Lessons From Lions: Rampant, Couchant, Guardant

The Bible’s first book almost ends before its first mention of the lion. In illustrative language, the glories of Judah are unfolded in a threefold picture of the lion. In the last book of our Bible that picture is brought into sharpest focus so that lovers of Christ might gaze with wonder on the Lion of the tribe of Judah.

Genesis 49 is rich in references to the animal creation: the young (foal and colt), the laboring (ass and horse), the hunted (hind), the hunters (wolf), the treacherous (adder and serpent). But these do not command the same respect as the lion (v 9).

The aged patriarch employs three terms that encompass a lion’s aggressive instincts: lion’s whelp, lion, and old lion. He develops from the stage of a voracious appetite to proudly lying at rest and finally to invincible strength. Jacob grudgingly admired all three stages: the energetic whelp, the maturing lion cultivating the guile of experience, and the old lion sitting in strength. He combines these cameos to speak of Judah supreme in Israel with his hand on the neck of his enemies (v. 8). But his spiritual vision clearly saw beyond the tribe in general, past even a David, to the Lion of the tribe of Judah.

Every Christian knows that Hailie Selassie of Ethiopia, acclaimed by Rastafarians, in no way answers to the title blasphemously ascribed to him – Conquering Lion of Judah, King of kings and Lord of lords. Before the true Lion of the tribe of Judah, all earthly monarchs with their claims to supreme power are no more powerful than the great list of threatening felines Eliphaz set forth – the roaring lions, fierce lions, young and old lions, and stout lion’s whelps; they all perish by the breath of God’s nostrils (Job 4:9-11).

Interestingly, in the three pictures, no prey remains to be taken or enemy still to be dealt with: the whelp has eaten, the lion, and the old lion are resting unchallenged. Jacob pointed to a settled kingdom David never achieved. Only Christ sits supreme. What a vision, the vision of the invincible Christ! We know that our Lord was victorious over every foe in His great work at Calvary, but as yet the world has not acknowledged the all-powerful Christ. By the Spirit, Jacob points forward to that day when every enemy is under His feet. He foresees the day with “neither adversary nor evil occurrent” (1 Kings 5:4).

His Appetite For Prey

Of the three figures Jacob develops, the lion’s whelp is the closest to the Lion Rampant associated with royalty in countries like Great Britain, where heraldry still flourishes. In Scotland, Alexander II (1214-1249) appears to have first used the Lion Rampant. It is featured on a Scottish flag, officially flown only by the monarch in her capacity as Queen of Scotland, and heralds unchecked power. Clearly Jacob’s whelp has exercised that kind of power and now stand up from gorging himself on his prey. How vivid the portrayal of a force that is altogether unanswerable!

After the Rapture, in an unparalleled way, the forces of evil under Antichrist will prey upon the people that God will raise up. That persecuted people will all seem as sheep for the slaughter before roaring lions and evening wolves, but only until the Lord arises in His power. The exhortation to the persecuted will then be, “Wait upon me, saith the Lord, until the day that I will rise up to the prey” (Zeph 3:8). When the Lion of Judah is stirred up, He will prey on the preying enemies of His people. Isaiah described that scene in memorable language: “Even the captives of the mighty (one) shall be taken away and the prey of the terrible (one) shall be delivered, for I will contend with him that contendeth with thee, and I will save thy children. And I will feed them that oppress thee with their own flesh.” Jehovah adds a note in which we too can triumph: “And all flesh shall know that I the Lord am thy Savior and thy Redeemer, the mighty One of Jacob” (Isa 49:25, 26). The Lion Rampant shall yet stand up from the prey, His every foe lying in defeat behind Him.

His Adversaries Defeated

Two verbs are used in the second cameo:”to stoop,” and “to couch.” The verb, “to stoop,” involves bending the knees. The verb, “to couch,” occurs again at verse 14 of the strong ass couching down, so it is not a word particularly connected with lions lying down, but with quadrupeds in general. Some have thought that the stoop is the stoop of the Savior from heaven to earth, or His humbling Himself and becoming “obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phi 2:5-8). But the context relates to the Lord’s victory over His foes at a time when Israel the nation bows down before Him. That day has not yet arrived when Jacob’s children will gladly do obeisance unto Christ. Jacob’s metaphor allows us to view the lion, its hunger satisfied, the scent of prey no longer in its nostrils, the heat of the day urging it to rest. It lies down as the Lion Couchant. Now we see a victorious Christ after His enemies are subdued and are reminded that the Lord will establish a thousand years of undisturbed rest.

His Aptitude Unchallenged

Jacob’s third illustration is the old lion sitting unchallenged. Perhaps the heraldry symbol would be of the Lion Guardant: resting but watchful. Behind him lies many a battle, the scars of which he still bears. Younger lions respect his status, but he watches warily for challenges.

The noun translated, “old lion” is literally “lioness,” because after whelping, the lioness is stronger and more forceful in protecting her whelps than the male lion. Watchfulness is an instinct of the lioness that is so important to her whelps.

The Lord Jesus will be intolerant of any evil arising during His millennial reign. Isaiah reminds us that He will deal with it summarily, “The sinner being a hundred years old shall be accursed” (Isa 65:20). Only the born again will enter that kingdom, but not all of their seed will trust the Savior. Some will challenge the Lion of Judah. The final challenge (Rev 20:7-10) will meet swift and solemn destruction from the Lion. In the language of monarchies, the sceptre of righteousness in His hand will never slip. In the language of nature, all who rouse Him will perish.

Presently, our exalted Lord watches over His assemblies. Gladly we acknowledge His supremacy. We know that He is able to deal with all that opposes Him. Even though Satan now spreads his terror “as a roaring lion” (1Pe 5:8), Jacob’s Lion will inevitably silence him in the lake of fire (Rev 20:10).