I received the following question:

In Isaiah 2:19-21 it mentions entering the caverns.  Where would you fit those statements into your prophetic sorting bins?  We can put a stamp of certainty on some parts of this chapter, but were back and forth on those particular verses.  Is a principal on Hebrew poetry on where different jumps in topic can be made or does the poetry factor make it even easier to switch from period to period?  We know it can have a present and future fulfillment at times.

Isaiah 2 is confusing in the last half there. The first 4 verses, of course, are talking about the premillennial kingdom, and the time when God turns on the light. Then, a definite change takes place. It seems as if He starts speaking of Israel at the time Isaiah was writing. At that time, it was true that “Their land is also full of idols; They worship the work of their own hands, That which their own fingers have made.” (Verse 8.) Isaiah, and the other major prophets as well, for that matter, often seems to switch back and forth between the far future day of the kingdom of God and the present and soon-to-come situation in Israel at that time in the past. Yet what I would assume gets you wondering if all these statement are past or if they have a future application is when you get to verse 18, “But the idols He shall utterly abolish.” Although Israel had generally given up idol worship by the time of Christ, it cannot really be said that the LORD had utterly abolished them at that time. Then, verse 19, “They shall go into the holes of the rocks, And into the caves of the earth, From the terror of the LORD And the glory of His majesty, When He arises to shake the earth mightily.” This sounds a lot like some things said in the book of Revelation regarding the day of wrath. It does not seem consistent with the peaceful takeover of the earth that the LORD accomplishes at the beginning of His kingdom. Then, continuing to verses 20-21, “20. In that day a man will cast away his idols of silver And his idols of gold, Which they made, each for himself to worship, To the moles and bats, 21. To go into the clefts of the rocks, And into the crags of the rugged rocks, From the terror of the LORD And the glory of His majesty, When He arises to shake the earth mightily.” Here, we have men casting away their own idols. The very things they had made to worship they now reject, casting them into caves and holes in the ground to sleep with moles and bats, fearing lest the Lord see them and know that they have been worshipping them.

This cannot refer to the destruction caused by Babylon and the terrible judgment of the LORD that came upon Israel at that time. The reason is that the LORD’s wrath never did cause the Israelites to repent and turn back to Him. For we read of those who escaped into Egypt, that they said to Jeremiah, “16. As for the word that you have spoken to us in the name of the LORD, we will not listen to you! 17. But we will certainly do whatever has gone out of our own mouth, to burn incense to the queen of heaven and pour out drink offerings to her, as we have done, we and our fathers, our kings and our princes, in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. For then we had plenty of food, were well-off, and saw no trouble. 18. But since we stopped burning incense to the queen of heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her, we have lacked everything and have been consumed by the sword and by famine.” (Jeremiah 44:16-18) So the judgment of Babylon never did cause those who rebelliously worshipped idols to turn back to the LORD.

In verse 12, the day of the LORD is mentioned. This helps us to place the time period. The day of the LORD is what is discussed in the book of Revelation. It takes in all of the tribulation period, as well as the thousand years of Christ’s personal presence upon the earth. This must describe the period immediately following the tribulation period, when Christ has returned in power and great glory, taking vengeance on all who know not God and obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. (II Thessalonians 1:7-9) These know of his wrath, and are casting away their idols in fear.

Therefore, the flow of the passage is the start of the kingdom of God in verses 1-4, Isaiah’s present day with its idolatry in verses 5-9, and then the final end of idolatry at the second coming of Christ in the day of the LORD in verses 10-22. Idolatry will not exist in the kingdom of God, of course, but will be resurrected in the tribulation period, as can be seen from passages describing that time.

If you look carefully at the passage, I think you will see that it is the idols that go into the caves and holes in the earth. The “they” of verse 19 refers to the idols of verse 18. Men cast them away, into caves and clefts in the rocks, because they now fear the LORD, and want nothing to do with the things which they formerly worshipped. Thus, I believe that Isaiah 2:19-21 is talking about the time when the Lord is bringing all things back into subjection to Himself at the start of His great thousand-year-long parousia.

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