Aryeh Lammatteh Yehudah — Lion of the Tribe of Judah
Today, lions can be found in sub-Saharan Africa and in northwest India. But in biblical times lions also roamed the region of the world now comprised of Israel, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Greece, and Turkey. From ancient times their images have graced thrones, palaces, gates, and temples, including the temple in Jerusalem. First Kings indicates that King Solomon’s throne was adorned with twelve lions, symbolizing his greatness and power.
Throughout the Bible, the lion appears as a symbol of might, and it is hardly surprising that Israel’s enemies are sometimes depicted as lions. In the New Testament, Peter calls the devil a roaring lion and warns believers that he is constantly on the prowl, looking for someone to devour.
Though lions are sometimes a symbol of evil, they are also used as symbols of God’s people. Near the end of his life, the patriarch Jacob prayed a blessing over his twelve sons. When it came time to bless Judah, he compared him to a lion—hence the phrase “the Lion of the Tribe of Judah” (Aryeh Lammatteh Yehudah in Hebrew, pronounced ar-YEH la-mat-TEH ye-hou-DAH) Jacob’s prediction that the scepter would not depart from Judah has been traditionally applied to the Messiah.
In the Hebrew Scriptures, Yahweh is sometimes depicted as a lion who roars in judgment against the nations and against his own faithless people. But he is also depicted as a mighty lion who fights fiercely on behalf of his people.
The book of Revelation (named in part for what it reveals about Christ) portrays the risen Jesus as the only one worthy to open the scroll, meaning that he is in charge of history and of how the world’s destiny unfolds. The apostle John perceived Jesus as both Lion and Lamb, who through his death and resurrection becomes the ultimate victor and conqueror.
Praying to Aryeh Lammatteh Yehudah
I like to win—I admit it. When I was a child I used to pray to win the game of Monopoly and I remember crying more than once when I didn’t. This drive to win is part of being human. To some degree, it’s a drive to have power over our circumstances, to come out on top rather than on the bottom.
Little wonder that ancient kings often employed the image of a lion to signify their royal might. It was a powerful image, conveying their ability to win victories over their enemies.
Jesus is spoken of as a Lion, but only once in the Scriptures, in the book of Revelation where he is called the “Lion of the Tribe of Judah.” But he is a lion like no other. Two sentences later, he is depicted as a Lamb who has been slain. But why put these disparate images together?
It is because Jesus’ way of winning the victory is so unusual, so counter to our own strategies for winning anything. Stripped of his garments, nailed to a cross, he must have appeared as anything but lion-like. But three days later he roared back to life, triumphing over death itself.
This is the God we worship—a God who is both lamb and lion, who wins every victory, often in surprising ways. He is the One who watches over us with his fierce protecting love.