(Isa. 14:12-14) Does this passage describe Satan or someone else?

CLAIM: Some interpreters claim that this passage refers to Satan. They point out that this passage refers to “Lucifer” who has “fallen from heaven” (Isa. 14:12 NKJV). He said, “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God… I will make myself like the Most High” (vv.13-14). Does this passage describe Satan?

RESPONSE: There are a number of reasons for not interpreting this passage to refer to Satan:

First, the title “Lucifer” comes from this passage—not from any other passage in the Bible. The Hebrew term here means “bringing light,” which the Latin Vulgate translated “Lucifer” (from the term “luciferous”). While interpreters often say, “This passage calls the person Lucifer! How much more evidence do you need to prove that this is about Satan?!” But this is circular reasoning! Since the name “Lucifer” comes from this passage, we need to determine if this passage is even talking about Satan first. Otherwise, this would just be an example of church culture (who calls Satan “Lucifer”) unduly influencing our reading of the passage. We first need to determine if this passage is describing Satan before we can see if this title refers to him.

Second, the context refers to the king of Babylon—not Satan. The broader context refers to the king of Babylon—not Satan (v.4). If the text says that this is about the king of Babylon, we should assume this literal reading, unless we have reason to understand it otherwise.

Third, the genre of this passage is a “taunt” (v.4). Not everything in a taunt is meant to be taken literally. A basketball team might say, “We’re going to stomp this team tonight!” Of course, this isn’t meant to mean that they will literally trample (or even kill!) the other team, but rather, that they are going to beat the team in the sport. Ancient kings demanded to be worshipped as deities. For example, Nebuchadnezzar (the king of Babylon during Daniel’s time) demanded worship of himself. Thus it isn’t that unbelievable for him to say, “I will raise my throne above the most high” (v.13). While verse 12 refer to him falling from heaven, this refers to the king’s claim to ascend to heaven. This didn’t actually happen, but was claimed to have happened. Note: the king said this “in [his] heart” (v.13). It didn’t actually occur in reality.

Fourth, the language sounds like a human being—not a spiritual being. What would physical maggots be able to do to a spiritual being—like a fallen angel (v.11)? Moreover, this figure is also called a “man” in verse 16, and he is a “trampled corpse” in verse 19. This sounds like a human being—not a fallen angel.