Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Isaiah 14:12 and Lucifer

Isaiah 14:12-15 is a really neat passage to me. I think it's because in my hermeneutical journey, I had not one but two exciting moments reading it.

I remember how exciting it was in youth to learn everything for the first time. The rush of mental endorphins in high school, college, and seminary. Every once and a while I'll still have a moment like that (it's mostly been designing new stuff for the Seminary). But in my teens there were new breakthroughs in understanding all the time. It's part of why I love teaching undergraduate students so much--I can relive those moments again vicariously through them.

1. The first exciting moment with Isaiah 14 was when I learned it in the King James as the passage that told us about the Fall of Satan from heaven before Adam himself fell:

"How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, 'I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.'

"Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit."

How neat! I thought. There it is.

2. Until of course I went to Seminary. I don't know when I reread this chapter from the beginning. That's when I learned to read in context.

14:4: "You will take up this taunt against the king of Babylon." OK, so this chapter wasn't actually about Satan, was it? It was about the king of Babylon.

The chapter uses highly metaphorical language. The dead are looking forward to your arrival, O king of Babylon. Ah, I see, Lucifer is a misleading translation. It's referring to Venus, the morning star. The NIV translates it that way so you don't get confused.

There's no doubt here. Isaiah shows no knowledge whatsoever of Satan. God hasn't flipped that switch yet in the theology of Israel. The picture of the dead is also metaphorical. It pictures the dead like Homer would, but Isaiah doesn't mean it literally. It's a powerful picture.

You're going down, king of Babylon. You were like the morning star, but you're about to go to the underworld.

3. Still, we don't have to choose between these two readings, IMO. The king of Babylon is a great warning to those who think they are great, who might dare think themselves almost gods. "If you think you are standing strong, be careful that you do not fall" (1 Cor. 10:12). None of us are gods. None of us are great next to God, not next to a whole mess of things. That'll preach.

Can we read it in reference to Satan? Perhaps. The Holy Spirit simply has never been limited by the original meaning, no matter what Walter Kaiser may say. The NT may hint at a "spiritual" interpretation of this passage that has Satan in mind. Luke 10:18 and Revelation 12:9 may imply this reading of Isaiah 14, although they probably do not have a Fall before Adam in mind. Their meanings seem to be eschatological, about the trajectory of salvation, not the past.

So it seems that the common Christian belief that Satan fell (gulp) comes more from Jewish and post-biblical Christianity than it does the Bible itself. Can we accept that as possible revelation also?

I can. :-)

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