Myth #5: Either or both of Isaiah 14:12-15 and Ezekiel 28:12-19 describe Satan’s original fall.
As Sydney Page points out, each of these passages “is part of a funeral dirge lamenting the death of a pagan king. In both, the king is portrayed as having come to ruin because he exalted himself beyond what was appropriate. Although the form of the two texts is that of a funeral dirge, the sorrow at the passing of the monarch is not genuine. Both passages virtually drip with sarcasm. In reality, the tyrant’s death is welcomed.” (Sydney H. T. Page, Powers of Evil: A Biblical Study of Satan and Demons, Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1995, 37). The question is, “Do these laments allude to Satan and his primordial rebellion?”
Isaiah 14:12-15 appears in a passage that is specifically identified as a taunt of judgment against the king of Babylon (vv. 3-4). The taunt may be directed at one particular king (most likely Sennacherib) or perhaps “at the whole Babylonian monarchy personified as a single individual.” (Ibid., 38). Clearly, though, the mocking lament portrays (indeed, celebrates) the demise of an earthly power that both opposes and oppresses the people of God.
The language used in vv. 12-14 is certainly compatible with what we know of Satan’s character, but may well be a use of poetic language to describe an earthly king. Many of the terms used here (“morning star”, “dawn”, and “sacred mountain”) have been found in texts dealing with ancient pagan mythology. Page notes that “the mythology was probably rooted in the observation of the brilliant rise of the planet Venus (the ’morning star’) in the early morning sky and its rapid fading with the rise of the sun.” (Ibid., 39). If this is true, Isaiah would be utilizing (without endorsing) motifs common in pagan mythology to describe the downfall of an earthly ruler.
Others have argued that whereas all this may be true, we can still see in this description of an earthly opponent of God (the Babylonian king) his model and heavenly inspiration (Satan). But is that what Isaiah had in mind when he wrote it? The figure “Lucifer”, lit., “shining one” or “star of the morning” (v. 12), is called a “man” in v. 16 and is compared with other earthly kings in v. 18. “Lucifer” was first used in the Latin vulgate to translate the Hebrew word (helel) and eventually made its way into the King James Version. According to Boyd, “Isaiah is simply comparing the king of Babylon to the planet Venus, the morning star. It rises bright at dawn and climbs to the highest point in the sky, only to be quickly extinguished by the brightness of the rising sun. Thus, Isaiah says, shall be the career of the presently shining king of Babylon. He appears on the stage of world history as the brightest star, ascending higher and higher. But in the end he shall quickly disappear in the light of the sun.” (Gregory A. Boyd, God at War: The Bible & Spiritual Conflict, Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1997, 158).
So what about Ezekiel 28:11-19? Again, vv. 1-11 refer to the “prince” or “ruler” of Tyre (a Phoenecian port city about 125 miles northwest of Jerusalem). Vv. 2 ,9-10 clearly indicate that he is human, not angelic. The historical setting is the siege of Tyre by Nebuchadnezzar from 587 to 574 B.C. The king of Tyre during this period was Ithobaal II.
Vv. 12-19 refer to the “king” of Tyre, suggesting to some that vv. 12-19 refer to a supernatural power behind the human ruler of vv. 1-11. However, this word (“king”) is used elsewhere in Ezekiel of earthly rulers (17:12; 19:9; 21:19; 24:2; 26:7; 29:2-3, 18; 30:10, 21; 31:2; 32:2, 11), leading most to believe that the “prince” of vv. 1-11 and the “king” of vv. 12-19 are one and the same (“prince” and “king” being synonymous). On the other hand, the “king” of vv. 12-19 seems to be portrayed in terms that go beyond what is true of any earthly king (e.g., “perfection,” “in Eden,” “created,” “cherub,” “holy mountain of God,” “blameless”).
The identification of this king as an “anointed cherub who covers (guards)” in v. 14 is considered the strongest evidence that the reference is to Satan. Others have pointed out, however, that the Hebrew text may just as easily be translated, “with a cherub.” Also, it is difficult to understand how dishonest or unrighteous trade and the desecration of sanctuaries (v. 18) could have been involved in the fall of Satan. How, then, are we to understand the reference to the garden of “Eden” in v. 13? Most believe that that the king of Tyre is being compared with Adam.
In summary, we will have to settle for a measure of uncertainty as to whether either of these texts actually describes Satan’s fall.
Sam Storms (PhD, University of Texas at Dallas) has spent more than four decades in ministry as a pastor, professor, and author. He is currently the senior pastor at Bridgeway Church in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and was previously a visiting associate professor of theology at Wheaton College from 2000 to 2004. He is the founder of Enjoying God Ministries and blogs regularly at SamStorms.com.
This post is adapted from the ESV Expository Commentary: Ephesians-Philemon edited by Iain M. Duguid, James M. Hamilton Jr., Jay Sklar. The article originally appeared on Crossway.org. Used with permission.
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