Have you ever felt like you were living your life in a cave, perhaps emotionally, or even spiritually? At times, we may feel quite dark, lonely, depressed or spiritually deflated. Personal weaknesses can bury us in guilt and ill­ness or bereavement can leave us feeling isolated. Relationships, family, finances, jobs and ecclesial challenges can overwhelm us.

At times, the cave has been ‘home’to the writer: times when we want to curl up in a dark corner, retract from those around us, and shut down; times when the future seems bleak and we feel like giving up; times when we may question how, or if, God is working in our life. While in the cave, we may conclude that we are alone in our circumstances, nobody cares and no one can relate.

During these miserable periods, it is encourag­ing to contemplate the experiences of the faithful in Hebrews 11. Men and women, young and old, they all experienced highs and lows throughout their spiritual journeys. We are inspired when we recall their moments of victory, when they “stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens” (Heb 11:33-34).

Yet, we often forget that “others were tortured … had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented” (Heb 11:35-37).

Verse 38 concludes the description of their struggles with an intriguing statement: “they wan­dered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth”. Many of God’s faithful also endured the darkness of caves: physically, emotion­ally, and spiritually. If life’s challenges engulf us, we are not alone. Rather, we can take heart that we are in the best of company and “surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1 NKJV), many of whom also survived overwhelming chal­lenges in a cave.

In Dens and Caves of the Earth

This short phrase begs the reader to thumb the pages of Scripture for individuals who spent time in a cave. When we do, a sizeable list emerges: Lot and his two daughters lived in a cave after fleeing Sodom (Gen 19:30) and many of the patriarchs were buried in the cave of Machpelah, including Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Leah and Jacob (Gen 49:30-31). The Israelites hid in caves and dens to escape the Midianites (Jud 6:2) and Philistines (1 Sam 13:6); Obadiah hid 100 faithful prophets from Jezebel in a cave (1 King 18:4) and Elijah sought refuge in a cave at Sinai while he battled fear, depression and loneliness amidst a period of intense apostasy (1 King 19:9-10).

We could certainly add those who spent time in ‘pseudo-caves’ such as Joseph in the dungeon, Daniel in the lion’s den, Jeremiah in the miry cis­tern, Legion who abode in the tombs, Lazarus in a sepulchre and even Paul and Silas in the Philippian prison.

Desperate, life-threatening circumstances drove many of these individuals to the cave. Others sought the cave on their own volition. In each case, however, it is encouraging to recognise that for some the cave became a temporary source of refuge and respite, followed eventually by God’s rescue and deliver­ance. Thus, Scripture highlights many faithful who “wandered in dens and caves of the earth”, but also demonstrates how these faithful ultimately “rejoiced in God’s salvation” (Psa 20:5).

Psalms from the Cave

Our list of examples omits another individual who spent significant time in a cave. We know this from Psalm 57, the superscription of which reads, “Altaschith, Michtam of David, when he fled from Saul in the cave”. Further research reveals that David also wrote Psalm 142 while he was in the cave. It commences: “Maschil of David; A prayer when he was in the cave”. In both Psalms, the Spirit conveys David’s feelings and experiences while enduring time in a cave. It is upon these two mag­nificent Psalms that our words will focus. When explored, they furnish the reader with a rich reward of instruction and comfort for dealing with our personal ‘caves.’

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Initially, we might ask, “When did David spend time in a cave?” ‘The cave’ proves to be a historical key by which the details of Psalm 57 and 142 can be unlocked. For almost five years, David and his men ranged over the terrain of south­ern Israel. During this flight, David sought refuge with his troops in two caves: the first was the cave of Adullam (1 Sam 22:1), while the second was the cave of En-gedi (1 Sam 24:1-3). Both are located in Judah, south of Jerusalem. Surrounding Adullam, on the western flanks of the Judean hills, are numerous limestone caverns, some of which are interconnected and large enough to hold 200 or 300 men. En-gedi (Heb: ‘spring of the goat-kid’) is situated on the eastern edge of the Judean hills, in close proximity to a refreshing spring, amidst the scorched wasteland of the Dead Sea valley.

In both instances, David was desperate to escape the relentless pursuit of Saul. Although the caves provided asylum, the anxiety that David suffered is evident when he laments, “my spirit was over­whelmed within me” (Psa 142:3). In the Hebrew, “overwhelmed” means ‘to shroud or clothe with darkness and languishing’. Despair engulfed David. He had no permanent place to live, he struggled to find food and water and felt rejected by an entire nation.

David equates the experiences in the cave to being trapped in a dungeon, and pleads: “Bring my soul out of prison” (Psa 142:7). Again, he mourns that “there is none who take notice of me; no ref­uge remains to me; no one cares for my soul” (Psa 142:4 ESV). Though Psalm 57 contains a level of confidence and hope exceeding that of Psalm 142,

David’s despondency is still evident when he com­plains: “my soul is in the midst of lions”, and “my soul was bowed down” (Psa 57:4,6 ESV).

At times, David’s misery may parallel our own. We may find ourselves in desperate circumstances, trapped in an emotional and spiritual prison, where no one seems to notice or care about us.

How did David deal with the cave experi­ences of his life? Psalms 57 and 142 can help us by sharing the solutions that David used. When we meditate on these we can see that there is a way through our trials.

In this series of ar­ticles we will consider seven solutions in to­tal. Though none may be considered mind-bending or revolutionary, ultimately they are the means that God has set before us to illuminate the darkness.

1) Prayer and Praise

When we experience stress, we may keep things to ourselves and independently try to solve our troubles. Amidst the inky blackness of ‘the cave’, we may forget that God can help us and cares about us. David recognised this pitfall and instead exclaimed, “I poured out my complaint before him; I shewed before him my trouble” (Psa 142:2).

David used prayer as a means of communicating his trouble to God. He poured out his feelings to the Father and requested grace and mercy to help in his time of need (cp Heb 4:16). Prayer was also recognition of the reliance he placed on the Father to dispel his emotional turmoil and rescue him from his enemies.

In the book, Teenagers of the Bible, Brother Shane Kingsbury stresses the importance of prayer, particularly during our youth:

“In times of adversity and trouble, it is not unu­sual to try all kinds of ‘solutions’ and ‘cures’, only to find that we have ignored the greatest cure of all time: Prayer. This is particularly true of the teenage years when we have plenty of energy and pride ourselves in achievements, frequently taking matters into our own hands – only to find ourselves more deeply mired into the problem. Then, as a last resort, we turn to prayer!”1

In Psalm 142, David appeals to God to “attend unto my cry” (Psa 142:6). The Hebrew word “at­tend” means ‘to prick up the ears’. God gives ear to our own prayers and we are assured like David: “In the day of my trouble I will call upon thee: for thou wilt answer me” (Psa 86:7). Prayer is powerful, and yet, this is not an age of prayer. David, Daniel, Jeremiah, Paul and many others prayed frequently and we should follow their example, particularly when we encounter troublesome times.

Perhaps music is a salve in troubled times. Beyond prayer, David expresses the sentiments of his soul through song and praise. In Psalm 57:7 he reveals, “My heart is fixed, O God … I will sing and give praise”. To this, he adds in verses 8–9, “Awake, psaltery and harp … I will praise thee, O Lord, among the people: I will sing unto thee among the nations”. He uses them to lift his own spirits by expressing his love, confidence and gratitude to the Father and to testify to His mercy and glory “among the nations”. In similar circumstances, deep in the chambers of the Philippian jail, Paul and Silas “prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them” (Acts 16:25).

2) Crying

Society teaches us that ‘big boys don’t cry’. Nothing could be farther from the truth in David’s life. David did not ‘bottle up’ his emotions but poured them out unashamedly. In Psalm 142 David “cried unto the LORD, and further requests that God “at­tend unto my cry” (v 1,6). The same word is used of Israel when they wept because of the bondage in Egypt (Exod 2:23–24). It describes a mixture of tears and desperate pleas for God’s help.

There are additional occasions when David shed tears to deal with his grief. As he and Jonathan parted ways in the field, “they kissed each other and wept together – but David wept the most” (1 Sam 20:41 NIV). Later, when David and his men returned to Ziklag and found it destroyed and their families taken captive, “David and his men wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep” (1 Sam 30:4). Twice David wept over the loss of his children (2 Sam 12:22; 2 Sam 18:33). Overwhelming circumstances also caused David to plead: “Hear my prayer, O LORD, listen to my cry for help; be not deaf to my weeping” (Psa 39:12 NIV).

David was the king of Israel, a leader, and a mighty man of war but he still experienced grief and expressed it through tears. In this way he poured out the pain and the loss, the anger and hurt, regard­less of who may have seen him or what they said or thought. Crying is therapeutic and is one of the outlets of emotions God has given to us to bear the pain of the cave experiences. We should not bottle up our grief and hold it inside where it will corrode our heart and soul. Unashamedly then, we can relieve our feelings through tears.

Psalm 56 was penned by David to recount his capture by the Philistines in Gath (Psa 56:1; 1 Sam 21), just prior to his flight to the cave of Adullam. Here, he makes a curious request of the Father: “Thou tellest [numberest] my wanderings: put thou my tears into thy bottle: are they not in thy book?” (v8) What does David mean by this curious phrase “put my tears into your bottle”? In ancient times ‘lachrimony’ was common-practice. Tears were collected in small, sealed bottles to commemorate events of particularly deep emotion. The bottle, along with its tears, acted as a record and reminder of the grief.2

A sensitivity of spirit was one of the charac­teristics God desired when He “sought him a man after his own heart” (1 Sam 13:14; Acts 13:22). Like David, we should not be afraid to shed tears, knowing that God is intimately aware of our grief and sorrows.

Footnotes

  1. Shane Kingsbury, Teenagers of the Bible, Logos Publications, p141
  2. Albert Barnes, Barnes’ Notes on the Old and New Testaments, eSword, Psalm 56:8