Most people are familiar with the animals, the lion and the lamb.
The lion is known as the king of the wild animals. It is large, powerful and ferocious. Its loud and deep roars can evoke tremendous fears in both human and animal alike. The lamb, on the other hand, is known for its gentle, soft and harmless nature. Therefore, the lamb is often portrayed as the victim of powerful animals such as the lion.
In addition, the lamb is also a source of delicious food for human consumption. For instance, “lamb chop” is a great dish with its savory flavor and the thin sliced lamb meat is often used for “hot pot” in winter. We’ve never heard of a “lion dish.”
The contrast between a lion and a lamb is simply huge.
These two animals can be taken to represent two extreme styles of leadership, the lion-like leadership style and the lamb-like leadership style, and there are those in between. Each style of leadership has its own strengths and weaknesses.
It seems difficult to find the right balance between the two extremes. Is it possible that a lion-like leader has a lamb-like character or a lamb-like leader has a lion-like strength? In what context should we be more like a lion or more like a lamb?
In the Bible, the image of the lion is depicted in both positive and negative ways. From the positive perspective, the lion represents might, power and boldness (2 Sam 17:10; Prov 28:1, 30:30). It aims to protect the weak and defend the powerless (Deut 33:20; Judg 14:18). The presence of the lion arouses fear in people. This explains why in the context of judgment, God is described as “like a lion” (Isa 38:13; Jer 25:38; Lam 3:10; Hos 5:14).
The roaring of a lion is also associated with anger and wrath. When God roars, it is out of His righteous wrath (Hos 11:10; Amos 3:4, 8). However, when the enemies of God’s people roar, it often comes from their own wicked scheme to harm the righteous (Ps 22:13; Prov 28:15).
From the negative perspective, the lion represents destruction. The images of “tearing its prey,” “devouring its prey,” and “lurking in hiding places” emerge (Num 23:24; Job 38:39; Ps 7:2; 10:9; 17:12; Dan 6:16). In this destructive sense, the subjects range from God (Isa 38:13), Israel (Jer 12:8), the false prophets (Ezek 22:25), the enemies of Israel (Jer 4:7), and from the hostile nations (Joel 1:6) to Satan (1 Pet 5:8).
Therefore, the meaning of the metaphor of the lion in the Bible depends on the context of the passage where it occurs.
In contrast to the metaphor of the lion, the image of the lamb is largely portrayed positively in the Bible. It occurs mostly in the context of offering, as a sacrificial lamb (Gen 22:7, 8; Lev 3:7, 4:32, 5:6, 23:12; 1 Sam 7:9; Isa 53:7; Jer 11:19; Ezek 46:13) or as a Passover lamb (Ex 12:3-5; Lev 14:12-13; Ezra 6:20; Mark 14:12; Luke 22:7).
On the other hand, the lamb is used to describe the peace and harmony of the messianic kingdom, for instance, “the wolf will dwell with the lamb” and “the wolf and the lamb will graze together” (Isa 11:6; 65:25). It highlights the innocence and the peaceful nature of the lamb. This innocence is also reflected when Jesus told his disciples “I send you out as lambs” (Luke 10:3).
The metaphor of an ewe lamb is also used to represent a victim in the parable of the “rich man and the poor man’s ewe lamb.” It occurs when Nathan confronted David of his sin with Bathsheba (2 Sam 12:3, 4, 6). In sum, the metaphor of the lamb in the Bible is largely positive. Its subjects range from the sacrificial lamb, the disciples of Jesus, to Jesus himself.
The Lion, The Lamb and Jesus
In view of the contrast between the lion and the lamb in the Bible, it is remarkable how these two contrasting metaphors appear together in Jesus. Jesus is both the Lion of Judah (Rev 4:7; 5:5) as well as the Lamb of God (John 1:29, 36). Jesus is both mighty and innocent, both powerful and sacrificial.
In the Book of Revelation, according to BibleWorks, the metaphor of lion occurs four times and the metaphor of the lamb occurs 31 times, which means although Jesus is both the Lion and the Lamb, He appears more often as a Lamb than a Lion.
When the lamb-metaphor is used, it is often in the language of “the slain lamb” (Rev 5:6, 12; 6:9; 13:8) and “the blood of the lamb” (Rev 7:14; 12:11). In others words, the Lion of Judah triumphed through the laying down of His life. The Lion has a Lamb’s heart and the Lamb has a Lion’s stature.
In The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis correctly depicts the lion as the lamb. Aslan, the lion, through the laying down of his life as a lamb at the Stone Table, saved Edmond’s life as well as saved Narnia from the curse of the white witch. He then rose from the death. Therefore, Aslan, the lion, triumphed as a sacrificial lamb.
In the same way, as Tony Ling in his book, The Lion and the Lamb, points out that the two extreme of character, the lion and the lamb, co-exist in Jesus to accomplish God’s purposes of redemption and rule. The model of Jesus as both the lion and the lamb is significant when we apply it to leadership development.
In leadership context, people often perceive leaders as the lion figures. The leaders themselves also tend to feel the urge to lead and to perform as lions. There are lion-like leaders who are top down, authoritarian, and overpowering. These leaders always come off as strong, aggressive, loud, and rough.
There are also leaders who don’t appear to be lions on the outside but they are lions on the inside.
As we see from the metaphor of the lion in the Bible, the image of the lion can be both positive and negative depending on the context. If a leader’s lion-likeness brings destruction to his or her followers such as by imposing only his or her agenda without listening, or by dominating without caring, or by taking advantage of his or her followers, it is damaging to the church.
On the other hand, if a leader’s lion-likeness brings strength to his or her followers by displaying courage to confront sin, by modeling how to stand firm on God’s truth, by empowering the followers, the leader impacts the church positively.
However, only exerting the strength of a lion in leadership may not be enough. Based on the model of Jesus, a lion-like leader needs to have the lamb’s heart. A lion’s authority is gained through a selfless devotion to his or her sheep. A lion without a lamb’s heart is only voice without substance.
Jesus is more of a lamb than a lion, which means that strength is triumphed through vulnerability and sacrifice.
On the opposite end, there are also leaders who are like lamb figures. They always sacrifice themselves and take the blame. They lead without complaining. They do things without taking credits. They exemplify a selfless life. Because of their sacrificial nature, they are not as visible and noticeable as the lion-like leaders.
Their influence may be focused more on an individual basis whereas a dynamic lion-like leader may influence more broadly to congregational level, yet lacking the “personal touch.”
A lamb-like leader cannot thrive long in ministry without a lion’s strength and toughness. On the other hand, a lamb without a lion’s stature may lose the authority to lead and may easily become a silent victim to the harsh demand of ministry.
Based on my personal observation, the first generation tends to value the lamb-likeness of their leaders more than the lion-likeness of their leaders. They respect leaders who are humble, selfless, and sacrificial. They often equate those qualities with being “a man (or woman) of God.”
Therefore, caring and visitation are important aspects of ministry in the first generation.
On the other hand, the second generation tends to value the lion-likeness of their leaders more than the lamb-likeness of them. They admire an assertive, outspoken, and dynamic leader. A humble and sacrificial leader is construed as “weak” and “ineffective” in leadership.
Based on these differences, imagine what would happen if a first generation lamb-like leader goes to a second generational ministry.
Would he or she be “like a lamb going to be slaughtered?” What if a second generation lion-like leader goes to a first generation ministry? Would he or she be perceived as too direct, confrontational, and abrasive?
As we can see, cultivating both the lion-likeness and lamb-likeness needs to be seen in light of different cultural expectations. For those leaders who serve across both generations, it is essential to be aware of these different cultural expectations from the congregations and to adjust accordingly.
There is a time to be a lion and there is a time to be a lamb.
Due to personality as well as familial and cultural upbringing, I am more of a lamb-like leader- quiet, fragile, fearful at times. And I am between the two generations. I can see that my qualities are being valued in the first generation ministry.
Yet, when I am with the second generation, I need to develop the lion side within me, to learn to give voice when needed, to stand up for myself, and to exert strength when the circumstance calls.
As a woman, I do not need to behave like a man in order to lead.
God created men and women differently. He used different materials to create them and by different methods. God used the dust to form Adam and used Adam’s rib to build Eve. A woman leader is meant to reflect God’s image through her uniqueness.
Yet, most leadership contexts would require a woman to lead like a man. I call this the “lioness syndrome.” A woman leader tends to be compelled by the need to be tough and assertive in order to lead her sheep. Yet, this image of a lioness often counters the traditional Asian cultural expectations for women as silent lambs.
But then if a woman leads like a silent lamb, her leadership may not be as effective as if she is a lioness. This is a dilemma that a woman leader faces: to be a lioness or to be a lamb.
The ideal situation would be to be both.
To conclude, the church needs both lamb-like leaders and lion-like leaders, both first generation and second generation (in immigrant church context), both male and female leaders.
It is the combination of the lion and the lamb in one person that made Jesus the role model of leadership.
For us as leaders, we need to learn and develop the two contrasting qualities of the lion and the lamb within us.
And through the example of Jesus, we need to have the wisdom to know when and how we should be like lions and when we should be like lambs, and striving constantly for balance between the two according to different ministry contexts and cultural expectations.
The article was published from INHERITANCE Issue #4 - Winter 2009. Professor Chloe Sun teaches Old Testament at Logos Evangelical Seminary in Southern California. She was a panelist during ISAAC's Summer Immersion Program 2007 visit to the contemporary Chinese Christian context.