Lessons from Lions: Even Lions Can Lose Face

Reading: Psalm 17: 8-13

In the wild, the lion’s power is rarely challenged. The chilling roar of the king of the jungle wrings from lesser creatures, like the deer and the ox, the inevitable acknowledgement that the proud lion is invincible. Pride and power are associated with the lion, but not disappointment. Yet David prayed for lions to be disappointed (v 13).

Writing of those who had power to oppress and boasted proudly of that power (v 10), David prays that those he sees as lions be disappointed (v 12). The word that David chose for “disappoint” suggests two persons meeting face to face, From this encounter, the weaker would lose face and yield. David asks that the lions should find themselves facing a more powerful foe, and be “cast down (or made to crouch)” before the Lord (v 13) – something he never achieved with the lions who preyed on his lambs. He knew that the only superior power that could bring them to their knees in submission was the Lord Himself.

The apostle Peter once had a fear of fierce lions. In a moment of panic, he had fled when the lions seemed to be running rampant. But he learned that his God could face down the lions and leave them crouching in defeat. Peter and John had been arrested for preaching in Jerusalem and put in the hold (Acts 4:3; 5:18-19). On release they again were found preaching and were promptly arrested for a second time. This time the angel of the Lord released them without disturbing the guards. What a loss of face for those cruel lions!

Subsequently, under the captain, second in command in the temple, the temple police began searching for Peter and the apostles, only to find that they had not run away to hide (Acts 5:25). So seriously did the enemies of the cross treat their loss of face that they abused their power and beat the apostles. Their great leader Gamaliel had to acknowledge that the lions might be fighting against God. They crouched in fear as when they saw their position had become untenable. Says Luke of the disappointed lions: “And to him they agreed.” They had lost face!

Paul also encountered men just as ruthless as those David and Peter encountered. No sooner had Paul been “apprehended of Christ Jesus” than “the Jews took counsel to kill him (Phil 3:12; Acts 9:23-25). They had lain in wait for him at the gates of Damascus. But God disappointed them. A greater power had intervened under cover of darkness to let down Paul in a basket. “He that sitteth in the heavens” laughed at the disappointed lions. They had lost face!

And so the record of the Acts continues. At Iconium, “the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and made their minds evil affected against the brethren.” But when those lions pounced, their intended prey had vanished (Acts 14:2-6)! Once more the lions were disappointed. To Lystra the lions of Antioch and Iconium came with the scent of those intrepid preachers in their nostrils. They were able to persuade the people to stone Paul. Having had their fill, they cast outside the city what they supposed to be his corpse. What loss of face they suffered when Paul and Barnabas returned to Lystra and Iconium and Antioch (Acts 14:21)! The lions had lost face and meekly crouched as the work of God continued under their very noses.

And at Philippi? Were there those David might have called lions in mainland Europe? Not until some thought their livelihood was affected did the lions reveal themselves. The demon-possessed soothsayer provided them with easy money, until Paul cast out the demon (Acts 16:16 ff). The lions bared their teeth. Soon the crowd was baying for their blood, and the magistrates ordered a vicious beating with rods. To this injustice, a serious injustice on uncondemned Roman citizens (Acts 16:37), the magistrates added the further insult by having them “thrust … into the inner prison.” But a superior power was at work.”Paul and Silas prayed and sang praises unto God,” until suddenly there was a great earthquake. After the ensuing chaos, the lions surveyed evidence they could not refute and pleaded with the men they thought to consume to depart out of their city. They had lost face!

This Psalm with its references to lions is a prayer of David. From the text of the Psalm itself, is it possible to detect who the lions might be of whom David wrote? We learn that wicked men, deadly enemies, were opposed to David personally (v 9). The issues that distressed David were matters related to the tongue: deceitful tongues had caused David great concern.

It seems likely that David is thinking of the time when he was pursued by Saul. Among wicked men would be those whose tongues informed Saul of David’s movements. It would appear from the use of two verbs, both translated “compass” (vv 9, 11) that David had been in grave danger when his mortal enemies had surrounded him. This may be the event in the wilderness of Maon. The Ziphites had detected David’s presence. They then made an unsolicited approach to Saul, reporting that David was on the hill of Hachilah on the south of the desert area around Ziph. On that occasion Saul came as close as he ever came to taking David. Had it not been for a fresh incursion of Philistines, David may have been taken. As ever, God’s timing was perfect. The alarm was raised that the Philistines had invaded. Saul was in two minds what to do. But the lion had to bow the knee, and with considerable loss of face he withdrew. Never again did he come as near to slaying David. David thought God would use His sword (v 13) or His hand (v 14). His prayer was answered: God confronted Saul and reluctantly Saul had to bend the knee and retire disappointed.