by William J. Stewart
“How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, you who weakened the nations!” These words appear in Isaiah 14:12. Many people, for many centuries have equated this Lucifer with Satan, the devil. In Webster’s dictionary, the primary definition given for Lucifer is “…used as a name of the devil.” Is Lucifer in fact the devil? Let us consider Isaiah 14 today.
To properly understand Isaiah 14, we must first return to Isaiah 13:1. There, we read, “The burden of Babylon, which Isaiah the son of Amoz did see.” In the next two chapters (13 & 14), the burden against Babylon is pronounced. If we look at Isaiah 15:1, we find, “The burden of Moab. Because in the night Ar of Moab is laid waste, and brought to silence; because in the night Kir of Moab is laid waste, and brought to silence…” In the next two chapters (15 & 16), the burden against Moab is pronounced. In Isaiah 17:1, the prophet begins a proclamation against Damascus. In 19:1, he speaks of the burden against Egypt. In the chapters which follow, several more burdens are pronounced, against one nation or another.
When we read the words of Isaiah 14, it should be understood that this is in the midst of a prophecy against Babylon. Verse 4 specifically says, “…take up this proverb against the king of Babylon…” Satan is not the subject of Isaiah 14, Babylon is, and specifically their king. Adam Clarke’s Commentary, speaking on verse 12 says, “And although the context speaks explicitly concerning Nebuchadnezzar, yet this has been, I know not why, applied to the chief of the fallen angels, who is most incongruously denominated Lucifer, (the bringer of light!) an epithet as common to him as those of Satan and Devil. That the Holy Spirit by his prophets should call this arch-enemy of God and man the light-bringer, would be strange indeed. But the truth is, the text speaks nothing at all concerning Satan nor his fall, nor the occasion of that fall, which many divines have with great confidence deduced from this text. O how necessary it is to understand the literal meaning of Scripture, that preposterous comments may be prevented!”
Smith’s Bible Dictionary comments on Lucifer, “(light-bearer), found in (Isaiah 14:12) coupled with the epithet “son of the morning,” clearly signifies a “bright star,” and probably what we call the morning star. In this passage it is a symbolical representation of the king of Babylon in his splendor and in his fall. It’s application, from St. Jerome downward, to Satan in his fall from heaven arises probably from the fact that the Babylonian empire is in Scripture represented as the type of tyrannical and self idolizing power, and especially connected with the empire of the Evil One in the Apocalypse.”
Let us for a few moments consider what is spoken in the text of the king of Babylon:
Nebuchadnezzar was an oppressor of nations, conquering and destroying. His rise to power was great, and the prophecy against him reveals that his fall would be even more great. The “golden city” (madhebah, a Chaldean word) is rendered in the Latin Vulgate as tributum, in acknowledgement of the wealth obtained by Babylon by way of tribute. Satan was neither ruler in a “golden city”, nor recipient of monetary tribute.
Given the identification of the king of Babylon in the previous verse, it follows that the rule of the king of Babylon is under discussion here. His reign of harshness and violence over the nations not only ended, but he himself, formerly the persecutor, became the persecuted.
Now that judgment has come against the oppressor, the rest of the world is portrayed as having peace and joy. The whole earth breaks forth in song. Even the cypress trees and cedars rejoice, for they are no longer levelled for the pleasure and pride of Babylon.
An audience of kings from various nations, who are confined in the damnation of hell await the arrival of Nebuchadnezzar. His impending arrival causes a great stir: such a prominent king, mighty and exalted, brought so low. These humiliated kings taunt, “Have you also become as weak as we? Have you become like us?” His might upon the earth is brought to nothing in the eternal picture. What a degrading image, as the celebrated king of Babylon is given over to the maggots and worms.
First, let us address the word “Lucifer”. Is it a description of Satan? The Hebrew word heilel, means “the morning star”, a bright star which ushers in the new morning. How could “the morning star” be a fit description of the one who first appears in Scripture in the form of a lying serpent in Eden? In no place does the Bible speak favourably of Satan. “The morning star” simply does not accord with any other Scriptural portrayal of Satan.
Was Satan in heaven? Absolutely (Job 1:6; 2:1; Luke 10:18; John 12:31; Revelation 12:9). However, that does not necessitate that Isaiah 14:12 speaks about Satan. In fact, if Satan was in heaven, why should he say, “I will ascend into heaven…” Rather, the degree of glory which the king of Babylon greedily conferred upon himself is here figuratively expressed as exaltation to heaven itself. The inspired writer reveals the heart of Nebuchadnezzar to us. Over and over, his lust for power and glory is addressed and in his vanity, he thought himself greater than the Almighty.
In Daniel 4, Nebuchadnezzar was given a vision. In explaining the vision, Daniel said, “The tree that you saw, which grew and became strong, whose height reached to the heavens and which could be seen by all the earth… it is you, O king, who have grown and become strong; for your greatness has grown and reaches to the heavens, and your dominion to the end of the earth.” Furthermore, in the vision, the tree would be chopped down and destroyed. Why? So that Nebuchadnezzar might “know that Heaven rules”, and “that the Most High rules in kingdom of men…” Though he was great upon the earth, he would be brought low.
Again, can our text be speaking about Satan? Hear the words of those who gazed at the abased royal, “Is this the man who made the earth tremble…?” I am curious, where in Scripture is Satan every referred to as a man? Our text deals with a man, Nebuchadnezzar, and none other.
Through the remainder of the text, the judgment against the king of Babylon and Babylon’s offspring is declared further. Babylon would be cut off. Though one might draw upon elements mentioned in Isaiah 14 and attempt to apply these to Satan, the text in no way does so. Any specific application beyond the king of Babylon oversteps the scope of Isaiah’s prophecy, and must be rejected.