A pit is not a good place to be. It is dank, it is dark, and no one ever cleans it. The smell of the beasts was almost overpowering, and the man knew, that, though he had entered it willingly and calmly, eyes wide open and head held high, his mind composed and his faith at rest, that his body responded to the sensory horror with visceral fear, and the lions could smell the sweat of his ordeal.
There was comfort in remembering how others before him had endured in such a desperate place. The patriarch Joseph had been thrown into a pit (by his own brothers, no less!), sold into slavery, and, because God was with him, later risen to become the second-in-command in mighty Egypt, and saved many lives. Or Jeremiah, who was cast into a pit for speaking faithfully what God had commanded him to say. And then there was Jonah. Wasn’t the insides of the belly of a great fish the worst kind of pit? And, though Jonah’s own folly had brought him to that place, it was the Lord who put him in the pit, and took him out again.
But this was now, not then, and who could predict God’s ways? That a man could pray, faithfully, to the God of his fathers, the Maker of heaven and earth, all the days of his life, and find comfort and sustenance in worship, even though he was far away from Jerusalem and the Temple, and then, when his years were many and his body less, be hauled off to die for the simple act of prayer? But a man does not change his loyalty, his allegiance, when the price tags are changed; if this was the cost of fidelity, so be it, God was still God.
It was the jealousy and malice of men which had put him here, their determination to get rid of a faithful servant whose integrity showed them up; and the king, caught between their cunning and his own weakness, was forced to send his most treasured servant to the pit of the lions. And the lions were hungry.
But they made no move towards him. After a few minutes of silent tension, he turned to face them, and, as his eyes grew accustomed to the dark, he realised that there was another figure standing between the lions and himself, and it was not a mortal man. It was an angel of the most high God, sent for his succour and protection in his hour of need. He was no longer concerned about the lions, but awed into silence by this holy presence. All night long the angel kept guard, all night long the lions remained peacefully in their corner, and the man, with a prayer of thanksgiving lay down to sleep: “For it is You Lord, You, lord, only, who makes me to dwell in safety.”