Theme: The Reign of the Righteous King
Disney’s live action remake of the beloved animated classic, The Lion King, is nearing one billion dollars in revenue after only ten days in release. For twenty-five years this mythic tale of a young lion’s hero journey has captured hearts of old and young alike; no wonder it’s a box office smash hit. True to the original story yet different because of the live action, The Lion King with its jaunty award winning soundtrack (and a new song, Spirit, by Beyoncé) is apt to enthrall an entire new generation of fans for years to come.
It is not difficult to find similarities between The Lion King and biblical stories. Scar’s murder of his brother Mufasa is reminiscent of Cain’s killing of Able (Genesis 4). Simba’s story of exile and crossing the desert to an oasis where he spends years before returning to deliver the kingdom is taken from the story of Moses in the Book of Exodus. Both of these are relatively easy to spot; what’s more challenging is how The Lion King in less than two hours captures the entire meta-narrative the Bible expounds . . . Creation, Fall, Exile and New Creation. Even more profoundly, it communicates this story in three simple images.
The movie opens with a prologue which introduces the world and the main characters of the story it’sabout to tell. The sun rises and a song begins calling together all of creation in a great liturgical procession to a throne. There the newly born heir of the glorious kingdom is brought forth, anointed and presented. The heavens open and all the animals bow down giving “right praise”. There is peace, harmony, celebration and joy for The Lion King (title appears). This is his story.
That evening the first of the three images appears as Rafiki the priest draws the face of the anointed Simba on his tree and once again gives praise to the heavens.
These scenes are right out of Genesis 1 which also functions like a prologue to the story it’s about to unfold. In the beginning God creates the heaven and the earth and the morning stars (angels) sing.1 He calls forth light and makes day and then in a great “liturgical procession” of creative acts he fills the creation with vegetation, plants, sun, moon, stars, creatures for sea and land and blesses all to be fruitful and multiply.
On the sixth day humanity is brought into being and this creative process is different from all others. As Dallas Willard writes:
“Here for the first time, in 1:26, readers are informed of God’s purposes in his creative activity. Up to this point, no reason has been given why God did what he did. But here, the Scriptures gives us a reason. Humans are made to govern---to rule over the zoological realm as God rules over all things. The imago Dei, the likeness to God, consists, accordingly, of all those powers and activities required for fulfilling this job description, this rule to which we are appointed. And of course it includes the very rule itself.” 2
Humanity created in the image of God is to reflect God’s image to creation and to give “right praise” back to God fulfilling its royal role of king/priests.
Thus at the end of the sixth day God sees all that he has made and it is very good. There is shalom which means peace, harmony, wholeness, completeness, and tranquility.
On the very first day of going on patrol with his father Mufasa, Simba is given careful instructions about what it means to be a righteous king. The kingdom does not belong to Simba, he is simply to protect and to serve. A true king says his father searches for what he can give; he maintains the delicate balance and respects all creatures. There is one prohibition for Simba . . . he must not go to the shadow lands. Enticed and deceived by his Uncle Scar, the boastful lion cub who “just can’t wait to be king” and “laughs in the face of danger” breaks his father’s rule and takes Nala to the shadow lands. He is not only risking their lives, he endangers the future of the pride. Baited by Scar once more,Simba gets ensnared in the evil plot to kill Mufasa, and then listening to the voice of accusation after his father’s death, he runs out into the land of exile.
As Scar assumes the throne and the reign of the unrighteous king dawns, Rafiki scratches the face of Simba on the tree. The image of the true king is marred and broken.
Genesis 3 tells the story of man’s fall and exile from the Garden of Eden. No sooner has humankind (Adam and Eve) been given the rule over creation when they start to listen to the serpent who entices and deceives them into breaking God’s one prohibition . . . not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil Genesis 2:17).
What happens in that moment is a separation that must be thought of as a tearing apart. Adam and Eve are torn from God’s presence; their union and oneness with him are broken. They are torn from each other as they begin to re-image the serpent and lob accusations at each other. They are torn from creation, creating a war which shatters shalom and brings the entire creation under a curse. The prince of the power of the air assumes the throne and all of humanity becomes subject to him and his reign of death (Ephesians 2:1-3).
The image of God in man is marred, the glory is gone. Humanity can no longer exercise dominion over creation nor can it offer “right praise”.
Driven by shame and fear out into the wilderness,Simba symbolically dies to one way of life and is raised to another in a counterfeit paradise. Not having his father to imitate, he soon forgets what it means to be a lion and before too long is fully immersed in the Hakuna Matada lifestyle. What is that? It means no responsibility, no accountability, doing what one wants, a life curved in on self.
Exile is one of the major themes of the Bible. Sin causes man’s exile from God and one of the best definitions of sin is Incurvatus in se, life curved in on self. Not living in the presence of God, humans are unable to reflect his image, but that does not mean they don’t re-image something: for the one golden rule of the Bible is you become (re-image) what you worship. Living in a false paradise that promises no worries so you can do what you want is idolatry; the self replaces God. It is the primal sin of Eden.
To the Pride lands Simba is dead, but not to his father who has never left him. A tuft of Simba’s hair is picked up by the breeze and blown on a heroic journey of its own back to Rafiki. Taking the hair the priest goes to Simba’s face and restores the image on the tree with an even greater glory than it originally had.3 He’s alive! He’s coming back!
Simba meanwhile has been confronted with truth by Nala, yet refused to return with her and take his place. The lie he believes about his father’s death still holds him captive until Rafiki appears and tells him Mufasa is alive. He leads Simba down into a dark thicket to see his own reflection in a pool of water, and says, “You see he lives in you”. And then the voice of Mufasa comes from the heavens telling Simba to remember who he is, the one true king, and how proud he has always been of him. The father’s words of affirmation restore his image in Simba who is raised out of “death” into a new life. As he returns to the Pride lands to take his place, a powerful song Spirit plays. Simba’s spirit has been restored to oneness with his father’s.
Scar does not have a chance against Simba and the truth. The battle is anticlimactic, the victory assured, and when the righteous king takes the throne the entire creation is cleansed and made new. Life in all its aspects flourishes and shalom is restored.
The Scriptures declare that “in Adam” death entered the world through sin and spread to all men (Romans 5:12-14). But God the Father who is rich in mercy did not leave his children in bondage to sin and death. Instead he gave his only begotten son, the one in whom he was well pleased (Luke3:21-22) to be the “Last Adam”. Jesus the Christ (anointed one) went down into death dying on the cross and defeated satan (the accuser). He rose from the dead and ascended into heaven and now sits on the throne reconciling all things to his Father. To whoever believes in him he gives his Spirit so that his life lives in and through them. The imago dei is made new in them for they are new creations in Christ (2 Cor.5:17).
And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said “Write, for these words are faithful and true.
And He said to me, “It is done, I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost.
“He who overcomes shall inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son.”
1. Job 38:7
2. The Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard pg.49
3. The three images which tell the story are Simba’s face on the tree: at his anointing the original image is made, after his exile this image is marred, at his return Rafiki surrounds the image with his red powder symbolizing a far greater glory than the original image.