Last week I was teaching on a text that made mention of Satan when a hand shot up. Questions are helpful in clarifying issues related to the immediate discussion. The question was actually more of a comment suggesting that Satan’s sin and fall from heaven is explained in Isaiah 14. Time was too short to respond so I punted and concluded in prayer. But here is what I would have said had time allowed:
The question, “Does this text teach anything about Satan’s fall,” is raised because of the King James Version‘s translation of the Hebrew helel as “Lucifer” in Isaiah 14:12. And of course everyone knows that Lucifer is none other than Satan!
Actually, the term lucifer (“light-bearing one”) is a pretty good Latin translation of the Hebrew term helel. Unfortunately, while this term was applied by Isaiah to the “king of Babylon,” many have followed the early church fathers (Tertullian, Origen, and Hippolitus) in making this Latin word a title for Satan. The notion that “Lucifer” is a proper name for Satan was popularized in English literature by Milton’s Paradise Lost, where Satan is referred to as the “great Lucifer.”
It is argued that the similarity between the sin of the tyrant (king of Babylon) and Satan’s sin (Isa. 14:12-14; 1 Tim. 3:6) would suggest the identification of the two. And since the tyrant fell (Isa. 14:14-15) and Satan fell (Gen. 3:14-15; 2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6; Rev. 12:4), they must be one and the same.
Although this interpretation has been popularized by the notes in several study Bibles, there are convincing arguments against this view:
- The historical context of Isaiah 14 concerns the overthrow of an arrogant king (a “man” v. 16)–the Assyrian tyrant Sennacherib. Nothing else is implied by the context.
- While the tyrant of Isaiah 14 has been judged and no longer shakes kingdoms or threatens the earth (v. 16), Satan, “the god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4) is alive and well (Eph. 2:2; 2 Cor. 2:11, 11:14; 1 Pet. 5:8).
- There is adequate Scripture to substantiate Satan’s pride and fall without using this passage to provide a Scriptural basis for this doctrine (Gen. 3:14-15; 2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6; 1 Tim. 3:6; Jn. 8:44; Rev. 12:4).
- The “fall from heaven” referred to by Christ in Luke 10:18 is His divine commentary upon what had just taken place as the disciples cast out demons in His name. This victory of the disciples foreshadows the ultimate banishment of Satan from heaven (Rev. 12:7-9).
- What is described in Isaiah 14:4-21 has not yet occurred in Satan’s history of moral decay and judgment. While he was defeated at the cross (Jn. 12:31, 16:11; Col. 2:13-15), his banishment from heaven (Rev. 12:7-9), imprisonment (Rev. 20:1-13), and final judgment (Rev. 20:20) are yet future.
- Isaiah 14:20 is not in harmony with the fact that Satan will be united with his people in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:10, 15).
Isaiah 14:14-21 concerns the fate of an historical king and there is nothing to suggest that the passage teaches anything about Satan. The term “lucifer” is a Latin term that has migrated into our English Bibles and theological vocabulary. I have a box of matches which I picked up while traveling in Europe. The label reads, “lucifers” [light-bearers or matches], a good and accurate use of the term.
The wicked tyrant of Isaiah 14:14-21 is most likely Sennacherib (705-686 B.C.) who was king of Assyria when Babylon was completely overthrown and destroyed in 689 B.C. Sennacherib actually describes the destruction of the city in terms similar to those found in Isaiah 14:23 and 21:9. And he died a humiliating death as recorded in Isaiah 37:37-38.
You may still wonder why an Assyrian king can be referred to as “king of Babylon” (14:1). Erlandsson points out that the Assyrian kings Tiglath-pileser, Sargon, and Sennacherib received the honorary title, “king of Babylon.” This took place at the Babylonian New Year’s day festival when the ruler would grasp the hand of Marduk and be declared, “king of Babylon” (The Burden of Babylon: A Study of Isaiah 13:2-14:23, CWK Gleerup Lund, 1970, pp. 160-66).