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The lions of Israel were 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 Samuel 17:34-35; Amos 3:12). Samson seized a young lion with his hands and “rent him as he would have rent a kid” (Judges 14:5-6).

The strength (Judges 14:18), courage (2 Samuel 17:10), and ferocity (Genesis 49:9) of the lion were proverbial.

This powerful carnivorous animal eventually became extinct in Israel, probably due to overhunting during the Ottoman and British periods. In ancient times, they must have been very numerous. They had their lairs in the forests (Jeremiah 5:6; 12:8; Amos 3:4), in the caves of the mountains (Song of Songs 4:8; Nahum 2:12), and in the canebrakes on the banks of the Jordan (Jeremiah 49:19; 50:44; Zechariah 11:3).

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

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

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

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

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

  5. Laish, so called from its strength and bravery (Job 4:11; Proverbs 30:30; Isaiah 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 (Genesis 49:9; Numbers 23:24; 24:9; Ezek. 19:2; Nahum 2:11)

Satan is symbolically referred to as a stalking, “roaring lion.”

“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour…” —1 Peter 5:8