English novelist and poet Thomas Hardy writes of Mixen Lane, a low district in the city of Castlebridge, as “the Adullam of all the surrounding villages. It was the hiding place for those who were in distress, and debt, and trouble of every kind.” He was thinking of a cave near the city of Adullam in Israel’s lowlands, a safe place to which David fled from the rage of King Saul (1 Samuel 22:1,2).
As the story goes, word of David’s cave spread rapidly and mysteriously through Israel and in time “every one who was in distress, and every one who was in debt, and every one who was discontented, gathered to him; and he became a prince over them.” It was a threatened and threatening crowd that found David—full of their own troubles, frightened, faint–hearted, stressed out, burdened and embittered by what they had endured.
David took them in—all of them—and taught them what God had taught him through years of adversity and pain. He read his poems, sang of God’s covenant love (Psalm 89:1) and taught them to fight the battles of the Lord. The outcasts found a new center of life in David, and he in turn became their prince.
This once–motley crew became the core of David’s mighty men, brave warriors, “ready for battle and able to handle the shield and spear. Their faces were the faces of lions, and they were as swift as gazelles in the mountains” (1 Chronicles 12:8). They were Israel’s border guard protecting her southern flanks against the Philistines and Amalakites, a wall to Israel “by day and by night.” They became the nucleus of the greatest fighting force of that time, an army that carried the standard of Israel from the Tigris to the River of Egypt.
—All of which suggests another cave not too far away, near Bethlehem in Judea, a stable in the earth into which shepherds drove their flocks at night. There another prince was born, that other David whom the prophet foretold: “This is what the Sovereign Lord says,” ‘…my servant David will be a prince among them’” (Ezekiel 34:23–24).
There in that lowly cave (one must stoop very low to get in) the weary and heavy–laden still gather. Some come in dire distress, worn out by worry and fear. Others come burdened with debt, owing much to many. Others are downcast by an unhappy childhood, a failed marriage, a cruel death that snatched love away. Still others come starved for want of something they cannot name.
There they find a Prince who sings to them in their misery and weakness, who tells his stories and strengthens them with his love.
There, as they sit at his feet, they learn to be mighty men and women once again.