(By Angelica C. Fermis)
Cats as a group, unlike dogs, do not appear in the Bible. Only two specific cats are mentioned – the lion and the leopard.
Leopards were mostly used in the same context as lions. Being predators, it’s no surprise that these cats are seen in the Bible preying, devouring, roaring, lurking, stalking – doing their predator stuff. But the surprising thing is that they are sometimes used in verses that seem to contradict each other.
Jesus was pictured as a lion (Revelation 5:5) but so was the devil (1 Peter 5:8).
Solomon said that the “righteous are bold as a lion” (Proverbs 28:1), but 14 verses later he compared a “wicked ruler” to a lion (Proverbs 28:15).
When Jesus returns and sets up His Kingdom on the earth, God said that the “…lion will eat straw like the ox…” (Isaiah 11:6) and “they shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain…” (Isaiah 11:9). But then again, the same book tells us that “no lion will be there” on the “way of holiness” (Isaiah 35:8-9).
What is it really? Do they represent the righteous or the wicked? Is it Jesus or the devil? Will they be in the kingdom of God or not? These are apparent contradictions, but “the scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35),so let’s see what lions and leopards really represent.
The Devil – A Lion
1 Peter 5:8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:
Lions, like any predator, devour the innocent, especially the young, old, weak, maimed, or simply the “poor” among the flock. Those who wander away from the herd also become targets. Lions prey upon basically anyone not vigilant enough.
In the same way, the devil devours those who are spiritually weak, those who are enticed to drink from Babylon’s cup and be drunk. That is why Peter reminded us to be sober and vigilant, otherwise we would be devoured by the devil and share the portion of unbelievers.
Luke 12:45 But and if that servant say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; and shall begin to beat the menservants and maidens, and to eat and drink, and to be drunken; The lord of that servant will come in a day when he looketh not for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in sunder, and will appoint him his portion with the unbelievers.
Lions are the flock’s enemies, but they also perform the flock a great service. When they devour the “poor”, only the strongest will be left in the flock. Likewise, the devil who is the church’s enemy helps the church when he is able to devour the weak that drink his cup of lies. The church will be freed from the “branch… that beareth not fruit” (John 15:1-5).
Hebrews 12:27 And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.
Anyone that is not firmly founded on the Rock (Matthew 7:24) will be shaken while the remnants will be made manifest (Hebrews 12:27). So God needs rain, floods, wind, pruning shears, lions, anything, yes, even the devil, to remove those things that can be shaken. God also uses tares (Matthew 13:24-30) and thorns (Matthew 13:22) so that the unfruitful wheat will be choked while they “which are approved may be made manifest” (1 Corinthians 11:19).
Tares and thorns are only a threat to the “weak” wheat; the shears, as well as the devil, are only a threat to those who can’t resist him (James 4:7) – those that will be shaken;likewise lions are only a threat to the “poor”.
The Wicked As Lions
The Bible already compared the devil to a lion. So it’s no surprise to see them as a symbol for the wicked. These, like lions, murder the innocent for their own gain.
Psalms 10:8-9 …[the wicked] sitteth in the lurking places of the villages: in the secret places doth he murder the innocent: his eyes are privily set against the poor. He lieth in wait secretly as a lion in his den: he lieth in wait to catch the poor: he doth catch the poor, when he draweth him into his net.
And yet lions were also used to describe the righteous:
Proverbs 28:1 The wicked flee when no man pursueth: but the righteous are bold as a lion.
There is no contradiction here because it’s the boldness of the lion that was used to describe the righteous. The same “boldness” needed to “enter into the holies” (Hebrews 10:19) and to come to the throne of grace (Hebrew 4:16).
Dogs and Lions
It may surprise you to know that dogs and lions share some traits. One of them is greed (compare Psalms 17:12 with Isaiah 56:11). Another thing they share is that they were both used to describe those crucifying Christ:
Psalms 22:16, 20-21 For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet… Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of the dog. Save me from the lion’s mouth: for thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns.
Interestingly, God uses both dogs and lions when executing His judgments. The lions actually execute the judgment, and the dogs clean up the mess.
2 Kings 17:25 And so it was at the beginning of their dwelling there, that they feared not the LORD: therefore the LORD sent lions among them, which slew some of them.
2 Kings 9:10 And the dogs shall eat Jezebel in the portion of Jezreel, and there shall be none to bury her….
Symbol of Kingship
Genesis 49:9 Judah is a lion’s whelp: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up? The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.
Comparing Judah to a lion and saying that the sceptre will not depart from him, it’s not that hard to see that lions were used to symbolize kingship. King Solomon even used them as steps in his throne:
1 Kings 10:19-20 The throne had six steps, and the top of the throne was round behind: and there were stays on either side on the place of the seat, and two lions stood beside the stays. And twelve lions stood there on the one side and on the other upon the six steps: there was not the like made in any kingdom.
Solomon also used lions to describe kings:
Proverbs 19:12 The king’s wrath is as the roaring of a lion; but his favour is as dew upon the grass.
Proverbs 20:2 The fear of a king is as the roaring of a lion: whoso provoketh him to anger sinneth against his own soul.
God compared the kings of Assyria, Babylon, and Egypt to lions:
Jeremiah 50:17 Israel is a scattered sheep; the lions have driven him away: first the king of Assyria hath devoured him; and last this Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon hath broken his bones.
Ezekiel 32:2 Son of man, take up a lamentation for Pharaoh king of Egypt, and say unto him, Thou art like a young lion of the nations, and thou art as a whale in the seas: and thou camest forth with thy rivers, and troubledst the waters with thy feet, and fouledst their rivers.
It’s interesting to note that not just Nebuchadnezzar, but his kingdom – the first world-ruling kingdom (first beast) – was also likened unto a lion (Daniel 7:4). And that the Bible called him a king of kings (Ezekiel 26:7).
The Lamb and the Lion
We have established that lions were used as a symbol of a king, but there’s another proof. In Revelation 5, John relates the vision he saw about the Being that was able to open the book, although it was first said that no one was found worthy to open the book (verse 4). An elder comforted John saying that the Lion was able to open the book.
Verse 5 And 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.
The weird thing is that John saw a Lamb taking the book and opening it, not a lion.
Verses 6-7 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.
We all know that Jesus is the Lamb (John 1:29, 36, Revelation 17:14, Revelation 21:14). The Lamb opened the book. The elder said the Lion is worthy to open the book. Jesus the Lamb is also the Lion, the Lion of the tribe of Judah (Revelation 5:5). This clear contrast, lamb and lion, is worth discussing.
Lambs are weak (prey) and are herbivores. Lions are strong (predators) and are carnivores. Lambs go “mee hee” as if asking help; lions roar as if declaring their authority. Lambs are helpless; lions are powerful. Why use them to describe Jesus?
When questioned by Pilate, Jesus admitted He was a king (John 18:37). He is a king to those who hear His voice. But when Jesus first came here, it was not as a king that will rule with a rod of iron, but was instead in the form of a servant.
Philippians 2:7-8 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
He is a king, yes, but the “chiefest, shall be the servant of all” (Mark 10:43). He was a king that humbled Himself; He was sacrificed as the Passover lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7).
Isaiah 53:7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.
Revelation 5:12 Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing.
So Jesus is the Lamb brought to the slaughter according to Isaiah 53:7. He is also the Lamb worthy to receive power, riches, wisdom, strength, honour, glory, and blessing according to Revelation 5:12. What can we get if we put together power, riches, wisdom, strength, honour and glory?
1 Kings 3:12-13 Behold, I have done according to thy words: lo, I have given thee a wise [wisdom] and an understanding heart; so that there was none like thee before thee, neither after thee shall any arise like unto thee. And I have also given thee that which thou hast not asked, both riches, and honour: so that there shall not be any among the kings like unto thee all thy days.
Daniel 2:37 Thou, O king, art a king of kings: for the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory.
God gave to Solomon wisdom, riches, and honour and to Nebuchadrezzar power, strength, and glory. What do these two men have in common? They are both kings! One was even called a king of kings!
So in other words, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to be the King of kings!!!”
Blessing is the last thing to be given to the Lamb. Jesus is from the tribe of Judah. What was Judah’s blessing? Genesis 49:9 again. So the Lion of the tribe of Judah meant the King of the tribe of Judah.
The second time Jesus will come here, He will no longer be a lamb brought to the slaughter. He will INITIATE the slaughter (Revelation 14:14-20) while riding His white horse (Revelation 19:11) with His rod of iron (verse 15) as the King of kings (verse 16) ruling the world like a lion.
And just as these things belong to kings, they also belong to lions:
- Riches: While riches usually refer to money and goods, it can also mean the abundance of manpower (1 Samuel 8:11-12) or territory. A lion’s territory “may include 100 square miles (259 square kilometers) of grasslands, scrub, or open woodlands” (National Geographic).
- Wisdom: By working together as a team, female lions are able to bring down prey weighing over a ton; thus they have a “good reward for their labor” (Ecclesiastes 4:9).
- Strength & Power:“What is stronger than a lion?” (Judges 14:18) Being the strongest among the beasts, lions were often used as a gauge of a warrior’s strength. Samson, David, and Benaiah slew a lion single handedly (Judges 14:5, 1 Samuel 17:34-37, 2 Samuel 23:20). Saul and Jonathan were “stronger than lions” (2 Samuel 1:23).
- Honour: Lions are among the animals honoured at the top of the food chain. They do not have a natural predator, and other animals fear them. This fuels their boldness (Proverbs 28:1) and bravery. The authority of a lion’s roar is unquestionable. Along with it comes fear and reverence to anyone that will hear (Amos 3:8).
- Glory: No other group of predatory animals have their leader stand out like male lions in a pride. I don’t think any other animal can portray royalty better than a lion. Among all predators, male lions are the most majestic of all. They are arguably the most renowned among the animals. The mane closely resembles the coat and a crown of a king. Their long tail roughly portrays a sceptre.
Whether they are catching the prey, breaking bones, roaring ferociously, walking boldly, or just devouring whatever they can devour, they are always in command. Those who crucified Christ were compared to lions because they had authority over Christ (Matthew 26:53-56, John 19:10). The devil is compared to a lion because, as “god of this world”, he has authority over it (2 Corinthians 4:4). When God uses lions, it is to impose His authority.
And thus, it is inescapable, lions represent authority.
“In antiquity, a leopard was believed to be a hybrid of a lion and a panther… ” (Wikipedia, “Leopard”)
While lions were mentioned over a hundred times in the Bible, leopards were mentioned only eight times, five of which were even alongside lions.
Watchful Eyes and Speed for Judgment
Jeremiah 5:6 Wherefore a lion out of the forest shall slay them, and a wolf of the evenings shall spoil them, a leopard shall watch over their cities: every one that goeth out thence shall be torn in pieces: because their transgressions are many, and their backslidings are increased.
Notice how leopards were also used to execute judgment upon the transgressors. But unlike lions, they were not there to “slay” but to watch over their cities. Cats in general have those watchful eyes that remain locked on the prey once targeted.
Habakkuk 1:8 Their horses also are swifter than the leopards, and are more fierce than the evening wolves: and their horsemen shall spread themselves, and their horsemen shall come from far; they shall fly as the eagle that hasteth to eat.
The latter half of this verse compares the horsemen to eagles – one of the fastest birds. Cats are also quite speedy; in fact, the fastest land animal – the cheetah – is a cat, which happens to be also “spotted” like leopards. The two look very similar, and from a distance anyone could have mistaken one for the other – maybe even Habakkuk.
And if the point is to exaggerate, I don’t think leopards would be the most effective. But imagine someone telling you “Their horses also are swifter than the cheetahs…” I’m pretty sure “ye will not believe, though it be told you” (verse 5).
God will not “…raise up the Chaldeans…” (verse 6)and their cheetah-like horses for nothing. God has “ordained them for judgment…” and “…established them for correction” (verse 12). So that the “sentence against an evil work” will finally be “executed speedily” (Ecclesiastes 8:11) when the perfect time comes.
Leopards and the Wicked
God used traits of the lion to describe the wicked; there is also a certain trait of the leopard that resembles the wicked.
Jeremiah 13:23 Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil.
Offensive as it may seem, but it’s really impossible to change one’s skin color or spots – the same way it was impossible for the Israelites, who were so committed to their sinful ways, to do good! And even if the outward appearance could be changed, it would not change what was in the heart!
Douay-Rheims Bible renders the latter part of that verse as: “…you may also do well, when you have learned evil.” So for those who have learned the truth, but choose to learn evil again – fall away – they, too, have those inner “spots” “for it is impossible…to renew them again unto repentance” (Hebrew 6:4-6). Then there are those who have learned to “say evil of rulers” and “have no respect for authorities” (Jude 1:8-BBE); interestingly, Jude also called them “spots” (verse 12).
The heart of Israel was set to do evil, and they would not repent. So God, like a leopard, “watch[ed] over them for evil, and not for good” (Jeremiah 44:27). And the hearts of those who have fallen away weren’t “rooted and built up in [Christ], and stablished in the faith” (Colossians 2:6-7), and they turned to be unfruitful (Mark 4:3-19) and could not repent. And the hearts of those who say evil of rulers, are just abundantly evil (Matthew 12:34). So “God gave them over to a reprobate mind” (Romans 1:28), and they ought to be delivered “unto Satan” (1 Corinthians 5:5).
The Third Beast
In Daniel’s dream, the third beast was likened unto a leopard (Daniel 7:6). History reveals that Alexander the Great is the third beast (kingdom). His empire was the third world-ruling kingdom the earth ever had, next to Nebuchadnezzar and the Medo-Persian empire. Why was he compared to a leopard?
One of the famous stories surrounding the life of Alexander is how he tamed Bucephalus.
“The famous incident with the horse Bucephalas happened when Alexander was 10 years old, and his father was buying warhorses. One magnificent horse was too shy and unruly to be ridden, and Philip was going to send it back until Alexander begged to have a try at taming it. The story goes on to say he had noticed the horse was frightened by its moving shadow, so he turned the horse’s face into the sun, soothed it by stroking, and finally jumped on its back and galloped off. Leaving aside the usual hero-foreshadowing and prophetic comments that went along with the story, we can note that Alexander was already a careful observer who figured out how to manage those around him; that he was both impetuous and calculating, biding his time for the moment to act. This was not just a colorful story of a boy and his horse; it shows a remarkably mature 10-year-old; and the qualities Alexander shows are much the same as his father’s.”
Here we can see that, even at a young age, Alexander was already a careful observer. By watching how his father led his army, Alexander learned a great deal. Collins goes on to say:
“Besides diplomacy and advance logistics, how did he actually conduct a battle? Not quite what you’d think: not just a headlong attack, but a mixture of caution and impulsiveness. A better word would be patience. Alexander took risks once battle began, but his strategy of when and where to give battle was the opposite of risk-taking. Alexander always started the battle. His formula was to seize the initiative, establish emotional domination as quickly as possible.”
Alexander was a great observer and carefully calculated just when to attack – this perfectly matches the hunting style of the leopard.
Lions are a symbol of authority in general and kings in particular because kings execute judgment, showing that they are in command. They are the highest authority in the land, just as lions are the kings of the jungle. The spots of the leopards and cheetahs resemble the unrepentant hearts of the wicked. But their watchful eyes that wait for the perfect time to attack and their speed resemble good military generals who know when to wait, and when to pursue and act quickly.Both lions and leopards are used by God to execute His judgments. God is the highest authority in the universe, and His throne is guarded by creatures with a face of a lion (Ezekiel 1:10, Revelation 4:7).
Lions, leopards, and even cheetahs perform a great service to the flock of God. They devour the weak and sickly, leaving only the strongest. But in spite of that, as long as they are one of the “ravenous beasts”, they can’t walk in the “the way of holiness” because only the “redeemed” can walk therein (Isaiah 35:8-9).
But if the lion learns to follow the Lamb not to eat it but to be redeemed by it; if the leopard finally understands that he should observe the Lamb not to wait for the right time to attack but to learn its ways; if the cheetah stops using its speed to kill the Lamb but to help the Lamb and other animals.
If these cats turn from their “ravenous ways” and “proud hearts” and do “that which is lawful and right” – like eating straw and forsaking hurting others – “he shall surely live, he shall not die”.
Isaiah 65:25 The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock: and dust shall be the serpent’s meat. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith the LORD.
Isaiah 11:6 The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.
 Collins, Randall. “What Made Alexander Great?” Published on February 6, 2014. http://sociological-eye.blogspot.com/2014/02/what-made-alexander-great.html