The leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
The calf and the young lion and the fatling together;
And a little child shall lead them.
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
The lion shall eat straw like the ox,
And dust [ shall be ] the serpent’s food.
They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain,”
Says the Lord.
The projected imagery of the Lion of Judah finds its roots in the patriarch Jacob's final words to his sons, the Children of Israel, found in Genesis 49: of Judah he prophesied saying, 'Judah [ is ] a lion’s whelp; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He bows down, he lies down as a lion; and as a lion, who shall rouse him?' We know that this tribe, the tribe of Judah, was that through which the Messiah of Israel came, so we see as well, throughout the History of Israel, that this prophesy & all such subsequent prophesies led to the revelation that Jesus, the Son of God & the Son of David, was the True Lion of Judah.
'The Lamb of God', yet another phrase descriptive of Jesus, takes us back to the so-called Old Testament. The Hebrew Scriptures are full of examples of the Old Covenant sacrificial system which involved, in part, a lamb or young goat being sacrificed to atone for sin. As we know however, these sacrifices merely pointed to the True Sacrifice, that which was personified in Jesus the Christ, the Messiah of Israel. According to John's Revelation above, as well as numerous other passages, Jesus was also the Lamb of God.
:We begin to see, at this juncture, why the true wording, 'the wolf and the lamb' might have morphed into the more popular, 'the lion & the lamb'; it seems to fits better with the meta-narrative! Does it really, though? A famously fierce creature like a lion, laying down with a weak & timid creature like a lamb might seem to present a stronger image, but the image of a wolf laying down with a lamb actually is truer to the History of Israel, both actually & metaphorically speaking. In that region of the world, shepherds were in abundance ( still are ) & if knowledge serves correctly, according to Scripture, anyway, wolves, not lions, were their main problem.
Jesus, according to Matthew 10:16, told His Disciples, 'Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves'. Going back further into Israel's history, He had warned them previously, saying, 'Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.' ( Matthew 7:15 ( Genesis 49:27 ) He spoke these words concerning the Pharisees & later the Judaizers who claimed to be of God's 'flock', but who were actually trying to destroy it!
The apostle Paul used this metaphor, as well, when he warned the elders of the Church at Ephesus, 'after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock' ( Acts 20:29 ). Although we know that lions did/do inhabit that country ( note Sampson's Story in Judges 14 ), they apparently were not as prolific or problematic as wolves, especially in connection with sheep & shepherding. I Samuel 17 also recounts young David's encounter with both a lion & a bear who came upon his flock, but that is another story for another day & a slightly different metaphor.
Jesus sometimes referred to His followers as His 'flock', as did His disciples after Him ( Matthew 26:31, I Peter 5:1 ). He is most famously recorded as saying, 'My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me' ( John 10:27 ). The writer to the Hebrews, in his famous benediction, called Jesus 'that great Shepherd of the sheep' ( Hebrews 13:20 ) Though Jesus was the Shepherd of Israel, He was also the Lamb of God, both as the Great Sacrifice foretold throughout their history & as an Israelite Himself, 'who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh' ( Romans 1:3 )
Using highly metaphorical language, a dying father described how the tribe of Judah would rise to preeminence over the other tribes, those fathered by Jacob's other children. As the lion is known popularly as 'the king of the jungle', so the tribe of Judah was prophesied to rule over his brothers, sometimes with a fist of iron ( I Kings 12:10 ), to their own hurt. Jesus, on the other hand, as one of those sheep Himself, became 'the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world' ( John 1:29 ) Rather than ruling over them, as previous kings had, He laid down His life for them ( John 15:13 ), showing them He was with them in their trials & suffering ( Revelation 1:9 ).
So, while the phrase in question, referring to the Lion & the Lamb, personifies Jesus as the Christ, the actual phrase from Scripture, 'the wolf and the lamb' speaks better to the history of Israel. As it is used popularly, speaking metaphorically of the peace that has come to us through the Kingdom of the Christ, it is being fulfilled daily as 'the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding' flows through us to bring peace to the entire creation.
We, in our limited vision, read & hear the news of the world, despairing of seeing this peace gain a foothold in our generation ( if ever ), much less becoming a way of life, yet can bear witness to this truth, first in our own life, then in the lives of those around us & finally, to the rest of the world. When we stop acting as 'wolves', devouring others of the 'flock', instead realizing our part in & with the Lion of Judah, who became a Lamb, then we can lay down with the rest of the flock in peace. As this Peace spreads throughout the world, not only will the wolf lie down with the lamb, but we will bear witness to the fact that the Lion laid down AS a Lamb & rose as King!
May it be,
Charles Haddon Shank