Refuge for Cave Dwellers by Charles R Swindoll
All the passages below are taken from Charles R Swindoll’s book “David” published in 1997.
David had bottomed out.
In a downward swirl of events, he lost his job, his wife, his home, his counselor, his closest friend, and finally his self-respect. When we left him last, he was dribbling saliva down his beard and scratching on the gate of the enemy like a madman. Realizing that his identity was known by the Philistines, he feigned insanity and then slipped out of the city of Gath. Once more he was a man on the run.
So David departed from there and escaped to the cave of Adullam. . . . 1 Samuel 22:1 (NASB)
THE CAVE: HOW IT HAPPENED
This was the lowest moment of David’s life to date, and if you want to know how he really felt, just read the song he composed about it, Psalm 142. He had no security, he had no food, he had no one to talk to, he had no promise to cling to, and he had no hope that anything would ever change.He was alone in a dark cave, away from everything and everybody he loved. Everybody except God.
No wonder he wrote this baleful song of sorrow:
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,
Thou didst know 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 Thee, 0 LORD;
I said, “Thou art 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 Thy name;
The righteous will surround me,
For Thou wilt deal bountifully with me.”
Psalm 142 (NASB)
That’s the way David felt as a cave dweller. “I don’t know of a soul on earth who cares for my soul. I am brought very low. Deliver me, Lord.”
Can you feel the loneliness of that desolate spot? The dampness of that cave? Can you feel David’s despair? The depths to which his life has sunk? There is no escape. There is nothing left. Nothing.
Yet in the midst of all this, David has not lost sight of God. He cries out for the Lord to deliver him. And here we catch sight of the very heart of the man, that inward place that only God truly sees, that unseen quality that God saw when he chose and anointed the young shepherd boy from Bethlehem.
THE CHALLENGE: WHAT IT INVOLVED
David has been brought to the place where God can truly begin to shape him and use him. When the sovereign God brings us to nothing, it is to reroute our lives, not to end them. Human perspective says, “Aha, you’ve lost this, you’ve lost that. You’ve caused this, you’ve caused that. You’ve ruined this, you’ve ruined that. End your life!” But God says, “No. No. You’re in the cave. But that doesn’t mean it’s curtains. That means it’s time to reroute your life. Now’s the time to start anew!” That’s exactly what he does with David.
David hangs out no shingle. He advertises no need, except to God. He is alone in a cave. And look at what God did. Look who came to join him: “When his brothers and all his father’s household heard of it [David’s escape to the cave], they went down there to him” (22:1).
Remember, it hasn’t been all that long since David’s family didn’t pay any attention to him. His own father had almost forgotten he existed when Samuel came to the house looking for a possible candidate for the kingship. Samuel had to say, “Are these all your sons?” And Jesse snapped his fingers and said, “Oh, no, I’ve got a son who keeps the sheep.” And later, when he went to the battle and was going to take up arms against Goliath, his brothers put him down, saying, “We know why you’re really here. You just want to be seen.”
But here he is, broken, at the end, without crutches. . . . crushed in spirit. And would you look who comes to him? Those same brothers and his father along with the rest of the household.
Sometimes when you’re in the cave, you don’t want others around. Sometimes you just can’t stand to be with people. You hate to admit it publicly; in fact, you usually don’t. But it’s true. Sometimes you just want to be alone. And I have a feeling that at that moment in his life, this cave dweller, David, wanted nobody around. Because if he wasn’t worth anything to himself, he didn’t see his worth to anybody else.
David didn’t want his family, but they came. He didn’t want them there, but God brought them anyway. They crawled right into that cave with him.
But look! They weren’t the only ones.
And everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented, gathered to him; and he became captain over them. Now there were about four hundred men with him. (1 Samuel 22:2 NASB)
What a group! “Everyone who was in distress” came. The Hebrew word here, zuk, means not only “in distress,” but “under pressure, under stress.” So here came hundreds of pressured people.
Second, “everyone who was in debt,” made their way there. The Hebrew here, nashah, means “to lend on interest, to have a number of creditors.” So these were people who couldn’t pay their bills.
And third, here came “everyone who was discontented.” The Hebrew here, maar nephesh, means “to be in bitterness of soul, to have been wronged and mistreated.” That group came too.
What does all this mean? Well, in that day the land was aching under the rule of Saul. He had overtaxed the people. He had mistreated them. He was a madman, given to intense depression, and they were suffering the consequences. Some couldn’t stand it any longer. So David ended up with a cave full of malcontents. Can you imagine that? It’s bad enough to be in there alone feeling like a worm. But to have over 400 more worms crawl in there with you, that’s a mess!
But God is at work here. He is rerouting David’s life. Sure, the man is in the cave. Sure, he feels worthless. He feels useless. He feels mistreated. He feels misunderstood. That’s why he’s in the cave. And before he can spit, his brothers come. The rest of his family comes. And then before he can find them a place to sit down, strangers of all sorts begin to drop in. I don’t know how the word traveled, but before long there were 400 fellow cave dwellers looking to him as their leader.
That cave was no longer David’s escape hatch. If you can believe it, the smelly, dank cave became a place of training for those who were the beginning of the army that would be called “David’s mighty men of valor.” That’s right—this motley crew would become his mighty men in battle, and later they would become his cabinet when he took office. He turned their lives around and built into them order and discipline and character and direction.
David was beaten all the way down, until there was no way to look but up. And when he looked up, God was there, bringing this bunch of unknowns to him little by little until finally they proved themselves to be the mightiest men of Israel. Wow!
What a turning point in David’s life, when he made the crucial decision not to walk away. He would accept his situation and make the best of it. If it was a cave, so be it. If those around him needed leadership, he’d provide it. Who would’ve ever guessed that the next king of Israel was training his troops in a dark cave where nobody saw and nobody cared. How unusual of God . . . yet how carefully He planned it!
David became a sort of Robin Hood. His Sherwood Forest was the rugged Judean wilderness, with its mountains, caves, and deep wadis. There, he commanded a group of mavericks because God wanted him to become a maverick king. Israel would never see another king like David.
We looked at Psalm 142. Now let’s look at two others David wrote, Psalms 57 and 34. We don’t know in what order he wrote these, but looking at his life, they seem to fit in this backward order—142 when he was at his lowest moment on his face, Psalm 57 when he’s on his knees, and finally Psalm 34 when he’s on his feet.
Notice that Psalm 57 is titled “A Mikhtam of David, when he fled from Saul, in the cave” (the descriptive line at the beginning of many of the psalms gives you their author and their context).
Be gracious to me, 0 God, be gracious to me,
For my soul takes refuge in Thee;
And in the shadow of Thy wings I will take refuge,
Until destruction passes by.
I will cry to God Most High,
To God who accomplishes all things for me.
He will send from heaven and save me. ..(vv. 1-3).
At this point, David is on his knees. He’s still down, but at least he’s looking up. He’s no longer just looking within. Then he says,
My soul is among lions;
I must lie among those who breathe forth fire,
Even the sons of men, whose teeth are spears and arrows,
And their tongue a sharp sword. . . (v. 4).
This sounds as though it was written when the strangers began to crowd into the cave. If you’ve ever worked with malcontents, you know that’s true. They are a thankless, coarse, thoughtless body of people, so overwhelmed with their own needs they don’t pay attention to anyone else’s.
And so David says to God,
Be exalted above the heavens, 0 God …
My heart is steadfast, 0 God, my heart is steadfast;
I will sing, yes, I will sing praises! …
Be exalted above the heavens, 0 God;
Let Thy glory be above all the earth (vv. 5, 7, 11).
See where David’s eyes are now? “0 God, You be exalted.” In Psalm 142 he’s saying, “I’m in the cave, I’m at the end, there’s no one on the right hand or left. I have no one who cares.” And now in Psalm 57 he says, “Now you be gracious to me, God. I’m stretched, I’m pulled beyond my limits. You meet my needs.”
He’s crying out his declaration of dependence.
Now look at Psalm 34, which I believe is the third psalm he wrote while in the cave. What a difference. What a change has come over David! He says,
I will bless the LORD at all times
His praise shall continually be in my mouth (v. 1).
Later we learn that David’s men became acutely able with the sword and with the bow and arrow. Obviously, they had training practices. They learned how to get their act together in battle. They developed discipline in the ranks. They might have been mavericks, but they are on the way to becoming skilled hunters and courageous fighters.
So David, seeing his men marching in step and using the sword and the spear and the bow with skill, says to them, “Magnify the LORD with me, let us exalt His name together.” He’s putting their eyes on the LORD. “I sought the LORD, and He answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.”
To the distressed among the group he says, “0 taste and see that the LORD is good; how blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!”
To those in debt he says, “O fear the LORD, you His saints; for to those who fear Him, there is no want.”
To the discontented he says, “The young lions do lack and suffer hunger; but they who seek the LORD shall not be in want of any good thing.”
And finally, he gives sort of a wrap-up lesson to the entire group: “Many are the afflictions of the righteous [dark and lonely are the caves of the righteous]; but the LORD delivers him out of them all.”
THE CHANGE: WHY IT OCCURRED
Why did such a major change take place in David’s life and attitude?
First, because David hurt enough to admit his need. When you are hurting, you need to declare it to someone, and especially to the Lord. David hurt enough to admit his need.
Some years ago, I read one man’s moving account of his attempt to get a group of fourteen men and women in the church to communicate with one another at more than a superficial level. Many of these people had been attending the same church for years without knowing anyone else’s personal feelings about anything.
In an effort to help them learn how to communicate with one another at a deeper level, this man suggested that various individuals in the group relate some incidents from their past that had helped form their personalities. Much to his disappointment, every one of the fourteen related only positive experiences and feelings.
Near the end of the session, however, one young woman began pouring out her feelings of insecurity, inferiority, and despair. She concluded by stating that all she wanted was what the other people in the group already had.
The man says, “We sat there stunned by the reality which had drawn us irresistibly toward this thin, totally unprotected young woman. It was we who needed what she had: the ability to be open, personal, honest in a vulnerable way. As I looked around the group, I knew that somehow because this theologically unsophisticated, honest woman had turned loose her silence and her pride and had reached out in total honesty that it was safe for us to start becoming one in Christ Jesus.”
David hurt enough to admit his need.
Second, he was honest enough to cry for help. We have lived under such a veneer for so long in our generation that we hardly know how to cry for help. But God honors such vulnerability. He did then . . . He does now.
And third, he was humble enough to learn from God. How tragic it is that we can live in one cave after another and never learn from God. Not David! I love the man’s utter humility. If it is to be a cave, then let’s not fight it. We’ll turn it into a training ground for the future!
As I look at this time in David’s life, I cannot help but reflect upon Jesus and His coming from the glories of heaven to accept a body of malcontents and sinners like us.
Some of us are living in an emotional cave, where it is dark and dismal, damp and disillusioning. Perhaps the hardest part of all is that we cannot declare the truth to anybody else because it is so desperate … so lonely.
I weary of the philosophy that the Christian life is just one silver-lined cloud after another—just soaring. It is not! Sometimes the Christian life includes a deep, dark cave.
Remember, the conversion of a soul is the miracle of a moment, but the making of a saint is the task of a lifetime. And God isn’t about to give up, even when you’re in such a cave. He’s not through, even though you’re the lowest you’ve ever been.
Sometimes life feels like a dry, barren wind off a lonely desert. And something inside us begins to wilt. At other times it feels more like chilling mist. Seeping through our pores, it numbs our spirit and fogs the path before us. What is it about discouragement that strips our lives of joy and leaves us feeling vulnerable and exposed?
Well, I don’t know all the reasons. I don’t even know most of the reasons. But I do know one of the reasons: We don’t have a refuge. Now think about that. Shelters are hard to come by these days, yet we all need harbors to pull into when we feel weather-worn and blasted by the storm.
I have an old Marine buddy who became a Christian several years after he was discharged from the Corps. Let me tell you, when news of his conversion reached me, I was wonderfully surprised. Shocked is a better word! He was one of those guys you’d never picture being interested in spiritual things. He cursed loudly, drank heavily, fought hard, and chased women. He loved weapons and hated chapel services. In the drill instructor’s opinion, he made a GREAT Marine. But God? Well, to put it mildly, he and God weren’t on speaking terms when I bumped around with him.
And then one day we ran into each other. As the conversation turned to his salvation, he frowned, looked me right in the eye, put his hand on my shoulder, and admitted: “Chuck, the only thing I miss is that old fellowship all the guys in our outfit used to have down at the slop shoot (that’s a term for the tavern on the base). Man, we’d sit around, laugh, tell stories, drink a few beers,” he said. “And we’d really let our hair down. It . . . it was great!” And then he paused. “I … I just haven’t found anything to take the place of that great time we used to enjoy. I ain’t got nobody to admit my faults to,” he said, “. .. to have ’em put their arms around me and tell me I’m still okay.”
You know, my stomach churned when I heard that. Not because I was shocked, but because I really had to agree. The man needed a refuge, someone to hear him out.
That incident reminded me of something I had read several years ago: The neighborhood bar is possibly the best counterfeit there is to the fellowship Christ wants to give His church. It’s an imitation, dispensing liquor instead of grace, escape rather than reality, but it is a permissive, accepting, and inclusive fellowship. It is unshockable. It is democratic. You can tell people secrets and they usually don’t tell others or even want to. The bar flourishes not because most people are alcoholics, but because God has put into the human heart the desire to know and be known, to love and be loved, and so many seek a counterfeit at the price of a few beers.
With all my heart I believe that Christ wants His church to be . . . a fellowship where people can come in and say, “I’m sunk!” “I’m beat!” “I’ve had it!”1
Now let me get painfully specific with you. Where do you turn when the bottom drops out of your life? Or when you face an issue that is embarrassing . . . maybe even scandalous?
You just discovered your son is a practicing homosexual. Where do you go? Your mate is talking separation or divorce. Your daughter has run away for the fourth time . . . and this time you’re afraid she’s pregnant. How about when you’ve lost your job and it’s your fault. Or, financially, you have blown it. Where do you go when your parent is an alcoholic? Or you find out your wife’s having an affair? Where do you turn when you flunk your entrance exam or you mess up the interview? Who do you turn to when you’re tossed into jail because you broke the law? 2
You need a shelter. A listener. Someone who understands. You need a cave to duck into.
But to whom do you turn when there’s no one to tell your troubles to? Where do you find encouragement?
David was just such a man, and he turned to the living God and found in Him a place to rest and repair. Cornered, bruised by adversity, struggling with discouragement and despair, he wrote these words in his journal of woes: “In Thee, 0 LORD, I have taken refuge” (Ps. 31:1).
Failing in strength and wounded in spirit, David cries out his need for a “refuge.” The Hebrew term speaks of a protective place, a place of safety and security and secrecy. He tells the Lord that He—Jehovah God—became his refuge. In Him the troubled man found encouragement.
Now, a final, all-important question: Why do we need a refuge? As I read through another Psalm (31), I find at least three answers to that question.
First, we need a refuge because we are in distress and sorrow accompanies us. You know those feelings, don’t you? Your eyes get red from weeping. The heavy weights of sorrow press down. Depression, that serpent of despair, slithers silently through the soul’s back door. That’s when we need a refuge.
Also, we need a refuge because we are sinful and guilt accuses us. You know, there’s a lot of pain woven through those words. Embarrassment. Feelings like, “It’s my fault.” What tough words to choke out! “I’m to blame.”
Harried and haunted by self-inflicted sorrow, we desperately search for a place to hide. But perhaps the most devastating blow of all is dealt by others.
That brings me to the third reason we need a refuge. We need a refuge because we are surrounded by adversaries and misunderstanding assaults us.
Tortured by the whisperings of others, we feel like a wounded, bleeding mouse in the paws of a hungry cat. The thought of what people are saying is more than we can bear. Gossip (even its name hisses), gives the final shove as we strive for survival at the ragged edge of despair.
Discouraged people don’t need critics. They hurt enough already. They don’t need more guilt or piled-on distress. They need encouragement. In a word, they need a refuge. A place to hide and heal. A willing, caring, available someone. A confidant. A comrade at arms. You can’t find one? Why not share David’s shelter? The One he called “my Strength … my Mighty Rock . . . my Fortress . . . my Stronghold . . . my High Tower.”
We know Him today by another name: Jesus. He’s still available … even to cave dwellers, lonely people needing someone to care. [71-81]
1. Bruce Larsen and Keith Miller, The Edge of Adventure (Waco, Tex.: Word Books, 1974),156.
2. Charles R. Swindoll, Growing Strong in the Seasons of Life, (Portland, Ore.: Multnomah Press, 1983), 254-55.