Adullam is a place name used in the Old Testament. “At that time, Judah left his brothers and went down to stay with a man of Adullam named Hirah” (Genesis 38:1). Later, in verse 12, Hirah is referred to as “the Adullamite,” that is, one who lives in Adullam. During the conquest of Canaan, Joshua defeated Adullam (Joshua 15:35) and its king (Joshua 12:15).
In the narrative of David’s life, we first hear of the Cave of Adullam. Since Adullam was a known location, the Cave of Adullam was a cave that was located in the vicinity. It is referred to as “the cave” of Adullam, which might mean that it was a known cave at the time, but it is also possible that “the cave,” just one of many in the area, became famous because of David’s use of it. Either way, “the” cave, instead of “a” cave of Adullam indicates a specific cave that, by the time of the writing of 1 and 2 Samuel, was somewhat well known.
We first encounter the Cave of Adullam in 1 Samuel 22. As David was fleeing from Saul, who was trying to kill him (1 Samuel 19 records one of several instances), he sought refuge among the Philistines in Gath (1 Samuel 21:10–14). Realizing, however, that this was not a safe place for him, “David left Gath and escaped to the cave of Adullam. When his brothers and his father’s household heard about it, they went down to him there. All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him, and he became their commander. About four hundred men were with him” (1 Samuel 22:1–2). This cave in Adullam became a base of operations for David, and it was here that he went from being a lone fugitive on the run to a leader of a band of “outlaws” with formidable military might. If modern sources are correct, Adullam was near the border of the Philistine lands, so the location itself would have provided some protection from Saul, as he could not mount a military operation without risking attack from the Philistines.
Second Samuel 23 gives a summary of exploits of some of the mighty men who followed David. Verse 13 says that David was at the cave, and verse 14 says that he was in the stronghold there. Perhaps David had fortified the cave, building upon its natural potential for safety. Three of his mighty men met him there at the rock of the Cave of Adullam. (Perhaps this rock was also a well-known landmark by this time. It may have served as something of a conference table, but this is speculation.) The Philistines were encamped around David, threatening him. In this time of stress, he expressed a desire for some of the water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem, his hometown. Three of his mighty men took it to heart and at great risk broke through the Philistine lines, got water from the well, and brought it back to David. David realized the foolish risk they had taken and refused to drink the water. He poured it out in an effort to discourage any other risky exploits that were meant to benefit him personally (verses 13–17; see also 1 Chronicles 11:13–19).
The town of Adullam is mentioned again in Nehemiah 11:30, but the Cave of Adullam is not mentioned again in Scripture.
According to the title of Psalm 57, David wrote a song “when he had fled from Saul into the cave.” This could be a reference to the Cave of Adullam (David also hid in a cave in En-gedi, 1 Samuel 24:1–3). The first verse of Psalm 57 says,
“Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me,
for in you I take refuge.
I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings
until the disaster has passed.”
Whether or not Psalm 57 was written in the Cave of Adullam, David saw the cave’s protection as secondary to that of his true Refuge, the Lord Himself.
Today, Adulam Caves (Adulam is an alternate spelling) is a 10,000-acre national park in the lower Judean plains in Israel. Adulam Caves Park is identified as the site where David hid from Saul, although no particular cave is identified as the Cave of Adullam.