These men were both successful in their own fields – one a warrior and one a man of religion. Both were used to life around palaces and nice homes, but both men lost everything they had and fled in depression and fear for their lives – to the back of a cave.
The first man was, of course, David. 1 Samuel 22 tells us how when the jealous Saul stepped up his campaign to kill the young shepherd warrior, David finally fled to a mountain cave where he holed up in depression, frustration and fear. The other man was Elijah, and in 1 Kings 19 we see that when the wicked Jezebel threatened his life Elijah also “caved” under the pressure and ran for many miles, to the back of a cave on Mt. Horheb – where he stayed, tormented by fear, frustration and anger.
There are times in our lives when psychologically we find ourselves in the back of a cave, too. We understand that some depression is physically caused and must be treated as such, but sometimes we find ourselves in the dark cave of depression or despair due to discouragement and difficulties, because fleeing to the inner parts of our minds is a very human reaction and sometimes seems like the only way to survive. Unfortunately, it becomes easy to stay there. It’s not that we are comfortable in the cave of depression, but the longer we stay there the harder it becomes to leave. That’s why in both biblical stories of God’s servants who fled to physical caves, the first thing we see in the way God turned these situations around was that He commanded both men to leave the cave they were in.
In David’s case, God sent a prophet to David to specifically tell him he had spent enough time in the cave and that it was time to leave. “… the prophet Gad said to David, ‘Do not stay in the [cave] stronghold’” (1 Samuel 22:5), so, uncomfortable as it was to do, at God’s command David left the cave. We see exactly the same with Elijah. “The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord” (1 Kings 19:11). God patiently listens to the reasons Elijah gives for his depression, anger and fear, but He nevertheless firmly tells him to come out of the cave. It doubtless wasn’t psychologically easy, but both men obeyed in faith. They may not have seen a reason to leave the cave, yet once they realized it was God’s will they obeyed.
So, clearly, God understands when we sometimes flee to the cave, but He is just as clear in telling us we must not stay there. And God doesn’t just tell us to leave the cave we find ourselves in. He goes a step further – as the wise Physician He is, He prescribes what we need in order to stay out of the cave. In both the story of David and of Elijah, God prescribes exactly the same spiritual medicine. When He instructed David to leave the cave we see the next thing he does is to tell David to go help the Keilahites who were being attacked by the Philistines: “Go, attack the Philistines and save Keilah” (1 Samuel 23:1-2). And when Elijah obediently stepped out of the cave God immediately told him: “Go …to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet” (1 Kings 19:15-16).
God doesn’t just tell us to pull ourselves together and leave the cave of depression. He commands us to leave – and to go help someone who needs help. Finding ourselves in a "cave" is something that even many of the greatest of God’s servants have experienced, but the way out was the same for them as it is for us. We overcome this problem only when we realize God doesn’t want us to live in the cave and that his prescription for cave fever is often to go help someone. It’s as though God knows that the only way for us to effectively stay out of the cave is not just to get busy, but to get busy helping others. That is how God helps us get our focus off our own problems – by getting us to focus on and help others whose problems are so often so much worse than our own.