In the previous two articles, we have considered how David had confronted some of the ‘caves’ of his life, either in physical or mental peril and anguish. We conclude this theme, continuing David’s experiences and contrasting them with those of Jesus Christ.

6) Reaching Out to Others

In 1 Samuel 22, we find David escaping Gath for the cave of Adullam. We can picture him hiding in the recesses of this dank, dark cave, warily watching for Saul and his troops. Chapter 22 also explains that David did not spend all his time in the cave alone. Instead, his father and brothers rallied to him in the cave (v1). This small group grew daily to include “every one that was in distress, and every one that was in debt, and every one that was discontented [Heb. bitter of soul]”

(v2) until 400 men had mustered around the former captain of Saul’s army!

One might naturally assume that David and this troubled crew shared a mournful ‘pity party’ amidst the solitude of the cave. However, David could clearly see that the strength of this group lay not in commiserating over their troubles but in elevating each other and channelling their energies into something positive. This could only happen if there was someone who could provide strong leadership and spiritual guidance. David answered the need and “became a captain over them” (v2). Gradually, through David’s organisation and ability to draw out the best from people, “this desultory, low spir­ited company was forged into a closely knit, respon­sible and loyal troop, energised by the courageous, godly, faithful strength of a man who ‘had not where to lay his head’”.1

There are several powerful lessons to observe from this moving record. When we learn of someone who is experiencing troubles, our first inclination may be to avoid them. Perhaps we do not know what to say or how to help, fearful that another’s cave may swallow us up. Rather we should follow the example of David and his family and ‘go down to the cave’ with a help­ing hand and assist those who are ‘bowed down’.

While suffer­ing in ‘the cave’, we could become completely fo­cused on self: our problems, our challenges, our misery, what I need, what I am dealing with. The magnitude of our trial may indeed be quite serious and burdensome (it is not to be minimised!) but we will benefit greatly, at some point, by shifting our focus from self to others.

David and his crew would have gained nothing by wallowing in their distress, debt and discontent. Instead, they were listening to others, comforting the downtrodden, helping lift others from the mire and sharing the experiences they had had with God’s help. God provided the 400 men to a lonely, anxious man but they also became his responsibility. As God had sheltered David under His own wing so David saw a need to shepherd this flock. It also became an opportunity to “praise thee, O LORD, among the people” (Psa 57:9).

With David as captain, the gloom of the cave was swiftly swept away. Adullam means ‘justice for the people’ and it was here that David began to rebuild the justice that Saul had destroyed. It is remarkable to observe that the number of men fol­lowing David grew from 400 to 600 (1 Sam 23:13). It is equally striking that Adullam is described as a cave in 1 Samuel 22:1, but shortly thereafter as a stronghold! God had answered David’s prayers, compassed him about with the righteous (Psa 142:1,7) and provided him refuge under his wings (Psa 57:1).

If we channel our energies into godly support, it is amazing how ‘the cave’ can slowly dissolve and give way to God’s warmth and light.

7) Exiting the Cave

Although we do not know how long David abode in Adullam or En-gedi, the Psalms suggest a prolonged stay accompanied by a protracted struggle to come to grips with the trial. Trust in the Father was not de­veloped overnight; rather, it took time and tears.

It also took time before David was ready to rise and exit the cave. He had found refuge, friends and family while there. Perhaps life had stabilised and the thought of moving from the cave, only to expose himself to Saul and the risk of greater distress, was strong motivation to stay put.

Our personal trials may also involve a prolonged struggle in which God-centred solutions do not come about immediately. The ‘caves’ may crush our spirit and deplete our energy. Often, it is challeng­ing to shake off the despair, draw near to God and work with Him. Emerging from despair is not an easy process.

“Prayer is cooperating with God. It does not leave everything to Him, nor does it ignore His help.”2 If we ask God to help us with our burden, He expects us to act on our prayers. David could not pray, “bring my soul out of prison” (Psa 142:7) if he was not willing to look for the exit and firmly grasp God’s hand as He drew him from the pit.

Eventually, God intervened to deliver David from the danger. The prophet Gad met David and told him to “depart and get thee into the land of Judah” (1 Sam 22:5). It was time to exit the cave and find safety but it was also a test of David’s obedience. Without questioning, David and his men accepted God’s guiding hand and travelled onwards to the Forest of Hereth some 20 km north, near Hebron.

In his book The Man David, Brother Harry Tennant provides a touching summary of this last solution:

However great the burden, however irreplace­able the loss, however terrible the desolation which brings about our sorrow, for the follower of Jesus the moment must come when, having poured all our tears into God’s bottle, we lift up our head and say, “Arise, and let us be going!”3

Christ and the Cave

David’s experiences at Adullam and En-gedi are two of the most prominent ‘cave events’ in Scripture. Yet, the most significant is contained in the New Testament. While preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Jews in Antioch Paul said, “And when they had fulfilled all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree, and laid him in a sepulchre” (Acts 13:29). The word ‘sepulchre’ or ‘tomb’ is the same Greek word translated ‘cave’ in John 11:38 and is used by John to describe the burial place for Lazarus. Our Lord spent time in a cave, albeit as a burial place.

The Old Testament foreshadowed the power of this event many years earlier. In Joshua 10, we find Joshua mounting a battle at Gibeon against the united forces of five Amorite kings. Collectively, the kings represented the enemy, the sin that Israel was commanded to remove from the Promised Land. In an attempt to evade Joshua, the kings fled and hid in the cave of Makkedah, not far north-west of the cave of Adullam. When Joshua found them he instructed his captains to place their feet on their necks (Josh 10:24), “and afterward, Joshua smote them, and slew them, and hanged them on five trees … And it came to pass at the time of the going down of the sun, that Joshua commanded, and they took them down off the trees, and cast them into the cave wherein they had been hid and laid great stones in the cave’s mouth” (v26–27).

The events at Makkedah pointed forward to the saving work of the Lord Jesus Christ. The feet placed on the necks of the five kings are an echo from Genesis 3:15, where the head of the serpent is to be crushed by the heel of the seed of the woman. In effect, Sin (represented by the kings) was slain by Joshua (a type of Christ), hung on a tree to die, removed in the evening and placed in a cave behind a great stone (Mark 15).

Once again, God’s salvation is illustrated through events surrounding a cave. The very man that released others (eg Lazarus, Legion) from caves was saved from the cave and freed from the shackles of mortality, which is surety of our own salvation. Ultimately, it is sin that brings us to the cave, but ‘King Sin’, along with our human struggles, can be overcome through trust and hope in God.

Whenever his spirit was overwhelmed, Jesus turned to the same solutions as David. In the an­guish of Gethsemane, Jesus left his disciples three times to pour out his pain to God in prayer (Mark 14). Several times Jesus wept to relieve his emotions (Luke 19:41; John 11:35). During the transfigura­tion, we can be sure he drew strength from the company of Moses and Elijah (Luke 9:28–31).

Throughout his ministry, Jesus devoted himself to helping others through comfort, healing and teaching. Of Christ, Isaiah declared, “the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound” (Isa 61:1). Despite their weaknesses, even the disciples were commended for supporting a lonely man during his darkest hours: “Ye are they which have continued with me in my temptations” (Luke 22:28). Finally, Jesus recognised it was time to exit the despair of Gethsemane and yield to his enemies and the cross, when he instructed his disciples, “Rise up, let us go!” (Mark 14:42).

We are comforted and inspired when we realise that he too “offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard” (Heb 5:7).

‘They without us’

We began by considering the faithful saints of Hebrews 11 who experienced both triumph and trial, including experiences where they wandered “in dens and caves of the earth” (v38). Hebrews 11 closes with some encouraging thoughts for all who have spent time in ‘caves’ and relied on God’s strength to help them through: “These all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect” (v39–40).

The darkness of the cave is an overwhelming experience. Everyone who truly follows God will enter the ‘cave of Adullam’ sooner or later. Perhaps our sin has brought us there; perhaps the testing of our faith; or perhaps the chastening of God, the experience being designed by God for our growth. Adversity is one of the tools God uses to shape our characters and we must allow that to happen. Through it, patience, trust and faith in God are developed.

Far from abandoning us, God brings us to ‘the cave’ to learn as David had to: “Thou art my lamp, O LORD: and the LORD will lighten my darkness” (2 Sam 22:29). ‘The cave’ is not made for despair. Instead, it forces us to seek refuge in God and to lean on God-given solutions as illustrated so faith­fully in the life of David. He was a type of Christ and a man after God’s own heart. In so doing, our Father will ultimately dispel our darkness, rescue us from ‘the cave’, and “deal bountifully” with us (Psa 142:7). (Concluded)

Footnotes

  1. Harry Tennant, The Man David, 2nd ed., The Christadelphian, 1996, pp42–43
  2. HP Mansfield, Making Prayer Powerful, Logos Publications, 1974, pp37–38
  3. Harry Tennant, The Man David, 2nd ed., The Christadelphian, 1996, p33