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by Wayne Blank
The are numerous references to lions in The Bible, particularly the Old Testament in which at least six different words are used for the lion. Although now extinct there, in ancient times lions were quite common in Israel. They were found in the (then also much more plentiful) forests (Jeremiah 5:6), in mountain caves (Nahum 2:12), and along The Jordan River (Jeremiah 49:19).
At a time when Israeli firepower consisted of spears and slings, the numerous predatory lions were a dangerous menace to the Israelites who traveled or lived out in the open country (1 Kings 13:24), and even sometimes right in towns (2 Kings 17:25). Many people were killed by wild lions. Shepherds were particularly vulnerable to attack, their concentrated flocks being an easy prey - unless the shepherd happened to be someone like David:
"Your servant used to keep sheep for his father; and when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and smote him and delivered it out of his mouth; and if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard, and smote him and killed him. Your servant has killed both lions and bears." (1 Samuel 17:34-36 RSV)
Lions were also used for ancient "sport," and as a form of execution, in which people were thrown to the lions and killed. Many Jews (e.g. Daniel) and Christians (e.g. Paul, see On The Road To Damascus) found themselves facing lions because of their steadfast obedience to God; a great many were martyred, while some were saved because their time of witness had not yet been completed:
"Then, at break of day, the king arose and went in haste to the den of lions. When he came near to the den where Daniel was, he cried out in a tone of anguish and said to Daniel, "O Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, Whom you serve continually, been able to deliver you from the lions?" Then Daniel said to the king, "O king, live for ever! My God sent His angel and shut the lions' mouths, and they have not hurt me, because I was found blameless before Him; and also before you, O king, I have done no wrong." Then the king was exceedingly glad, and commanded that Daniel be taken up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no kind of hurt was found upon him, because he had trusted in his God." (Daniel 6:19-23 RSV)
Fact Finder: Lions were also used as an analogy for power and majesty. Is Jesus Christ the "Lion of the tribe of Judah"?