Thursday, March 3, 2011

Lions and Their Meaning in Holy Writ: Part I

Lions and Their Meaning in Holy Writ
Rabbi Yehudah ben Shomeyr

Lions are very prominent within Biblical symbology. Ever wondered why? They were feared beasts in the Biblical lands and in Biblical times, unsuspecting travelers would often be killed by them and thus were used often in the Bible to bring across a certain point or to drive home meaningful imagery to the reader. Even back in the ancient times of the Bible they were seen as the King of the Beasts because of their observed behavior, size, strength and prowess. They were often used as executioners by Ancient Mid-East Kingdoms as well as the Romans and Greeks in the West where the executions were a form of public entertainment at the coliseums. If we study the lion and compare it to what we find about them in Biblical Writ we can learn a lot about YHWH and ourselves.

Lion verses Tiger

Pound for pound Tigers are bigger and stronger than lions, but tigers are solitary cats, cowardly lone assassins, whereas lions find strength in numbers and yet can still stand their ground alone when they have too. Tigers hunt and will not fight unless cornered, yet lions hunt and fight. They spend the first part of their life training to fight. Tigers are ambush predators whereas lions are predominantly chase and tackle predators. They love the thrill of the chase and give their prey a fair fight. Tigers go for the neck, where as lions mostly go for the throat. A tiger lives in the shadows and retreats when overcome, but a lion lives out in the open and will only retreat when there is no other recourse. Animal Planet loaded all the facts and figures regarding lions and tigers in to a computer and ran a simulation to find out who would win in a fight and the Lion came out on to it being a patient yet aggressive, proactive, territorial animal that must protect its pride.

Tigers represent extremes and Lions represent balance.

Lion Life

Lions are often portrayed as angry vicious killers, when in reality, most of the time their mood is very laid back and docile. Unlike other big cats, lions are social animals that live in a patriarchal societal group called a Pride, which can be made up of 3-50 lions. A group of related females, their young and an alpha male make up a pride. It is an animal version of a King with a Queen and concubines or harem. The male lions spend the first four years of their life sparing and learning how to fight in order to one day take over the pride, go off and form and take over a pride of their own and to fight for and protect a pride once the position of alpha male is secure. A pride of lions is a patriarchal, familial structure, consisting typically of 4-20 females with their cubs, and usually, two or three males. The number of males in a pride can vary from one to as many as seven. It is found that two or more males within the pride are the best situation for long-term survival. Two or more males will have more success in staving off takeover attempts by other rogue males. Although a single male may only be able to reign over a pride for an average of 18 months (With a lion generation being about 22 months), a group of several males may succeed in holding a pride for several years. An alpha male lion’s reign is challenged when other males face the alpha male in a stare down which usually ends up in a battle royal to the death. If the reigning male is defeated and lives, it is kicked out of the pride to become nomadic lions that join other rogue males or find weaker prides to take over.

Lions and Lionesses

The Lions are the protectors and the Lionesses are the hunters (providers). The males will join in on a kill if the lionesses need assistance to subdue a prey, such as a large giraffe. Lions are territorial beasts that claw trees, urinate or spray to define the borders of their “kingdom.” Within the pride males can either fight for dominance and control of the pride and drive the pervious alpha male off or leave the pride to find and take control of another pride. If a lion cannot find a pride they occasionally will join other rogue males (usually a brother) to hunt or find a pride to take over. These single males, or, nomadic males, often live on their own for many years. Sometimes, two or more males, often brothers, will form an association, and hunt together, sometimes for the rest of their lives. This association probably results from the advantages of hunting together when young, and freshly kicked out of the pride. These groups of powerful males will often take on game that females tend to leave alone. It is also common for these male associations to take over a pride as a group. When a lion takes over all the males (competition) are killed and new males are sired by the new leader of the pride. They are born hunters but if injured can resort to scavenging in order to survive until they recover.

Lion Sexuality

At age 2 to 3 male lions will become sexually mature and will then either try to take over the pride or will wander off to find females to copulate with or a pride to take over.  Mating among lions is not much different from that of any other cat. A female lion can come into heat at any time. The mating ritual begins with growling, pawing and biting. When the female is finally “in the mood,” she lies down, and the male mounts her, copulates, after which time the male gently bites the female’s neck. The female then turns and bares her teeth at the male. A female will be in estrus for 4-8 days. If no pregnancy results, the estrus cycle will repeat in about 90 days or so. During mating, the male and female are together constantly, and they usually do not eat. Lions can copulate over 100 times in a 24 hour period because actual copulation only takes 5-10 seconds.

Lion Cubs

Lion cubs are born blind and have to fight for survival right off the bat, if lionesses’ have more than 4 in a liter they will have to fight for one of four teats that a lioness has. Lion cubs are raised by the pride and can suckle from any lactating lioness within the pride. They usually are weaned at 2-3 months of age. For the first four years they will play fight and play hunt with one another and practice on small prey like mice, lizards or frogs. By the time they are a year old they will join the lionesses on hunts. They learn by example, imitation and doing. We too learn in this way (Eph. 5:1, I Thess. 1:6, 2:14, I Cor. 4:16). Cubs are at the bottom of the feeding hierarchy, and only get food when the adults are filled. An interesting exception to this is that male lions will sometimes let the cubs share his food, while the females make the cubs wait their turn. The lionesses are the disciplinarians and the lions are the fun loving dads unless the cubs get on papa’s nerves, then they will discipline with a roar and a gentle cuff.


Lionesses, like male lions have trials all of their own. Lionesses when they reach adulthood, will be hazed, go through a rite of passage of sorts and will be challenged when they go on hunts to see if they can stand up to the other adult females. Those young females who can take the challenge of the other females are ultimately accepted into the pride. Those that are intimidated, and run away when hazed, become nomads and usually do not survive long on their own. Lionesses that pass the test are accepted into the pride and are members for life, and are still welcome and respected even when age or injury makes them less effective hunters.

Lion Sociability

Being social cats they greet each other by rubbing up against each other, and the males, not knowing their own strength will sometimes knock lionesses down. Lions have scent glands on the corners of the mouth. Rubbing deposits this scent on the other lions within the pride. This scent is kind of like a mark of bonding, identifying it as being a member of a particular pride. We see this behavior in all felines. A house cat does this too, when it rubs you. Male lions will also spray other lions as a means of enhancing bonding and identification. When they are happy and content, like domestic cats they purr to express this.

Lions Eating Habits

Lions work together in a cooperative hunting effort. They are merciful and efficient killers either quickly snapping the spine at the back of the neck or biting the throat and cutting of the windpipe. After a kill they will drag the prey to a sheltered location away from view of those who may attempt to steal their kill like other prides, big cats or hyenas. The males eat first, then the females, then the cubs. The belly is opened first and the heart, liver and kidneys and will eat all the insides but sometimes bury or leaving the stomach behind.  Then the hindquarters are consumed and the head tends to be eaten last, if at all. 40-75 lbs of flesh is consumed in one sitting by a lion because they only usually make a kill once or twice a week and so they sometimes will go days between meals.

Lion Facts, Figures and Stats

Adult males are adorned with great manes and tufts of hair on their tail to make them appear much bigger than they are. Their tales are used for balance and communicating to other lions within the pride. They are usually mono or two-toned in color ranging from tawny brown to golden brown to black. This helps them stay cool in warm climates as well as camouflaged in dry grassy plains. They have keen sense of smell, acute hearing and excellent eyesight which make them the ultimate predator, equipped to hunt day or night.  Adult male lions on average are 9-10 feet long, 3-4 feet high at the shoulder and can weigh anywhere from 350-400 lbs. Their tail is half the length of their body. They have 30 teeth with 4, 3-4 inch great canine teeth spaced in such away so as to snap the spine when they bite the back of the neck of a prey or to collapsing the windpipe to suffocate their prey when they bite the throat. They can bite down with as much as 1000 psi (pounds per square inch). It is said that a lion's roar can be heard up to 5 miles away. They have huge padded paws for stealth and a set of 5, 1-2 inch razor sharp retractable claws for hooking and holding prey so they can wrap their teeth around the neck or throat of their prey. In a blink of an eye they can swipe with their paws with 400-500 psi, enough to kill, decapitate or disembowel a man with one cuff and to knock large prey unconscious. They can jump up to 12 feet vertically in the air and 36 feet horizontally. They can have amazing short bursts of speed in which to overtake a prey. They can run over 30 mph over 50 yards. They have been clocked running anywhere from 30-80 mph over short distances. Their average lifespan in the wild is 12 years and can live 20 years or more in captivity. On average in a 24 hour period a male lion spends 19 hours inactive, resting and or sleeping, 2-3 hours traveling and 1 hour hunting. They are not lazy, as some perceive but are patient and know how to reserve their energy in the heat of the day and use it when opportunities present themselves. They can go 7-10 days without water and during mating season can copulate over 100 times in a 24 hour period. The gestation of a lion is 105-115 days (3-4 months). Their average body temperature is 101 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Contrary to popular saying and songs, lions do not live in jungles, but are found in savannahs, grasslands, plains and occasionally wooded forests.

To be Continues in Part 2