Lessons from the Cave: how David managed his soul in the dark

Consider David: for 25 years he held on to the hope that God would establish his kingship. Many of those years were spent running for his life – even to the point of living in a cave. So what did David do to survive, even thrive, in such dark times? How did he hold on?

If you’ve ever felt like a cave-dweller, this is for you.

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David spent a good ten years of his life running for his life. His predecessor Saul seethed with jealous insecurity over the promised young man and continually used his armies to hunt David down.. Even when David did take the throne from Saul, he had to do it by force, about twenty-five years after Samuel fished him out of a flock of sheep to anoint him with God’s promise. Twenty-five tumultuous years – let that sink in. (Abraham and Sarah endured the same wait for Isaac.)

In the midst of that decade of hiding, David gets creative with his elusive maneuvers. One story (I Samuel 21) goes like this: David escapes from Saul’s periphery to the Philistine city of Gath, hoping the king of Gath would at least be neutral toward him. But the people recognize him – they’ve even heard a popular song circulating:
“Saul has slain his thousands,
and David his tens of thousands!”

His identity exposed, David has to think quickly. He starts foaming at the mouth, scratching doorways, acting completely insane. It works. The king yells at his servants, “Why did you bring this crazy man to me?! Am I so short of madmen you have to bring me another? Get him out of here!”

SO, David escapes from Gath and finds a cave to hole up in for quite a while near the small town of Adullam, which means “justice or refuge of the people.” Alone in the darkness and weary from several years on the run, David has a few things to get off his chest. A few problems to process with his God. Thus many of the Psalms that comfort us today. The byline of Psalm 142 specifically states he wrote it at this very point in his life – in the cave of Adullam.

Prayer for Help in Trouble.
I cry aloud with my voice to the LORD;
I make supplication with my voice to the LORD.
I pour out my complaint before Him;
I declare my trouble before Him.
When my spirit was overwhelmed within me,
You knew my path.
In the way where I walk
They have hidden a trap for me.
Look to the right and see;
For there is no one who regards me;
There is no escape for me;
No one cares for my soul.

I cried out to You, O LORD;
I said,
“You are my refuge,
My portion in the land of the living.
Give heed to my cry,
For I am brought very low;
Deliver me from my persecutors,
For they are too strong for me.
Bring my soul out of prison,
So that I may give thanks to Your name;
The righteous will surround me,
For You will deal bountifully with me.”

As David stays put, his whole family comes to be with him in the cave. The very thing he prophesied over himself comes to pass!

The righteous will surround me,
For You will deal bountifully with me.

Then I Samuel 22:2 tells us more folks hear of his location and surround him. More righteous people? Actually, it’s “all those who were in distress or in debt or discontented.” Four hundred of them! This does not sound like being surrounded by righteous people. Not only are these guys flocking to David, but he becomes their LEADER. Again, not sounding too helpful for David, who had just vented to God,

No one cares for my soul… There is no one who regards me… bring me out of prison!

A quintessential God-move, heh?

What’s that, David? You say no one regards you? You wish someone would remember you’re going to be king? I’ve got something to give you! Four hundred courageous, incorruptible men who care about you and highly regard you. In fact, they will lay down their lives to defend yours. Because of their strength you’ll be able to leave this cave. You’re gonna love ‘em!

[ Have you ever been met with an ‘answer to prayer’ that looked nothing like what you were expecting? How did you respond? ]

David has a choice to make. He can reject God’s provision and demand something more appealing, or he can believe God knows what He’s doing and roll with it.

You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.

David chooses to believe in God’s provision. He chooses to view them “not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” David receives God’s unruly provision. I imagine those disgruntled 400 caused the future king headaches and chaos at times, yet saved his life many times more. God truly did deal bountifully with him. I imagine David learned to see them as the answer to his prophecy, too: righteous men.

That’s one strategy we can glean from David. One more pops out to me in this story. We see it when David  looks for a safe place to keep his parents (just a guess: he didn’t want his mom hanging out with a bunch of ruffians in a cave). He takes them to Moab and asks the king to help. And it is here David shows us another key to sustaining hope during cave-seasons.

“Please let my father and my mother come and stay with you
until I know what God will do for me.” (I Sam 22:3).

Until I know what God will do for me. Never once in his heart does he concede defeat. He does not agree with death or darkness or abandonment, even when living in an actual cave. He holds onto hope. It’s a given to David that GOD WILL ACCOMPLISH WHAT HE PROMISED. All he has to do is wait to see how God pulls it off. Until I know what God WILL do for me. Powerful stuff.

I will cry to God Most High,
To God who accomplishes all things for me.
He will send from heaven and save me;
He reproaches him who tramples upon me. Selah.

God will send forth His lovingkindness and His truth.

Psalm 57:2-3
(also written in the cave of Adullam)

It’s natural to agree with ungodly beliefs when we look around and see dirt and rocks and fear and mere slivers of light in our lives. It’s easy to blame God for abandoning us and forfeiting His promises. It’s easy to breathe in the lies the enemy pumps into the cave about who we are and who God is. But we must not concede to the lies. We must trade them in for who God is, and who He says we are, and what He’s promised us. We must live not out of the seen, but the unseen. We must stand at the cave entrance and wait to know what God will do for us.

If you feel like a caveman right now, take heart. Take all the deep, dark doubt and fear-filled lies and trade it in. Recall to mind who God is and what He says about you and what He’s promised. Write it, say it over your life. Wait for your deliverer with expectancy. He will come, He won’t delay. Watch to see what He’s doing, and don’t let your own prejudice or understanding deny his provision. Prophesy goodness over your life. No matter what darkness comes against you, you are stronger than you think. Lead anyway. Hope anyway. Care for your family anyway. Sing your songs and cry your cries, for your God hears you full well, and soon enough your own 400 men will be here.

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