As emperor of Ethiopia (1930–74), Haile Selassie I was known for modernizing his country, for helping to establish the Organization of African Unity (now the African Union) in 1963, for his exile (1936–41), and for being overthrown in 1974. He was also regarded as the messiah of the African race by many Rastas.

Rastafari consider the mention of "The Lion of Judah" in Genesis 49:9 and Revelation 5:5 of The Bible to refer to Emperor Haile Selassie I. Rastafari hail Haile Selassie I with the titles "KING of Kings, LORD of lords, Conquering Lion of Judah, Elect of God, the Light of the World".

Rastafarians regard Haile Selassie I as God because Marcus Garvey's prophecy - "Look to Africa where a black king shall be crowned, he shall be the Redeemer" - was swiftly followed by the ascension of Haile Selassie as Emperor of Ethiopia.