The Lion of Judah

The central masculine archetypes seem to always be about power: how is power good, how is power contained, how is power shared, how is power used for others, what is spiritual power and what is selfish power. …power is largely out of control and universally distrusted in western society. Our sisters are often convinced that patriarchy (“the rule of the fathers”) is identical with maleness, and maleness is always about domination, war, greed and control. We have to show them and ourselves that maleness is about power, but power for good, power for others, power for life and creativity. Power cannot be inherently evil. One word for the Holy Spirit in the New Testament is dynamis or power. —Fr. Richard Rohr, The Wild Man’s Journey

David summoned all the people of Israel, from one end of the country to the other, to join in bringing the Ark of God from Kiriath-jearim. … They transported the Ark of God from the house of Abinadab on a new cart, with Uzzah and Ahio guiding it. … But when they arrived at the threshing floor of Nacon, the oxen stumbled, and Uzzah put out his hand to steady the Ark. Then the Lord’s anger blazed out against Uzzah, and he struck him dead because he had laid his hand on the Ark. So Uzzah died there in the presence of God. —1 Chronicles 13:5-10, NLT

The story of Uzzah’s tragic demise leads me to the conclusion that we’ve emasculated God. When we talk about God these days, we don’t hear much about the God whose anger blazed out against Uzzah. Instead, we say that God is love, God is peace, God is grace, God is mercy.

God is no longer the Lion of Judah: powerful, unpredictable, wild, uncompromising; he has become the lion at the kiddie zoo: arthritic, sleepy, senile, toothless.

I think this gelding of God suits our need to control God. If we can find a way to tame the Lion of Judah, we can make him serve us and our needs rather than the other way around.

The Cold War terrified westerners. The raw, unchecked power of the nuclear age, and the enormous risk we faced of annihilating the human race, turned us sour on power. We feared for our lives and sought refuge in détente rather than confrontation, in acquiescence rather than principle, in emotion rather than reason, in love rather than war. The politics of peace produced a search for the softer side of God, the feminine side of God, and in that quest, the reimaging movement took root. Neglected goddesses, like Gaia, goddess of the earth, and Aphrodite, goddess of love, emerged to compete against the Lion of Judah for our affections.

Through our postmodern eyes, Uzzah’s death seems capricious and unfair. Wasn’t his heart in the right place? He was only trying to help. Uzzah was a good and faithful servant, lending a hand to restore the Ark of God to its rightful place of honor in Jerusalem. When Uzzah was killed, David reacted the same way we do: He flew into a rage, at God, parked the Ark in temporary storage and said, Screw this!

To David, young, brash, full of himself, full of pride, the Ark of God was a trophy, a thing that said more about David as a shrewd and powerful king than it said about God. But the Ark of God was no good luck charm.

The Ark of God was the earthly dwelling place of the Spirit of the Holy and Most High God. This God we worship is utterly pure, untainted by even a trace of sin—and by extension, the Ark of God was also undefiled. When Uzzah reached out his hand and touched the Ark, it was as if he had placed his hand on the face of God himself. And in the flash of an instant, the holy perfection of God consumed the life of Uzzah the sinner.

The holiness of God is naked power. It will utterly destroy evil and lies and envy and jealousy and compromise and rebellion wherever it finds them—and since these things are woven into the fabric of our hearts, this holy power of God will destroy us as well.

But God himself created a remarkable solution to the dilemma of his holy power and our sinful impotence: Jesus Christ took our sin on himself, walked right up to the Ark of God and threw himself on it. And the fury of God consumed him. But then, the merciful love of God raised him to life again.

…there is only one God, and only one intermediary between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus. He gave himself for us all—an act of redemption which happened once, but which stands for all times as a witness to what he is. —1 Timothy 2:5,6, JB Phillips (Paul speaking)

Yes, there is a softer, feminine side of God. He is mercy; he is love. But we misunderstand God if we fail to acknowledge his masculine side: he is justice; he is holiness; he is power. If we insist that God is one or the other and fail to come to grips with the fact that he is both, we make the same fatal error that David did.

Our God is the wild Lion of Judah. But we have an intercessor, a hero who is willing to approach the Lion on our behalf: Jesus Christ.

That is why we have a great High Priest who has gone to heaven, Jesus the Son of God. Let us cling to him and never stop trusting him. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same temptations we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it. —Hebrews 4:14-16, NLT

Power can be terrifying. But power, properly applied, can reshape our fractured world into a place of justice and hope. And the power of God, properly applied, can transform us as well.

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  1. brilliant.

  2. Fascinating essay; thank you for posting it.

    Within the Jewish tradition, the mystics developed a concept of the sefirot — aspects of God — which they used as a framework for understanding how a unitary God could show so many sides. They’re paired in interesting ways: for instance, din, judgement, is matched by chesed, mercy/lovingkindness. Maybe this points to what you’re describing — the need to balance our conception of God, to be aware of both sides of the coin.

  3. Rachel: Thanks for the interesting comment. I hadn’t heard about sefirot before, but I like the idea and the way it attempts to balance the

    many (apparent) sides to our unitary God. I’ll have to read about it. I always enjoy reading your posts at Velveteen Rabbi.

  4. I enjoyed your essay! It was thorough and very insightful. Thank you for posting this information..

  5. Interesting idea. At first I was doubtful since the devil is called a lion, The kings of Egypt and Babylon are called lions and although Jesus is called the Lion of Judah when John sees the Lion of Judah in The Book of the Revelation, he is actually a lamb.

    So I did a study and found that Yahveh is also called a lion (Hosea 13:7).

    I like your thought that we have emasculated God. We have also emasculated the church by making it a bride.

    The church is the Body of Jesus (the bridegroom).

    Thanks for another piece of the puzzle.

    Robert Roberg

    Gainesville, FL

  6. this is fascinating poem that I’ve just read about the Everlasting Fire of God being handle with temperate Spirit, which is the Everlasting water. God is brilliant in all his ways, who can understand Him?

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