1 Samuel 22:1-2
1David left there and escaped to the cave of Adullam; when his brothers and all his father’s house heard of it, they went down there to him. 2Everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented gathered to him; and he became captain over them. Those who were with him numbered about four hundred.


 

Last week’s scripture passage was a really long one–almost an entire chapter of the Bible–and yet it covered only one brief episode in the life of young David. Today’s scripture passage, by contrast, is short. Just two verses, and yet it summarizes a long period of time–several years in the rise of King David.

I say “King” David, but David is nowhere near being king yet. In fact, at the beginning of this passage, he is nothing more than a refugee, on the run from a raving and jealous king Saul, who has tried many times to have David killed. The reason David’s brothers and all his father’s house come to him in hiding is probably because their lives are in danger too, on account of their connection to David.

This is a low point in David’s career, once filled with so much promise, but now so much uncertainty: He was the one anointed by the prophet Samuel as God’s chosen King. He was the one who defeated the giant, Goliath. The one who once led the armies of King Saul to victory after victory, as his fame and fortune grew.

Now, he has lost everything. He has no country. No Kingdom. No army. No resources. Just a cave, near the ruins of Adullam, overlooking the valley of Elah, the site of his victory over Goliath. I can imagine David sitting at the mouth of the cave, watching intently for any sign of those who are hunting him. Looking… and thinking… and remembering… and wondering…

If you are wondering what David was wondering about, interestingly, there are two Psalms which actually say in the title, “Written by David in the cave.” They are Psalm 57 and 142.

Psalm 57 begins: “Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, until the destroying storms pass by. I cry to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me. He will send from heaven and save me, he will put to shame those who trample on me.”

Psalm 142 begins: “With my voice I cry to the Lord; with my voice I make supplication to the Lord. I pour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him. When my spirit is faint, you know my way. In the path where I walk they have hidden a trap for me. Look on my right hand and see—there is no one who takes notice of me; no refuge remains to me; no one cares for me.

Like I said, this is a low point in David’s life. But low points are not without purpose, or meaning, or even hope. As David watches from the mouth of the cave, begins to see people approaching. They are not his enemies. Of course, they probably don’t exactly seem like the answer to his prayers, either. After his family arrives, we read of three different types of people who converge on the cave of Adullam: “Everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented gathered to him.”

The first of these in Hebrew are the מָצ֜וֹק (matzoq). This word means more than simply “distressed” It means those who are hunted, oppressed, in trouble, refugees.

The second category are the נֹשֶׁא֙ (n’sheh). It means those in debt, but the root is the same as the Hebrew word for deceived, swindled, taken advantage of. Robbed by legal means.

Finally are the מַר-נֶ֔פֶשׁ (mar-nephesh), the discontent. The Hebrew literally means “bitter souls,” those who have given up on life, those who are broken and despondent.

So David prays for a mighty army, and what does he get? The rejects. The dregs of society. The ones no one else wants. The ones who, like David, are at a low point in life, who have nothing, and nowhere else to go.

But David doesn’t turn them away. Instead we read he “became captain over them.” All 400 of them. And in the verses and chapters that follow this one, something begins to happen. David may not have an army, but he has a purpose, and a people, there in the cave of Adullam.

Adullam is an interesting word. No one knows quite what it means, and there really aren’t any other words like it. But in trying to figure it out, I came up with three different possibilities:

The second half of the word, “am” means “people.” The first half, “Adul,” is the real mystery. Depending on whether it’s related to similar words in Arabic or Assyrian, it could mean either “refuge,” “justice,” or “substance.” That’s where it gets really interesting. I wonder if it could mean all three?

For the מָצ֜וֹק (matzoq), the oppressed, the cave becomes the “refuge of the people,” a safe place, a shelter from persecution.

For the נֹשֶׁא֙ (n’sheh), those in debt, those who have been legally robbed, the cave becomes the “justice of the people” where I imagine resources are shared fairly, equitably among all.

For the מַר-נֶ֔פֶשׁ (mar-nephesh), the bitter souls who have nothing to live for, the cave becomes the “substance of the people,” their purpose, their reason to live.

If I’m right (and I admit this is pretty speculative) then that’s quite a cave.

In the world of Philosophy, Plato’s famous allegory of the cave tells the story of several individuals in a cave, facing the back wall, only able to see the shadows formed by the sun’s rays coming through the cave opening behind them. For years, this is the extent of their reality, all they can know and perceived. But eventually they emerge from the cave into the light of day, and true reality. The cave becomes a metaphor for darkness, and for the womb. Coming out of the cave into the light is a metaphor for rebirth, or awakening.

In all of our lives, there are cave days–times of darkness. Wilderness times that threaten to devastate and overwhelm us. Lonely times where we feel distant from God, from our loved ones, from our calling and purpose.

But our cave days are also the times with the greatest potential to form us, to shape us, and to prepare us for the future God calls us into. For David, the cave is where he finds the peace he needs to reflect, to take up his Psalms once more, to restore his connection with God through prayer and song. For the refugees who flock to David, the cave is a place of safety, justice, and renewed purpose.

The cave is also a place of vulnerability, and we need those places in our lives, too. The mightiest giant-slayers and Kings among us eventually stumble and fall. We all come to the cave broken and rejected. We all need a place to lay down our armor and weep. Recognizing that need, in ourselves and in each other, is important.

Sometimes the cave is a place of isolation–David needed solitude first, in order to become a leader of people again.

Sometimes the cave is a place of community–those who came to David needed the solidarity and support that only a community can provide. When the church is functioning at its best, it can be like Adullam’s cave–a safe refuge, a place to rest, to help each other heal and grow.

The cave is important, but we don’t dwell in it forever. David eventually emerges from the cave to claim his place as Israel’s anointed King. The cave gives way to the palace and the throne. The broken and the downtrodden who came to David eventually emerge from the cave as David’s mighty men–their legends and exploits fill the later chapters of Samuel and Chronicles.

Next week we’ll talk more about what happens when David and his people emerge from the cave, but today I’d like to go back inside it one last time–to that place of vulnerability. I’d like to end today with a song. This song was written in the 1980’s by Twila Paris, and it’s written from David’s perspective. I think it does a good job of capturing this period of his life, and also what all of us go through sometimes in our “cave days.”

Twila Paris – The Warrior Is A Child
Lately I’ve been winning battles left and right
But even winners can get wounded in the fight
People say that I’m amazing, strong beyond my years
But they don’t see inside of me, I’m hiding all the tears

They don’t know that I go running home when I fall down
They don’t know who picks me up when no one is around
I drop my sword and cry for just a while
‘Cause deep inside this armor…the warrior is a child

Unafraid because His armor is the best
But even soldiers need a quiet place to rest
People say that I’m amazing, never face retreat
But they don’t see the enemies, that lay me at His feet

They don’t know that I go running home when I fall down
They don’t know who picks me up when no one is around
I drop my sword and cry for just a while
‘Cause deep inside this armor…the warrior is a child