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THE CAVE OF ADULLAM.
His chequered fortunes now lead him away from Bethlehem, and we hear of him no more in his actual birthplace. But the cave of Adullam was not far distant. The limestone rocks of the district abound in caves, many of them of great size. The one which is said by tradition to have been the retreat of David and his followers is about five miles from Bethlehem, near the base of Jebel Fureidis, or the Frank Mountain, already spoken of as so striking an object in the landscape.' It is approached by a savage ravine, after which a steep ascent leads upward by a path so narrow that a handful of brave men might keep a whole army at bay. The entrance to the cave is by a small opening through which only a single person can pass at a time. This leads to a series of chambers, some large enough to hold several hundred men. A perfect labyrinth of galleries and passages, never fully explored, stretch in every direction, and are said by the Arabs to go as far as Tekoa. In one of them is a large cistern, supplied, probably, by filtration through the rock above. The largest chamber has an arched roof with numerous recesses in the sides, reminding visitors of a Gothic cathedral. Here David, living in the midst of his own clan, would be promptly warned of the approach of danger, and could easily receive supplies of food. The summit of the hill above commands a view of the whole surrounding district, so that the movements of his enemies could be watched in every direction. His familiarity with the wild glens and strongholds of the district, gained whilst keeping his father's sheep, would prove an immense advantage in flying from his pursuers. And the proximity to Moab secured for him a safe retreat if hard pressed. In Moab, too, he could find friends and relatives, in virtue of his descent from “Ruth the Moabitess,” to whom he committed his parents when they were exposed to danger from the vindictive fury of Saul. The phrase that “his brethren and all his father's house went
! M. Clermont-Ganneau proposes another cave at some distance from the traditional one on Jebel Fureidis, but his arguments have not convinced me.
? 1 Sam. xxii. 3, 4.
down thither unto him,"? which at first suggests a difficulty, from the fact that the cave is high up on the mountain-side, finds an easy explanation as we observe that from Bethlehem they must first descend into the Wady Urtas and wind along down the ravine. In the references to this cave, as everywhere in Scripture, the narrative is in such exact and minute agreement with the topography of the district that it could only have been written by an eye-witness.
It was whilst hiding here with his wild and outlawed followers that the touching incident occurred of his longing for the "water of the well of Bethlehem, that is at the gate." The worn and weary fugitive who compares himself to "a partridge hunted upon the mountains,"s goes back to the peaceful happy days of his shepherd life. He remembers the time when, leading his flocks homeward in the evening after a day of sultry heat on the
mountain-side, he had quenched his thirst at the familiar well, just as we had seen the shepherds doing on the same spot. Were ever days so happy! Was ever water so sweet! The three mighty ones," eager to gratify the faintest wish of their beloved chief, break through the beleaguring host of the Philistines, draw the water from the well, and return. The hero, reproaching himself for bis selfish wish that had "put in jeopardy the lives of these men,” refuses to drink thereof, and pours it out for “a drink-offering to the Lord."
Only once again does the name of Bethlehem occur in Old Testament history. The reference, though slight and incidental, has an important bearing on the site of the Nativity. When David was flying from his rebellious son Absalom
into the region beyond the Jordan, amongst those who showed kindness to the “dim discrowned king” was Barzillai the Gileadite. When the rebellion had been crushed, and the king was about to return to his own land, Barzillai accompanied him across the Jordan. li Sam, xxii. 1.
2 1 Chron. xi. 16-:9. 31 Sam. xxvi. 20. We saw and heard large numbers of the desert partridge, with its reddish legs and beak, and its sidles striped with white, black, and brown, on these very mountains.
* 2 Sam. xvii. 27-29.
CAVE OF ADULLAM.
CHIMHAM AT BETHLEHEM.
The grateful monarch invited the old man to go up with him to Jerusalem as his guest
. Barzillai declined the honour, pleading his advanced age, his growing weakness, and his failing sight. But the honour which he declines for himself he solicits on behalf of his son Chimham, who accompanied David on his return to Jerusalem.' Chimham seems to have been treated with peculiar favour,
and adopted into the family of the king ; for David, on his death-bed, specially commended him to the care of Solomon, and requested that he be of “those that eat at his table.” We find further that he came into possession of property in or near Bethlehem, which he transmitted to his descendants, for
2 Sam. xix, 31-40.
: Kings ii. 7. That this involved admission into the family seems to be implied. See 2 Sam. ix. 11–“As for Mephibosheth, said the king, he shall eat at my table, as one of the king's sons.”
in the prophecies of Jeremiah "the habitation of Chimham which is by Bethlehem ”: is spoken of as a place familiarly known. That this formed part of the patrimony of David, given to him as an adopted son, is highly probable, for in no other way can we understand a Gileadite permanently owning land at Bethlehem.
But the word translated “house " in Jeremiah, where the Jews assembled on their way down into Egypt, means a khan or caravanserai. Elsewhere, it is translated “inn." What then are we to understand by the khan of Chimham? It is, and always has been, the custom throughout the East for places to be provided for travellers-one in each village - where they might halt for the night. They are generally at distances of six or seven miles, so
as to allow of an easy day's march from one to another. Bethlehem thus formed the first stage from Jerusalem, on the way to Egypt. The duty and honour of providing and maintaining these khans devolved upon the sheikh or head man of the village, who was empowered to levy a upon the villagers for their support. Sometimes only a space of ground was staked out and fenced with thorns, so as to furnish protection against thieves and wild beasts. But often a wealthy sheikh would erect a substantial edifice, either defraying the cost himself or seeking aid in the work from the inhabitants. It seems almost certain, therefore, that Chimham either became Sheikh of Bethlehem, or else that, out of gratitude to his benefactor, he built a khan on a portion of the land he received from the king. Of these, the
Jeremiah xli. 17.
THE CHURCH OF THE NATIVITY.
former is the more probable, and more in accordance with the custom of the country. One thing, however, seems clear, that, long after the time of David, “the inn” at Bethlehem was well known as the khan of Chimham, and that it stood on land which had descended by inheritance from Boaz to Jesse, to David, and to David's adopted son.' Here was to be fulfilled the prophecy of Micah, “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall He come forth unto Me that is to be ruler in Israel ; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.”
We thus come to that event, the glory of which transcends every other which has yet passed under our review. Here the Eternal God veiled, yet manifested, Himself in human form. The King of Glory is found “as a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger." Omnipotence slumbered within an infant's arm. Omniscience lay concealed beneath an infant's brow. In the plain below us, the shepherds were keeping their flocks by night, when they heard the angelic anthem, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” Up that steep rocky path they came to see this great sight. Over that mountain-side the Wise Men brought their gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh to pay homage to "the Desire of all nations.” As we stand in the rock-hewn Chapel of the Nativity gazing upon the silver star on the floor, and read the words HIC DE VIRGINE MARIA JESUS CHRISTUS NATUS EST, even the most cold and apathetic can scarcely refrain from tears.
But is this the actual spot? Do we really stand on the very place where the Virgin "brought forth her first-born Son, and called His name Jesus”? There is everything in the surroundings of the place to awaken scepticism. This series of tawdrily-decked chapels in which all the great events which have happened in Bethlehem are huddled together within one building almost compel incredulity. Here, for instance, is the altar of the Holy Innocents, and we are asked to believe that the remains of twenty thousand infants, slain by Herod, lie buried close by the place of the nativity, and we are shown the preserved tongue of one of them! However willing we may be to accept the tradition as to the site, we find it difficult to do so when it is mixed up with such preposterous legends as these.
And yet the evidence for its authenticity is strong, though not quite conclusive. The church stands upon a spot, just outside the village, which the inn or khan is very likely to have occupied. The “house of Chimham by Bethlehem ” was well known to the Jews, as we have seen, and when the khan of a village has been once established, it is seldom that its site is changed. It continues to occupy the same spot from age to age. We know that, so early as the second century, Justin described our Lord's birth-place as “a cave near Bethlehem.” And Jerome himself, a native of Syria and familiar with the
Hepworth Dixon, in his ‘Holy Land,' endeavours to carry the argument a step farther, and to show, by a comparison of the phraseology in the books of Ruth and of Jeremiah, that it was erected on or close to the house of Boaz. His arg::
ments are not without weight, but they are far from being conclusive.
Matt. ii. 5, 6. John vii. 42.
? Micah v. 2.