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.

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70 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.
    • Israel Bible Center equips you with the tools you need to enter into the Jewish world of Scripture. We provide first-rate teaching, and the opportunity to learn from some of the world’s top scholars. As a student, you will be able to interact personally with our teaching faculty, and gain access to hundreds of hours of Bible courses, including The Jewish Gospel of Matthew and The Hebrew Psalms: How To Worship God. Become a part of the community of teachers and students at Israel Bible Center today!
  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.
    • Thanks for reading, Johnny. The article does not claim that Satan doesn't exist, but rather that Satan is not the subject of Isaiah 14. Satan appears several times in Israel's Scriptures (cf. Job 1-2; Zech 3; 1 Chron 21), and much more often in the New Testament, but not in Isaiah. On Genesis 3, see the following IBC article: https://weekly.israelbiblecenter.com/snake-garden-serpent-satan/
    • Israel Bible Center equips you with the tools you need to enter into the Jewish world of Scripture. We provide first-rate teaching, and the opportunity to learn from some of the world’s top scholars. As a student, you will be able to interact personally with our teaching faculty, and gain access to hundreds of hours of Bible courses, including The Jewish Gospel of Matthew and The Hebrew Psalms: How To Worship God. Become a part of the community of teachers and students at Israel Bible Center today!
  6. This is so interesting. I never questioned the legend of Satan being cast out of heaven. I would like to study this more.
    • Thanks for reading and studying with us, Elizabeth. For more in-depth study, Michael Heiser has done some interesting work on Isaiah 14. For our interview with him, see this link: https://israelbiblecenter.com/roundtable-talks/unseen-realm-bible/
  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/

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