There are numerous natural caves among the limestone rocks of Syria, many of which have been artificially enlarged for various purposes.
The first notice of a cave occurs in the history of Lot ( Genesis 19:30 ).
The next we read of is the cave of Machpelah (q.v.), which Abraham purchased from the sons of Heth ( Genesis 25:9 Genesis 25:10 ). It was the burying-place of Sarah and of Abraham himself, also of Isaac, Rebekah, Leah, and Jacob ( Genesis 49:31 ; 50:13 ).
The cave of Engedi (q.v.), now called 'Ain Jidy, i.e., the "Fountain of the Kid", where David cut off the skirt of Saul's robe ( 24:4 ). Here he also found a shelter for himself and his followers to the number of 600 ( 23:29 ; 24:1 ). "On all sides the country is full of caverns which might serve as lurking-places for David and his men, as they do for outlaws at the present day."
The cave in which Obadiah hid the prophets ( 1 Kings 18:4 ) was probably in the north, but it cannot be identified.
In the time of Gideon the Israelites took refuge from the Midianites in dens and caves, such as abounded in the mountain regions of Manasseh ( Judges 6:2 ).
Caves were frequently used as dwelling-places ( Numbers 24:21 ; Cant 2:14 ; Jeremiah 49:16 ; Obadiah 1:3 ). "The excavations at Deir Dubban, on the south side of the wady leading to Santa Hanneh, are probably the dwellings of the Horites," the ancient inhabitants of Idumea Proper. The pits or cavities in rocks were also sometimes used as prisons ( Isaiah 24:22 ; 51:14 ; Zechariah 9:11 ). Those which had niches in their sides were occupied as burying-places ( Ezekiel 32:23 ; John 11:38 ).
The most remarkable caves noticed in Scripture are, that in which Lot dwelt after the destruction of Sodom, ( Genesis 19:30 ) the cave of Machpelah, ( Genesis 23:17 ) cave of Makkedah, ( Joshua 10:10 ) cave of Adullam, ( 1 Samuel 22:1 ) cave od Engedi, ( 1 Samuel 24:3 ) Obadiahs cave, ( 1 Kings 18:4 ) Elijahs cave in Horeb, ( 1 Kings 19:9 ) the rock sepulchres of Lazarus and of our Lord. ( Matthew 27:60 ; John 11:38 ) Caves were used for temporary dwelling-places and for tombs.
kav ([me`arah] (compare Arabic magharah), chor (Job 30:6 the King James Version), mechilloth (Isaiah 2:19); ope (Hebrews 11:38), spelaion (John 11:38); chor, more often rendered "hole," is akin to Arabic khaur, "gulf" or "inlet," but is also related to me`arah (compare also Arabic ghaur "low-land," especially of the Jordan valley and Dead Sea). Mechilloth (root, chalal, "to pierce" (compare Arabic khall, "to pierce")) occurs only in Isaiah 2:19, where the King James Version has "caves" and translates me`aroth in the same verse by "holes." In the Revised Version (British and American) these words are very properly changed about. Spelaion is a common Greek word for "cave"; ope means rather "hole"):
In Palestine as in other limestone countries, caves are of frequent occurrence, and not a few of large size are known. Water from the rain and snow, seeping down through cracks, enlarges the passages through which it goes by dissolving away the substance of the rock. Just as upon the surface of the land the trickling streams unite to form brooks and rivers, so many subterranean streams may come together in a spacious channel, and may issue upon the surface as a bold spring. The cave of the Dog River near Beirut and that of 'Afqa (perhaps Aphek (Joshua 13:4)) in Lebanon are excellent examples of this. Not infrequently after forming a cave the stream of water may find some lower outlet by a different route, leaving its former course dry. In some cases the hinder part of the roof of the cave may fall in, leaving the front part standing as a natural bridge. Numerous shallow caves, especially in the faces of cliffs, are formed not by seeping water, but by atmospheric erosion, a portion of a relatively soft stratum of rock being hollowed out, while harder strata above and below it are but little worn away. Many of the hermits' caves originated in this way and were artificially enlarged and walled up at the mouth. The principal caves mentioned in the Bible are those of MACHPELAH, MAKKEDAH and ADULLAM (which see).
Alfred Ely Day
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