What’s in a name! This title is profoundly meaningful and refers to a particular individual. Sometimes, people dismiss an ideogram that they don’t understand and say, ‘Well, it’s just symbolic’. However, a symbol is not random! It combines a series of thoughts and/or history to express a specific idea.
So, what can we glean from such an emblematic description? First, let’s look at the tribe of Judah:
Judah was the fourth son born to Jacob (Gen 29:30) but inherited the rulership after his three older brothers disqualified themselves by gross misconduct (Simeon and Levi broke their father’s covenant and slaughtered an entire people - Gen. 34 - while Reuben committed a sort of incest with his father’s concubine. I Chron. 5:1,2).
Later, when the older brothers wanted to kill their brother - Joseph - out of jealousy, Judah decided to try and save Joseph’s life (Gen 37:26). Some years later, a famine led to the dilemma of whether to send Benjamin to Egypt (at Joseph’s demand). Judah offered himself to Jacob as Benjamin’s substitute, declaring that he would bear the guilt forever, if anything happened to Benjamin.
When the brothers brought Benjamin to Egypt and stood before Joseph (though they didn’t recognise him), it was Judah who interceded with Joseph – not only for the life of Benjamin, but also for the life of Jacob, saying, ‘his [Jacob’s] life is bound up in the lad’s life [Benjamin].’ (Gen 44:30 - 34)
Before he died, Jacob prophesied over his sons (Gen. 49). This is the first time we find the use of the word ‘Lion’ in the Bible and it directly refers to Judah. He is first described as a ‘lion’s whelp’, but the subsequent words for lion progress in age and dominion, implying the passage of time. The prophecy reads: ‘Judah is a lion's whelp: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he stooped down, he couched (lay down) as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up? The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be. Binding his foal unto the vine, and his ass's colt unto the choice vine; he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes: His eyes shall be red with wine, and his teeth white with milk. (Gen 49: 9 – 12)
Throughout the Bible, the Lion represents strength, authority, justice/judgement and even punishment. In the well-known story of Daniel, it was the political leaders who specified the lion’s den as punishment for all who challenged their authority by praying to ‘another’ god. However, because Daniel was innocent before God, God stopped the mouth of the lions (Dan 6: 7, 22).
Jerusalem is also named ‘Ariel’ – Lion of God – which God has chosen as a spiritual seat of justice and judgement as well as the criterion by which God will judge all nations (Zech 12:2,3; Isaiah 29:1,2,7).
So what can we learn from this combination of Lion and Judah?
First of all, in Judah, we see that one who would come to save his nation by laying down his life on their behalf; not as ‘lion cub’ but as one of full stature; as intercessor, shedding His blood on behalf of the nation to satisfy God’s justice for sin.
In the fullness of time, He would also come in authority as King, to deal with God’s enemies; those who come against Ariel – Jerusalem.
Jacob’s prophecy says that all his brothers will praise Judah, that all Jacob’s children will bow before him and that his hand will also be on the neck of his enemies.
Zechariah tells us: ‘In that day shall the LORD defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and he that is feeble among them at that day shall be as David; and the house of David shall be as God, as the angel of the LORD before them. And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem. And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn. (Zech 12: 8-10)
Jesus – Yeshua – came from the tribe of Judah (Matt 1:3) to lay down His life and shed His blood for His brethren and all who put their trust in Him. He is coming back as a mature ‘lion’ to rule, reign and execute justice and judgement.