Who is Lucifer in Isaiah 14:12?

Jason Dulle


I have heard, with some pretty good argument, that in Isaiah 14 "Lucifer" is not Satan, nor any angel at all, but is actually King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Have you heard of this, and what do you think?



There is no doubt about it that Isaiah 14, which speaks of "Lucifer," is referring to the king of Babylon. In fact, the name "Lucifer" does not even appear in the Hebrew text. The Hebrew behind this translation consists of three words meaning "Helel son of Shachar", which is probably a name for the morning star (Venus), and thus is translated as "son of the morning star" by most translations. The translation of "Lucifer" was carried over from the reading in Jerome's Latin Vulgate, not the Hebrew text.

The NET Bible offers the following comments concerning this passage:

This whole section (vv. 4b-21) is directed to the king of Babylon, who is clearly depicted as a human ruler. Other kings of the earth address him in vv. 9ff., he is called "the man" in v. 16, and, according to vv. 19-20, he possesses a physical body. Nevertheless the language of vv. 12-15 has led some to see a dual referent in the taunt song. These verses, which appear to be spoken by other pagan kings to a pagan king (cf. vv. 9-11), contain several titles and motifs that resemble those of Canaanite mythology, including references to Helel son of Shachar, the stars of El, the mountain of assembly, the recesses of Zaphon, and the divine title Most High. Apparently these verses allude to a mythological story about a minor god (Helel son of Shachar) who tried to take over Zaphon, the mountain of the gods. His attempted coup failed and he was hurled down to the underworld. The king of Babylon is taunted for having similar unrealized delusions of grandeur. Some Christians have seen an allusion to the fall of Satan here, but this seems contextually unwarranted. (Footnote 23 of Isaiah 14, found at http://www.bible.org/netbible/index.htm).

The idea that this pericope is also a reference to Satan's fall is due to the fact that Isaiah said, "Look how you have fallen from the sky" (Isaiah 14:12), which is reminiscent of Jesus' words, "I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven." It is speculated that Jesus drew His words from Isaiah 14, thus making the connection that this passage was not only referring to the king of Babylon, but also to Satan's fall.

Another reason for believing Isaiah 14 is a reference to Satan's fall is because of the parallels that exist between the Isaiah passage and Ezekiel 28 (the concept of a fall and expulsion-Ezekiel 28:16), which has more clear references to the fall of Satan (although the historical figure being spoken of there was a man: the king of Tyre [vs. 2, 9]). Such references include the fact that the king of Tyre is said to have dwelt in Eden, been created, and is called the anointed cherub which covers (Ezekiel 28:13-15). Such descriptions are obviously poetic in regards to the king of Tyre, but seem to have a more direct reference to Satan himself.

Although Isaiah 14 most definitely refers to the king of Babylon, we must not reason that because a prophecy had an immediate fulfillment in the lives of those to whom it was directed, that it denies any other possible referents. Many prophecies in the OT had dual referents. In hermeneutics this phenomenon is termed the "double-reference principle." Some of the most famous prophecies of the coming Messiah had both a literal, near fulfillment in mind, and also a more distant, future fulfillment. God's words to the serpent in the Garden, "And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; it will bruise your head, and you will bruise his heel," had a literal fulfillment. First and foremost this is a reference to the literal hostility that would exist between people and serpents. People would attack the head of the serpent (indicating a fatal blow), while the serpent would only be able to attack their heels (non-fatal blow). Of course this statement also had a future fulfillment in Jesus Christ, the ultimate seed of the woman who crushed the Devil himself at Calvary.

Another such example is the prophecy found in Isaiah 7:14, 16 where theprophet declared, "Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and you will call his name Immanuel. .... But before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste." These words were in regards to a sign being promised to King Ahaz that the Lord would deliver him from the powers of Syria (Damascus) and Ephraim. Matthew applied this prophecy to be referring to Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:23), but the historical referent of this prophecy was the birth of Mahershalalhashbaz, the son of Isaiah through a prophetess (Isaiah 8:1-4). That this prophecy had a literal, short-term fulfillment is evident from the context. Isaiah's son was the sign to Ahaz. The Lord said to Isaiah concerning Mahershalalhashbaz, "For before the child knows how to cry out, `My father' or `My mother,' the wealth of Damascus and the plunder of Samaria will be carried off by the king of Assyria."

The above examples serve to demonstrate that even though a passage indeed had a literal fulfillment in the days of the people it was spoken to, this does not rule out any secondary, future fulfillment. We must not rule out a double-reference fulfillment of prophecy, although each prophecy does not always have a dual-reference. In the case of Isaiah 14, it is questionable whether or not this is indeed a reference to the fall of Satan in addition to the direct prophecies to the king of Babylon.

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