Historical references to sacred cats date back to the ancient days of Egypt. Egyptians held their felines in the highest regard, as cats often killed poisonous snakes and disease-carrying rodents. Some people of the time even believed that cats had mystical powers, offering protection to the Pharaoh (their king).
From as far back as 1350 BC, archaeologists have uncovered the remains of mummified cats. They’ve also discovered ancient cat etchings carved into tombs, underground cat murals, and good luck charms made in the image of cats. With so many discoveries that involve felines, their importance many thousands of years ago, during notable biblical periods, can’t be understated.
For cat lovers, this is wonderful news!
Unfortunately, though, the Bible doesn’t mention domesticated cats. Maybe that’s because they’re so pure that to reference one would be sacrilege. 😉 Whatever the reason, references to lions and leopards occur throughout the Bible.
The Biblical Big Cats: Lions and Leopards
Almost synonymous, these two breeds of cats appear in the Bible as predators that lurk, stalk, and eventually devour their prey.
This sounds all too familiar — when you watch your little kitty hunt, she’ll crouch down and stare at her toy, then slowly and carefully approach it and stalk it before pouncing on it. She acts like a miniature lion or leopard stalking its prey.
That predator trait is an instinct in cats, even those that no longer live in the wild.
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Biblical Representations of Lions and Leopards
The Bible mentions lions 157 times between the Old and New Testaments, some recounting events that involved a lion and others that are symbolic. Sometimes the Bible characterizes a lion as holy and strong, while the lion represents evil and death in other passages.
The leopard, however, is only mentioned in the Bible eight times, and those mentions have only a proverbial or symbolic meaning. No actual events involve the leopard.
7 Contradictory Examples of Lions in the Bible
There are contradictory depictions of the lion in some passages of the Bible, which may lead you to wonder if lions are good or evil.
Let’s review a few examples.
Example #1: Holy or Evil?
For example, Revelation 5:5 describes Jesus as “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David,” meaning strength, holiness, and kingly. Conversely, 1 Peter 5:8 describes Satan as “a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour,” meaning predatory, evil, and death.
Example #2: Bold or Wicked?
Proverbs is another example of the contradictory meaning of lions. Proverbs 28:1 says, “The righteous are bold as a lion,” while Proverbs 28:15 reads that a lion “is a wicked ruler over poor people.”
Example #3: an Opportunist?
Psalm 10:8-9 characterizes an evil person as a lion: “He sits in the lurking places of the villages; In the secret places he murders the innocent; His eyes are secretly fixed on the helpless. He lies in wait secretly, as a lion in his den; So he crouches, he lies low, That the helpless may fall by his strength.”
Example #4: Majestic?
The strength and majesty of the lion, however, commands respect and admiration: Proverbs 30:29-30 “There are three things which are majestic in pace, Yes, four which are stately in walk: A lion, which is mighty among beasts and does not turn away from any.”
Example #5: an Instrument for Punishment?
In the Old Testament, God uses lions to punish the wicked. 1 Kings 20:36 “Then he said to him, “Because you have not obeyed the voice of the Lord, surely, as soon as you depart from me, a lion shall kill you.” And as soon as he left him, a lion found him and killed him.”
Example #6: a Kidnapper?
In Hosea 5:14, God compares His actions to those of a lion. “For I will be like a lion to Ephraim, And like a young lion to the house of Judah. I, even I, will tear them and go away; I will take them away, and no one shall rescue.”
Example #7: Power?
In contrast, in Psalm 7:2, David uses the lion to describe his enemies. “Lest they tear me like a lion, Rending me in pieces, while there is none to deliver.”
Examples of the Lion as God and Satan
Even today, the devil stalks his prey, both Believers and unbelievers, like a lion. 1 Peter 5:8 compares Satan to a lion. “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary, the devil, walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.”
Nevertheless, in Revelation 5:5, a lion’s strength, power, and majesty describe God as the eternal King, able to defeat Satan, conquering both sin and death. “Do not weep. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and to lose its seven seals.”
The Traits of a Lion Relative to God
Although many passages in the Bible show the lion as a savage beast, preying on the weak and helpless, or as the devil stalking about like a lion, the traits of a lion more often depict the Lord God.
The lion’s characteristics are perfectly suitable to describe God. A lion portrays the strength and fierceness of a predator at the same time as the majesty of a King. A lion’s protectiveness over his prey is like that of God protecting His people from the devil and evil.
As does our God, a lion commands fear, respect, adoration, and worship.
The Overall Biblical Meaning of Cats
Obviously, we shouldn’t worship our cats, though I’m quite sure they think that we should! Cats are, simply put, an enigma in the animal kingdom!
In the Bible, felines symbolize humankind’s best and worst traits. They encompass the full gamut — jealousy, anger, fierceness, power, strength, majesty, and protector, all of which we see in them and ourselves, today.
If you enjoyed reading this article, you may also be interested in Cats in Islam: From the Quran to the Hadiths.
1. How do the characteristics of lions in the Bible relate to our understanding of God?
Lions often embody both positive and negative traits in the Bible. The lion’s characteristics, such as strength, fierceness, majesty, and protectiveness, are highlighted when depicting God. The lion’s ability to command fear, respect, adoration, and worship parallels the attributes of God, making it a suitable symbol to represent divine qualities.
2. Can we learn any lessons from the biblical representation of cats?
The biblical representation of cats, particularly lions, and leopards, serves as a reminder that these creatures embody a range of human qualities, both good and bad. This symbolism can teach us about the complexities of human nature and inspire us to reflect on our own actions and behaviors. While we should not worship cats, we can appreciate their mysterious and enigmatic nature, which is reflective of the world around us.
3. How can the contradictory representations of lions in the Bible be explained?
The contradictory representations of lions in the Bible can be understood in the context of their symbolic roles. Lions often serve as metaphors for various aspects of human nature, divine qualities, or evil forces, depending on the context of the passage. The versatile symbolism of lions allows them to embody both positive and negative qualities, providing a rich tapestry for storytelling and moral lessons.
4. Are there any other big cats mentioned in the Bible?
Apart from lions and leopards, no other big cats are explicitly mentioned in the Bible. The focus on these two species can be attributed to their prevalence in the regions where the biblical narratives took place and their significance in the ancient cultures of that time.
5. What other animals are frequently mentioned or symbolically significant in the Bible?
The Bible features numerous other animals, each with their own symbolic significance. Some notable examples include the dove, which represents peace and the Holy Spirit; the lamb, symbolizing Jesus and his sacrificial role; the serpent, often associated with deception and temptation; and the eagle, representing strength, swiftness, and divine protection.
"In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods; they have not forgotten this."
-- Terry Pratchett