“It came to me. My own. My love. My own. My precious.” –– Gollum
Deep below the Misty Mountains lay a cave. In the cave lived Gollum, one of the River people. Many, many years back, he obtained a Ring. It was one of the Rings of Power that was dolled out amongst the races of Middle Earth in J.R.R. Tolkein’s Trilogy, The Lord of the Rings. Gollum now held the most powerful ring in his hand. Immediately, the power consumed him. Quickly, he began to both love it and hate it. It warped his mind, body, and spirit. It drove him to seek shelter in the cave below the Misty Mountains where he lived in the darkness for many years.
Caves are not destination places. They are not places that people want to end up. They are dark places. They are wet places. They are cold places. When people ask: “why don’t you duck hunt?” I simply tell them this: “I can be wet. I can be cold. I refuse to be both.” Life has cave moments. In 1 Samuel 22.1, David is in a cave. He escaped (hb. malat) Saul’s pursuit at Gath and fled to the cave of Adullam. At least in Gath, he was living in a city (albeit a foreign city under guise as an insane person). I assume it was a non-extradition city. Saul had a long reach and David ran. The land of Israel is littered with caves and hide outs. Like an outlaw, David finds one and is on the lam. While there, just like he did to pass the long nights out in the field shepherding and just like he did in the Palace of Saul, he journaled. He composed songs, poems, acrostics, and worshiped. Scripture contains a few of these moments that reveal some truths about caves.
David enters alone (1 Samuel 22.1). David went into the cave by himself. There are very few exceptions in Scripture where people enter caves with others and some of those are questionable. Obadiah hid 100 prophets in two caves, but with a nation and a king who is trying to exterminate them, there was probably some loneliness. Just because there are people there, doesn’t mean isolation can’t set in.
“No man is an island, entire of itself;
every man is a piece of the continent.” — John Donne
Caves are a reminder, that the inhabitant is in it alone. His journal reads:
“Look and see, there is no one at my right hand;
no one is concerned for me.
I have no refuge;
no one cares for my life.” (Psalm 142.4)
David is isolated. Loneliness is an epidemic in America. As of 1 January 2018, Facebook had 214 million US users. Those that are 18-24 years old numbered 39.4 million. Those that were over the age of 65 numbered 21.1 million. Yet a 2016 article on independent.com stated: “a study in 2014 found 18-24-year-olds were four times as likely to feel lonely all the time as those aged 70 and above.” Double the number are connected to the world and yet they are 4 times as likely to feel alone. In the same article, Heather Saul observed, “humans were built for companionship, not to be alone, at least according to the growing body of research on the effect of social isolation has on health.” I think I’ve read something like that before…Genesis 2 perhaps? “It is not good for man to be alone.” The “research” is affirming what God had said all along. David’s family would eventually arrive, but for a time, he was isolated.
David is on the run. Saul has been after David for some time now. Twice he’s thrown spears. He’s chased him into foreign territory. Saul will not rest until David is dead. Saul has tried to trap him: “When my spirit grows faint within me, it is you who watch over my way. In the path where I walk people have hidden a snare for me.” (Psalm 142.3) This is directly from David’s prayer journal. But he escaped the traps, the nets and the pits (Psalm 57.6). Then there was the chase. David prays later on: “Listen to my cry, for I am in desperate need; rescue me from those who pursue me, for they are too strong for me.” (Psalm 142.6) I’ve harvested coyotes two ways: 1) trapping; 2) shooting from the back of an ATV at 45 mph. It couldn’t have been a more different experience. David was the coyote. He’s seen it all. He says in his song, in Psalm 57, that it has been a “hot pursuit” (57.3) and that he is now amongst men like “lions” and “ravenous beasts” (57.4).
The main word in both of these passages is refuge (hb. machseh/chaseh). Four times in the two Psalms (57 and 142) refuge is mentioned. They are related words with the same base. Machseh is used in Psalm 142.5: “I cry to you, Lord; I say, “You are my refuge…” Of the 20 times its used in Scripture, 12 of them are in Psalms. The reason is the desperation that comes through the pens of the song writers. These are desperate men in desperate situations. Refuge is not requested, it is required.
Along the same lines, chasah, another Hebrew word for refuge, is used 37 times, with 25 of them in Psalms. Again, desperation begs refuge. Psalm 57 uses this word twice. “Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me, for in you I take refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed.” (Psalm 57.1) David employs the image of a mother bird hovering over her nest. Its not the first time. He quoted his great-grandfather, Boaz, in speaking to Ruth: “May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.” (Ruth 2.12)
The refuge of God takes many forms. It was wings, as was mentioned before (also in Psalm 61.4; 91.4). It was a “shield and horn”, a symbol of God’s power (1 Samuel 22.3; Psalm 18.30; Proverbs 30.5). It was a rock that a man could tether to (Psalm 18.2;62.7; 94.22). Refuge is the strong tower and fortress that fortifies the soul (Psalm 61.3; 91.2; 94.22). A place of refuge is a reoccurring theme in David’s journal. He is distressed and exhausted; on the run and growing weary. He needs refuge. It is fitting that “Adullam”, the cave where he is hiding (1 Samuel 22.1), means “refuge” in Hebrew. (Brown, Driver, Briggs 726)
David is worn out. No one enters the cave at a high point in life. The cave lies at the end of a long and arduous journey. David’s been on the run. He’s acted insane. He’s been among enemies. He has dodged spears. He is physically, mentally, and spiritually exhausted. “When my spirit grows faint within me…I have no refuge.” (Psalm 142.3-4) The Hebrew verb “faint” (‘atap) is in an unusual conjugation. It is in the hitpael stem, meaning it is to be understood reflexively. David is “growing faint” because of himself. Elsewhere this verb is translated “ebb away” (Jonah 2.7). The picture is made clear. David is wasting away because of the chase, the stress, and the isolation. He is left in the cave to think and “grow faint”.
But there is another side to this prayer and this song. For all the things going wrong, David trusts in this: God does his best work from caves.
“Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;
let your glory be over all the earth…
My heart, O God, is steadfast, my heart is steadfast;
I will sing and make music…
I will praise you, Lord, among the nations;
I will sing of you among the peoples.
For great is your love, reaching to the heavens;
your faithfulness reaches to the skies.” (Psalm 57.5, 7, 9-10)
Fast forward 1000 years or so. Joseph of Arimathea brought Jesus to a tomb. They were caves back then. Where they sealed the entrance with a stone and they left him alone. His chase was over. The people, the Romans, the mob, had been after him for a year. Finally, the situation proved fruitful and they crucified him. He had been chased down. Jesus was exhausted from all night trials and physically spent. He had endured the cross and the suffering. He was worn-out. And he finds himself in the cave. But his road to the cave was understood in the same way that David understood his: God does his best work from caves. Three days later, Jesus would emerge from the cave, overcoming all that it stood for. Like David writes in Psalm 57.8:
“Awake, my soul!
Awake, harp and lyre!
I will awaken the dawn!”
That dawn, Sunday morning, was welcomed with an empty cave!