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Is 14:12 “How you are fallen from heaven,
O Lucifer, son of the morning!
How you are cut down to the ground,
You who weakened the nations!
13 For you have said in your heart:
‘I will ascend into heaven,
I will exalt my throne above the stars of God;
I will also sit on the mount of the congregation
On the farthest sides of the north;
14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds,
I will be like the Most High.’
15 Yet you shall be brought down to Sheol,
To the lowest depths of the Pit.

Note: "Lucifer" can also be translated "Day star"

In its context, these verses seem to refer only to the king of Babylon.

Why do some people believe that these verses are about Satan?

And, if you know: when did this interpretation arise, and to what extent has the interpretation flourished throughout Christian church history?

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King of Tyre? I thought it was about the king of Babylon (cp. Isa. 14:4: עַל־מֶלֶךְ בָּבֶל)? –  H3br3wHamm3r81 Jan 18 at 19:32
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Only Christians believe that (because only they believe that there is an individual evil being named "Satan"). –  Gone Quiet Jan 19 at 2:04
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Yeah, @GoneQuiet, sure...Jews just call him Sama'el, but still believe he is a fallen angel. Good try though. :) –  H3br3wHamm3r81 Jan 19 at 4:53
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@H3br3wHamm3r81, Jews believe the satan is an agent provocateur but is thereby doing what God commanded him to, not “fallen” or “rebellious” –  J. C. Salomon Jan 19 at 14:12
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GoneQuiet is right: My question is about a specific historical interpretation. If you want, I can change the question to "What is the historical interpretation of Jews, Christians, atheists, and sects?" to be more "religiously neutral". But I'm really curious only about the history of a specific Christian interpretation. –  Niobius Jan 19 at 16:24

5 Answers 5

up vote 16 down vote accepted

Good question - could take a book to answer! Here are some brief notes by way of a preliminary answer. The key phrase which unlocks (or veils?) identity is in v. 12:

"O Lucifer, son of the morning!"
Hebrew: הֵילֵ֣ל בֶּן־שָׁ֑חַר | hêlēl ben-šāḥar
Greek: ὁ ἑωσφόρος ὁ πρωὶ ἀνατέλλων | ho heōsphoros ho prōi anatellōn
Grk trans.: the Day Star, which used to rise early in the morning

And, important in a moment, the Latin Vulgate:

lucifer qui mane oriebaris
trans: O Lucifer, who didst rise in the morning

1. "These verses seem to refer to the king of Babylon"

Just so. Which king of Babylon has vexed commentators for centuries. Suggestions ranging from Sargon II to Alexander the Great (!) have been made. If the key term hêlēl provides a key (it was used only rarely as a royal epithet),1 the it would point to Esarhaddon (the only Babylonian or Assyrian king for whom its use is attested).

Meanwhile, this is a "taunt against the king of Babylon" (Isaiah 14:4), even if we don't know for certain which one.

2. Why do some people believe that these verses are about Satan?

This, I take it, is the main question.

The chief reason is found in the New Testament, a statement from Jesus in Luke 10:18:

And he said to them, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven."2
εἶπεν δὲ αὐτοῖς· ἐθεώρουν τὸν σατανᾶν ὡς ἀστραπὴν ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ πεσόντα.

The resonance with the first part of Isaiah 14:12 is clear, and so in many Bibles that provide cross-references, you will find this one included.

I am not aware of a tradition before Jesus that sees Satan in Isaiah 14:12, but there are several factors contributing to this:

  • the "personification" of "the satan" [הַשָּׂטָ֖ן] (= "the a/Adversary") (with an article) comes very late - it's "the satan" in Job 1-2, Zech. 3:-12 -- so not a proper name, but a title or role designation -- but finally "Satan" only in 1 Chronicles 21:1;
  • there is precious little evidence for the intepretative traditions of these texts before the time of Jesus;
  • this is one of the things that makes the Septuagint (pre-Christian Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures) so important,4 and you can see from the bit quoted above that any association of the "Day Star" (see text and translation, above) with "Satan" is absent from the Septuagint (Greek) Isaiah. Rather, it associates this "star" in a straightforward way with the "morning star" -- quite a natural translation for the Hebrew.

I will be very interested to see what other evidence people can bring to this discussion precisely at this point (update: see now the following section "On the Connection..."). There are some connections in pseudepigraphcial literature, but dating any of it is notoriously difficult, and I'm not sure what relevant material there would be prior to the New Testament.

So, it seems to make its first entry in the gospel of Luke, and with the authority of Jesus -- so that accounts for date of origin (perhaps!), and reason for its wide diffusion.

On the Origins of the Connection between Luke 10:18 & Isaiah 14:12

(This subsection was prompted by a comment by @kmote.) In the comments, attention was drawn to the Isaiah commentary by Gary V. Smith, Isaiah 1-39 (New American Commentary, 15; B & H Publishing, 2007), p. 314 n. 94. After nicely explaining the meaning of the Hebrew terms, he goes on to claim that

The Early Church Fathers Tertullian and and Gregory the Great connected the fall of Satan from heaven like lightning in Luke 10:18 with Isa 14:12, thus developing the unfounded view that 14:12 describes the fall of Satan.

This is very suggestive and helpful. Two things about it make me nervous: (i) the lumping together of Tertullian and Gregory as if they belong to the same historical horizon is odd, given they lived about four centuries apart (see links embedded in quote above); and (ii) we are given no references, sources, or citations for the claim. I might be unkind, but this looks to me as if Smith is relying on second hand evidence -- but it is a pointer worth following up all the same.

On checking the indices for the Ante-Nicene Fathers, however, I cannot turn up any discussions by either Tertullian or Gregory that substantiate Smith's claim. However, it was not a futile exercise, as it turned up three fascinating passages, two of which are directly relevant and even important for this question, and the third which is only intriguing.

The important "find" is that Origen appears to be the prime candidate to connect explicity Isaiah 14:12 and Luke 10:18. First, from De principiis (On First Principles), Bk. I.v.5 (brief citation: see link for whole passage):

Most evidently by these words is he shown to have fallen from heaven, who formerly was Lucifer, and who used to arise in the morning. For if, as some think, he was a nature of darkness, how is Lucifer said to have existed before? Or how could he arise in the morning, who had in himself nothing of the light? Nay, even the Saviour Himself teaches us, saying of the devil, “Behold, I see Satan fallen from heaven like lightning.”

This is the direct link (the smoking gun?) that joins together the two passages. The other, less explicit, passage also comes from De principiis, Bk. IV.i.22 (again, brief citation), and only offers support for the basis on which Origen could make the exegetical move:

And what is said in many places, and especially in Isaiah, of Nebu­chadnezzar, cannot be explained of that individual. For the man Nebuchadnezzar neither fell from heaven, nor was he the morning star, nor did he arise upon the earth in the morning.

And finally, the third "intriguing" suggestion is an editorial note in an anonymous work (sometimes connected with Cyprian, contemporary with Origen), "Treatise on Re-baptism", in which the ancient author briefly discusses the "Get behind me..." (Matthew 16:23) passage. The editor comments:

Isa. xiv. 12. The sin of Lucifer had, very possibly, been this of rebelling against the Incarnation and the introduction thereby of an order of beings higher than himself. Hence our Lord recognised in Peter’s words the voice of the old adversary, and called him “Satan.”...

(One would like to know where the editor was getting this idea from!)

So Origen appears to be the origin (!) of this tradition. It would still be good to know Smith's source for the suggestion that Tertullian (also roughly contemporary with Origen) and Gregory (400 years later) contributed to this tradition. But I think I've gone as far as I can with this aspect of the question.

3. ...to what extent has the interpretation flourished throughout church history?

It's worth noting at the outset that this understanding is at home in Christian interpretation, and given that the line is drawn through a saying of Jesus' in the the gospel of Luke, that shouldn't be a suprise.5

The Latin Vulgate, product of the fourth Century A.D., uses the word lucifer. Although it should probably be simply translated in its natural sense, "light bearer",3 this, at any rate, is where the name "Lucifer", as a proper name, comes from.

One would need to do a thorough search throughout the centuries of Christian intepretation to be certain of the adoption and diffusion of the idea that "Satan" is referred to in Isaiah 14:12. In Reformation period commentary, it was known and resisted. Franz Delitzsch, in his fine Isaiah commentary (1890; first German edition, 1875), quotes Luther to the effect that the tradition that Isaiah 14:12 referred to Satan was "insignis error totius papatus" = "a noteworthy error of the papacy" ... but he would say that. But Calvin, in fact, also noted and repudiated this identification in his Isaiah commentary as "arising from ignorance", and when commenting on Luke 10:18, he makes no mention of this allusion.

How widely did it eventually flourish? Very widely! In a negative sense, this can be seen also in its forceful rejection by Luther and Calvin -- they weren't rejecting an interpretation that was unknown to their readers, but one that they expected their audience to know.

What could account for this wide diffusion in a modern, popular context (such as OP has in mind)? A bit of speculation is warranted, and there is one good candidate (or culprit, depending on one's point of view): the Scofield Reference Bible (first appeared in 1909, and went through subsequent revisions). It makes the forthright claim that in Isaiah 14:12, "Lucifer, 'day-star,' can be none other that Satan". Given the massive popularity and huge influence of this work, my own guess (and it remains that!), is that this is an idea that Scofield disseminated -- or perhaps rather (since the idea was long known), validated and promoted.

One imagines Luther, Calvin, and a host of commentators through the ages, shuddering.

Summary - although the original Isaiah text is clearly aimed at some anonymous king of Babylon, Jesus uses these words to describe the defeat of darkness in the mission of the Seventy-Two in Luke 10:18. This association then was widely diffused. One hermeneutical issue arising is the nature of the relationship between the "original" text and its subsequent use and application. But my hunch is that this is a question for another day and another thread.


NOTES

  1. According to M.-J. Seux, Epithetes Royale Akkadiennes et Sumeriennes (Paris, 1967), p. 80.
  2. That's ESV (and RSV, etc.). A better translation might be: "I was watching Satan fall from heaven...", since the Greek verb here is imperfect. The nuance would be that as the Seventy-Two were out on their mission, their kingdom activities were defeating Satan -- and Jesus was watching. But that might be too much to read into the tense of the Greek verb.
  3. Follow the link to get "clickable" Latin text: clicking on "lucifer" will get an authoritative lexicon entry.
  4. That is, the Septuagint is one of our major witnesses to an understanding of the Hebrew scriptures in the pre-Christian era -- since all "translation" involves, in some measure, "interpretation" as well.
  5. It is interesting, nonetheless, to see how this verse is handled by the Jewish commentators. Fortunately, with a superb online resource in Hebrew and English, Rashi can be readily checked. He associates the "morning star" with Venus, which is the expected understanding of this phrase, shared also by the Septuagint and much later Latin Vulgate. Other commentators represented in the Miqra'ot Gedolot likewise treat this phrase with reference to the "star of the morning", i.e., Venus. N.b. the understanding of the figure of "satan" developed in Jewish tradition differently to Christianity.
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Please clarify: “this is one of the things that makes the Septuagint so important, and you can see from the bit quoted above that this is absent from the Greek Isaiah.” — just what is “absent from the Greek Isaiah”? –  J. C. Salomon Jan 19 at 14:15
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Well-researched and concise. Thanks! –  Niobius Jan 19 at 20:30
    
@J.C.Salomon : updated to address your question. If that doesn't clarify, perhaps take the query offline (somehow!). // Niobius : Thanks - it's a fascinating question. It really does need book-length treatment to answer fully! Update added some further content and suggestions, especially in the final section of the answer. –  Davïd Jan 19 at 22:47
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I might also note that according to Smith (pg 314, n.94), it was Tertullian and Gregory the Great that first introduced the connection between Lk 10:18 and Isa 14:12. –  kmote Jan 20 at 19:27
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@kmote : great find from Smith, although it's cost me a fair bit of time this evening. :) I'm about to add a section on "origins" to Part 2, and it's all your fault. As for the Rev 12:8-9 cross-reference, it's a good one, but not (I think) directly pertinent for illuminating interpretation of Isaiah 14. Note, in Rev 12, the presence of Michael, and the absence of any astral/lightning imagery. I'm not aware of it being associated with Isa 14, but it is often connected to the heavenly battles in Daniel. I could be missing something, but I'll leave that one for you to develop. :) –  Davïd Jan 20 at 21:26

Source: Lucifer. (2013). Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th Edition, 1.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia suggests:

Some early Christian writers found a parallel in the Gospel of St. Luke, where Jesus refers to Satan falling like lightning from heaven. On this basis they identified Isaiah's "Day Star" with Satan and concluded that there was scriptural authority for designating him "light-bearer." In antiquity Lucifer was also the name given Venus as the morning star.

The entry is terse and does not really identify the early Christian writers exactly.

Source: Luke 10:18 New International Version

He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven."

The quote is from Jesus, the person whom his disciples call "Lord".

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The verse in question has an interesting parallel to Psalm 48:1-2, where the Hebrew phrase found in Isaiah (בְּיַרְכְּתֵ יצָפֹון) occurs in the Psalm (יַרְכְּתֵי צָפֹון) and therefore draws our attention to both passages.

Isaiah 14:13 (NASB)
13 “But you said in your heart,
‘I will ascend to heaven;
I will raise my throne above the stars of God,
And I will sit on the mount of assembly
In the recesses of the north.

Psalm 48:1-2 (NASB)
1 Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised,
In the city of our God, His holy mountain.
2 Beautiful in elevation, the joy of the whole earth,
Is Mount Zion in the far north,
The city of the great King.

The "in the far north" in this particular Psalm (יַרְכְּתֵי צָפֹון) is not in reference to some pagan land somewhere north in the Fertile Crescent, but directly above ("north") in heaven.

Therefore the holy mount was Zion, which was the abode of the Lord. This abode was not only on earth, but also included the abode of the Lord ("north") in heaven. The throne of the Lord is in heaven, but he dwelt in his temple on earth (please see Ps 11:4 and Ps 103:19).

To wrap the ideas together, the nefarious character in Isaiah 14:13 intends to ascend the Zion of heaven, which is the throne of the Lord. The assembly of stars mentioned in Isaiah 14:13 also appear to be parallel to the assembly of the "sons of God" in Job 1:6 and Job 2:1, because in Job 38:7, the "sons of God" and the "stars of God" are synonymous. We infer this conclusion because the preceding verses (Job 38:5-6) are comprised of synonymous doublets.

In other words, "the mount of assembly" where the "stars of God" appear in Isaiah 14:13 is the same convocation of the "stars of God," which are the "sons of God" that appear before the throne of the Lord in Job 1:6 and Job 2:1 -- that is, heavenly Zion, the mount of assembly.

Finally, the character "Satan" in the Hebrew Bible is reprimanded by the Lord twice (Zech 3:1-2), and thus Satan was not an obedient heavenly being (otherwise the Lord would not have reprimanded him). By the process of exclusion from what is revealed in the Hebrew Bible, the character who attempted to raise himself to the throne of heaven was not only the king of Babylon (in the figurative sense), but was Satan (in the literal sense).

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Good answer. I think I'm with you in this regard. "One interpretation, many applications" is my mantra. Perhaps the primary interpretation does NOT involve the satan. Might the attitudes and actions of the Babylonian potentate, however, imitate those of the satan, whom few will disagree was kicked out of heaven for his chutzpah and over weening pride? I think so. –  rhetorician Jan 20 at 22:17
    
@rhetorician - one comment: There is a paradox in this passage. The "figurative" interpretation concerns the literal king of Babylon, who assumes the rights of heaven as a mortal man on earth... but the literal interpretation concerns the "spiritual" being Satan, who was in heaven. In other words, what is figurative in the Hebrew Bible does not necessarily mean or imply "spiritual" (but in fact the opposite, what is literal). –  Joseph Jan 24 at 13:40
    
Good point. I enjoy a good paradox. Why just the other day I was talking to oncologist Jim Murray and obstetrician Sally Fortune. A great paradox. –  rhetorician Jan 24 at 15:22

While not wanting to detract from @Davïd's terrific answer, I thought I would point out a few other linguistic connections that add some food for thought:

Rev 12:8-9 is often mentioned in conjunction with Lk 10:18 due to the semantic similarities they share with Isa 14. While not containing any astral/lightning imagery (as Davïd noted), all three passages share the judgement motif of ejection from heaven (του οὐρανῷ); Rev 12 adds the detail (along with Isaiah) of being cast/thrown "to the earth" (εἰς τὴν γῆν). This connection may not be entirely convincing exegetically, but it does help explain the OP's original question regarding why Isaiah 14 is associated with Satan: Taken together (whether originally intended by the authors or not), these three passages do indeed paint a vivid image of a Heavenly tongue-wagger getting expelled from his lofty "throne".

One other interesting linguistic echo I just noticed is in Rom 16:20 ("God... will soon crush Satan underneath your feet..."), where "crush" (συντρίψει) is the same word used in Isaiah (in the LXX; 14:12) translated "you are cut down to the ground" (συνετρίβης). Again, I'm not sure how persuasive this is, but it is an interesting parallel.

(Personally, I'd love to read an analysis by Davïd's of Ezekiel 28:13-15 in this context, but I'd say I've already tied up enough of his evening!)

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I tend to agree with Joseph, where in Isaiah, it refers to O star of the morning, son of the dawn!" this is a direct reference to the Lucifer. If we consider the the following scripture in verse 13 and 14, we see the fall of satan, in his desire to elevate himself to the most high.

Now, in comparison with that and the "stars" of God, we see this as a clear representation of the angels.

Compare with Job 38:4-7 (NASB) 4 "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding, 5 Who set its measurements? Since you know. Or who stretched the line on it? 6 "On what were its bases sunk? Or who laid its cornerstone, 7 When the morning stars sang together And all the sons of God shouted for joy?

Here, we see the "morning stars sang together", at a time of pre-creation of man. I think that when taken into context, with Ezekiel, who is referenced as the "King of Tyre" we see the splendor of satan in his original creation.

Now, we know for certain that Ezekiel 28:12 - 19 is clearly not literally the king of Tyre. This is further evidenced by the following: 1. seal of perfection, full of wisdom, perfect in beauty: After the fall of man, there is one who is perfect, which is the Lord, through immaculate conception.

  1. You were in Eden, the garden of God: Three were in the garden, Adam, Eve and satan.

  2. Anointed Cherub: Angelic being

  3. Not to mention the further "superhuman" descriptions of the king of Tyre.

Without going into great detail, the "morning star" was the star that outshined in splendor all other stars. Satan, in original creation, was the shinning of the angelic creatures and the guardian of the throne of God.

Looking at the brilliance in original creation that Satan possessed, we see that he was the brightest of the stars, and thus the O star of the morning.

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