ADULLAM (a-dŭl'ăm, Heb. ’ădhullām, retreat, refuge). A city in the Shephelah or low country, between the hill country of Judah and the sea, thirteen miles (twenty-two km.) SW of Bethlehem; very ancient (Gen.38.1, Gen.38.12, Gen.38.20; Josh.15.35); the seat of one of the thirty-one petty kings conquered by Joshua (Josh.12.15). It was fortified by Rehoboam (2Chr.11.7). Because of its beauty it was called “the glory of Israel” (Mic.1.15). It was reoccupied on the return from the Babylonian exile (Neh.11.30).
David hid with his family and about four hundred men in one of the many limestone caves near the city (1Sam.22.1-1Sam.22.2) at a time when Saul sought his life. While David was here, three of his “mighty men” risked their lives to fulfill his expressed desire for water from the well of Bethlehem, but David refused to drink it, rightly recognizing that the extreme devotion that put life itself at risk was due to the Lord alone. For this reason he “poured it out before the Lord” (2Sam.23.13-2Sam.23.17; 1Chr.11.15-1Chr.11.19).
ADULLAM ə dul’ əm (עֲדֻלָּ֔ם, retreat, refuge). A Canaanite town, situated on the route via Azegah and Soko, that controlled one of the principal passes into the hill-country of Judah from the northern Shephelah. It is first mentioned in Genesis 38:1, 2, when Judean clans spread out by establishing friendly relationships with the Canaanite cities of this district. Such is the context of the affair of Judah and Tamar, with the intermarriage of the clan of Judah and the residents of Adullam. It is mentioned as a Canaanite royal city in Joshua 15:35. Adullam is usually associated with the cave nearby, where David fled for refuge when he was refused protection by Achish, king of Gath (1 Sam 22:1). Adullam is mentioned in the list of fortresses that Rehoboam reinforced on the western approaches to the Judaean hills (2 Chron 11:7). Adullam is mentioned by Micah in the description of Sennacherib’s invasion of Judah (Mic 1:15) and Nehemiah refers to it as one of the inhabited towns after the Exile (Neh 11:30). The site of Adullam is usually identified with Tell esh-Sheikh Madhkur, near Khirbet ’eld el-Ma, half-way between Lachish and Jerusalem.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
(1) A city, with dependencies, and in ancient times having a king, mentioned five times in the Old Testament, each time in a list with other cities (Jos 12:15; 15:35; 2Ch 11:7; Mic 1:15; Ne 11:30). In the list of 31 kings whom Joshua smote, Adullam follows Hormah, Arad, Libnah, and precedes Makkedah. Among the 14 Judahite cities of the first group in "the lowland" Adullam is mentioned between Jarmuth and Socoh. In the list of 15 cities fortified by Rehoboam it appears between Socoh and Gath. Micah gives what may be a list of cities concerned in some Assyrian approach to Jerusalem; it begins with Gath, includes Lachish, and ends with Mareshah and Adullam. And Adullam is still in the same company in the list in Nehemiah of the cities "and their villages" where the men of Judah then dwelt. In the time of the patriarchs it was a place to which men "went down" from the central mountain ridge (Ge 38:1). Judas Maccabeus found it still existing as a city (2 Macc 12:38). Common opinion identifies Adullam with the ruin `Aid-el-Ma, 13 miles West-Southwest from Bethlehem (see HGHL, 229 ff). This is in spite of the testimony of the Onomasticon, which, it is alleged, confuses Adullam with Eglon. Presumably the city gave its name to the cave of Adullam, the cave being near the city.
(2) The cave of Adullam, David’s headquarters during a part of the time when he was a fugitive from Saul (1Sa 22:1; 2Sa 23:13; 1Ch 11:15). Sufficient care has not been exercised in reading the Bible statements on this subject. To begin with, Hebrew syntax permits of the use of the word "cave" collectively; it may denote a group or a region of caves; it is not shut up to the meaning that there was one immense cave in which David and his 400 men all found accommodations at once. All reasonings based on this notion are futile.
Further, by the most natural syntax of 2Sa 23:13-17 (duplicated with unimportant variations in 1Ch 11:15-19), that passage describes two different events, and does not connect the cave of Adullam with the second of these. "And three of the thirty chief men went down, and came to David in the harvest time unto the cave of Adullam; and the troop of the Philistines was encamped in the valley of Rephaim. And David was then in the stronghold; and the garrison of the Philistines was then in Beth-lehem. And David longed, and said, Oh that one would give me water," etc. Concerning these three seniors among David’s "mighty men" it is narrated, first, that they were David’s comrades in a certain battle, a battle which the Chronicler identifies with Pas-dammim, where David slew Goliath; second, that they joined David at the cave of Adullam, presumably during the time when he was hiding from Saul; third, that at a later time, when the Philistines were in the valley of Rephaim (compare 2Sa 5:18), and David was "in the stronghold" (Josephus says "at Jerusalem," Ant, VII, xii, 4), these men broke through the Philistine lines and brought him water from the home well of Bethlehem.
The cave of Adullam, like the city, was "down" from the central ridge (1Sa 22:1; 2Sa 23:13). The city was in Judah; and David and his men were in Judah (1Sa 23:3) at a time when, apparently, the cave was their headquarters. Gad’s advice to David to return to Judah (1Sa 22:3,5) was given at a time when he had left the cave of Adullam. If the current identification of `Aid-el-Ma as Adullam is correct, the cave of Adullam is probably the cave region which has been found in that vicinity.
It has been objected that this location is too far from Bethlehem for David’s men to have brought the water from there. To this it is replied that thirteen or fourteen miles is not an excessive distance for three exceptionally vigorous men to go and return; and a yet stronger reply is found in the consideration just mentioned, that the place from which the men went for the water was not the cave of Adullam. The one argument for the tradition to the effect that Chariton’s cave, a few miles Southeast of Bethlehem, is Adullam, is the larger size of this cave, as compared with those near `Aid-el-Ma We have already seen that this has no force.
In our current speech "cave of Adullam" suggests an aggregation of ill-assorted and disreputable men. This is not justified by the Bible record. David’s men included his numerous and respectable kinsmen, and the representative of the priesthood, and some of David’s military companions, and some men who afterward held high office in Israel. Even those who are described as being in distress and debt and bitter of soul were doubtless, many of them, persons who had suffered at the hands of Saul on account of their friendship for David. Doubtless they included mere adventurers in their number; but the Scriptural details and the circumstances alike indicate that they were mainly homogeneous, and that most of them were worthy citizens.
Willis J. Beecher