The Fall of Satan in Isaiah 14

In my last post, I said the fall of Satan is a myth based on a patch-work of four unrelated biblical passages separated from their contexts. Today, we will look at Isaiah 14.

At first glance, this passage seems filled with references to the fall of Satan:

How you have fallen from heaven, Lucifer, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth…You said in your heart, “I will ascend to the heavens; I will raise my throne above the stars of God…I will make myself like the Most High.”

Babylon

The Background of Isaiah 14

Let us look more closely at the context of these words. Isaiah was written during the Assyrian-Babylonian crisis. Assyria, and later Babylon, conquered all the kingdoms of the mid-east. Isaiah wrote a series of prophecies against various countries, and chapters 13 and 14 are a judgment against Babylon, which absorbed Assyria’s conquered lands, defeated the southern kingdom of Judah, and carried the Jews away into the Babylonian captivity.

The prophecy begins with notice that God will take action against Babylon; it builds in intensity and ends with descriptions of Babylon’s utter destruction. In chapter 13, Isaiah gives an idea of the issue he thinks God has against Babylon, ‘I will put an end to the arrogance of the haughty and will humble the pride of the ruthless.’

The Taunt Against the King of Babylon

Chapter 14 begins a taunt against the king of Babylon that includes the Lucifer passage. As you read it, consider whether the language is consistent with a jeer by oppressed peoples against a fallen, earthly political power, as Isaiah himself purports, or rather a reflection on the fall of an archangel at the beginning of the world?

You will take up this taunt against the king of Babylon:

How the oppressor has come to an end! How his fury has ended! The Lord has broken the rod of the wicked, the scepter of the rulers, which in anger struck down peoples with unceasing blows, and in fury subdued nations with relentless aggression.

As the taunt describes the destruction and pitiful state of the king, is the language consistent with the idea of a human king, as the Bible says, or of a fallen angel?

The realm of the dead below is all astir to meet you at your coming; it rouses the spirits of the departed to greet you—all those who were leaders in the world; it makes them rise from their thrones—all those who were kings over the nations.

They will all respond, they will say to you, “You also have become weak, as we are; you have become like us.” All your pomp has been brought down to the grave, along with the noise of your harps; maggots are spread out beneath you and worms cover you.

But you are brought down to the realm of the dead, to the depths of the pit. Those who see you stare at you, they ponder your fate: “Is this the man who shook the earth and made kingdoms tremble, the man who made the world a wilderness, who overthrew its cities and would not let his captives go home?”

The ‘Satan’ Passage Considered

Finally, let us reconsider the middle of the taunt that seems to ring with reference to Satan’s prehistoric fall.

How you have fallen from heaven, morning star [Lucifer in some translations], son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations!

You said in your heart, “I will ascend to the heavens; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of Mount Zaphon. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.”

This is from within the same continuous taunt. Is the language of this section consistent with a reflection on the primordial fall of a rebellious angel? One word seems to stand out as a reference to Satan virtually impossible to get around—Lucifer.  However Lucifer is not a proper name but only transliterates the Latin word for light-bringer. The NIV translates it ‘morning star’.

After this passage was understood to refer to Satan, the KJV word ‘Lucifer’ was then understood as another name for Satan and entered common English usage. Had it been the equivalent Greek word, rather than the Latin, we might now associate Satan with the name ‘Phosphorus’.

We have no other use for the word ‘lucifer’ because it occurs nowhere else in common literature except as a reference to this very passage. Therefore, we assume Satan is Lucifer in this passage only because we earlier assumed that in this passage Lucifer is Satan.

Interestingly, elsewhere in the Bible (Revelation 22), another person is called the ‘morning star’, which could easily have been translated ‘lucifer’, so that with a slight change in coincidence we might today assume that ‘Lucifer’ was not a name of Satan, but of Jesus.

Once this little issue is settled, there is nothing here to suggest that this passage is anything other than a taunt against a human king as the Bible indicates—one who experienced great power but is brought low.

What do you think?

Next time, we will discover that Ezekiel 28 fares no better as a support for the fall of Satan.

Articles in this series:

Is the Fall of Satan a Myth?
The Fall of Satan in Isaiah 14
The Fall of Satan in Ezekiel 28
The Fall of Satan in Revelation 12
The Fall of Satan in the Book of Enoch
Satan in the Old Testament
Was Satan the Serpent in Eden?
Was Satan in the Desert with Jesus?
Does Satan Exist?
Do Demons Exist?

Photo Credit: ahisgett via Compfight cc
Your observations and comments are welcome below.
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38 Responses to The Fall of Satan in Isaiah 14

  1. michaeleeast says:

    It is as I thought.

    Like

  2. sheila0405 says:

    I read through the OT in 2011, and I missed the context! Me, who always says to remember the context. Just shows that when you have been indoctrinated thoroughly, your own filters can interfere with how you read the Bible. Great post here.

    Like

    • Sheila, I know what you mean. I had been so bombarded with the interpretation of Satan’s fall that I automatically assumed this to be a reference to it. We will see if you think my next post, on Ezekiel is the same. I believe it is.

      Like

  3. Marc says:

    Tim, These verses from Isaiah 14 by themselves are admittedly the weakest Scriptures to base the existence of Satan the devil on. However when one takes into account all that is revealed in the Scriptures regarding Satan the devil, the verses in Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 become part of a larger revelation about the nature of the evil demonic influences that puts the political, military, and spiritual powers of this world at odds with the Kingdom of God.

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    • Marc, I agree that this passage from Isaiah is weak, by itself, as a support for the fall of Satan. In fact, I would not call it weak; I would call it completely inapplicable.

      But I believe all passages used to support that theory are equally as weak, so even taken together they do not support an angelic rebellion in heaven followed by the casting out of Satan and his cohorts. We will look at all four passages individually.

      This is separate issue than whether Satan exists at all. That is not as easy to resolve, but I will address that in a future series.

      Like

  4. Dick says:

    Curiously, early strike matches were made of phosphorous and called Lucifer matches. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Match

    Like

    • Thanks Dick. I stand corrected! The word lucifer does have a use in the English language other than a reference to Isaiah, and it underscores my point that lucifer in Isaiah is connected to phosphorus and not to Satan.

      I appreciate your contribution!

      Like

  5. jamesbradfordpate says:

    I wouldn’t retroject “Satan” onto Isaiah 14, but I do think it’s plausible that Isaiah 14 is discussing the king of Babylon in light of a myth about a god’s rebellion. Here are some rambling thoughts I had about the issue, but I especially want to draw your attention to Fishbane’s comments on the topic, which I quote: http://jamesbradfordpate.wordpress.com/2009/11/06/helel-ben-shachar-satan/

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    • Thanks for the link to your post James; I really like it (and recommend it)!

      I will address the passages you mention in Revelation and Luke in this series. I agree that an aspect of the Old Testament often ignored is that the writers (and hearers) were familiar with the mythology of the surrounding cultures and often alluded to them. This may well be the case here, but I don’t think it lends credence to our current myth of the fall of Satan–quite the contrary.

      In my opinion, you are also on target that the greatest source to impact our thinking on the fall of Satan was John Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’, and I agree with you that he was not the first to entertain the idea. So how was the concept first popularized? I contend it was through the Book of Enoch, which I will also discuss in this series.

      Your quote from John Calvin was great, and I want to share it:

      “The exposition of this passage, which some have given, as if it referred to Satan, has arisen from ignorance; for the context plainly shows that these statements must be understood in reference to the king of the Babylonians. But when passages of Scripture are taken up at random, and no attention is paid to the context, we need not wonder that mistakes of this kind frequently arise. Yet it was an instance of very gross ignorance, to imagine that Lucifer was the king of devils, and that the Prophet gave him this name. But as these inventions have no probability whatever, let us pass them as useless fables.”

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  6. lotharson says:

    Hello Tim.

    What are you actually aiming at by writing this Biblical refutation?

    Since we both agree that books within the Canon are not more inspired than books outside it, even it stood that Satan had fallen, this would be a far cry from saying it is true.

    You are right that the original intent of the author was ONLY to describe the king of Babylon.
    But people believing in the special inspiration of the Bible could still say that this is an IMAGE for the devil’s fall, that there is a kind of double meaning in the passage.

    And I believe that if the devil is real, such an event probably occured. I know you are going to adress the problem of the existence of demons in a new series of posts.

    Finally, I want to mention that the doctrine of the fall of man is infinitely more offensive than that of the fall of the devil.
    For the devil wasn’t unjustly punished, he made the choice to turn away from God.
    But according to the teaching of the human fall, billions and billions of humans have been cursed with a SINFUL nature due to the sin of two of their ancestors. As a consequence, most of them will head to hell.
    I cannot use a capital G for the god of this theology…

    Otherwise it’s a pity you don’t have skype. And I consider it unlikely you will be in Europe before a while :=)

    Lovely greetings.

    Like

    • sheila0405 says:

      I have to say that this thought occurred to me when I was younger. Why would God create human beings who had the ability to say no to him, then put a temptation smack dab in the middle of the garden? “Because God respects free will, he doesn’t want robots” is what I was told. But, if every human being thereafter was born in original sin, wherein lies the free will? Why is it that no human being can go through life and not sin? Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.

      Like

      • lotharson says:

        Yeah precisely! God would punish us for things we could not have done otherwise. Actually, it is clear that Genesis 3 teaches absolutely NOTHING about a sinful nature, people read that into the text due to their habit.
        But even without the fall, it is problematic created us with sinful desires in the first place.

        Like

    • Hi Lothar, My objective is to demonstrate that the fall of Satan is not supported by the Bible, even if it is taken to be inerrant.

      I have addressed the fall of Adam previously at https://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/2013/09/10/original-sin-or-something-else/.

      Like

      • lotharson says:

        Thanks, I’ll definitely take a look at it!

        Otherwise, it might interest you I have just written a post about Thom Stark, Biblical atrocities, inerrancy and the charge of blasphemy.

        Lovely greetings in Christ.

        Like

  7. Pingback: Is the Fall of Satan a Myth? | Jesus Without Baggage

  8. Sabio Lantz says:

    Boy, I will have to get back to this — it was a bit confusing for me — I need time lines to figure stuff out. I will wait till this whole series is done where you explore all passages used to glue together a Satan.

    I wonder if you will then do away with Demons! For certainly Jesus believed in them , or acted like he did. I look forward to surprises!

    Like

    • Sorry for the confusion Sabio. Once you have read further, let me know where I need to better organize my thoughts for you.

      Regarding demons–I will get to that subject another time! I think they are not as easily dismissed as the fall of Satan, but we will see.

      Like

  9. Pingback: The Fall of Satan in Ezekiel 28 | Jesus Without Baggage

  10. Pingback: The Fall of Satan in Revelation 12 | Jesus Without Baggage

  11. Tim, again well framed. I think that set of verses may be the advent of the term “passive agressive” 🙂 Similar to when jesus says to Peter “get behind me Satan.” To refer to someone and their actions in parallel terms was Satan at that time was pretty genius on the part of the author.

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  12. Pingback: The Fall of Satan in the Book of Enoch | Jesus Without Baggage

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  21. Hae mg name is simoninyangala and am leaving in Kenya I want to join with guys to know about the book of Enoch

    Liked by 1 person

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