Do these passages speak of Satan?
In a day and age when the Scriptures are often mangled and twisted out of context it is important that we know why we teach what we do concerning Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28. We do not want to allegorize or read a deeper meaning into a passage unless the passage is clearly intended to be understood that way by the original author. We also recognize that some Bible scholars would take a different viewpoint on these passages and this is reflected in some study Bible notations.
In writing The Stranger on the Road to Emmaus, the goal was to get down to the basics without being sidetracked on some of the exegetical challenges that exist. There are certain parts of Scripture that are harder to interpret and we would put Ezekiel 28 and Isaiah 14 into that category.
It is true that we do not know a whole lot about Satan and we do not want to overstep the revelation God has given us, but when you put all the pieces of the puzzle together, Ezekiel 28 and Isaiah 14 do play an important part. If you look up Satan in a Topical Bible, Ezekiel 28 and Isaiah 14 are the keystone passages about Satan. It is no small thing to ignore or limit their content. We believe there is enough evidence in Scripture to make it reasonably clear that Satan is the intended subject. In the following paragraphs, we have outlined a few of the reasons why we believe this is so.
Hermeneutics (principles of interpretation)
There is no doubt that both passages in question refer to earthly kings. Isaiah refers to the “king of Babylon.” The passage in Ezekiel refers to the “ruler of Tyre” One could call this the greater context.But both passages also include parenthetic statements that would seem inappropriate, even impossible, if applied to a human. At this point one has to consider a basic hermeneutic principle sometimes referred to as the principle of double reference.
Simply put, a single passage ‘applying primarily to a person or event near at hand’ can also have another person in mind. Examples of this can be seen with passages used of Christ.
- Hosea 11:1 “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.” The immediate context of the passage refers to Israel. But Matthew 2:14 applies this passage to Christ, ” . . . out of Egypt I called my son.” The principle of double reference would state that Israel was a son, nationally, but the greater “Son” was Christ.
- Deuteronomy 18:15 “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him.” The immediate context refers to Joshua. But Acts 3:22,23 applies this to Christ. Unless the Scriptures made this connection we would not even consider this verse as being applied in this fashion. The principle of double reference would state that Joshua was a prophet that must be listened too, but the greater prophet was Christ, and there was a greater urgency to listen to Him.
There are many more such examples that could be quoted, but this should suffice to show that the principle of double reference is a well-established Bible hermeneutic that must be considered when interpreting passages that seem to extend beyond the immediate.
If this passage were referring exclusively to the ruler of Tyre, then you would certainly have to say that it is a case of imagery and even overstatement.
- Could Ezekiel actually have had the “ruler” in mind when he described him as being “perfect and blameless” in all his ways? The doctrine of original sin is muddled when one considers that the “king of Tyre” is said to have been “blameless from the day he was created.” In contrast to that statement, King David wrote “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” (Psalm 51:5) Satan was sinless when he was created, but that could not be said of any earthly ruler, not even King David.
- It is said that the King of Tyre was ‘created’ instead of ‘born.’ If the word ‘born’ had been used it would certainly have ruled out Satan, but that is not the case.
- The ruler of Tyre could not have been in the Garden of Eden. Satan was.
- It seems strange that the king is described as being adorned with ‘every precious stone.’ Did he really have such wealth? If this were referring to a king, it would seem to be exaggeration.
- The king was called a “guardian cherub.” This would make it the only instance in the Old Testament where that word was used in reference to a human. That seems unlikely when you study how the word ‘cherub’ is used in other contexts.
- At one time, the “king of Tyre” would have been in close fellowship with God, for it is said that he walked on the ‘holy mount of God.’ Obviously this could not have been the case; it would have to be imagery. The ‘holy mount of God’ is a direct reference to God’s throne. On the other hand ‘cherubs’ are associated with closeness to God, as demonstrated in the construction of the ‘Ark of the Covenant.’ “The cherubim (pl. of cherub) were the “inner circle” of angels who had the closest access to God and guarded his holiness.
There can be no reasonable doubt that the ruler of Tyre is not the only person being referred to here. On the other hand, it is quite reasonable to believe that the passage is referring to the ruling power behind the ruler of Tyre’s actions.
It should be noted that addressing Satan through a human being is consistent with another passage in scripture. In Matthew 16:23 we see that “Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” Jesus was talking at Peter, but directing his comments to Satan. Reading the passage carefully it is hard to determine just which part of the sentence was for Peter and which part was for Satan. (One feels the same uncertainty at times in Isaiah and Ezekiel.) Whichever the case, Peter got an earful, and Satan—the ruling power behind Peter’s foolish words—was put in his place. In the same way, the ruler of Tyre would have been warned, and Satan—the ruling power behind his reign—would have been exposed.
To some extent, Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 stand together. The first phrase in verse 12 is the key to this passage. Isaiah seems to switch gears and speak of someone more than the king of Babylon. Unless you also take the passage in Isaiah figuratively you are forced to consider the application of the principle of double reference.
- It seems hard to envision the king of Babylon “falling out of heaven.” The verse implies that the one who has fallen originally started out in heaven—that heaven was his original home. The fact that the fall from heaven is literal is enforced with the phrase “You have been cast down to the earth.” This certainly could not apply to an earthly ruler.
- The sin that the “king” proposes in his five “I wills” seems to go far beyond any human’s most outlandish and egotistical aspirations. On the other hand it is completely consistent with what one would expect of Satan.
- How did the king propose to “ascend into heaven”?
- Did the king really think he could usurp God’s throne?
- Did he think he could sit on the sacred mountain? This indeed seems a most unlikely human ambition, even for a very evil king.
- The reference to “the stars of God” is usually interpreted as referring to angelic beings (Job 38:7). Did the king really think he could rule over them?
- Did the king really think he could be like the Creator God—the Most High?
In addition to these questionable ambitions, the individual is called Lucifer, the “morning star,” a word used to describe incredible brightness and beauty. Dr. Renald Showers gives a good explanation of this word in his book entitled, Angels.
Verse 12 refers to this being as, “O Lucifer, son of the morning.” The name Lucifer does not appear in the Hebrew text. It is a Latin translation of the Hebrew word helel, which is in the text. The Hebrew word means “shining one.” The root of this word “represents the giving off of light by celestial bodies.”
The designation “son of the morning” is the Hebrew way of calling this being the “morning star.” The word translated “morning” means “dawn” and refers to “the breaking of the day, that time just prior to sunrise.” The morning star is so much brighter than all other stars that when the light of dawn makes all other stars invisible, the morning star is still visible.
The point of these designations is that the subject of verse 12 is a shining being of light. Just as the morning star is the brightest of all stars, so this being is the brightest of all shining beings of light created by God.
This point is significant due to several facts. As noted earlier, God called angels “stars” (Job 38:7). The Bible portrays angels, not mortal humans, as bright shining beings (Mt. 28:2-3; Rev. 10:1). The Apostle Paul called Satan “an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14).
In light of what has been seen, it can be concluded that Isaiah 14:12 is not referring to a human ruler of ancient Babylon. Instead, its subject is the brightest or greatest of all the angels who originally had heaven as his home.
In Revelation 22:16 this same word is used to describe the beauty of Christ. That it would also be applied to an evil king of Babylon is hard to comprehend. On the other hand, the passage makes sense if Isaiah did switch gears and began to lament over the one who was the driving force behind the king of Babylon, the great counterfeiter, Satan.
Franz Delitzsch gives a good conclusion as quoted by Charles Ryrie in Basic Theology.
. . . the fall of the king of Babylon is an antitype of the previous fall of Satan and a type of the future fall of Antichrist. Delitzsch says it concisely: “A retrospective glance is now cast at the self-deification of the king of Babylon, in which he was the antitype of the devil and the type of Antichrist.” (Franz Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Prophecies of Isaiah [Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1875], 1:312). The passage transcends anything that can be said of an earthly king and has been understood from earliest times to also refer to Satan’s fall as described in Luke 10:18.
In writing The Stranger on the Road to Emmaus, we did not want to fill it with “maybe,” and “it could be.” Unbelievers have a hard time handling gray areas. We wanted as few of those as possible. It was our conviction that the passages in question are clear enough to teach them with conviction and certainty, both on the basis of sound exegesis and historical interpretation. If we could not be sure on those passages, then a host of other verses would have to be declared as vague. For example, the “serpent” in the Garden of Eden could not be taught as being Satan because the serpent is not identified in that passage as Satan. Yet we believe that the serpent was Satan and teach it with conviction because the whole body of Biblical revelation makes it clear. We believe the same applies to Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28.
It is interesting how God has revealed information to us about Satan throughout Scripture in the writings of the many different prophets and apostles. From all these different passages we get a unified and non-contradictory picture of what Satan is like and what he does.
- In Luke 10:18, Luke tells us that Satan fell from heaven like a bolt of lightning and in Ezekiel 28, the prophet explains who threw him out of heaven and why.
- 1 Timothy 3:6 states that Satan came into judgment because of pride. Isaiah 14 gives us a detailed look at the nature of Satan’s pride.
- In John 8:44 Jesus calls Satan “the father of lies” and we see this master of lies at work in the garden in the form of a serpent. “Did God say…?” Satan asked deceptively. Gen 3:1
- In Job 1:6-12 Job is accused by Satan as being a “fair-weather” believer. We see that Satan is looking to find fault with Job, and eager to cause him to turn away from the Lord. In Revelation 12:10 Satan is described as “the accuser of the brethren”, and in 1 Peter 5: 8 he is described and an adversary who is walking about like a lion to see whom he can devour.
We believe that when Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 are interpreted in light of the whole of scripture, that one can say with confidence that these passages are speaking about Satan.