Tuesday
Jul262011

Lion

The lion’s reputation as king of the jungle is well-deserved.

No animal, regardless of size or mystery, inspires quite as much awe as Panthera leo, and that ferocious, even authoritative, characterization holds true throughout the Bible, especially in the Proverbs. “Three things are stately in their tread; four are stately in their stride: the lion, which is mightiest among beasts and does not turn back before any; the strutting rooster, the he-goat, and a king whose army is with him” (Proverbs 30:29-31).

A human monarch, of course, is the point of the axiom – the animals are used merely to illustrate his pride and strength, especially as his majesty derives from the support of his subjects. The wisest, most enduring, leaders in history have been the ones who sought to rule, not as selfish, malevolent dictators, but for the greater good of the people they served from the throne. 

Rehoboam arrogantly declined the support of the Hebrew populace in his first days upon his dead father’s throne. A contingent of those who had labored long in Solomon’s many building projects argued, “Your father made our yoke heavy. Now therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke on us, and we will serve you” (First Kings 12:4).

Taking the advice of his young peers over the wizened sages of Israel, Rehoboam instead asserted his power and independence from the people. He answered them harshly and promised to be even more severe than Solomon had been (First Kings 12:12-15). His rule was shortened as a result and, most significantly, the kingdom was divided because the ruler put his pride ahead of the welfare of those he led.

Israel was continuing to learn that Samuel’s royal prophecies would not be denied; Israel’s kings would prove to be a generally harsh lot, who would divide and destroy the nation because of their own weaknesses and urges (First Samuel 8:10-18). “Like a roaring lion or a charging bear is a wicked ruler over a poor people” (Proverbs 28:15). 

Putting so much power into the fallible hands of one man subjected Israel to all the whims of his lust and wrath. The Proverbs twice warn: “A king's wrath is like the growling of a lion, but his favor is like dew on the grass. … The terror of a king is like the growling of a lion; whoever provokes him to anger forfeits his life” (Proverbs 19:12, 20:2).

Israel could remember King Saul flinging spears at the head of his royal musician or contemplate the evils of Ahab and Jezebel, leaders who would stop at nothing to get what they wanted, even violating the laws of God to come out ahead. Rare was the king like David, who responded to genuine reproof with repentance instead of rapacity. That man after God’s own heart turned from his vengeance at the word of Abigail, and from his duplicity when rebuked by his friend, Nathan. They enjoyed the favor of the king, where others died for having the audacity to restrain the ruler.

That lion – whether a literal beast roaming the wild or an apt metaphor for a moody king – was worthy of dread, if not respect. Its presence, however, was exaggerated at times and became an excuse for sloth. A lazy man who could work, but just would prefer not, will seek any excuse for staying home, even attributing his day off to the threat of an urban lion:

 

The sluggard says, “There is a lion in the road! There is a lion in the streets!” As a door turns on its hinges, so does a sluggard on his bed. The sluggard buries his hand in the dish; it wears him out to bring it back to his mouth. The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who can answer sensibly. (Proverbs 26:13-16; see also 22:13)

 

The early church, likewise, was confronted with a refusal by some of its members to work and support themselves, perhaps imagining that the return of Christ was too imminent to worry about such mundane matters. They became parasites on the congregation, even drifting into gossip and idle talk, because of all the free time they had (Second Thessalonians 3:11, Psalm 22:13). Paul insisted that they face up to the imaginary lions: “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. … Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living” (Second Thessalonians 3:10, 12).

Surely, there are many who are too aged or infirm to work anymore, and others find themselves unwillingly unemployed, down on their blessings and in genuine need of temporary help (James 1:27, First Timothy 6:17-19, Isaiah 58:7). God would have us to help all of them, but to refuse to support blatant, able-bodied laziness. To fund their sin is to participate in it (Ephesians 5:11). “Through sloth the roof sinks in, and through indolence the house leaks” (Ecclesiastes 10:18). The inspired writer goes so far as to urge the church to discipline such members and “keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness,” to “take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed” (Second Thessalonians 3:6, 14).

The Old Testament is rich with comparisons to the mighty king of the jungle, but nowhere more than when wisdom proclaims, “The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion” (Proverbs 28:1).

Although life is filled with many difficulties and tense moments, the believer in Christ, armed and armored with faith and hope, is equipped to stare down every peril and emerge victorious (Ephesians 6:10-18). The wicked run away from spiritual challenges, allying with the tempter in a perverse compact of convenience and self-indulgence – the righteous resist him, firm in the faith and persuaded of eternity, falling prey neither to laziness nor selfish pride, but strengthened by the Lion of the tribe of Judah.