ground with it, he erects his mane, moves the skin of his face, stirs his great eyebrows, shows threatening teeth, and puts out a tongue armed with points so hard that it is sufficient to flay the skin, and cut into the flesh, without the help of either teeth or nails.”
A French officer in Africa gives the following account of African lions:
The panther tears and mutilates the body, even after all life has fled, but does not devour it. In general he kills for the pleasure of killing, and even when attacking a flock or herd he vents his savage fury on many before deciding to eat one.
The lion, on the contrary, springs upon his victim and at once devours it, or, dragging it to a preferred dining spot, quietly makes his repast, nor thinks of troubling the rest of the flock until renewed appetite leads him to satisfy hunger in the same way. If during the repast he sees a man approach, and is not ravenous, he gets up and walks away slowly—one may say solemnly; or sometimes not even deigning this, he raises his majestic head, looks at the intruder, and by a half-friendly growl, warns him that he will not stand being troubled when at dinner. A pedestrian finding himself in this position does well to withdraw slowly, for, should he become frightened and run, the lion is quite capable of feeling a desire to overtake him, and in that case will. Even in that case, if the man has presence of mind sufficient to understand the danger, and do the only thing remaining to be done, he may still escape safe and sound; for the lion seems oftenest actuated by a half-playful, friendly sentiment, and so he does not lose his respect for man—seldom troubles him. Oftentimes he joins and passes the pedestrian, and when at a good distance, crouches across his path, watching his approach. If the man has the unfortunate idea of turning to run away, he is lost; but if he comes on quietly, neither faster nor slower than his usual pace, looking his enemy steadily in the face, and showing no signs of fear, he has every chance to escape. The lion will growl, wag his tail in rather a terrifying way, but, allowing the man to pass before him, get up, and, as though admitting to himself that he had honestly lost the game, go quietly back to his lair.
A lion rarely attacks women, and I once witnessed a scene which will go further than the longest explanation toward illustrating this. It was a hot, sultry day in July. I was returning from a little expedition on the frontiers of Tunis, and as I had some matters to settle with tribes in the environs of la Calle, I left my troops to return to Constantine, and, followed only by two spahis, turned my steps toward la Calle. Having started just before day, we arrived about four o’clock in the afternoon at the ford of the little river de la
Mafrag. Our horses, as well as we ourselves, were sadly in want of food and drink, and we stopped to refresh ourselves at a little inn kept by a European, and situated on a low mound two or three hundred yards from the ford. Whilst waiting for my frugal repast I unbuckled my sword, laid by my pistols, and, stretched out comfortably in the shade, idly watched a band of Arab women washing clothes in the river. All at once I was startled by cries proceeding from the opposite side of a sand heap bordering the river, and half a dozen women came rushing into the midst of their peaceable companions, dragging them into the shallow water, and behind them a magnificent lion, his tail proudly in air, and his great, brown eyes looking caressingly from one to the other. Paying no attention to their retreat into the river, he followed them there, rubbing himself up against them, not seeming to mind in the least their cries or terrified gesticulations, and when he had had enough of it, he took a long drink of the running water, and, turning, majestically walked away into the mountains from whence he had come.
I will recall another souvenir of this same expedition which will prove to you the harmless nature of an unattacked lion.
One day, after a rather serious skirmish against the revolted tribes, I led my two battalions of infantry to a little river situated two miles from the fort where we were stationed, in order to allow them to bathe and clean their arms. As a measure of prudence I allowed but half the men to disarm and enter the river at a time, the remaining battalion being on the qui vive, ready for defense. As there was no need for haste, I allowed the men what time they liked for bathing and cleaning, and night, which falls so suddenly in Africa, surprised us on our return at a few moments’ march from the fort. I was suddenly alarmed by the report of a gun, whose sound, being very different from any in use amongst the Arabs, spoke plainly of having been fired by one of my own men, and I at once brought my column to a halt, and galloped off in the direction from whence the single report had come. At a short distance I met a soldier recently arrived in Africa, who had been detained behind his comrades, and who in hastening up, hoping to arrive before the doors were closed for the night, excused himself timidly for being late and having fired at last at a troublesome calf or cow, which had barred his passage and seemed determined to keep him from joining his regiment. He assured me he had done all he could to get rid of him, pushing him with the butt end of his gun, etc., but to no purpose, and at last had been obliged to fire at him so close that he had rolled instantly dead at his feet. Suspecting the truth, I reassured the man, and, as night was completely upon us, rejoined my troops and entered the fort. On the following morning I dispatched the culprit with a dozen men to bring back the murdered animal, and let me decide whether a calf was to be paid for, or a reward to be given to the slayer of a lion; and, as I had rightly imagined, the latter proved to be the case, and our unconscious hero received from the government sixty francs reward for the finest lion killed that year.
From Mr. Wood, we gather some further interesting details:
A full-grown lion can not only knock down and kill, but can carry away in its mouth an ordinary ox; and one of these terrible animals has been known to pick up a heifer in its mouth, and to leap over a wide ditch, still carrying its burden. The lion seems to be a very incarnation of strength; and, even when dead, gives as vivid an idea of concentrated power as when it was living. And when the skin is stripped from the body, the tremendous muscular development never fails to create a sensation of awe. The muscles of the limbs, themselves so hard as to blunt the keen edged knives employed by a dissector, are enveloped in their glittering sheaths, playing upon each other like well-oiled machinery, and terminating in tendons seemingly strong as steel, and nearly as impervious to the knife. Not until the skin is removed can anyone form conception of the enormously powerful muscles of the neck, which enable the lion to lift the weighty prey which it kills, and convey it to a place of safety. Although usually unwilling to attack an armed man, it is one of the most courageous animals in existence when it is driven to fight, and if its anger is excited it cares little for the number of its foes, or the weapons with which they are armed. Even the dreaded firearms lose their terrors to an angry lion; while a lioness, who fears for the safety of her young, is simply the most terrible animal in existence.
The roar of the lion is another of the characteristics for which it is celebrated. There is no beast that can produce a sound that could for a moment be mistaken for the roar of the lion. The lion has a habit of stooping his head towards the ground when he roars, so that the terrible sound rolls along like thunder, and reverberates in many an echo in the far distance. Owing to this curious habit the roar can be heard at a very great distance, but its locality is rendered uncertain, and it is often difficult to be quite sure whether the lion is to the right or the left of the hearer. (Bible Animals)
It is this peculiarity of the roar that makes it helpful in catching prey; for at the fearful sound all animals are frightened, and, not distinguishing the direction of it, especially if it be near, they run towards every quarter, even into the jaws of the waiting lion himself.1 As we see the lion thus portrayed, we are struck with admiration at his noble courage—amounting in his native condition to absolute fearlessness—at the intense earnestness of his affections, as expressed, by his voice of thunder, and shown by the fury of the lioness in defending her young; and at his almost irresistible power.
As animals are forms of human affections, the lion represents the most ardent, the most powerful, and the most courageous of them all. Exactly what this affection is appears plainly in the Apocalypse. ( Natural History.)
At the time immediately preceding the Last Judgment, the World of Spirits and the Church on earth were possessed by men who professed to believe in the Lord and to be His elect, who taught doctrines, and confirmed them from the Word and by much reasoning, which permitted them to continue in selfish and wicked lives even in the name of religion, and who by these means so obscured the truth concerning the spiritual states of men that it was impossible to know them. The universal obscurity of this truth was prophetically represented to John by the “book written within and on the back side, sealed with seven seals.” The grief of all who loved the Lord, because of this confusion, was represented by John’s weeping “because no man was found worthy to open and to read the book, neither to look thereon.” And it is added, “One of the elders saith unto me, Weep not; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Juda, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof. And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb, as it had been slain. . . . And he came and took the book out of the right hand of Him that sat upon the throne” (Revelation 5).
The Lion here, who is also the Lamb, represents the power and courage of the Lord in His Divine Humanity to teach the absolute truth of human life, despite the fierce opposition of Scribes and Pharisees, and all their ecclesiastical successors.1 The zeal of the Lord to save men from evil and falsity is further represented in the Apocalypse by a mighty angel who came down from heaven, “clothed with a cloud; and a rainbow was upon his head and his face was as it were the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire; . . . and he set his right foot upon the sea, and his left foot on the earth, and cried with a loud voice as when a lion roareth.” (Apocalypse Revealed #265.)
Thus the lion, in relation to the Lord, is an image of the absolute fearlessness and invincible strength with which He stands by us, to teach the truth and to protect us from evil. We have only to trust Him, and we must be safe.
But as the Lord’s love for men is the most powerful influence operating upon them, when they receive it and respond to it, it becomes in them their most intense affection. “The lion hath roared; who will not fear? The Lord Jehovah hath spoken; who can but prophesy?” describes the effect of the Divine Love inspiring affection and clear perception of truth in the men who receive that Love.
By the tribe of Judah were represented those who are in love to the Lord. And in the blessing of Judah by his father Israel, the strength and repose of this love is described by the words, “He bowed himself, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall stir him up?” The sense of the Lord’s love in them gives them also a sense of irresistible power. As Swedenborg says, “They who are in celestial good,” which is the good of love to the Lord from the Lord, “never fight, but are safe by good; for where they come the evil flee away, for the evil cannot endure their presence; these are they who are signified by an old lion” (Arcana Coelestia #6369).
So in the passage, “The young lions roar after their prey, and seek their food from God,” Swedenborg says, by the lions are meant the angels of heaven; and by their roaring after their prey, is described the desire of the angels in states of obscurity for renewed love and wisdom from the Lord; by “the sun ariseth, they gather themselves together, and lay them down in their dwellings,” is meant their return into a heavenly state of tranquility and peace. ( Apocalypse Explained #278.(
The angels are called young lions, and the Lord a Lion; and yet I suppose that no beast of prey appears in the heavens; but it may appear from the heavens in the world of spirits; for it is as a Protector from evil that the Lord is thus represented. (Arcana Coelestia #6441–43.)
The obscurity of the angels, in which, like young lions, they seek their food from God, is caused by the encroachments of their own proprium; and when they recognize it, and look to the Lord for deliverance, they feel His power in them like that of a lion; and He gives them the ardent desire for good as of young lions. As a fierce and terrible lion the Lord appears to the wicked, because their loves are like fierce animals, and He who opposes them seems to them like themselves, only more fierce and powerful. Yet the Lion of the Lord’s presence must be noble and magnanimous, and their lions fierce and relentless. Not from the Lord’s zeal to save and protect do their lions spring; but from their own lust of claiming to themselves, and ruling over all things. It is an intense and self-confident love of dominion, which tolerates no rival, when excited fears no danger, and crushes everyone who will not submit to its control, preferring death itself to divided authority.
Author: JOHN WORCESTER 1875