An underground hollow or cavern with an opening to the surface. 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 so large as to hold hundreds of persons, and were used for permanent dwellings, as at Petra, or as temporary shelters, burial sites, cisterns, stables and storehouses. Many valuable 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. (Gen. 19:30) At Makkedah five confederate Amorite kings hid from Joshua in a cave that afterward became their common tomb. (Josh. 10:16-27) Fleeing the Philistines in the days of King Saul, some Israelites hid in caves. (1 Sam. 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.” (1 Sam. 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.” (1 Sam. 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, it seems that the cave of Adullam served as military headquarters during a campaign against the Philistines. (2 Sam. 23:13; 1 Chron. 11:15) When wicked Jezebel attempted to kill off all Jehovah’s prophets, Obadiah fed a hundred of them who were hiding “in a cave.” (1 Ki. 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 and Jehu. (1 Ki. 19:1-17) So from these examples Paul had ample support for writing that men of faith “wandered about in . . . dens and caves 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. (Gen. 23:7-20; 25:9, 10; 49:29-32; 50:13) The memorial tomb of Jesus’ friend Lazarus “was, in fact, a cave.”—John 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.” (Judg. 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.
In a figurative sense caves are also referred to. Jesus accused the money changers of making the temple “a cave of robbers.” (Matt. 21:13; Jer. 7:11) The prophecies of both Isaiah and 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; Rev. 6:15-17; Ezek. 33:27.