Lessons from Lions: A Lion in the Street

The conservationists show understandable concern about the world’s endangered species. Bodies like World Wildlife Fund (WWF) are working hard to ensure that the world’s wild animals are not driven to extinction. In Scotland, at this very time, the debate is about introducing, once more, the wolf, the lynx, and the bear that have long since been extinct. Those who lived in Old Testament times would not have understood why 4000 people were working on 2000 projects in over 100 countries to preserve what they saw as dangerous, rather than endangered species – the Siberian tiger, the snow leopard, the Iberian lynx, and other wild beasts.

Their world had a healthy fear of the lion and the leopard. A man could find fame by slaying a lion or a bear, a fame that would live on through countless generations if he killed a lion in a pit on a snowy day[1]. Exploits with dangerous animals enhanced David’s reputation and Benaiah’s fame. To our knowledge no one had known that young David had pursued and slain both a lion and a bear that dared to take one of his lambs[2]. But not long after he had told Saul of his exploits, the whole nation would have known. The men of his generation could assess the worth of a man who could face a lion and a bear. It would appear that Benaiah’s encounter with a lion was talked about for at least thirty years. Near the beginning of his reign over all Israel, David celebrates Benaiah’s slaying of a lion in a pit on a snowy day[3], and then at the end of his long reign he again honors Benaiah’s achievement just as signally as if it had just occurred[4]. Clearly the memory of that deed lived on vividly in David’s consciousness, and no doubt in other memory banks too. David and his court knew the worth of a man who faced a lion, never mind in the confines of a pit in the treacherous conditions snow brings.

The world in which David and Benaiah lived also knew that the multiplying of wild animals like the lion might not be a random occurrence, perhaps related to climate or provender; they would reflect on the sober possibility that it could be God acting in judgment. When Israel was about to enter Canaan, they had been promised that an obedient people would be blessed by Jehovah. One aspect of that blessing would be the removing of wild beasts from their land: “I will rid evil beasts out of the land[5].” But the converse would also be true: disobedience would lead to God’s multiplying their number. And that did happen![6] The historian of 2 Kings records how those foreigners transported into Israel by the Assyrians[7] initially lived with little respect for the law of God: “… at the beginning of their dwelling there … they feared not the Lord.” They brought all manner of practices with them and thought they could live as they liked. But when the lions were in the street and lives were being lost, the realization dawned on some of them that the lions were “sent among them” by the Lord. The One they called “the God of the land” had His eye on that land from the beginning of the year until the end of the year[8]. He saw their sin; they feared His lions! The God Who promised to remove the wild beasts from the land, when men obeyed His law, was the same God Who was multiplying those wild beasts to harass the disobedient. What a fearful plight for the disobedient: wild beasts prowling around the streets!

In Proverbs 22:13, the wise man Solomon tells of a man heard saying that a lion was in the street. His intent was not malicious; he did not wish to arouse unnecessary alarm. His motive was selfish: he was circulating a rumor to excuse himself from unwelcome labor. The lazy man was circulating the rumor simply to avoid hard work. He knew that those he addressed did not treat lightly the threat a lion posed in the street, for they knew that an unarmed, unsuspecting pedestrian had no answer for the speed and strength of a hungry lion. He was exploiting that natural fear of a lion in order to make the excuse: “It is too dangerous to work; a lion might get me!”

And Christians use such devices today to avoid involvement in the work of God. They speak of physical dangers or verbal abuse, when the risk is slight. How humbling to think that there are those who do face real dangers, and yet are undeterred in their testimony, who do not flee when no man is pursuing, who are as bold as a lion in the face of danger[9]. In many lands it is dangerous to witness to Christ. In some lands it is illegal. Even in those lands there are faithful witnesses, some of them are prepared to be faithful unto death. Yet in our land there are those who avoid spiritual labor, who will not sacrifice time and energy to spread the gospel, often feebly excusing themselves by saying: “There is a lion in the street.”

Heaven knows every righteous man and woman who is as bold as a lion, and the Lord will honor every one of them. Every David and every Benaiah of our generation will be in Christ’s list of mighty men. Every Paul and every Barnabas who “have hazarded their lives for the name of the Lord Jesus Christ”[10] He will reward. Time and again men of that sort have been “delivered out of the mouth of the lion.” Each one will have his place in the Lord’s heavenly kingdom[11]. No accusation will ever be raised against them that they remained secure in their high towers, while falsely explaining their laziness with that tired old excuse: “There is a lion in the street.”

1. 2 Sam 23:20.

2. 1 Sam 17:34-36.

3. 1 Chron 11:22.

4. 2 Sam 23:20.

5. Lev 26:6.

6. 2 Kings 17:25-26.

7. Assyria was a powerful foe of Israel around the 8th-7th century BC. Its capital was Nineveh for much of the time, a city that is mentioned by prophets like Isaiah, Jonah, Nahum, and Zephaniah. Our Lord also makes mention of Nineveh (Matt 12:41; Luke 11:30). Assyrian forces carried off the northern kingdom into captivity and then transported foreigners into the land to replace the population they had removed.

8. Deut 11:12.

9. Prov 28:1.

10. Acts 15:26.

11. 2 Tim 4:17.