Last month we learned the Prophet Jeremiah endured rough treatment by his own countrymen. Daniel was a young man when Jeremiah was imprisoned for prophesying the fall of Jerusalem. Daniel was among the first group of captives taken to Babylon.
Babylonian officials took notice of him and chose him to be educated and trained to serve in the court of Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel must have been familiar with the Ishtar Gate and the Processional Way. He never mentions them, but they were magnificent constructions meant to awe every visitor to the city.
Babylonian gods were represented by the yellow and black animals in low relief art decorating the glazed blue bricks. The lion was for Ishtar. The bulls (aurochs) were for Adad, and the odd dragon creature called mušḫuššu, for Marduke. All these animals symbolized fearsome aggression and power. On the Gudea Cylinder dated to 2001BC all the animals were portrayed, so this idea was not new.
That lions symbolized Ishtar to the Babylonian culture is a significant point in Daniel's showdown with a den of lions. Even though the Medes and the Persians had taken control of the Babylonians by that time, lions had been connected to pagan worship throughout the ancient world since the fourth millenium BC.
The earliest lion statues were found at Eridu. They have been found at Uruk and mentioned in the Gudea texts in connection with goddess Gatumdug and god Ningirsu. Concerning Persia, lion statues were discovered in the Inšušinak Temple. Lion statues in temples were unearthed in Assyria also.
It is in the ancient texts from Iraq and Assyria that we learn the purpose of these lions. They were the god's or goddess' envoys, serving as fierce watchdogs, killing those who would not submit and getting rid of the region's enemies. This is why Nebuchadnezzar lined his gates with their images and perhaps why the Persians kept a den of them for offenders.
The lions on the walls and in the den weren't just animals. They had a spiritual identity.
Daniel's enemies weren't the lions but the demonic power behind the gods they symbolized. (1Corinthians 10:20) This should be a reminder to us there is something behind the troubles we face. Ephesians 6:12 says, "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places." Like Daniel we can be victorious when 1) we realize our fight is not with God or other people and 2) we understand the "authority" God has given us "over all the power of the enemy." (Luke 10:19)
Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. 1Pe 5:8-9
It is easy to become discouraged because of continuous attacks. But ignorance to our real enemy can pave his path to us. My prayer for you (and myself) is to know the difference between truth and counterfeit; that you may know Jesus, the true Lion of Judah, Prince of Peace and Lord of Lords, as your Savior, Deliverer and Friend.
Here is a prayer from Ephesians to pray over yourself: That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, Eph 1:17-19
Ishtar Gate lion by Girl With Red Hat courtesy of Unsplash
Lion image by Matt Kerslake courtesy of Unsplash
 Watanabe, Chikako E. “THE SYMBOLIC ROLE OF ANIMALS IN BABYLON: A CONTEXTUAL APPROACH TO THE LION, THE BULL AND THE ‘MUŠḪUŠŠU.’” Iraq 77 (2015): 215–24. http://www.jstor.org/stable/26426058.
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