Who is the king of Babylon? From a purely historical perspective, Isaiah 14:12-15 is a reference to the King of Babylon at the time of Judah’s captivity. His name is Sennacherib—or that is, it will be since Isaiah’s prophecy in chapter 14 is years away from being fulfilled. In his military might this great king will lay low the nations, including Phoenicia, Philistia, Egypt, Moab, Edom, Cilicia, much of Judah, and northern Arabia. According to Isaiah 14:4 the nation of Babylon is an oppressor, and according to Isaiah 14:5 the nation is a wicked oppressor who has subdued nations with relentless aggression (v. 6). But God has made captive the captors of His people who now begin to taunt the Babylonian king and remind him that death is coming and hell is his reward.
The people taunting this tyrant picture him ascribing godlike characteristics to himself. Sennacherib, because of his great power, thought himself a deity. In the ancient Near East, kings had supreme power; and many were deified by their subjects. But he would fall like a morning star.
“How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! You said in your heart, “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.” But you are brought down to the grave, to the depths of the pit.” (Isaiah 14:12–15, NIV)
Christians have been fascinated with theses verses and see a double reference in them. As early as the late second century, theologians such as Tertullian believed that these verses also gave us a picture of the fall of Satan, personified in the fall of the Babylonian King. I believe that the prophet saw in this event something far deeper than the defeat of an empire. In the fall of the king of Babylon, he saw the defeat of Satan, the “prince of this world,” who seeks to energize and motivate the leaders of nations.
This passage, if it does focus on Satan, reveals the reason for his fall from heaven. The five vaunting “I will” statements reveal a twisted passion of the creature to replace the Creator as Lord. But the arrogant effort to rise higher than God leads only to a devastating fall. Isaiah pictures the ruler cast down to the depths, a pitiful creature now and on object of wonder that any might have feared him at all.
Another Old Testament passage that is helpful to us is Ezekiel 28:11-19.
“The word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, take up a lament concerning the king of Tyre and say to him: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: “ ‘You were the model of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone adorned you: ruby, topaz and emerald, chrysolite, onyx and jasper, sapphire, turquoise and beryl. Your settings and mountings were made of gold; on the day you were created they were prepared. You were anointed as a guardian cherub, for so I ordained you. You were on the holy mount of God; you walked among the fiery stones. You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you. Through your widespread trade you were filled with violence, and you sinned. So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God, and I expelled you, O guardian cherub, from among the fiery stones. Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor. So I threw you to the earth; I made a spectacle of you before kings. By your many sins and dishonest trade you have desecrated your sanctuaries. So I made a fire come out from you, and it consumed you, and I reduced you to ashes on the ground in the sight of all who were watching. All the nations who knew you are appalled at you; you have come to a horrible end and will be no more.’ ”” (Ezekiel 28:11–19, NIV)
Like our Isaiah passage, here too, we see a double reference. In this instance, Ezekiel’s prophecy is against the king of Tyre. This passage, if it does focus on Satan, reveals the something of his splendor before his fall from heaven. Between these two passages, what can we discern about Satan?
Conclusion: There is more to the fall of Babylon than the deposing of a proud king or the destruction of a great empire. Behind the evil of Babylon was the enemy of God. Behind the evil in today’s world is the same enemy.
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12, NIV)
Praise the Lord, God has an intimate relationship with humans that angels do not have.