Caves in the Bible

Caves were frequently used as dwelling-places (Numbers 24:21; Song of Songs 2:14; Jeremiah 49:16; Obad. 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).

Caves that had niches in their sides were used as burial places (Ezek. 32:23; John 11:38).

There are numerous natural caves among the limestone rocks of Syria, many of which have been artificially enlarged for various purposes.

Notable biblical caves

The first mention of a cave in Scripture occurs in the history of Lot (Genesis 19:30).

Lot went up from Zoar, and stayed [dwelled] in the mountains, and his two daughters with him; for he was afraid to stay in Zoar; and he stayed [dwelled] in a cave, he and his two daughters. —Genesis 19:30 NASB

The next we read of is the Cave of Machpelah (Hebrew: מערת המכפלה —transliteration: Ma'arat HaMachpelah), which Abraham purchased from the sons of Heth (Genesis 25:9-10). It was the burial place of Sarah and of Abraham himself, also of Isaac, Rebekah, Leah, and Jacob (Genesis 49:31; 50:13). (also see: Ishmael)

The site today venerated is in Hebron and is known as the Cave of the Patriarchs. For observant Jews, it is their 2nd most holy place. It is also sacred to Muslims. Over the cave is the Ibrahimi Mosque, converted from a 2-thousand year old Judean building (Herodian-era).

Site of the venerated Cave of the Patriarchs (supposed Cave of Machpelah)—satellite view

The Cave of Makkedah—into which the 5 Amorite kings retired after their defeat by Joshua (10:16, 27).

The Cave of Adullam—an immense natural cavern, where David hid himself from Saul (1 Samuel 22:1-2).

The Cave of Engedi—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 600 followers (23:29; 24:1).

“On all sides the country is full of caverns which might serve as lurking-places for David and his men…”

The cave in which Obadiah hid the prophets (1 Kings 18:4) was probably in the north, but it cannot be identified.

The Cave of Elijah (1 Kings 19:9), and the “cleft” of Moses on Horeb (Exodus 33:22), cannot be determined.

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).

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Article Version: September 3, 2017