The Bible has numerous references to caves as hiding places, occasionally a place of refuge, and in some places, a final resting place. In today’s culture, it is not difficult to draw parallels between the somewhat imposed and somewhat default posture of many sincere people, including believers, who have made decisions to stay in their homes rather than venture out for little if any meaningful interaction with people or culture.
One story about the danger of hiding in caves that got my attention is in the book of Joshua, chapter 10. The five kings of the Amorites, who were forces opposed to Joshua and the Israelites, joined forces and moved all their troops into positions against Gibeon (the Gibeonites were free men but had been called to serve Joshua because they had tried to deceive him and his leaders in Chapter 9).
Joshua took his army to Gibeon where the Lord gave him favor and they took the armies of the Amorites by surprise, threw them into confusion and gave them a great victory at Gibeon.
Joshua 10:16-18 says, “Now the five kings had fled and hidden in the cave at Makkedah. When Joshua was told that the five kings had been found hiding in the cave at Makkedah, he said, ‘Roll large rocks up to the mouth of the cave, and post some men there to guard it.'”
What these five kings did by hiding in a cave from what appeared to be an overwhelming force, was to actually throw themselves into a prison when Joshua rolled a stone in front of the cave.
Whether we know it or not, and consciously we probably don’t know it, but when we choose to try to hide ourselves from circumstances beyond our own controlled worlds and lock ourselves away from others, our caves subtly but in reality become “prisons” that seem to hold us away from our vitally important relationships, opportunities and interactions. If we sequester ourselves for too long, we cease to be in touch with the needs of others, we begin to cut back if not eliminate our self-care such as regular exercise and most important, our spiritual development including vital personal connections, worship, and the great blessing of making a difference in our communities.
None of us believed that when we went into our homes that they might turn into a “prison” of sorts. I would venture to say that most of us didn’t believe that six months after lock-downs were initiated that even now many are afraid to re-engage in public places despite the fact that said lock-downs have recently been declared “unconstitutional” in our state of Pennsylvania. Now, though wise and thoughtful response to the potential dangers of the lingering covid virus is called for, we are going to have to face the choice of whether we stay in our homes or begin to re-engage the world which is calling us out and back into some level of connection and encouragement.
In the Old Testament account in Joshua 10 the final destiny of the five kings paints a grim picture. Having defeated their armies, Joshua brought the five kings out of the cave, had them killed and after declaring them as an example of what God would do to their enemies, threw their dead bodies back ‘into the cave where they’d been hiding and covered the mouth of the cave with large rocks, which are there to this day.’ Joshua 10:27
Although graphic and not pleasant to consider, I think the spiritual point of this is that if we choose to stay in the cave long enough it becomes a prison and if that goes beyond all reasonable duration, the prison can become a grave where things that we care about can no longer live.
Fear has a way of taking the life out of everything that matters. Fear that drives us into caves and keeps us there is the enemy of our possibilities and is the opposite of the hopefulness that God always intends for everything in our lives. We can go into caves of hiding from things other than the covid virus; it can be past hurts, it can be broken dreams or failed relationships, but to stay hidden in a cave that becomes a prison it can ultimately become a place where relationships die, possibilities end, and hopelessness consumes us. Loved ones, that is never the will of God in any area of our lives, and not the place where He wants us to stay.
It takes but a small step of courage to come out of our caves and begin to re-engage those people whom we find edifying, those places where we have found hope and support and encouragement in the past and begin to even become part of the answer to the issues that surround us instead of staying in the shadows and ignoring them. I know some people who are choosing to get engaged in cultural issues in their communities because for too long, they’ve chosen to stay away from conflict and/or criticism and metaphorically to hide from the possibility of being hurt or marginalized. They have determined that it’s time to come out and be bold and by the grace and power of God to take a stand for what really matters to them where their children go to school or where they live and interact regularly with family and friends.
That is the way of life and that is the way that God intended for us to live. We are meant to be beacons of light to a dark world, not hidden away in a cave never to be seen.