Bible Commentary: Isaiah 14:3-27

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Isaiah 14:3-27

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O Lucifer, Son of the Morning

The prophecies against Babylon continue—specifically against the ruler of Babylon. It is obvious from verses 1-3 that this has a primary fulfillment in the final ruler of end-time Babylon, a world dictator over a resurrected Roman Empire of the last days who is called "the Beast" in the book of Revelation (Revelation 19:19-20). The ancient kings of Babylon were forerunners of this final ruler. As ancient Babylon was conquered in one day by the Medes and Persians (as foretold by the famous miracle of the handwriting on the wall recorded in Daniel 5), so will end-time Babylon and its ruler meet sudden end at Christ's return (Revelation 18-19).

Yet the final ruler himself is portrayed in Isaiah 14 as a type of someone else. His name, in verse 12, is given as Lucifer. But actually this is a Latin name—meaning "Light-Bearer." It is a translation of the Hebrew Heylel. This word, based on related Hebrew words, seems to mean "Brightness" or "Praising"—or, if the word is considered as Heyl-el, perhaps even "Brightness of God" or "Praise to God" (though such translations are not normally given because most scholars reject the angelic identity this could imply).

It also appears that Heylel was the Hebrew name for the "Day Star," that is, the planet Venus. Some now even see in the name Helel ben Shahar (son of Dawn) a reference to a pagan deity represented by the planet Venus.

In any case, we are left with the picture of a grand star, likened to Venus, that wants to be grander than the other stars: "I will exalt my throne above the stars of God" (verse 13). To really understand the picture here we need to know a little about astronomy.

Venus is the brightest object in the sky except for the sun and moon. We now understand it to be a planet. But to the ancients it was classed as a star—simply because their words for star meant a small, shining point of light in the sky. Notice that the reference in verse 12 is "Day Star, son of the morning." The planet Venus is still referred to as either the morning star or the evening star—because it is visible only just before sunrise or just after sunset. Before dawn, Venus rises from the eastern horizon. But before it is able to climb into the sky (to rise above the other stars and be the highest), the light of the rising sun—the ultimate physical daystar—causes Venus to disappear in the growing light of day. After sunset, Venus appears just above the western horizon—but it sets (or is brought down to the ground) very quickly.

The individual pictured in these verses exalts himself with five "I wills" (verses 13-14). He aspires to universal domination—"to be like the Most High" (verse 14). This attitude certainly applied to the rulers of ancient Babylon, who viewed themselves as exalted above all other human rulers (compare Daniel 4:29-37)—and it likely similarly applies to the unbridled arrogance of the final end-time ruler of Babylon. But it applies most of all to the spiritual ruler of Babylon of all ages—the power behind the throne—Satan the devil. We are told in the book of Revelation that it is Satan, the serpent and dragon of old, who gives power and authority to the Beast (Revelation 13:2). Indeed, the various "heads" of prophetic Babylon through all ages (compare Revelation 13:1; Revelation 17:3)—the succession of gentile world empires—are pictured as emerging from the devil (Revelation 12:3).

That the devil is primarily meant in this passage in Isaiah 14 is also supported by the fact that Jesus appears to refer to verse 12 when He says, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven" (Luke 10:18). Furthermore, "stars" represent angels elsewhere in prophecy (see Revelation 1:20). Indeed, "a third of the stars of heaven," meaning angels, were cast to the earth with Satan in his revolt against God in eons past (Revelation 12:4). We learn more of Satan's rebellion in Ezekiel 28:11-17, where, again, a human ruler is first used to typify him (in fact, as we will later see, that human ruler of Tyre is none other than the same end-time Beast).

Yet it is not entirely clear whether the revolt against God pictured in Isaiah 14 refers to the ancient struggle that predated man's existence (again, see Revelation 12:4) or the one that will occur when Satan and his demons again attempt to assault God's heaven three and a half years before Christ's return (see verses 7-14). Many scholars note that the language in Isaiah 14:12 is in the form of a lament, an expression of mourning over a great loss. This would reflect God's grief and sense of loss over the companionship of this trusted cherub (Ezekiel 28:14) and the rebellion Satan had instigated, indicating this passage refers to that initial rebellion. However, it is also possible that the primeval satanic rebellion described here is related as a forerunner of the similar latter-day assault described in Revelation 12. The outcome is the same either way. Satan failed miserably the first time—and he will fail again at the end. For more information, see our free booklet, Is There Really a Devil?

Lucifer, the aspiring daystar—who was brightest of the "morning stars" (see Job 38:7) and even now still appears as an "angel of light" (2 Corinthians 11:14)—is no match for the ultimate "Morning Star," the "Sun of Righteousness," Jesus Christ (see Revelation 22:16; Malachi 4:2), or the ultimate "Father of lights," God the Father (see James 1:17).

One of the ironies of the passage in Isaiah 14 "is the idea that to be like the Most High (v. 14) is to be self-exalted, whereas it [in truth] is to be self-giving (cf. Phil. 2:5ff.). The ugliness as well as the brevity of the false glory is powerfully shown in vv. 16-21" (The New Bible Commentary: Revised, 1970, note on Isaiah 14:20-21). In reading what is said about the downfall of the ruler of Babylon, realize that all of it applies to both the human ruler and Satan—if not in fact then in type.

Verses 22-23 describe the destruction of Babylon. Interestingly, after its fall ancient Babylon did become an abandoned place of marshes as the Euphrates River gradually changed course and moved farther away from the city (a process begun when Babylon's conqueror Cyrus of Persia removed dikes that kept the river in a particular course). Isaiah referred to it before the fact as the "Wilderness of the Sea" (Isaiah 21:1, Isaiah 21:9). In fact, this is part of the reason that Alexander the Great's successor Seleucus moved his capital from Babylon shortly after establishing it there (see previous highlights). Yet there will probably be a greater fulfillment of this prophecy when end-time Babylon is cast down. Perhaps such a fate will befall the modern capital of Babylon, apparently the city of Rome.

Revelation 20:1 tells us that Satan, and by implication his demons, will be bound for 1,000 years in a particular place—called a "pit" or "abyss"—which Leviticus 16:22 typifies as an "uninhabited land" or "wilderness." The confinement prophesied for the demons will keep them away from the human beings living during the reign of Christ and His saints—and keep human beings away from them. Perhaps the mention of wild and weird animals and birds at Babylon in conjunction with its desolation (Isaiah 13:21-22) is meant to typify or even indicate demons there (see Revelation 18:2). In fact, regarding a parallel passage, The Expositor's Bible Commentary reports that at least one scholar "attempts to render the assonance of tsiim 'eth 'yim (siyyim etiyyim, 'desert creatures and hyenas') by 'goblins and ghouls'... [Another scholar] considered them, not as animals, but probably demons of the desert" (footnote on Jeremiah 50:39).

Finally, God relates destruction to come on Assyria (verses 24-25), which, as with so many of these prophecies, seems to indicate both ancient and future punishment. End-time Assyria is largely synonymous with end-time Babylon, since they represent the same power bloc. The forces of this power will be broken in God's land (Israel) and on God's mountains (Jerusalem and its environs)—and this punishment will affect all nations (verse 26). This is supported by other prophetic passages (Revelation 16:14, Revelation 16:16; Joel 3:1-2, Joel 3:12-14).

When the end-time Assyrian yoke of oppression and slavery is broken, God's people will be free. At the same time, the power of Satan will be overthrown. God's land and mountains (verse 25) will then be the whole earth (Revelation 11:15). And with Satan's power broken everywhere, all people will at long last be free.

As a final note on the passage, it should be mentioned that the word rendered "hell" in verse 9 is the same word left untranslated in the rest of the chapter—sheol (see verses 11, 15). While some attempt to read into these verses a shadowy or fiery underworld, the Hebrew word sheol is often translated "the grave," which is the true meaning of the word. And in the grave human beings have no consciousness (Ecclesiastes 9:5, Ecclesiastes 9:10). Indeed, the dead are portrayed in Scripture as "sleeping" until the resurrection (Daniel 12:2; 1 Corinthians 11:30; 2 Peter 3:4). To learn more about this particular subject, see our free booklets What Happens After Death? and Heaven & Hell: What Does the Bible Really Teach?