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lions

The lion of Israel was properly of the Asiatic variety, distinguished from the African variety, which is larger. Yet it not only attacked flocks in the presence of the shepherd, but also laid waste towns and villages (2 Kings 17:25-26) and devoured men (1 Kings 13:24-25). Shepherds sometimes, single-handed, encountered lions and slew them (1 Sam. 17:34-35; Amos 3:12). Samson seized a young lion with his hands and “rent him as he would have rent a kid” (Judg. 14:5-6).

The strength (Judg. 14:18), courage (2 Sam. 17:10), and ferocity (Gen. 49:9) of the lion were proverbial.

Although not now found in Israel, they must have been in ancient times very numerous there. They had their lairs in the forests (Jer. 5:6; 12:8; Amos 3:4), in the caves of the mountains (Song of Songs 4:8; Nah. 2:12), and in the canebrakes on the banks of the Jordan (Jer. 49:19; 50:44; Zech. 11:3).

No fewer than at least six different words are used in the Old Testament for the lion.

  1. Gor (i.e., a “suckling”), the lion's whelp (Gen. 49:9; Jer. 51:38, etc.).

  2. Kephir (i.e., “shaggy”), the young lion (Judg. 14:5; Job 4:10; Ps. 91:13; 104:21), a term which is also used figuratively of cruel enemies (Ps. 34:10; 35:17; 58:6; Jer. 2:15).

  3. 'Ari (i.e., the “puller” in pieces), denoting the lion in general, without reference to age or sex (Num. 23:24; 2 Sam. 17:10, etc.).

  4. Shahal (the “roarer”), the mature lion (Job 4:10; Ps. 91:13; Prov. 26:13; Hos. 5:14).

  5. Laish, so called from its strength and bravery (Job 4:11; Prov. 30:30; Isa. 30:6). The capital of northern Dan received its name from this word.

  6. Labi, from a root meaning “to roar,” a grown lion or lioness (Gen. 49:9; Num. 23:24; 24:9; Ezek. 19:2; Nah. 2:11).

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