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The traditional rivalry between England and Australia, which was played out in all its intensity in the recent Ashes cricket series, continued earlier this week in the semi-finals of the Women’s Football World Cup. England emerged victorious from that contest, giving sub-editors free rein to indulge in puns galore – ‘LionYESses’ was my favourite, though if England beat Spain on Sunday I think ‘Olé Grail’ in the Mirror may be seen as the most prescient.
The frequent references to lions in both the Old and New Testaments are a reminder that they were present in the eastern Mediterranean until well into the first millennium of the modern era. Perhaps the presence of such dangerous predators is the reason lions don’t get an altogether good press in scripture. Admittedly they left Daniel alone when he was thrown into a lions’ den, but they subsequently made pretty short work of King Darius’s advisers who had falsely accused him of disloyalty. More generally in the Bible, lions are often viewed negatively: Like a roaring lion or a charging bear is a wicked ruler over a poor people says the writer of Proverbs, while in the first letter of Peter the devil is described as like a roaring lion seeking its prey.
But the final leonine reference in the Bible is far from negative. In Revelation chapter 5 the elders say to St John: Do not weep. See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered. This reference is to the resurrected Jesus, understood as a successor to King David whose descendants had ruled over the Kingdom of Judah from its capital, Jerusalem until its destruction six hundreds years before Christ. The majesty and power of the Lion of Judah will be exercised not through fear but through mercy, inaugurating the peaceable kingdom foretold by Isaiah:
The wolf shall live with the lamb;
the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
the calf and the lion will feed together,
and a little child shall lead them.
However distant this peaceable kingdom might seem in troubled times, it is a vision surely worth holding on to. Meanwhile, let’s look forward to the possibility of lionesses inaugurating a new age of football world cup success on Sunday.
With love and prayers,
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