Home > Book of Isaiah, Mountains in prophecy, The Gospel > Men hide in the rocks

Men hide in the rocks

January 20, 2012

Isaiah wrote in chapter 2 that men would go to the holes of the rocks, and caves, for fear of God. What does his prophecy mean? What is it that causes men to hide in rocks and caves? Isaiah wrote:

Isaiah 2:10-12
Enter into the rock, and hide thee in the dust, for fear of the LORD, and for the glory of his majesty.
The lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, and the LORD alone shall be exalted in that day.
For the day of the LORD of hosts shall be upon every one that is proud and lofty, and upon every one that is lifted up; and he shall be brought low:

On the following verses Lowth’s commentary says: [1]

13—16. Even against all the cedars—] These verses afford us a striking example of that peculiar way of writing, which makes a principal characteristic of the parabolical or poetical style of the Hebrews, and in which their prophets deal so largely; namely, their manner of exhibiting things divine, spiritual, moral, and political, by a set of images taken from things natural, artificial, religious, historical; in the way of metaphor or allegory. Of these, nature furnishes much the largest and the most pleasing share; and all poetry has chiefly recourse to natural images, as the richest and most powerful source of illustration. But it may be observed of the Hebrew poetry in particular, than in the use of such images, and in the application of them in the way of illustration and ornament, it is more regular and constant than any other poetry whatever; that it has, for the most part, a set of images appropriated in a manner to the explication of certain subjects. Thus you will find, in many other places beside this before us, that cedars of Libanus and oaks of Basan are used, in the way of metaphor and allegory, for kings, princes, potentates, of the highest rank; high mountains and lofty hills, for kingdoms, republics, states, cities; towers and fortresses, for defenders and protectors, whether by counsel or strength, in peace or war; ships of Tarshish, and works of art and invention employed in adorning them, for merchants, men enriched by commerce, and abounding in all the luxuries and elegancies of life; such as those of Tyre and Sidon: for it appears from the course of the whole passage, and from the train of ideas, that the fortresses and the ships are to be taken metaphorically, as well as the high trees and the lofty mountains.

Ships of Tarshiah are in Scripture frequently used by a metonymy for ships in general, especially such as are employed in carrying on traffic between distant countries; as Tarshish was the most celebrated mart of those times, frequented of old by the Phenicians, and the principal source of wealth to Judea and the neighbouring countries. The learned seem now to be perfectly well agreed, that Tarshish is Tartessus, a city of Spain, at the mouth of the river Baetis; whence the Phenicians, who first opened this trade, brought silver and gold, (Jer. x. 9. Ezek. xxvii. 12.), in which that country then abounded; and pursuing their voyage still further to the Cassiterides, (Bochart. Canaan, I. cap. 39. Huet, Hist, de Commerce, p. 194.), the islands of Scilly and Cornwall, they brought from thence lead and tin.

Tarshish is celebrated in Scripture (2 Chron. viii. 17, 18. ix. 21.) for the trade which Solomon carried on thither, in conjunction with the Tyrians. Jehosaphat (1 Kings xxii. 48. 2 Chron. xx. 36.) attempted afterward to renew that trade; and from the account given of his attempt it appears, that his fleet was to sail from Eziongeber on the Red Sea: they must therefore have designed to sail round Africa, as Solomon’s fleet probably had done before, (see Huet, Histoire de Commerce, p. 32.); for it was a three years’ voyage, (2 Chron. ix. 21.); and they brought gold from Ophir, probably on the coast of Arabia, silver from Tartessus, and ivory, apes, and peacocks from Africa. … It is certain, that under Pharaoh Necho, about two hundred years afterward, this voyage was made by the Egyptians. (Herodot. iv. 42.) They sailed from the Red Sea, and returned by the Mediterranean, and they performed it in three years; just the same time that the voyage under Solomon had taken up. It appears likewise from Pliny, (Nat. Hist. ii. 67.), that the passage round the Cape of Good Hope was known and frequently practised before his time; by Hanno the Carthaginian, when Carthage was in its glory; by one Eudoxus, in the time of Ptolemy Lathyrus king of Egypt; and Capius Antipater, an historian of good credit, somewhat earlier than Pliny, testifies, that he hod seen a merchant, who had made the voyage from Gades to Æthiopia. The Portuguese under Vasco de Gama, near three hundred years ago, recovered this navigation, after it had been intermitted and lost for many centuries.

The following table summarizes the interpretations suggested above.

Symbol Meaning
cedars of Libanus, oaks of Basan, high trees kings, princes, potentates
high mountains, lofty hills kingdoms, republics, states, cities
towers, fortresses defenders, protectors
ships of Tarshish, works of art merchants, rich men
rocks, caves ?

In verse 19 of the same chapter Isaiah wrote:

Isaiah 2:19
And they shall go into the holes of the rocks, and into the caves of the earth, for fear of the LORD, and for the glory of his majesty, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth.

Lowth’s commentary on verses 19-21 has: [2]

19—21. into caverns of rocks—] The country of Judea, being mountainous and rocky, is full of caverns; as it appears from the history of David’s persecution under Saul. At Engedi, in particular, there was a cave so large, that David with six hundred men hid themselves in the sides of it; and Saul entered the mouth of the cave without perceiving that any one was there: 1 Sam. xxiv. Josephus (Antiq. lib. xiv. cap. 15.; and Bell. Jud. lib. i. cap. 16.) tells us of a numerous gang of banditti, who, having infested the country, and being pursued by Herod with his army, retired into certain caverns, almost inaccessible, near Arbela in Galilee, where they were with great difficulty subdued. Some of these were natural, others artificial. “Beyond Damascus,” says Strabo, lib. xvi. “are two mountains called Trachones; [from which the country has the name of Trachonitis]: and from hence, towards Arabia and Iturea, are certain rugged mountains, in which there are deep caverns; one of which will hold four thousand men.” Tavernier (Voyage de Perse, Part II. chap. 4.) speaks of a grot, between Aleppo and Bir, that would hold near three thousand horse. Three hours distant from Sidon, about a mile from the sea, there runs along a high rocky mountain; in the sides of which are hewn a multitude of grots, all very little differing from each other. They have entrances about two feet square: on the inside, you find in most or all of them a room of about four yards square. There are of these subterraneous caverns two hundred in number. It may, with probability at least, be concluded that these places were contrived for the use of the living, and not of the dead. Strabo describes the habitations of the Troglodytae to have been somewhat of this kind:” Maundrell, p. 118. The Horites, who dwelt in Mount Seir, were Troglodytes, as their name … imports. But those mentioned by Strabo were on each side of the Arabian Gulf. Mohammed (Koran, chap. xv. and xxvi.) speaks of a tribe of Arabians, the tribe of Thamud, “who hewed houses out of the mountains, to secure themselves.” Thus, “because of the Midianites, the children of Israel made them the dens which are in the mountains, and caves, and strongholds.” Judges, vi. 2. To these they betook themselves for refuge in times of distress and hostile invasion: “When the men of Israel saw that they were in a strait, (for the people were distressed), then the people did hide themselves in caves, and in thickets, and in rocks, and in high places, and in pits;” 1 Sam. xiii. 6. and see Jer. xli. 9. Therefore, “to enter into the rock; to go into the holes of the rocks, and into the caves of the earth,” was to them a very proper and familiar image to express terror and consternation. The Prophet Hosea hath carried the same image further, and added great strength and spirit to it: Chap. x. 8.

“They shall say to the mountains, Cover us; And to the hills, Fall on us.”

Which image, together with these of Isaiah, is adopted by the sublime author of the Revelation, (chap. vi. 15, 16.), who frequently borrows his imagery from our Prophet.

While many scholars support an interpretation of Isaiah’s prophecy similar to the one proposed by Lowth above, it lacks support in statements of Isaiah. Instead it is founded upon the literal approach, that assumes “rocks” and “caves” in Isaiah’s prophecy must literally mean rocks and caves. But Isaiah’s comments about the nature of prophecy in 28:9-11 and 29:9-14 suggest otherwise;  God gives his prophetic word in “another tongue,” which implies that prophecy should not to be taken in a literal sense, but needs to be interpreted. Isaiah wrote:

Isaiah 28:9-11
Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts.
For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little:
For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people.

In verse 16, Isaiah said God will lay a foundation stone in Zion. Since in Isaiah’s day, there was already a literal temple in Jerusalem; he must therefore have been referring to a spiritual mount Zion: “Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.”

Paul alludes to this scripture in the epistle to the Ephesians, where he identifies the corner stone of the spiritual temple as Jesus Christ. The church is a temple which God is building. “Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord.” [Ephesians 2:19-21]

The idea of God’s house being identified with a stone has its roots in the Genesis account of Jacob’s dream at Bethel, and in the promises he received there. The stone that Jacob set up as a pillar was called God’s house. [Genesis 28:20-22]

Isaiah 2 may refer to men entering into rocks in the same sense that the prophet refers to rocks elsewhere. In chapter 51, Isaiah refers to Abraham, and exhorts the saints to “look unto the rock whence ye are hewn,” implying the saints too are metaphorical rocks, taken out of the earth as was Abraham.

Isaiah 51:1-3
Hearken to me, ye that follow after righteousness, ye that seek the LORD: look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged.
Look unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah that bare you: for I called him alone, and blessed him, and increased him.
For the LORD shall comfort Zion: he will comfort all her waste places; and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the LORD; joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody.

It is interesting to note the saying of John the Baptist, when he exhorted Jews who came to hear his preaching to repent; [Matthew 3:8-10] John said, “God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.” John likely alluded to Isaiah 51:1. Those who are of the faith of Abraham are called stones, but living ones. The apostle Peter used the term “living stone” for Christ, and a similar term for the saints. [1 Peter 2:4-5] He evidently based this upon Isaiah’s prophecy.

Have men entered into the rocks, as Isaiah foretold? Entering into the rocks evidently represents entering into the house of God. Most men seek salvation by some religious affiliation, usually the one into which they were born, or to which they became attached by marriage. The following is a list of US Presidents in the past century, and their denominations, for an example.

William McKinley, Methodist
Theodore Roosevelt, Dutch Reformed
William Howard Taft, Unitarian
Woodrow Wilson, Presbyterian
Warren G. Harding, Baptist
Calvin Coolidge, Congregationalist
Herbert Hoover, Quaker
Franklin D. Roosevelt, Episcopalian
Harry S. Truman, Baptist
Dwight D. Eisenhower, Presbyterian
John F. Kennedy, Roman Catholic
Lyndon Johnson, Disciples of Christ
Richard Nixon, Quaker
Gerald R. Ford, Episcopalian
Jimmy Carter, Baptist
Ronald Reagan, Presbyterian
George H. W. Bush, Episcopalian
Bill Clinton, Baptist
George W. Bush, Methodist
Barack Obama, United Church of Christ

Perhaps Isaiah’s prophecies depicting people hiding in rocks, and caves, is a metaphor representing their desire for salvation and eternal security. Isaiah represents the saints as rocks. Men associate with the saints in their worship. The house of God, or the kingdom of God, is represented by a stone that grows into a mountain, which fills the earth, in Daniel 2:35. A prophecy in Revelation, similar to Isaiah’s prophecy, also depicts men hiding in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains, answering to religious denominations and sects. Their vision is limited, in such hiding places.

Revelation 6:15-16
And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains;
And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb:

In prophecy, the mountains represent the promises of God to the saints. Isaiah encourages the saints to ascend to the high mountain, representing the kingdom of God, not because they are motivated by fear, but to proclaim the gospel.

Isaiah 40:9
O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!


1. Robert Lowth. Isaiah: a new translation: with a preliminary dissertation, and notes, critical, philological, and explanatory W. Hilliard, 1834. pp. 153-155.

2. Ibid., pp. 155-156.