While reading through 1st Peter this week, I came across a verse that troubled me. “8Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1st Peter 5:8). Typically when I’m looking for a blog topic I look for symbolism. This week was no different except that the symbol completely bewildered me! How could Satan, the very epitome evil, be compared to a lion? Is Christ not referred to as the “Lion of Judah”? How can two opposite figures be compared to the same symbol? I began researching trying to make some kind of sense of this seemingly crazy comparison.
I decided to take a slightly different route than i have in the past this weeks. I tried to first look at the animal itself and not just what it has represented throughout history. The context of the verse references a lion on the hunt. According to http://www.ecotravel.co.za, “Most hunting takes place under the poor light conditions of early evening or dawn, and during the night” Lions are also “opportunist hunters, and, after a careful stalk, will take the closest animal regardless of its age, sex or condition” (http://www.ecotravel.co.za). I believe that these characteristics are a possible reason why Peter chose to compare Satan to a lion. The comparison in 1st Peter uses the lion to warn Christians that Satan does not “hunt” in the “daytime” when we expect but at night when we are “asleep” and are not alert and on the ready for him. I also believe that the lion is used because it is not biased about its prey. Peter was trying to help Christians understand that Satan does not seek out a certain kind of person, whoever is near and convenient will do. Peter also used this animal because it was one that his readers could relate to. According to jewishvirtuallibrary.org, “the last lions in the Middle East were destroyed in the 19th century” (http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/lion_term.html). Lions were around in biblical times and attacked towns and people feared their attacks. Peter compared Satan to a lion, to help them understand not only the way Satan “preyed” upon them, but also to show just how dangerous he was.
From just looking at the habits and characteristics of the lion, it makes sense why peter would make this comparison. The problem lies in how this symbol is the same one used to compare the prophesied redeemer in the Jewish culture. Even with the conclusions I have come to I still can’t make sense of the protagonist and the antagonist being seen as the same animalistic image. I could not just leave this alone so I took my normal symbolism route.
The lion is seen in religious symbols throughout history and in seemingly every culture. According to www.catholic-saints.info, “The Lion Christian Symbol represents alertness and watchfulness” ( http://www.catholic-saints.info). According to lionalert.org, “The Egyptian Warrior Goddess Sekhmet (pictured above), most commonly depicted as a lioness, was the fiercest of warriors, creating the desert from her breath and believed to be a terrifying goddess worshipped as “the destroyer”. Amongst the Hindu Gods and Goddesses, you find a parallel, as echoed by the Goddess Kali, the Creator, who starts the motion of the ‘Wheel of Universal time’, creating the Universe, and at the end of the cosmic cycle of manifestation, devouring all of Creation.” (lionalert.com) In both the Egyptian and Hindu religions, the lion symbols depicts two sides of the same coin. This helped make sense of why it would do the same in the Judeo-Christian tradition.
The best way for me to truly wrap my mind around this concept was to relate to a Disney’s “The Lion King”. In this film, there are two lions (Mufasa and Scar) who are essentially the leaders of light and darkness. As lions they are both majestic, powerful, bold and dominant in their realms. Peter may have chosen the symbol of the lion to purposefully compare the highness of Christ on the moral side to the power of the devil on the immoral side.
In conclusion, Peter may have described Satan as a lion because of the similar characteristics of their hunting habits, or even because they were a feared animal for his readers. I agree that he chose the lion as a means for warning his readers. I also believe the warning goes beyond the surface characteristics of the animal itself. Peter using one of the many known Jewish symbols for the prophesied redeemer (whom the Christians believed was Christ) helped show his readers that Satan is not just any leader, but the ultimate leader of evil, just as Christ is seen as the ultimate leader of good.