The apostle Peter warns us, "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour" (I Peter 5:8). Why does Peter compare Satan the Devil to a lion? Why not a snake or an alligator or some other ferocious animal?
Many writers of the Bible use analogies to describe people, attitudes, traits and situations that may have some effect on our spiritual lives. Peter's description of Satan is no different. And since forewarned is forearmed, it makes sense that if we learn more about lions, we will be better able to defend ourselves against Satan's strategies and tactics.
When Peter wrote this, wild lions still roamed parts of the Middle East. The people of that time were more familiar with lions and their habits than we are today in our steel and asphalt jungles. Now we see lions only in the zoo. The captive lion bears little resemblance to the beast to which Peter compares Satan. Captive lions lie around looking bored, stirring only to swat a fly or find some shade—somewhat unimpressive to say the least. These indolent, caged lions, seen during the day and with a full stomach, can give a false impression.
A wild lion may not seem much more impressive. However, that is because, like Satan, lions are deceptive. They do most of their work at night, when no one is watching. Under cover of the night, they become great hunters. Their tan coats, a natural camouflage, blend into the bush, so that even the male lion, which can weigh as much as 500 pounds and measure 10 feet from nose to tail, is nearly invisible.
Using this camouflage to their advantage, lions stalk their prey. Because their top speed is only about 35 miles per hour over a short distance, they do not run down their food very often. They creep slowly toward their victims behind the cover of the tall grasses of the plains, and with a swift dash, pounce upon their prey.
Beyond their natural camouflage, they have excellent night vision and acute senses of smell and hearing to help them stalk under darkness. To help their odds, they hunt within a territory, roaming about with a company of lions, called a pride.
Lions are selective hunters, picking off stragglers, the old, the ailing. They will strike into the pack or herd if necessary, but they prefer everything in their favor.
Once it has its target, a lion's body is well-suited for killing. Each toe has a strong retractable claw, up to three inches long. The lion will hurl itself onto its prey, inflicting deep gashes and wounds.
Its jaws can open up to twelve inches wide and are strong enough to crush a bull's spine at a bite. A lion has thirty teeth, none meant for chewing, only tearing and ripping. It will bite, claw and cuff the thrashing victim, often appearing to play with it.
Even with all these deadly weapons arrayed against him, the victim's death does not come quickly. It may take ten minutes or more. The last thing the lion does is go for the throat.
Satan's Lionlike Attributes
Can you see why Peter compared Satan to a lion? The great deceiver, more often than not, works under cover of darkness. As a skilled and experienced hunter, he patiently stalks his prey, invisible to them (invisible is about as camouflaged as one can get!). His night vision is acute, his senses much sharper than ours. He sees us when we do not even know he's there!
Even now—he's stalking us.
Lifted up in their pride, he and his demons had the gall to hunt God's throne, but they were soundly routed (Isaiah 14:12-15; Ezekiel 28:16-17; Luke 10:18). Now, as our adversaries, they hunt God's people, trying to pick off the weak, the ailing and those who have grown weary and dropped back from the herd. Once he attacks, he causes great pain—but he does not go immediately for the kill. He pins us down and wounds us first. Even while in his grasp, though, we can call out for help. "The LORD is near to all who call upon him, . . . he also hears their cry, and saves them" (Psalm 145:18-19, RSV).
Of course, it would be best never to allow ourselves to be caught! In the future, think of Satan as a lion, quietly and invisibly stalking you. He is always looking for a way to maneuver you into a position by yourself where he can leap out of nowhere to maul you. Hopefully—and as Peter probably intended—this spiritual imagery will help us stay alert.