According to Christian tradition, Satan has a backstory: The devil was once the most beautiful angel in heaven but this angelic being, then called Lucifer, rebelled against God and was cast down to hell. In part, this tradition comes from a particular interpretation of Isaiah 14:12-15. The text describes someone who, in Isaiah’s original Hebrew, is called Helel ben Shachar (הילל בן שׁחר)–variously translated as “Day/Morning Star, son of Dawn/Morning” (14:12). In the Latin Vulgate, the Hebrew “Helel” becomes Lucifer. Yet, while Isaiah taunts someone who equates himself with God and suffers the consequences, the prophet does not disclose the origin of evil. Instead, Isaiah 14 refers to the king of Babylon, and “Satan” appears nowhere in the passage. Thus, if we ground our theological understanding on Scripture alone, then we have no reason to posit an angelic prehistory for Satan based on Isaiah.

Isaiah addresses Helel ben Shachar, saying, “How you are fallen from heaven…. You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high…. I will make myself like the Most High’” (14:12-14). Responding to Helel’s hubris, Isaiah tells him, “You are brought down to Sheol, to the far reaches of the pit” (14:15). Taken out of context, Isaiah’s taunt can certainly be made to refer to an angel who rebelled in heaven and ended up in hell; hence, the start of Satan’s antipathy toward God and humanity. Yet, immediately before the above verses, Isaiah tells Israel that after their exile ends they will “take up this taunt against the king of Babylon (מלך בבל; melekh bavel)” (14:4). The prophet addresses an earthly king, not a rogue angel in heaven.

Those who see Shachar as Satan might object that the text should be understood in both ways: while Isaiah does address a human king, there is a spiritual reality beyond the earthly focus. However, this interpretive assumption can only be speculative since the Bible itself provides no textual data that would lead us to associate the story with Satan. Interestingly, Isaiah 14:12-15 may be an Israelite reworking of an Ugaritic tale called the Baal-Athtar myth, in which a divine underling is punished for attempting to dethrone the reigning Canaanite deity. While parallels exist between this ancient narrative and Isaiah, neither text mentions “Satan” (שׂטן). More, while Isaiah may sound something like an Ancient Near Eastern myth about polytheistic conflict, the Hebrew prophet repurposes the story to speak of Babylon’s monarch; that is, Isaiah humanizes the story and applies it to a Gentile king.

Finally, Isaiah’s text does not affirm the traditional story of Satan’s fall from heaven. According to popular tradition, Lucifer begins in heaven and is cast down; in Isaiah, “Lucifer” says, “I will ascend [to] heaven (השׁמים אעלה; hashamayim e’eleh)” (14:13). In Scripture, the arrogant individual begins on earth—fitting for an earthly king—and resolves to work his own way to God in heaven. More, Isaiah’s king is “brought down to Sheol (שׁאול)” (14:15)—not to “hell” (גהינם; gehinnom)—which means he dies: “Your pomp has brought you down to Sheol… the maggot is laid as a bed beneath you, and the worm is your covering” (14:11). The “maggot” (רמה; rimah) and “worm” (תולעה; toleah) are biblical metaphors for death and decay (e.g., Isa 41:14; Job 17:14; 21:26; 24:20; cf. Isa 66:24). Isaiah chastises a mortal king whose fate is in the ground, not a supernatural usurper who now reigns unrepentantly in hell. Though the Bible mentions “Satan” outside of Isaiah 14, it does not provide narrative insight into his origins; Scripture is concerned, not with Satan’s past, but with the present and future sovereignty of God.

BEGIN YOUR JOURNEY OF DISCOVERY

68 COMMENTS

  1. You are 100% correct, Isaiah 14 has nothing to do with some fallen angel but everything to do with Nebuchadnezzar. A simple reading of Daniel 4 will give the background. Even the tree (or the king’s greatness) reaching to heaven mirrors the idea of ascending to heaven.

  2. I’m glad to see someone else asking this question and providing a scriptural answer. It seems that many people fail to notice the details of the exchange–including that there are already men in ‘Sheol’ when the king of Babylon is cast down to ‘Sheol’.

  3. TY, professor, for this analysis. It may be speculation to term Helal also as Lucifer. Yet pls. compare this possible analogy of an earthly king to a demonic entity by comparing the passage in Ezekiel 28:11-19 where a cherub (Satan) fell, yet is also first addressed as king of Tyrus.

    • Thanks for reading, Dennis. “Satan” doesn’t appear in Ezek 28 either. As you rightly note, the focus of the passage is the “prince of Tyre” (28:1) and the language of “cherub” (not an entity associated with Satan) should probably be taken hyperbolically (or even sarcastically). Ezek 28 ridicules the prince with hyperbole: “You are, indeed, wiser than Daniel; no secret is hidden from you” (28:3). The “cherub” title likely functions in a similar hyperbolic way. More, as in Isa 14, the prince of Tyre is called a “man” in 28:2, 9 and he dies (28:10).

  4. Thanks for that excellent explanation that I agree with completely. The word Satan in the O.T occurs only a few times ,sometimes translated as it should be , as adversary eg an adversary to Balaam, the kings that opposed Solomon. A pity the translators were not consistent.

  5. Hey my name is Johnny sound like you are saying that satan doesn’t exist. can you please explain this to me. who then is the bible speaking about in Genesis chapter 3.1 can you please give me a more clear understanding please. Thank you.

  6. This is so interesting. I never questioned the legend of Satan being cast out of heaven. I would like to study this more.

  7. What a thought provoking article! In my church these verses have always been interpreted to refer to Satan. The question now is, how did Satan and his devilish character come into being?

    • A good question, Joseph. As much as many Bible readers would like to know the answer, the text doesn’t offer one. We’re glad you enjoyed the article.

  8. I believe you have missed the mark. While the word “Satan” may not appear in the text of Isaiah ‘the context of the thought’ alongside supporting Scripture texts such as Revelation 12:3-4, 9 and Luke 10:18 reflect strongly, that Satan, not the King of Babylon is in view. Shalom

    • Patrick, the Isaian text itself says that the taunt is about the “king of Babylon” (14:4), so to argue that it’s not is to favor tradition over text. In context, Lk 10:18 is not referring to a prehistoric fall of a pre-satanic angel, but rather to the 72 apostles’ current work against demonic forces (see 10:17-20). Satan can move from earth to heaven (cf. Job 1:6-7; 2:1-2), and Jesus tells the apostles that their authority over evil caused Satan to fall from heaven. On Rev 12, see https://weekly.israelbiblecenter.com/which-serpent-is-satan/

      • Dr Nick.,
        Please let me begin with a question.
        Do you believe there in hell?

        Truly Isaiah 14: 12 – 15, tell the story of Satan. It is actually the story of God’s plan for the total destruction of Satanic power and activities, on earth and the entire universe.

    • Thanks for your question, and for studying with us, Colin. Revelation 20:2 is part of John’s vision of the future — the time just before God’s kingdom arrives on earth (see Rev 21). The vision does not recount the past, and therefore cannot be used as evidence for Satan’s traditional backstory.

    • Thanks for your question, Rufus. There’s no biblical evidence for Satan’s “fall” in the traditional sense; there’s no reason to think that Satan was ever barred from heaven since he continues to appear in heaven at various times (cf. Job 1:6-7; 2:1-2; Rev 12:7). Jesus says that he “saw Satan fall from heaven” (Lk 10:18), but this is in the context of the apostles’ work against demonic forces (see 10:17-20), not about a fall before creation.

  9. Wow, great insight Dr. Schaser! It is hard to argue with biblical facts. Traditions, interpretations, imagination, all have to be subject to the actual text upon which we claim to build our understanding of the world.

  10. So there’s no connection between Isaiah’s “Lucifer the morning star” and the book of Revelation’s 22:16 Jesus quote about being the Bright Morning Star ? And is it a coincidence that Helel Ben Shahar in the book of Lucifer basically says the same thing as Jesus in Rev. 22:16 ?

    • Justin, the above article doesn’t make any arguments pertaining to Rev 22:16. We can certainly address that verse, and its relationship to Isaiah 14, in a future article.

      • No but this article makes allusion to Isaiah’s mention of Helel Ben Shahar who legend has it was the author of “the book of Lucifer” in which he says many of the same words, quotes, prophecies and parables as Jesus including rev22:16

        • The so-called “book of Lucifer” (which I had never heard of) is a modern creation–not an ancient legend–and it has no bearing on Isaiah or Revelation.

  11. It shows similarities to the one that Paul calls the “Son of Perdition” and “The man of sin” who sets himself up in the temple as though he was God, claiming to be God.

  12. Interesting take. However if to the ancient Hebraic mind time, and therefore all history is plotted on a spiral, then events in both the heavens (שׁמים shamayim) and on earth both parallel and repeat. And in fact, Revelation was written to encourage Jews in the diaspora in Asia-Minior who were undergoing hardship and persecution. It was referring to Nero as the Anti-Christ. What will happen in the end times will parallel their plight, but be much worse. Also, as שׁמים shamayim is plural, could not Helel ben Shachar been saying he would reach a higher heavenly plain? This would mean Isaiah 14:12-15 could apply to both ha’satan and to melech bavel.

    • Thanks for these judicious comments, Daniel. Agreed on the Bible’s “spiral history” and Nero as the anti-Christ in Revelation. In order to posit that the king of Babylon is “re-running” an earlier story about Satan, we need to map Isaiah 14 onto a preconceived story that we have inherited from post-biblical interpretive tradition (not from Scripture itself). More, if melekh bavel recapitulates Satan, then Satan should have died (cf. Isa 14:11, 19-20), not continued to exist in “hell” per the tradition. Here’s the question: If we hadn’t heard the traditional interpretation of Isaiah 14 before reading it, would we conclude that the passage refers to Satan purely based on the textual data? Often, we allow tradition to be the rudder of our theological ship, rather than Scripture.

      • Thank you for the thoughtful reply. I was actually more playing “devils advocate,” as you make a very good case for this view. I enjoy reading these short teachings; and most of these comments as well as the original post on this one are going in my notes. Good article, and good discussion! Todah!

        • Thank you for your interaction with the article, Daniel. Again, your comments were very astute (even if you were playing a bit of ‘devil’s advocate’). We’re pleased to have you as a student at IBC.

        • We are very happy that you’ve joined our discussion forum. Would you believe that these articles are only a taste of what Israel Bible Center has to offer? We also provide comprehensive teaching on a variety of biblical, historical, and cultural topics. You might begin with The Jewish Gospel of Matthew or The Hebrew Psalms: How To Worship God. You’ll be amazed at the Jewish world that awaits you. Don’t delay another minute: enroll now!

  13. Thank you professor. I would like to note, however, that Satan did fall from heaven and was hurled and forced down to the earth and his angels with him (Luke 10:18; Rev. 12:7-10). This is why many see a parallel with Isaiah 14 passage. I agree it’s just an inference

    • Thanks for your comments, Paul. In context, Lk 10:18 doesn’t refer to a prehistoric fall of a pre-satanic angel, but rather to the 72 apostles’ current work against demonic forces (see 10:17-20). Satan can move from earth to heaven (cf. Job 1:6-7; 2:1-2), and Jesus tells the apostles that their authority over evil caused Satan to fall from heaven. On Rev 12, see https://weekly.israelbiblecenter.com/which-serpent-is-satan/

  14. Dear Dr. Schaser, I have a question about the pharaohs, since they worshiped many gods would they be considered a part of Satan and his demons? I actually looked this up on my phone, instead of getting any rational answer the website claims that Moses never lived.

    • Thanks for your question, Maggie. The pharaohs did worship many gods (the gods of Egypt), but there’s no biblical data linking them with Satan. According to Scripture, a multiplicity of gods exist (these gods are called “demons” in Jewish Greek texts, including the New Testament), but not all of them are necessarily to be equated with Satan. For more on Scripture’s view of multiple gods, see the following IBC article: https://weekly.israelbiblecenter.com/sorting-sons-god/

    • We are very happy that you’ve joined our discussion forum. Would you believe that these articles are only a taste of what Israel Bible Center has to offer? We also provide comprehensive teaching on a variety of biblical, historical, and cultural topics. You might begin with The Jewish Gospel of Matthew or The Hebrew Psalms: How To Worship God. You’ll be amazed at the Jewish world that awaits you. Don’t delay another minute: enroll now!

  15. Helpful post. It is sometimes also helpful to point out that the Latin Vulgate calls Jesus ‘lucifer’ (“the light bearer”) in 2 Peter 1:19.

  16. Sorry, I disagree with your interpretation of Isaiah 14. Read it in conjunction with Ezekiel 28:12-17 where it’s clear that an angelic being who was the anointing cherub is referred to. That anointing cherub who was the perfectIon of beauty was Lucifer before the 5 “I wills” of Isaiah 14.

    • You’re entitled to your interpretation, but before building a complex theological edifice around Satan’s supposed backstory, it may be worth noting that Isa 14 and Ezek 28 never mention “Satan,” “hell,” “rebellion,” or “angel” (a “cherub” is not an angelic being, and it would be odd for God to have cherubim guard the way to the Tree of Life [cf. Gen 3:24] if a previous cherub had rebelled and become “Satan”). That is, we may want to ensure that tradition is not taking precedence over text.

    • We are very happy that you’ve joined our discussion forum. Would you believe that these articles are only a taste of what Israel Bible Center has to offer? We also provide comprehensive teaching on a variety of biblical, historical, and cultural topics. You might begin with The Jewish Gospel of Matthew or The Hebrew Psalms: How To Worship God. You’ll be amazed at the Jewish world that awaits you. Don’t delay another minute: enroll now!

      • Dr. Schaser, I have been taught that ‘cherub’ are a specific class of angels! Please clarify, and excuse my extensive ignorance.

        • Thanks for your question, Keoagile. The cherubim are a divine beings in God’s heavenly council, but they are not angels (malakhim). Angels are “messengers” from heaven. God uses cherubim, not as messengers, but as “muscle” (as in the case of guarding the Tree of Life [Gen 3:24]). Many other kinds of divine beings exist alongside angels and cherubim, including gods, seraphim, spirits, etc.

  17. Isaiah 14 had a double reference. While it seems as if Isaiah is addressing the earthly king, he is actually talking about the spirit king behind the earthly king. Just as the Archangel Michael is referred to in Daniel 10:13, 21 as the prince of Israel. Jesus is the King

  18. Sin originated with Satan (Lucifer) with the 5 “I wills” mentioned in Isaiah 14. When he convinced Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden to disobey God, Adam and Eve took the nature of Satan and sin entered the human race.

  19. As always, most interesting and thought provoking short teaching and follow up dialogue. That being said, the conclusion drawn from this post is that God “created” an Adversary, and demons along with him. Yet that seems to defy other scriptures such as (II Pet 2:4) (Jude 1:6). Angels sinned, chose to abdicate.

    • Thanks for reading, Edward. The article doesn’t claim that God “created” an Adversary; Scripture doesn’t provide an origin story for Satan. Your NT texts are common loci in this discussion, but they don’t actually get us any closer to the traditional backstory: 2 Peter 2:4 says that multiple angels sinned (not just one superior angel), that God sent them to “Tartarus” (not “hell”), and God “confined them to chains.” Yet the Petrine literature also says that “the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet 5:8). Thus Satan, according to Peter, is not bound in chains like the rebellious angels — 2 Pet 2:4 does not describe a primordial satanic rebellion. To the contrary, the contexts of both 2 Peter and Jude show that the angelic rebellion was the episode in Genesis 6:1-4, not a rebellion of Lucifer before the creation of the world. Thanks again for contributing to the discussion; we’re glad you found the material interesting and thought-provoking.

    • Glad you enjoyed reading. Ezek 28 is about the “prince of Tyre” (28:1, 11), but he’s not called Helel ben Shachar, which is name for the king of Babylon in Isaiah 14. Ezek 28 has also been used as a backstory for Satan, but it’s just as problematic for this purpose as is Isaiah 14.

  20. Dr. Schaser, do you think that Satan is an office or a name? In the Hebrew bible the word Satan is repeated 27 times, many of which is preceded with the h article (Job 1:7-2:6; Zech 3:1-2). According to Hebrew grammar proper names doesn’t have articles.

    • At most points in Israel’s Scriptures, “the Satan” is an office (or job description; השׂטן), rather than a proper name. However, “Satan” (שׂטן) does appear as a proper name in 1 Chron 21:1, which likely shows that by the relatively late Chronicler, Jewish thought about Satan had developed from a job description to a particular figure whose name was “Satan.”

    • Satan and the yetzer hara aren’t quite the same. Satan appears in the Hebrew Bible, while the yetzer hara is a much later, rabbinic concept. More, in the rabbinic literature itself, Satan and the yetzer hara are distinguished as separate entities.

    • We are very happy that you’ve joined our discussion forum. Would you believe that these articles are only a taste of what Israel Bible Center has to offer? We also provide comprehensive teaching on a variety of biblical, historical, and cultural topics. You might begin with The Jewish Gospel of Matthew or The Hebrew Psalms: How To Worship God. You’ll be amazed at the Jewish world that awaits you. Don’t delay another minute: enroll now!

  21. Is the fact that Helel ben Sachar refers (means) to a being of or in the sky….. light or morning…. refers al to above. Is this not a fact that could refer to a being that was above the earth?

    • Thanks for your question, Vadim. Yes, Helel ben Shachar is associated with Venus (the Morning Star), and Isaiah’s rhetoric draws on a Canaanite story of divine beings in the heavenly realm. In the Bible, however, this exultant description is applied to an earthly king. Isaiah brings the story “down to earth,” as it were.

  22. Thanks to IBC, now exists a plausible alternative explanation to the parenthetical Isaiah 14:12-15 verses traditionally taught as Satan’s backstory. Dr. Schaser’s mention of Baal-Athtar myth, unknow to most pulpit pundits, is a better fit in the narrative. Traditional Christian teachings of misguided English interpretations only serve Satan’s purpose.

  23. Oy! I feel like this article and the comments have collectively jabbed a stick into the spokes of my brain and caused it to come to a screeching halt with a resounding “Wait, WHAT?” The funny thing is … I like it when that happens 🙂 Many thanks, Dr. Schaser.

  24. Because Isaiah 14 refers to a human king, ‘the fall from heavens’ in the taunt-song refers to Neb’s pride and lust for power to ascend to the heavens, which entirely mirrors Satan’s sin. Isaiah identifies this as no allusion or metaphor. Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, had fallen!

    • Thanks for your comments, Margaret. Agreed that Isaiah 14 refers to a human king but there’s no reference to “Satan’s sin” in the Bible, so there’s no need to posit a satanic sin that mirrors that of the Babylonian king.

  25. You’re not alone: [12] How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, who didst rise in the morning? (…) [12] “O Lucifer”: O day star. All this, according to the letter, is spoken of the king of Babylon.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your name here
Words left: 50
Please enter your comment!