An underground hollow or cavern with an opening to the surface. The word “cave” is translated from the Hebrew meʽa·rahʹ (Ge 19:30) and the Greek speʹlai·on. (Joh 11:38) The Hebrew chor or chohr denotes a “hole,” sometimes big enough for humans to penetrate. (1Sa 14:11; Job 30:6; 2Ki 12:9) Another Hebrew word for “hole” is mechil·lahʹ.—Isa 2:19.
Caves abound in the limestone of Palestine; Mount Carmel and the vicinity of Jerusalem, for example, were undermined with many caves. Accordingly, they are frequently mentioned in Scripture, sometimes in a figurative sense. Some of them were large enough to hold hundreds of persons and were used for permanent dwellings, as at Petra, or they were used as temporary shelters, burial sites, cisterns, stables, or storehouses. Many artifacts have been recovered from these natural shelters.
Caves provided refuge in times of danger. The first mention of such a place concerns Lot and his two daughters living in a cave after leaving Zoar because of fear. (Ge 19:30) At Makkedah five confederate Amorite kings hid from Joshua in a cave that afterward became their common tomb. (Jos 10:16-27) When fleeing from the Philistines in the days of King Saul, some Israelites hid in caves. (1Sa 13:6; 14:11) To escape the wrath of Saul, David took refuge in a cave near Adullam and was there joined by “about four hundred men.” (1Sa 22:1, 2) Again pursued by Saul, David concealed himself in a cave in the wilderness of En-gedi, and it was here that David cut off the skirt of Saul’s coat when he “came in to ease nature.” (1Sa 24:1-15) It may have been David’s experiences on these two occasions that prompted him to compose Psalms 57 and 142, as their superscriptions show. After David was made king, the cave of Adullam apparently served as military headquarters during a campaign against the Philistines. (2Sa 23:13; 1Ch 11:15) When wicked Jezebel attempted to kill off all of Jehovah’s prophets, Obadiah fed 100 of them who were hiding in caves. (1Ki 18:4, 13) Elijah also fled from the anger of Jezebel to a cave at Horeb, and it was there that he received divine instructions to return and anoint Hazael as well as Jehu. (1Ki 19:1-17) So from these examples Paul had ample support for writing that men of faith “wandered about in . . . caves and dens of the earth.” (Heb 11:38) Many years later the catacombs of Rome served as underground refuges and meeting places for persecuted Christians.
The dead were often buried in caves. The very rocky soil in much of Palestine made digging graves difficult. The Bible’s second mention of a cave is concerning the one of Machpelah at Hebron that Abraham bought and used as a burial site, and where Sarah, Abraham, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, and Leah were all buried. (Ge 23:7-20; 25:9, 10; 49:29-32; 50:13) The memorial tomb of Jesus’ friend Lazarus “was, in fact, a cave.”—Joh 11:38.
Caves often served as excellent storehouses, especially in times of danger. Thus, to protect their crops from Midianite raiders during the days of Gideon, “the sons of Israel made for themselves the underground store places that were in the mountains, and the caves and the places difficult to approach.” (Jg 6:2) Similarly, the Dead Sea Scrolls were evidently hidden for safekeeping in caves near the Wadi Qumran, NW of the Dead Sea, where they remained undisturbed for many centuries until their discovery began in 1947.
Figurative Use. Jesus accused the money changers of making the temple “a cave of robbers.” (Mt 21:13; Jer 7:11) The prophecies recorded by Isaiah and in Revelation tell that some will try to escape God’s judgment, “the dreadfulness of Jehovah,” by hiding themselves in “the caves,” but according to Ezekiel “the caves” they make their strongholds will furnish no protection from God.—Isa 2:19-21; Re 6:15-17; Eze 33:27.