Man cave?

Unless you live in the wilderness, you probably don’t spend much time in caves (and if you do, you probably have crummy Internet service and aren’t reading this anyway, so never mind). That’s not to say, though, that some of you don’t have a so-called “man cave” — a place where guys retreat to just be guys and do guy things.

(Suddenly, I feel the rolling of hundreds of eyes…)

Although he probably didn’t invent the idea of a man cave, I attribute much of its popularity to John Gray, the author of Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. Gray taught couples that in the face of marital conflict, men might need to “go to their cave” — physically and emotionally withdraw — and that women should let them. The message was that it’s counterproductive for wives to pursue an argument with husbands who don’t want to argue, so they should control themselves and wait until their husbands are ready to come out of their cave to try again.

To some extent, then, Gray taught women what they should do to improve the relationship by changing themselves and letting their husbands be. Maybe I missed it, but I don’t remember quite the same emphasis on what men could do to change themselves and accommodate to what their wives needed.

Just saying.

I get it: the unfortunate fact is that we don’t always feel safe or at ease in even the closest of relationships, and we need a place of refuge. But I would want to be very careful of sending messages that teach “That’s just the way it is.” We can do better.

Particularly if our refuge is in God.

. . .

According to its heading, Psalm 57 reflects “when [David] fled from Saul, in the cave” (NRSV). To which moment in David’s life is the psalmist pointing? A cave is mentioned at the beginning of 1 Samuel 22, but the more famous story happens two chapters later. Saul is hot on David’s heels but has to stop to take a royal bathroom break in a cave, completely unaware that David and his men are already there, hiding in the shadows. David could have killed him and rid himself of Saul’s constant persecution. But for better or worse, Saul was God’s anointed king. For that reason alone David refused to harm him, despite the insistence of his men.

Instead, David snuck up behind Saul and secretly cut off a corner of his cloak while the king was busy, um, relieving himself (has anyone ever preached on how ridiculously awkward a scenario this must have been?). When Saul finished with his business and left the cave, David called out from behind him: My men wanted me to kill you, and I could easily have done so. See? Here’s a piece I cut off of your cloak. But I didn’t kill you, so let God judge between us. And by the way, what have I done that you want to kill me so badly?

David refused to lay a finger on God’s anointed. But he could have remained hidden, and Saul would have gone his way. Why did David leave the safety of the cave and take a chance on making his presence known to Saul?

Because David’s true refuge was in the God who gave him the opportunity to make the right choice, the righteous choice.

. . .

There’s no way to know, of course, if this is in fact the story that the psalmist had in mind. There may even have been a story that was known to the psalmist but unknown to us. Whatever the reason for associating Psalm 57 with the story of David finding refuge in a cave, however, it’s clear that the psalmist’s refuge is in God. The song opens on this plaintive note:

Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me,
    for in you my soul takes refuge;
in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge,
    until the destroying storms pass by.
(vs. 1)

A cave is certainly a good place to wait out a violent storm. But the psalmist refers to taking refuge “in the shadow of [God’s] wings.” As mentioned in the previous post, when I read this, I think immediately of Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem and the image of a protective mother hen, shielding her chicks from predators and storms.

But the psalmist probably had a different image in mind: the wings of the cherubim atop the Ark of the Covenant.

Anyone’s who’s seen Raiders of the Lost Ark has at least some idea of what the ark may have looked like: an ornate wooden box overlaid with gold, containing the tablets of the Commandments and other symbols of God’s care for his covenant people. The lid of the box was known as the mercy seat, and was flanked by a pair of golden cherubim with their wings outstretched toward each other.

To us, the ark might be an archaeological relic; to the Israelites, it represented the very presence of God. The ark went before the people when they had to cross the Jordan River into the land of promise, and the waters receded before them. The ark went with them as they marched around Jericho, and the walls fell.

And God spoke to Moses from the space above the mercy seat, beneath the wings of the cherubim (Exod 25:22). Later, once David brought the ark to Jerusalem, he seems to have used the tabernacle housing the ark as a place of prayer (e.g., 1 Chron 17:16).

The shadow of God’s wings, therefore, probably refers to the place where the psalmist has experienced the presence of the God of the covenant, the God of steadfast love and faithfulness. It is for that reason a place of refuge.

What is that place for you?