Majestic, powerful and kingly. An ancient symbol of regal power and glory.
If ever you’re on safari and see a few of them lounging about in the afternoon shade, stay in the Jeep.
The temptation is to get close, though. There’s just something inexplicably magnificent about lions.
These sublime creatures of graceful ferociousness have enraptured the imagination and kingdoms of man for thousands of years. From Babylon to Rome and all peoples in between, this monarchal cat and his fiery mane reign throughout the marbled halls, gateways and legends of these ancient and storied empires.
Even in our own more contemporary “myths” the lion is king. Think of Disney’s The Lion King, and of course, the main character of C.S. Lewis’ beloved Chronicles of Narnia is a lion – Aslan – Son of the Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea.
It makes perfect sense then, that one of the oldest and most widely-recognized constellations of all time is Leo.
Right now, if you’re an early riser, you can easily see Leo in the early morning hours before dawn, just look south and a little westward and there you’ll see this regal and ancient pattern of stars.
Leo is also one of the twelve constellations of the modern Zodiac. But by mentioning this constellation in accordance with the Zodiac, we are not promoting Astrology or any of its claims about the influence of stars or constellations on human beings born under the “sign” of Leo. Astrology is not science, nor is it good theology. What we’ve been doing these last few weeks here at the Talon is recognizing the familiar constellations and taking a look at the mythologies and stories behind the constellations and making some comparisons to Scripture – something akin to what the Apostle Paul did with poetry about Zeus when he talked about God to the Athenians on Mars Hill (see Acts 17).
In other words, how might the myths of the constellations likewise have something similar to say about God? How indeed might these ancient star patterns and their stories somehow point to the “glory of God” which David confesses, is revealed in the heavens? What “invisible attributes” of God can be seen in studying the constellations, in studying astronomy and cosmology, taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ?
We here at the Talon don’t claim to know with any certitude how all of this might fit together or how the constellation legends might be specifically related to Scripture. We’re only offering suggestions, possible ways to interpret the constellations and the stars in a way that would bring glory and honor to Christ.
Leo, we think, might have a few interesting biblical parallels.
For starters, one of its main stars, Regulus, was once considered to be one of the four “Royal Stars” of the ancient world. It is believed that at the time of the origins of the constellations, the sun appeared in Leo during the hottest time of the year. Thus, the king of the heavens (the sun) was united with the king of the beasts (a lion) at the peak of summer.
According to William Tyler Olcott, Lions of the North African desert would seek the coolness of the Nile Valley at the peak of summer; a time at which the Nile would also reach its highest levels. Olcott suggests the arrival of lions at the Nile River during the summer months may account for the innumerable graven lion-head fountains of the Greco-Roman world.
Think of water coming from a king and the potential parallels with Jesus’ discourse with the woman at the well in the fourth chapter of John’s Gospel.
In addtion, of the ancient twelve tribes, Judah is considered a “lion’s whelp”, and it is from the tribe of Judah that the Lord Jesus, King of kings and Lord of lords, arises.
The Lion of the tribe of Judah – the only One worthy to open the sealed scroll.
“Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?’ And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. And one of the elders said to me, ‘Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.’” (Revelation 5:1-5)
There is absolutely nothing wrong with a Christian looking up at the constellation of Leo and thinking of it as a symbolic representation of the glory of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Is that what God intended this constellation to mean? One cannot say with any certainty, but the very fact that a lion has been identified with this particular pattern of stars for so many thousands of years is worth considering in more detail.
A lion is also one of the four living creatures which comprise a cherub. See the description found in Ezekiel 1.
Lions have also been portrayed as the enemy of man. Both David and Samson attest to having slayed a lion. The devil is described as prowling about like a lion, and Daniel, we know, was put in the lion’s den and his life preserved, for God had “sent His angel and shut the lions’ mouths.” One of the most prominent myths regarding the constellation of Leo is that this lion represents the ferocious beast which Heracles (Roman – Hercules) killed as one of his twelve labors.
But, of course, no one is suggesting God is an actual “lion.” But the lion, biblically speaking, demonstrates many of God’s “invisible attributes” – His power, grace, strength and kingliness, for example. The lion in Scripture also is sometimes used to demonstrate the formidable powers of darkness often arrayed against Christians, as with the devil (1 Peter 5:8) and Daniel (Daniel 6).
But thanks be to God for being able to shut the mouths of the beasts arrayed against us and for having kingly strength and power to support us in our weakness. His “roar” will call us forth from our idolatry and the worship of creation to true and Spirit-filled worship of the Creator.
As God says through the prophet Hosea,
“They shall go after the Lord;
He will roar like a lion;
when he roars,
his children shall come trembling from the west;
they shall come trembling like birds from Egypt,
and like doves from the land of Assyria,
and I will return them to their homes, declares the Lord.” (Hosea 11:10-11)