Below are different English Bible translations of Isaiah 14:5-6. Verse 5 is included for context.


5The LORD hath broken the staff of the wicked, and the sceptre of the rulers. 6He who smote the people in wrath with a continual stroke, he that ruled the nations in anger, is persecuted, and none hindereth.


5The LORD has broken the staff of the wicked, The scepter of the rulers;

6He who struck the people in wrath with a continual stroke, He who ruled the nations in anger, Is persecuted and no one hinders.


5The LORD has broken the staff of the wicked, the scepter of rulers,

6that smote the peoples in wrath with a continual stroke, that ruled the nations in anger, with a persecution that none restrained.


5"The LORD has broken the staff of the wicked, The scepter of rulers

6Which used to strike the peoples in fury with unceasing strokes, Which subdued the nations in anger with unrestrained persecution.


5For the Lord has crushed your wicked power and broken your evil rule.

6You struck the people with endless blows of rage and held the nations in your angry grip with unrelenting tyranny.

In the KJV and NKJV translations, it appears as if the oppressor (the King of Babylon) is the one who is persecuted due to the phrase "is persecuted". It can't be referring to the "nations" because the verb "to be" appears in the singular form, which can only refer to the oppressor (referred to as "he"). Gill's Exposition, and several other commentaries also seem to agree.

However, all the other translations seem to indicate that the oppressor is the one doing the persecution. The ambiguity in phrasing may open the slight possibility for the ESV and NASB translations to agree with the KJV/NKJV interpretation, but the NLT translation unambiguously disagrees with the KJV/NKJV interpretation.

What's the correct interpretation of Isaiah 14:6, and how did these differences in translations come about?

  • Best case maybe it could be said to have been implied, given the related theme of 'judgment without restraint'(e.g Isa 5:25,9:12;17;21,10:4), though it does seem to have been conformed to the next verse.The original KJV was not always so literal in every place however(e.g. Psalms 69:32).
    – user21676
    Nov 18, 2019 at 9:17

3 Answers 3


The MT for Isaiah 14:6 is

מַכֶּה עַמִּים בְּעֶבְרָה מַכַּת בִּלְתִּי סָרָה רֹדֶה בָאַף גּוֹיִם מֻרְדָּף בְּלִי חָשָׂךְ

The translations cited by the OP differ in the interpretation of the word מֻרְדָּף, "is persecuted", with respect to the MT diacritics.

The KJV and derivative translations accept the MT diacritics, as is, and generally translate according to the Jewish tradition as brought down by RASHI. The other translations are more willing to translate against the MT diacritics if there is an apparent problem understanding the text according to the MT diacritics. That is, other translations are more willing to suggest that in some instances the MT diacritics are incorrect.

In this instance, the other translations cited by the OP translate as if the diacritics were מֵרֹדֵף, "more than any unrestrained persecutor". This small "fix" preserves the Biblical parallelism of the verse without changing the consonantal text and gives a more understandable reading than the passive "is persecuted" implied by the MT diacritics, as if there were some reason to pity the Babylonian king.

In addition to preserving the parallelism and being more readable, the alternate diacritics give a more alliterative reading, in transcription

Maka amim b'evra bilti sara; rodeh b'af joyim mey rodef b'li hasakh

As an aside, note the multiple balanced alliterations in this verse, besides rodeh, rodef

The Hebrew letter mem alliteration:

Maka amim b'evra bilti sara; rodeh b'af joyim mey rodef b'lh hasakh

and the Hebrew letter bey (bet) alliteration:

Maka amim b'evra bilti sara; rodeh b'af joyim mey rodef b'lh hasakh

where the b'evra bilti of the first half of the verse corresponds to the b'af ... b'li of the second half, providing a lam alliteration as well, and a partial alliteration of the Hebrew letters ayin and alef in the words b'evra and b'af.

The MT consonantal text for this verse is identical to the Great Isaiah Scroll found at Qumran, which is not pointalized. So as usual, YMMV, and you have to decide for yourself, or find outside evidence as to which reading is "correct".


First, please understand that the NLT is not a word for word translation but is built on the principles of dynamic equivalence as explained in the preface of the NLT . Various translational problems are well known among scholars and pastors to result from dynamic equivalence and these translations are seldom used for doctrinal study. The fundamental issue is addressed in the Chicago Statement On biblical Innerancy, which is in the Archives at the Dallas Theological Seminary. Article 10 states, "We affirm that inspiration, strictly speaking, applies only to the autographic text of Scripture, which in the providence of God can be ascertained from available manuscripts with great accuracy. We further affirm that copies and translations of Scripture are the Word of God to the extent that they faithfully represent the original."

Leaving the NLT aside as an inadequate authority still leaves us with the question, To what or whom and from whom is the persecution of verse 6 referring.

Several commentators (Ellicott, Cambridge, etc.) hold that antecedent is the King of Babylon and that the persecution (or smiting) refers to that done to the nations by this King. In this rendering, the entirety of verse 6 is really a parenthetical description of the oppressive king, interrupting the flow from verse 5 to 7, and not a subject/verb sentence in and of itself. Nothing here takes away from the fact that God has judged Babylon (verse 5) and the people are at rest and rejoice (verse 7).

Others commentators (Barnes, Spurgeon, etc.) also see the antecedent as the King of Babylon. He is the subject of a mocking lament to be taken up by the now delivered people of God. God has broken the scepter (symbol of power) and he who unrelentingly smote the people in wrath is now unrelentingly smitten. Here again God has judged Babylon (verse 5) and the people are at rest (verse 7). Sandwiched in between and in keeping with the testimony of Scripture, is an illustration of God's justice: The one who smote without hindrance is himself smitten unrelentingly. This is mirrored in Galatians 6:7 and also in Israel's 70 year captivity in Babylon which was the Sabbath rest that the land was due from 490 years of disobedience. 2 Chronicles 36:21

The English words, is and with, preceding persecution do not appear in the Masoretic Text. The LXX attributes both the persecution and the rest of verse 7 to God who has brought the King of Babylon low and now rests his judgement.

Is or with are added by translators into English as these are needed to form cohesive sentences in the language. Choosing one over the other appears to depend upon fine grammatical points of Hebrew wrestled with in academic circles. The salient point is that neither variation takes away from the larger context of the taunting lament commanded in verses 3-4, which is that God has broken the power and authority of the unrelenting Babylonian King with a commensurate unrelenting judgement and the people and land rejoice.


A Dirge Parody
Benjamin D. Sommer notes Isaiah 14 is written in qinah meter typical of a dirge or lamentation:

14.1-23: A mock lament concerning Israel's oppressors The poem in vv. 4b-21 describes the ignominious death of an Assyrian monarch of Isaiah's time, probably Sargon II, who was killed in battle in 705. It was later reinterpreted as predicting the death of a Babylonian monarch...4a-23: Each Heb. line in this poem divides into two halves, the first with three main beats, the second with two. this meter, often called qinah (dirge) meter, is typical of dirges (such as 1.21-27 and the poems in the book of Lamentations); it also occurs, as here, in mock laments (another such mock is found in Isa. ch 47).1

In her paper, Gale A. Yee goes further and compares Isaiah 14 to David's lament for Saul and Jonathan (2 Samuel 1:19-27) and concludes Isaiah “deliberately parodied the solemn dirge form...in order to ridicule the tyrant and foretell his ignominious defeat.”2 The form of the dirge is made up of 5 strophes: Strophe I: vv 4b-8; Strophe II: vv 9-11; Strophe III: vv 12-15; Strophe IV: vv 16-19; Strophe V: vv 20-21.3 Thus, the verse in question should be placed in context of Strophe I:

Strophe I:
4ayou shall recite this song of scorn over the king of Babylon:4bHow is the taskmaster vanished, How is oppression ended! 5The LORD has broken the staff of the wicked, The rod of tyrants, 6That smote peoples in wrath with stroke unceasing, That belabored nations in fury In relentless pursuit. 7All the earth is calm, untroubled; Loudly it cheers. 8Even pines rejoice at your fate, And cedars of Lebanon: “Now that you have lain down, None shall come up to fell us.” (NJPS)

Verse 6 begins with מַכֶּ֤ה which the NJPS renders as "that" not "he." The NET takes a similar approach and gives an explanatory note:

It [9] furiously struck down nations with unceasing blows. It angrily ruled over nations, oppressing them without restraint. (NET2)

9 tn Or perhaps, “he” (cf. KJV; NCV “the king of Babylon”). The present translation understands the referent of the pronoun (“it”) to be the “club/scepter” of the preceding line.

The decision to use "it" or "that" rather than "he" refers back to the preceding text:

The LORD (singular) has broken the staff (singular) of the wicked (plural), The rod (singular) of tyrants (plural) (14:5)
שָׁבַר יְהוָה מַטֵּה רְשָׁעִים שֵׁבֶט מֹשְׁלִֽים

Tyrants is plural where מַכֶּ֤ה ("it/he") is singular. If rendered as "he," it more accurately would be seen as referring to the LORD not the tyrants. That is how the LXX translator conveyed the passage:

The Lord has broken the yoke of sinners, the yoke of princes. Having smitten a nation in wrath, with an incurable plague, smiting a nation with a wrathful plague, which spared not, he rested in quiet. (Isaiah 14:5-6 LXX)

If it is "he," then it is the LORD who acted. In other words, translations like the King James which render "he" but attribute actions to the tyrant do not follow the logic of the text.

The Scepter of Tyrants
When rendered as "it" מַכֶּ֤ה refers to the instrument which passes from one ruler to the next:

In Isa 14:5-6, it is not a question of weapons but of the staff and scepter, symbols of a ruler’s power and dominion. However, in the case of our tyrant they represent metonymically his abuse of power and his oppression…The second way in which the poet parodies the dirge form in describing the tyrant’s life is through the participial and appositional style of these verses. In true hymnic laments, this style is meant to praise the individual. Here, however, this style functions as a bitter accusation against the person: the tyrant’s scepter “had struck the people in rage, blows without ceasing, had governed the nations in anger, persecution without respite.”4

The dirge is addressed to Babylonian tyrant, but it aptly describes the earlier Assyrian ruler. Yet there is one scepter which passes from one ruler to the next which "struck the people in rage, blows without ceasing, had governed the nations in anger, persecution without respite."

1. Benjamin D. Sommer, The Jewish Study Bible, Oxford University Press, 2004, p. 812
2. Gale A. Yee, Anatomy of Biblical Parody: The Dirge Form in 2 Samuel 1 and Isaiah 14, Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 50, 1988, p. 565
3. Ibid., p. 574
4. Ibid., p. 576

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.