The chalky limestone prevalent in Syria and Palestine abounds in caves, clefts, and fissures, which are so frequently alluded to in Scripture under a variety of names. From hor, "a cavern," the Horites take their name, who originally occupied mount Seir, and were driven thence by the Edomites. Henc,e also comes the name Beth-horon, "the house of caverns," and HORONAIM, "the two caverns;" and HAURAN, "the land of caverns" (Eze 47:16,18). The caverns were the resort of the people in times of danger: (Jg 6:2) when Midian oppressed them, (1Sa 13:6; 14:11) when the Philistines oppressed them. Michmash, the scene of Jonathan's enterprise, implies the same. Still the shepherds dwell in caves during summer to be nearer their flocks and fields; at Gadara the dwellings are almost all caves.
For particular caves (See ENGEDI, (See ADULLAM, (See MACHPELAH, (See MAKKEDAH. Lot dwelt in a cave such as are still to be seen near the Dead Sea, after Sodom's overthrow (Ge 19:30). Obadiah hid the Lord's prophets by fifties in a cave (1Ki 18:4), Elijah at Horeb was in a cave when the Lord revealed Himself (1Ki 19:9). The custom of fleeing to caves in time of earthquakes illustrates Isa 2:10,19,21. They were also the resort of marauders (See BETHARBEL) and the final refuges of the Jewish leaders in their war with the Romans. Josephus relates his own hiding in the caves of Jotapata.
Rock caverns abound along the shore of the sea of Tiberias, and were often used as tombs, the bodies being laid in excavated shelves at the sides. Here accordingly the demoniac had his dwelling continually (Mr 5:3,5). The cave of Machpelah, Abraham's burying place, Aaron's tomb on mount Hor, Joseph's, and Rachel's are with strong probability identified. The rock tombs near Jerusalem are assigned to kings and prophets with less certainty. Owing to the abundance of grottoes in the valley of Jehoshaphat, tradition assigns to them the sites of such unlikely events to occur in them as the birth of the Virgin, the annunciation, the salutation, the Baptist's and our Lord's birth, the agony, Peter's denial, the composition of the Apostles' Creed, and the transfiguration.
Palestine is remarkable for its number of caves, some of which are of great extent. David and his followers were in a cave in the wilderness of En-gedi, so extensive that they could hide themselves, though Saul came into the same cave. 1Sa 24:1-8: cf. Heb 11:38. The Adullam cave and others also are of note in the O.T. The tomb of Lazarus was a cave. Joh 11:38.
CAVES, or CAVERNS. The country of Judea, being mountainous and rocky, is in many parts full of caverns, to which allusions frequently occur in the Old Testament. At Engedi, in particular, there was a cave so large, that David, with six hundred men, hid themselves in the sides of it, and Saul entered the mouth of the cave without perceiving that any one was there, 1 Samuel 24. Josephus tells us of a numerous gang of banditti, who, having infested the country, and being pursued by Herod with his army, retired into certain caverns, almost inaccessible, near Arbela in Galilee, where they were with great difficulty subdued. "Beyond Damascus," says Strabo, "are two mountains, called Trachones, from which the country has the name of Trachonitis; and from hence, toward Arabia and Iturea, are certain rugged mountains, in which there are deep caverns; one of which will hold four thousand men." Tavernier, in his "Travels in Persia," speaks of a grotto between Aleppo and Bir, that would hold near three thousand horse. And Maundrell assures us, that "three hours distant from Sidon, about a mile from the sea, there runs along a high rocky mountain, in the sides of which are hewn a multitude of grottoes, all very little differing from each other. They have entrances about two foot square. There are of these subterraneous caverns two hundred in number. It may, with probability, at least, be concluded that these places were contrived for the use of the living, and not of the dead." These extracts may be useful in explaining such passages of Scripture as the following: "Because of the Midianites, the children of Israel made them dens which are in the mountains, and caves, and strong holds," Jg 6:2. To these they betook themselves for refuge in times of distress and hostile invasion: