Like a Mighty Lion
(H) For the director of the choir, on stringed instruments, a psalm of Asaph, a song. (1) In Judah God is known. In Israel great (is) his name. (2) In Salem is his lair, and his den (is) in Zion. (3) There he shattered the flaming arrows of the bow, the shield, the sword, and weapons of war. (Selah) (4) (You are) glorious, the majestic one from the mountains of prey. (5) The mighty in heart were despoiled. They sank into the sleep (of death). None of their mighty men could find their hands. (6) At your rebuke, God of Jacob, both rider and horse (were) paralyzed.
While there are no word repetitions in this segment, four locations are emphasized: “Judah” and “Israel" (vs. 1), “Salem” or Jerusalem and “Zion” (vs. 2). Along with these place names, two words contribute to the imagery of this first part of the psalm: “lair” and “den,” often translated as “tabernacle” (vs. 2). These terms, along with the phrase, “the majestic one from the mountains of prey” (vs. 4), indicate that Asaph is picturing Judah’s God as a great lion from the mountains, making Zion his home, and defending it against all enemies. Those who have enjoyed reading The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis with its magnificent portrayals of Aslan, the Lion King, who rules over the kingdom of Narnia, can easily identify with Asaph’s use of such imagery.
I. Israel’s God dwells among his people in Zion. (1-4)
II. Israel’s enemies are paralyzed by God’s rebuke. (5 & 6)
Like a mighty lion, Israel’s God dwells among his chosen people, protecting them from their enemies.
Using imagery from the world of animals to portray the nature and character of God is not unique to the Psalms. In Revelation 5, we find the following description given by the Apostle John: “I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. Then one of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.’ Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth” (Rev. 5:4-6).
“The Lion of the tribe of Judah” and “a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain” are John’s inspired descriptions of the one who is worthy to open the scroll and unleash the Great Tribulation about to overwhelm the earth. He is portrayed as a lion in his great power, awesome and magnificent, a fearsome opponent to those who resist his rule. However, in the same paragraph, he is depicted as a slain lamb to show that he came to earth to serve as the atoning sacrifice for our sins. In the words of Isaiah,“He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth” (Is. 53:7).
The writers of scripture never demean God by using such imagery. Portraying divine attributes in human terms is a figure of speech we call “personification.” Its purpose has always been to help the reader better understand the nature of the one we worship in ways which we can more readily grasp. The same holds true when God’s attributes are portrayed in terms of the animal traits. C. S. Lewis in his first book in the Narnia series, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, helps us understand the fear of the Lord with the following dialogue between Lucy and Mr. Beaver:
Mr. Beaver: “If there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan (the lion) without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than me or else just silly.”
Lucy: “Then he isn't safe?”
Mr. Beaver: “Safe? Who said anything about safe? Of course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the king, I tell you.”