A Prophecy Against Babylon (cont’d), 1-23

Having spoken of the downfall of Babylon (both temporal and eschatological), the prophet procedes, briefly but tellingly, to give the other side of the coin.  God’s ‘ultimate purpose in defeating and destroying the forces of evil is the settlement and security of his people, who in keeping with the eschatological context are now revealed as a universal community.’ (Jackman)

Isa 14:1 The LORD will have compassion on Jacob; once again he will choose Israel and will settle them in their own land. Aliens will join them and unite with the house of Jacob.

Compassion – this divine compassion is in stark contrast to the heartlessness of, say Isa 13:18.

‘Isaiah warned that the kingdom of Judah would be taken into captivity by Babylon (Isa 5:13; 6:11–12; 11:11, where “Shinar” is Babylon; 39:6), and this happened in 586 B.C. Jeremiah prophesied that the Captivity would last for seventy years. Then Babylon would be judged and the Jews permitted to go home (Jer. 25:1–14). So, the capture of Babylon by Darius would be good news to the Jews; for it would mean the end of their exile and bondage.’ (Wiersbe)

Jacob – ‘The repeated name “Jacob” is a reminder that it is the God of the patriarchs who is setting his love on the people (cf. Ex 3:6–9). The patriarchs had been given the land by divine promise; therefore, it was already “their own land.”‘ (EBC)

God’s faithfulness is further underlined by the mention of ‘Jacob’ and ‘Israel’ here.  These terms ‘hark back to the ancient ideal of a single nation, descended from a common ancestor, and constituted as the people of God by the covenant forged at Sinai.’ (Webb)  God has not rejected his people, nor annulled his promise to them.  ‘It is this theology of election which undergirds the short but comprehensive promise of salvation in these verses.’ (Webb)

Once again he will choose Israel and will settle them in their own land – ‘These verses (1-4a) are saturated with allusions to the Exodus from Egypt and the entry into Canaan. The New Exodus theme, which is so important later in the book, is the controlling motif here. The clue to this is given in the words “once again he will choose Israel.” The expulsion of Israel from Canaan at the Exile would certainly make it look as if the covenant, so often flagrantly broken by the people, had finally been set aside by God. In fact, however, such was the depth and persistence of his steadfast love that his covenant purpose was never eclipsed by their unfaithfulness. His new choice was a reaffirmation of the old in the return from Babylonia.’ (EBC)

As Webb remarks, the idea of return from exile would have made good sense in Isaiah’s day, since the northern kingdom of Israel and much of the southern kingdom of Judah, had been ravaged and depopulated by Assyria.  A partial fulfilment took place when Cyrus and others allowed Judean exiles to return.  But complete fulfilment awaits the day when ‘the meek will inherit the earth’ and share in Jesus’ rule over the nations.’ (Webb)

Aliens will join them and unite with the house of Jacob – ‘When Israel left Egypt, many other people left with them. There were also many aliens within their gates (Ex 20:10; 22:21; et al.). Jethro, Rahab, and other believing Gentiles found a place within the covenant of God with Israel. So it would be again (cf. 56:3–8). Furthermore, the nations in the land would become servants to them (60:9–14; 61:5), just as the Gibeonites had (Jos 9). We can find parallels to much of this in the actual events of the return from exile, for it was a decree of the Gentile Cyrus that was its immediate human cause (Ezr 1–4; cf. 6:1–12). There are, however, elements of the prophecy that were not fulfilled at this time, especially in the picture of God’s people governing their oppressors. No doubt these are properly eschatological, so that the fulfillment at the return from Babylon itself foreshadows God’s ultimate purpose for the people.’ (EBC)

‘Although it may be tempting to interpret these promises as a description of the Israelites’ return from Babylonian captivity with the aid of the Persian king Cyrus, a reading of Haggai, Zechariah, Ezra, and Nehemiah demonstrates that this prophecy in Isaiah is talking about something far more wonderful than what happened in the post-exilic era. This prophecy should be connected to God’s grand eschatological transformation of the hearts of mankind (2:1–5; 11:10–16; 19:18–25), not a minor post-exilic fulfillment that failed to demonstrate the characteristics of welcoming foreigners into the community of Israel (Ezra 9–10; Neh 9:1–2; 10:28–30; 13:23–27). God wants his people to include foreigners in his kingdom, even those who had previously been their enemies. Later prophecies will expand on these eschatological hopes (45:14–17; 49:22–23; 60:1–8; 61:5–7; 66:20).’ (NAC)

Isa 14:2 Nations will take them and bring them to their own place. And the house of Israel will possess the nations as menservants and maidservants in the Lord’s land. They will make captives of their captors and rule over their oppressors.

‘These promises about foreigners being servants should not be misunderstood as a sign of revenge or a form of oppressive Jewish nationalism. The text describes a reversal of roles for Israel, not an evil oppressive enslavement of innocent foreign people.’ (NAC)

‘He means that the foreign nations will be willing to become their companions. An instance of this is given in Ezra 1:6, when the people were brought back from Babylon. But that was only a slight foretaste of those things that were accomplished by Christ, to whom all these statements must be referred.’ (Calvin)

Isa 14:3 On the day the LORD gives you relief from suffering and turmoil and cruel bondage,

Isa 14:4 you will take up this taunt against the king of Babylon: How the oppressor has come to an end! How his fury has ended!

Here begins (finishing at v21) a great dirge for the king of Babylon.  It is not to be sung at a funeral, for the king will be denied a proper burial.  Moroever, it lacks the pomp that a king would expect at his death.  It is, then, a taunt more than a lament (EBC).

According to Isa 39:108 the king of Babylon appraached Hezekiah with a view to forming an alliance so that together they could resist the Assyrian king Sennacherib.  The Lord disapproved of this proposal, because it would mean that Hezekiah was not trusting in him, the Lord.  The present passage shows that an alliance with the king of Babylon would have given false hope, for he himself was to be brought low.

Scholars are not agreed as to whether the king described here was a Babylonion king or an Assyrian who had declared himself king over Babylon.  The omission of the king’s name is consistent with Isa 14:20-22, which states that the Lord would cut off his name so that it would never be mentioned again.

Oswalt says that scholars have long been aware, in view of the sweeping language, that something much more than an individual human monarch is in view here.  In this respect, it is similar to Eze 28, with its reference to ‘the king of Tyre’.

The king of Babylon here, like Babylon itself in chapter 13, is a representative figure, the embodiment of that worldly arrogance that defies God and tramples on others in its lust for power…That is why the tone of this song should not cause us any embarrassment.  This is no cheap gloating over the downfall of an enemy, but the satisfaction and delight which God’s people rightly feel at the very end of the Bible where, again, Babylon is a cipher for all that opposes God and his purposes.’ (Webb)

There will come a day when the song, sung secretly in ‘daring hope’ (Oswalt) can be sung openly.

You will take up this taunt – Contrary to the present thinking of Judah’s leaders, who wanted to trust the king of Babylon for his help against Assyria.

Isa 14:5 The LORD has broken the rod of the wicked, the scepter of the rulers,

This is the only place in the dirge where the Lord is mentioned (but see the indirect references in v13f.  Yet, just as in the book of Esther, the Lord’s action is everywhere implied (here, in the many passive verbs). (EBC)

Isa 14:6 which in anger struck down peoples with unceasing blows, and in fury subdued nations with relentless aggression.

The Mesopotamian army devastated Israel and Judah countless times between 855 and 555 BC (Oswalt).  Good news indeed to know that the ‘rod’ has been ‘broken’.

Isa 14:7 All the lands are at rest and at peace; they break into singing.

What joy and peace there are when a terrible oppressor is no more!

Isa 14:8 Even the pine trees and the cedars of Lebanon exult over you and say, “Now that you have been laid low, no woodsman comes to cut us down.”

Pine trees and the cedars of Lebanon – This reference to trees may be literal or figurative (or both).  The woodcutters of Assyria and Babylon would have stripped large tracts of land, and now the threat of further devastation has been removed.  But trees can also stand for human rulers (cf. Isa 2:13; Jer 22:7; Eze 17:3; 31:3; Mk 13:24–25), who are now safe. (EBC)

Isa 14:9 The grave below is all astir to meet you at your coming; it rouses the spirits of the departed to greet you– all those who were leaders in the world; it makes them rise from their thrones– all those who were kings over the nations.

In contrast to the peace that the earth now enjoys, the underworld is in turmoil.  The picture is one of departed kings rising to view this spectacle.  The king who sent them to their graves now joins them in the place of the departed!  He is as weak as they are.  He can no more cheat death than they can.

The grave – Heb ‘sheol’.  Here is another of the OT’s hints that the dead still continue to have an existence.

‘The picture in Isaiah 14:1–23 is that of a mighty monarch whose pride brought him to destruction. This is what happened to Belshazzar when Darius the Mede captured Babylon in 539 B.C. (Dan. 5). Isaiah described the king’s arrival in sheol, the world of the dead, where the king’s wealth, glory, and power vanished. The dead kings already in sheol stood in tribute to him (Isa. 14:9), but it was all a mockery. Death is the great leveler; there are no kings in the world of the dead.’ (Wiersbe)

The spirits of the departed – ‘The poetic description here and in Isa 26:14 and Ps. 88:10 suggests a virtual suspension of existence; but the OT can look beyond this, on occasion to the resurrection of the body (see Dan 12:2).’ (NBC)

Leaders – lit. ‘he-goats’.  ‘The picture of the petty kings rising from their thrones to accord a mocking welcome to their oppressor powerfully appeals to the imagination and clearly contains some elements that were intended to be taken seriously but not literally.’ (EBC)

It makes them rise from their thrones – in mock homage.

Isa 14:10 They will all respond, they will say to you, “You also have become weak, as we are; you have become like us.”

Isa 14:11 All your pomp has been brought down to the grave, along with the noise of your harps; maggots are spread out beneath you and worms cover you.

Osawalt calls this verse ‘a masterpiece of sarcasm and irony.’  We see a appears to be a gorgeous bier whose procession is accompanied by soft music.  Then we look more closely, and see that it is infested with maggots and worms.  As Oswalt remarks, human pretension is no match for the solemn realities of death.  Those kings who in this life had been forced to give homage to the king of Babylon now mock him, for he has become as one of them.  ‘They had heard the sound of the Babylonian harpers making music for the king as they were brought trembling into his court. All his pomp and circumstance have disappeared. His soft couches and lush carpets have been replaced by maggots and decomposition.’

Isa 14:12How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations!

Is Satan a fallen angel?

Since God created everything, Gen 1:1, Jn 1:3, Col 1:16, and everything he created was good, Gen 1:3, Ps 104:24, 1 Tim 4:4, it is reasonable to suppose that Satan was originally part of that good creation, but ‘fell’ into evil.

Scripture says little about this.

Isa 14:12-16 – Many interpreters have seen in this prophecy a cosmic dimension, although its primary reference is clearly to a man – the king of Babylon, Isa 14:4. The prophecy does draw on pagan mythology to depict the king’s fall from power: in one Canaanite myth a god named Athtar (meaning ‘son of Dawn’ or ‘morning star’) aspired to rule on Baal’s throne. Most modern scholars think either that the prophecy refers only to the human king, using imagery typical for that time to describe his humiliation, or that the imagery implies that the human king’s fall from power is an earthly picture of a spiritual event. In the latter case, however, it does not follow that Isaiah is referring to Satan’s original fall from innocence, but more probably to his future, final defeat.

Eze 28 – contains two prophecies against ‘the king of Tyre’. In the first, Eze 28:2-9 the king is clearly identified as a ‘man’, although he arrogantly thinks of himself as a god. But the second, Eze 28:12-18, seems from the very beginning to point beyond the human king. But the description of the king as originally wise, beautiful and blameless – and living in Eden – suggests a comparison with the fall of Adam, not of Satan. The latter interpretation is prompted by the reference in the Heb text to ‘cherub’ in Eze 28:14,16, but most scholars think that the text originally referred to the king as being ‘with’ the cherub rather than actually being a cherub.

So we know very little for sure about how Satan became a cosmic rebel. Equally, we don’t know when this took place. From Gen 3:1-7 it is reasonable to assume that this took place before the fall of humans. It is possible to speculate that Satan became jealous when God created humans in his own image and ordained them to have dominion on his behalf, but there is no way of proving it.

‘Gap theory’ suggests that Gen 1:3-31 describes a re-ordering of creation after Satan’s rebellion ruined the original creation. But the account itself does not mention anything of the sort. Isa 45:18, as gap theorists pont out, denies that God created the world ‘formless and void’ and so argue that the creation must have become so. But the passage may simply mean that God did not stop at the early stage of creation and leave it unformed and empty, but continued his creative work until it was ‘very good’. Thus, Gen 1:2 is merely describing ‘work in progress’.

See Boa & Bowman, Sense and Nonsense about Angels and Demons, 115-121.

The picture here (vv12-14) is of one who exalted himself to heaven, to the place of God, but has been brought crashing down.  It is the opposite of One who, in his humility, did not think equality with God a thing to be clung to, but humbled himself, then to be exalted by God to the very highest place (Phil 2).

“Morning star, son of the dawn” – The Latin term became ‘Lucifer’. Tertullian and some of the other early scholars and commentators linked this passage with Lk 10:18 and Rev 12:8, and applied it to the primeval fall of Satan. Reformed commentators, however, thought that this passage refers only to human pride.  The passage cited probably refer to Satan’s fall at the end of time, rather than at the beginning of time.

Calvin roundly asserts: ‘The exposition of this passage, which some have given, as if it referred to Satan, has arisen from ignorance; for the context plainly shows that these statements must be understood in reference to the king of the Babylonians. But when passages of Scripture are taken up at random, and no attention is paid to the context, we need not wonder that mistakes of this kind frequently arise. Yet it was an instance of very gross ignorance, to imagine that Lucifer was the king of devils, and that the Prophet gave him this name. But as these inventions have no probability whatever, let us pass by them as useless fables.’

The title of ‘morning star’ ‘suggests that this king’s glory did not last very long.  Venus, the ‘morning star’ shines but is soon swallowed up by the light of the sun.’ (Wiersbe)

‘This song is often thought to tell of the revolt of Satan (taken with Ezek. 28); but this is a precarious conjecture. The tale of pride and downfall is at most only similar to what is said of Satan in e.g. Lk. 10:18; 1 Tim. 3:6, and in any case, when Scripture speaks directly of his fall, it refers to the break-up of his regime, not his prior fall from grace (cf. Rev. 12:9-12).’ (NBC)

‘Is the story referring to the king of Babylon in hyperbolic terms, or does it refer to Satan? Normally the rules of sound interpretation demand that we assign only one interpretation to every passage; otherwise the text just fosters confusion.

In this situation, however, the prophet uses a device that is found often in prophetic texts: he links near and distant prophecies together under a single sense, or meaning, since the two entities, though separated in space and time, are actually part and parcel of each other.

Isaiah saw the king of Babylon as possessing an enormous amount of disgusting pride and arrogance. In cultivating aspirations that exceeded his stature and ability, he paralleled the ultimate ruler with an exaggerated sense of his own accomplishments: Satan.

Just as there was a long messianic line in the Old Testament, and everyone who belonged to that line was a partial manifestation of the One to come and yet not that One, so there was an antimessianic line of kings in the line of antichrist and Satan. The king of Babylon was one in a long line of earthly kings who stood opposed to God and all that he stood for.

This would explain the hyperbolic language, which while true in a limited sense of the king of Babylon, applied ultimately to the one who would culminate this line of evil, arrogant kings. In this sense, the meaning of the passage is single, not multiple or even double. Since the parts belonged to the whole and shared the marks of the whole, they were all of one piece.

Just as the king of Babylon wanted equality with God, Satan’s desire to match God’s authority had precipitated his fall. All this served as a model for the antichrist, who would imitate Satan, and this most recent dupe in history, the king of Babylon, in the craving for power.

A similar linking of the near and the distant occurs in Ezekiel 28, where a prophecy against the king of Tyre uses the same hyperbolic language (Ezek 28:11-19). In a similar fashion the prophet Daniel predicted the coming of Antiochus Epiphanes (Dan 11:29-35); in the midst of the passage, however, he leaps over the centuries in verse 35 to link Antiochus Epiphanes to the antichrist of the final day, since they shared so much as members of the line of the antimessiah. Thus this prophetic device is well attested in the Old Testament and should not cause us special concern.’ (HSB)

‘The prophet saw in this event something far deeper than the defeat of an empire. In the fall of the king of Babylon, he saw the defeat of Satan, the “prince of this world,” who seeks to energize and motivate the leaders of nations (John 12:31; Eph. 2:1–3).’ (Wiersbe)

‘This passage,,,seems to be echoed by the Lord Jesus in Luke 10:18, where language applied here to the king of Babylon is used of Satan. Nothing could be more appropriate, for the pride of the king of Babylon was truly satanic. When Satan works his malign will through rulers of this world, he reproduces his own wicked qualities in them, so that they become virtual shadows of which he is the substance.  To interpret v.12 and the following verses in this way means that the passage points to Satan, not directly, but indirectly, much like the way the kings of the line of David point to Christ. All rulers of international significance whose overweening pride and arrogance bring them to ruin under the hand of God’s judgment illustrate both the satanic and the antichrist principles.’ (EBC)

Isa 14:13 You said in your heart, “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain.

The mount of assembly…the sacred mountain – Mount Zaphon, supposedly the meeting place of the Canaanite gods.  ‘Isaiah boldly uses imagery from this pagan background to point to the essence of human pride: self-deification.’ (Webb)

This takes us back firstly to the Tower of Babel, Gen 11:1-9, and then to the desire to be like God in Gen 3.  ‘Here Satan first sought to reproduce in human life his own proud aspirations for equal status with God. The possession of power can, of course, prove disastrous in creating a desire for utter supremacy. One who is fitted for high authority must be aware that he faces grave spiritual danger.’

Isa 14:14 I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.”

Note the repeated “I” in v13f.  ‘Only God himself has a right to speak in this fashion (Isa 13:11–12; 14:24–25; 41:9–10, 17–19; et al.)…It is a strange paradox that nothing makes a being less like God than the urge to be his equal, for in Christ, he who was equal with God stepped down from his glorious throne to display to the wondering eyes of humankind the humility of God (Php 2:5–8).’ (EBC)

As Oswalt remarks, human pride reverses the attitude of Jesus (Mk 14:36), and says, “Not your will, but mine, be done.”

Isa 14:15 But you are brought down to the grave, to the depths of the pit.

Isa 14:16 Those who see you stare at you, they ponder your fate: “Is this the man who shook the earth and made kingdoms tremble,

Verses 16-20 describe an ignominious death, such as that suffered by the despotic Sargon II of Assyria.

Isa 14:17 the man who made the world a desert, who overthrew its cities and would not let his captives go home?”

Death is a great leveller, and the death of anyone who has been great in the world’s eyes gives pause for thought.

Isa 14:18 All the kings of the nations lie in state, each in his own tomb.

Isa 14:19 But you are cast out of your tomb like a rejected branch; you are covered with the slain, with those pierced by the sword, those who descend to the stones of the pit. Like a corpse trampled underfoot,

‘We know from the Egyptian pyramids and other royal tombs how much stress was put on proper burial in the Fertile Crescent in OT times. How horrifying to a great king of Babylon and to his contemporaries would be the prospect of his lying out in the open, unburied, his royal body indistinguishable from those of his soldiers, to be thrown into a common burial pit! What is the cause of such a fate? The great king—like Napoleon, Hitler, and many others—led many of his people into death on the battlefield to gratify his lust for power. God therefore makes the punishment fit the crime.’ (EBC)

Isa 14:20 you will not join them in burial, for you have destroyed your land and killed your people. The offspring of the wicked will never be mentioned again.

Isa 14:21 Prepare a place to slaughter his sons for the sins of their forefathers; they are not to rise to inherit the land and cover the earth with their cities.

‘The principle of group solidarity in punishment is seen throughout the OT (cf. Ex 20:5–6; Num 16:31–35; Jos 7:24–26). The reference to the conqueror covering the earth with cities (v.21) is perhaps a reminder of Gen 10:8–11, possibly implying that this Babylonian dynasty was following the ways of its great predecessor, Nimrod. Many rulers have sought to perpetuate their names through great city-building enterprises (cf. also Gen 11:4). No throne, no tomb, no progeny, no cities—in all these ways the Lord abases those who seek self-exaltation.’ (EBC)

‘This is the end of the pride that says it will sit on the throne of God: absolute and complete destruction.’ (Oswalt)

Isa 14:22 “I will rise up against them,” declares the LORD Almighty. “I will cut off from Babylon her name and survivors, her offspring and descendants,” declares the LORD.

Isa 14:23 “I will turn her into a place for owls and into swampland; I will sweep her with the broom of destruction,” declares the LORD Almighty.

“I will turn her into a place for owls and into swampland” – ‘The king of Babylon’s sin would bring destruction, not only to his people, but also to his land. He wanted to possess the earth, but in fact the very reverse would take place; for his own land would be possessed—not even by human beings, but by owls—and it would be covered with pools of stagnant water.’ (EBC)

“I will sweep her with the broom of destruction” – ‘The analogy the passage closes with has an eloquence all its own. The reader can almost hear the woman of the house breathing a sigh of relief as she sweeps the rubbish out her door, knowing that her house is at last clean and fit for human habitation. Rubbish fit only for the broom of judgment—this was God’s verdict on mighty Babylon!’

A prophecy against Assyria, 24-32

Isa 14:24 The LORD Almighty has sworn, “Surely, as I have planned, so it will be, and as I have purposed, so it will stand.

Isa 14:25 I will crush the Assyrian in my land; on my mountains I will trample him down. His yoke will be taken from my people, and his burden removed from their shoulders.”

Isa 14:26 This is the plan determined for the whole world; this is the hand stretched out over all nations.

Isa 14:27 For the LORD Almighty has purposed, and who can thwart him? His hand is stretched out, and who can turn it back?

Isa 14:28 This oracle came in the year King Ahaz died:

Isa 14:29 Do not rejoice, all you Philistines, that the rod that struck you is broken; from the root of that snake will spring up a viper, its fruit will be a darting, venomous serpent.

Isa 14:30 The poorest of the poor will find pasture, and the needy will lie down in safety. But your root I will destroy by famine; it will slay your survivors.

Isa 14:31 Wail, O gate! Howl, O city! Melt away, all you Philistines! A cloud of smoke comes from the north, and there is not a straggler in its ranks.

Isa 14:32 What answer shall be given to the envoys of that nation? “The LORD has established Zion, and in her his afflicted people will find refuge.”

‘Ahaz the pro-Assyrian is dead; Assyria is in difficulties (29a); now a Philistine mission (32a) arrives in Zion to propose a rebellion—an idea always after Hezekiah’s heart…It was as sharp a test of obedience for Hezekiah as was that of ch. 7 for Ahaz; and the Philistines were formidable people to offend (cf. 2 Ch. 28:18–19) at this time.  God’s reply is threefold. First, there is worse yet to come from Assyria (29); secondly, Philistia is a doomed people (30b–31); thirdly, true welfare is only in the Lord (30a, 32). It is the constant message of Isaiah: trust, not intrigue.’ (NBC)

In recent times, suggests Oswalt, ‘The king of Babylon’ could not be better represented than in the two greatest murderers of all time – Stalin and Hitler.  Each in his pride hoped to build a world-wide empire, and each was prepared to destroy anyone who got in the way of his perverse vision.  The world’s oppressed rightly breathed a sigh of relief when each of these monsters died.  The ignominious death of Hitler, in particular, has startling parallels with Isa 14:16-20.  Each of these tyrants was influenced by the philosophy of Nietzsche, who despised Christianity because it robbed males of their native aggression.