On Easter Sunday, with church bells ringing, we stepped into a gorgeous cathedral in Bethlehem and stepped back in time. We descended down a few uneven and well-worn stone steps into the grotto traditionally believed to be Jesus Christ’s birthplace. We jostled into the cave with other Christians hoping to touch the silver marker before Easter Mass started and the grotto closed. Suddenly alone in the cave, each of us reached to touch a spot revered by billions of people.
Regardless of its actual authenticity, I loved being at that spot, in a cave under a cathedral whose bells witnessed of Christ’s birth and resurrection. It felt glorious.
I’m drawn to caves—horizontal or vertical. I love the mystery, adventure, and discovery a cave promises. I remember listening to a dramatization of the Old Testament on tape and imagining David hiding from King Saul in a cave. David approached Saul while the king slept and snipped a bit of Saul’s clothing. I don’t think I’d ever even been in a cave at that point and my imagination was wild with possibilities.
The day before our adventure to Bethlehem, on Easter Sabbath in Jerusalem, we passed through Damascus Gate, walking a few blocks to the Garden Tomb. The scene was drastically different than in Bethlehem. Only a few other pilgrims quietly made their way through the garden to the tomb.
We turned right to the overlook of Golgotha first. The hillside’s distinct facial structure (Golgotha is shaped like a skull) is evident even after so many years have passed. We wound through the top of the garden, enjoying the beautiful flowers and trees. And suddenly, I spotted it through the foliage. The Garden tomb. I felt the same anticipation I’d experienced 25 years earlier when I first visited the spot. The little hillside stone wall stood there with two openings—a door and a window.
We ducked through the doorway into the small cave. We looked at the stone burial bed carved out of the cave wall. We could see out the window, made available for the soul to escape its tomb.
Regardless of its actual authenticity, I loved being at that spot, in a cave in a hillside whose emptiness testified of Christ’s birth and resurrection. It felt profound.
Cave Births and Tombs
I love looking for scriptural patterns. Everything testifying of Jesus has multiple examples and witnesses. Even caves testify of His personal birth, death, and resurrection, and the refuge and deliverance available to all mankind.
After Sodom’s destruction, Lot and his daughters lived in a cave. “And Lot went up out of Zoar, and dwelt in the mountain, and his two daughters with him; for he feared to dwell in Zoar: and he dwelt in a cave, he and his two daughters.” The daughters gave birth to their sons Moab and Ben-Ammi there.
Lazarus’ tomb was a cave. “Jesus therefore again groaning in himself cometh to the grave. It was a cave, and a stone lay upon it.” Foreshadowing His own awakening, Jesus asked people to move the stone covering the doorway. After they moved it, Jesus “cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth.” And Lazarus did.
Caves of Refuge and Deliverance or Terror
I already mentioned David seeking refuge in caves. Obadiah hid 100 prophets in two caves and fed them bread and water during Jezebel’s prophet purge.
Ether “hid himself in the cavity of a rock by day, and by night he went forth viewing the things which should come upon the people. And as he dwelt in the cavity of a rock he made the remainder of this record, viewing the destruction which came upon the people….”
After tossing Daniel into the lion’s den, the frantic king ran to the den the next morning and cried, “Daniel, O Daniel, servant of the living God, is thy God, whom thou servest continually, able to deliver thee from the lions?” The Lord delivered Daniel from the lions in the cave.
The Three Nephites “twice were…cast into a den of wild beasts; and behold they did play with the beasts as a child with a suckling lamb, and received no harm.”
But for all the refuge and deliverance the righteous find in caves, the wicked use caves attempting to hide themselves and their wickedness. From the five Amorite kings Joshua found hiding in a cave to the kings of the last day, caves cannot hide them from God’s all knowing eye.
“And the kings of the earth and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?”
In the cave, every man faces death and judgment and is delivered or damned.
Stand Before the Lord
My favorite cave refuge story is Elijah’s because it really demonstrates the metaphor’s significance. Fearless in defending the Lord, Elijah fled when Jezebel signed his death sentence. At Beer-sheba, a despondent Elijah asked the Lord to let him die since the people refused to repent. An angel woke Elijah with some food and instruction. Elijah walked 40 days and 40 nights to Mount Horeb.
“And he came thither unto a cave, and lodged there; and behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and he said unto him, What doest thou here, Elijah?
And he said, I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.
And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.
And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah?”
With renewed purpose and vision, Elijah left the cave and renewed his ministry full of the power of God.
The Three Nephites, also valiant servants of the Most High God, “were cast down into the earth; but they did smite the earth with the word of God, insomuch that by his power they were delivered out of the depths of the earth.” It’s fascinating that as translated beings they delivered themselves out of cave depths by the power of God.
For me, the cave is a transitory place where one goes or comes to get or to lose one’s bearings. The righteous find deliverance and refuge. They exit the cave through the power of God. The wicked perish within.
Providence or Peril?
Bethlehem’s church bells invite me still to look in faith to current and future caves. Do I see power in providence or peril? That is up to me.
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”
I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I have moved 64 times and have not tired of experiencing this beautiful earth! I love the people, languages, histories/anthropologies, & especially religious cultures of the world. My life long passion is the study & searching out of religious symbolism, specifically related to ancient & modern temples. My husband Anthony and I love our bulldog Stig, adventures, traveling, movies, motorcycling, and time with friends and family.