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Go to Bible: Isaiah 14
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“he-goats.” Leaders and rulers were called “he-goats.” The male goat or ram was used idiomatically by the figure of speech hypocatastasis for the powerful people or rulers, and it was especially true when used of ungodly leaders, as it is here and Zechariah 10:3. When one studies the use of “goats” in the Bible, and also studies their destructive behavior, it is easy to see why the Bible calls unbelievers or the unsaved, “goats” (cp. Matthew 25:33).
Part of the destructive nature of goats is due to the fact that they are “browsers,” not “grazers” like sheep and cattle. As “browsers” they taste almost anything and end up eating many things that are barely edible; besides shrubs, trees, and many plants that other animals don’t eat because they are toxic, goats occasionally eat things such as clothing (ancient clothes were made of cotton, linen, wool, and other natural, non-synthetic fibers, and could be eaten by a goat).
Goats are also extremely intelligent animals, and even learn from each other. If a goat is penned up but escapes, it will not only remember how to escape and do it again, other goats will see it escape and follow. That fact may have also helped the comparison between believers as sheep and unbelievers as goats. Jesus taught that the children of this world (the unbelievers) act more wisely or shrewdly than the believers do (Luke 16:8), and that is certainly often the case in business. Calling an unbeliever a “goat” is fitting in more ways than one.
Goats provided milk and meat, and they were also valuable for their skin, which was the most common source for the skin-bottles of the ancient world, so they were often mixed with sheep and herded in one big herd. But unlike sheep, which are quite defenseless against any enemy, goats could butt and kick much more effectively, and also escape much more effectively, including by climbing trees if the trunk had a slant to it. Both male and female goats raised in the biblical world had horns, and most modern goats of both sexes have horns, although the male goats are well known for being more aggressive.
The biblical image of unbelievers being “goats” also fits well with what many scholars feel is the true meaning of “Azazel,” the word that occurs only in Leviticus 16 and that the King James Version translates “Scapegoat.” The actual meaning of “Azazel” is likely “Mighty Goat,” and is a name of the Devil. Also, “goat-demons” are mentioned in Leviticus 17:7 and 2 Chronicles 11:15. [For more on Azazel, see commentary on Leviticus 16:8. For more on the figure of speech hypocatastasis, see commentary on Rev. 20:2].(top)
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“Shining One.” Isaiah 14:12-15, and possibly verses 12-17, refers to a spirit being that warred against God and now is known as the Devil. This was believed by many of the early Church Fathers (e.g., Jerome, Augustine, Origen, Eusebius, Ambrose, Cassiodorus, John Cassian), but that belief, long held by the Church, was in large part overturned during the Reformation. At that time, more teachers came to believe that the verses were hyperbolic and referred to Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon. However, if this section in Isaiah applies to Nebuchadnezzar, there is no parallel to it in Eastern literature. Scholars have searched for one without success. John Oswalt, who thinks that the section refers to Nebuchadnezzar and not to the Devil, has to admit that in spite of “vigorous investigation there is no single mythical story that can be said to be the prototype for Isaiah 14:12-15…among the numerous stories of a challenge to the high god, all the challenges are made by another god” (The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Book of Isaiah, chapters 1-39).
This admission by Oswalt is important because he does not believe that Isaiah is referring to the Devil even though all the parallel literature from the Eastern culture were gods challenging the Most High God, which fits exactly with Isaiah saying that the Devil, the “Shining One, son of Dawn,” challenged God.
We find the textual and contextual evidence that Isaiah 14:12-17 refers to the Devil to be compelling, and refer the reader to some of the good work on the subject that has already been done by men such as E.W. Bullinger, C.C. Ryrie, and C. I. Scofield. Godly men have long recognized the need for reading the Scriptures with a spiritual sensitivity, to see the fullness of what God is saying. One reason we believe this section of Isaiah is about the Devil is that it seems necessary that God would give some explanation of His chief adversary, and without this section and Ezekiel 28:11-19, there would be no explanation for the origin and fall of the Devil. Also, the Devil is, and always has been “the power behind the throne” of evil rulers, and so from that perspective we can see why that here in Isaiah God inserts the Devil into a section about the King of Babylon, and in Ezekiel God speaks of the Devil as “the King of Tyre.” The Devil is “the god of this age” (2 Cor. 4:4) and the “ruler of this world” (John 12:31), and so fitting him in with powerful ungodly kings is appropriate. Also, we would point out that although there is hyperbolic language used of kings and rulers in much of the ancient literature, the details of this section and the section in Ezekiel 28 seem to clearly refer to a divine being, not just an exalted earthly ruler.
Here in Isaiah 14:12, the Hebrew word is heylel (#01966 הֵילֵל), and it literally means “shining one.” In the Hebrew language, heylel was used as a name for the planet Venus. This in part explains how the Latin Vulgate arrived at the translation “Lucifer” (literally, “Light Bringer”), because in Latin, “Lucifer” was a word that was commonly used for the planet Venus. Thus, for the Latin Vulgate to translate heylel as “Lucifer” made perfect sense, because both heylel and “Lucifer” were used of the planet Venus. The association between the “Shining One” and Venus also explains why so many versions say, “morning star.” Venus was well known as the morning star. So heylel meant “Shining One, and was used as a name for the planet Venus, which was the “morning star.”
Further evidence that “Shining One” is a reference to the planet Venus, which was being used as a hypocatastasis for the Devil, is the fact that the Hebrew text reads, “Shining One, son of Dawn.” In Hebrew, the word translated “dawn” is shachar (#07837 שַׁחַר), and in cognate languages such as Ugaritic, it was used as a divine name. In Greek mythology, Venus was the “son of Eōs,” (“son of Dawn”). Eōs was the female Titan who was the personification of the dawn (the Titans were the first generation of gods, before the Olympian gods that were ruled by Zeus). Of course we know that the Devil was not the son of a Greek Titan, but the reference to “son of the Dawn” in Isaiah emphasizes the fact that the Devil, and the angels who supported his rebellion, should have known that he was not the Creator God, but was himself a created being who owed allegiance to his Creator. Modern versions do not use “Lucifer” in Isaiah 14:12, but because “Lucifer” appeared in the Vulgate and KJV, and thus was the dominant translation of Isaiah 14:12 for around 1600 years, “Lucifer” has become one of the most well-known names for the Devil. [For more on the name “Shining One,” see Appendix 14, “Names of the Devil”].(top)
“above.” The Devil wanted to be on the mount of assembly and have his throne “above the stars of God” who were assembled there. According to Eastern custom and speech, saying that the Devil wanted his throne “above” the other thrones did not mean “above” in the sense of vertically in height (although there may have been a vertical aspect to it at that particular place). Instead, it referred to having his throne in a more important position than the other thrones. We see this cultural use of “high” and “low” in Jesus’ parable of the wedding feast (Luke 14:7-11). Jesus said when you go to a feast, take the “lowest place” (Luke 14:10), and when the host sees you there he will say, “Friend, go up higher,” with “higher” meaning closer to the host himself. If the Devil could sit “above” the other thrones, then he would consider himself “like the Most High.”
“stars.” In this context, “stars” refer to heavenly spirit beings. Because spirit beings inhabit the heavens above us, the ancients sometimes referred to them as “stars.” In the biblical world lots of things that we do not call “stars” they referred to as “stars.” For example, to them, “planets” were “wandering stars,” an asteroid whose tail could be seen were sometimes referred to as “hairy stars,” and of course the stars were called “stars.”
The Devil is called a star in Isaiah 14:12. Jesus Christ is referred to as a star in prophecy in Numbers 24:17; 2 Peter 1:19; and Revelation 2:28; 22:16. Other verses that refer to angels as stars include Job 38:7; Daniel 8:10; and Revelation 9:1; 12:4.
“sit.” The word “sit” in the biblical culture often meant to rule, because rulers usually sat while others stood. It was common for rulers to have a throne to sit on and while the ones they ruled stood before them. Here, in the context of an assembly of gods, “sit” means to have a ruling position. The NET Bible even translates this phrase in Isaiah 14:13 as, “I will rule on the mountain of the assembly.” Whatever position Satan had before he fell from his position in heaven, it was not good enough for him. He wanted to rule in heaven.
That rulers sat while the subjects of the rulers stood is a common theme in Scripture. In 1 Kings 22:19, in the vision God gave Micaiah, Yahweh sat on His throne while the host of heaven stood around Him, a vision that was similarly being played out on earth because in 1 Kings 22:10 (cp. 2 Chron. 18:9) the kings of Israel and Judah sat while the prophets stood and prophesied before them. Also, Esther 1:14 speaks of the seven men who “sat first” in the kingdom of Persia, in other words, they were top rulers under the king. In Revelation 18:7, Babylon says to herself that she sits as a queen, that is, she rules as queen. In Daniel’s vision of the future recorded in Daniel 7:9-10, God sits on a throne, and His heavenly court is also sitting, while “10,000 times 10,000” stand before Him. Then, in Revelation 7:11, all the angels are standing around the throne upon which God is sitting. Similarly, in Revelation 7:9, the multitude of people stood in front of God who was seated on the throne (that God was seated on the throne is clear from Rev. 4:1-5:13; and we should note that in that context, the Lamb, Jesus Christ, does not sit on a throne but stands as God’s right-hand minister, a scene we also see in verses such as Acts 7:55).
“mountain of assembly.” This seems to be a special place where certain select spiritual beings—God’s divine council—assemble to meet with God and help Him rule creation. That is why the Devil wanted to be there and have his throne “above the stars of God” who were assembled there. The mount of assembly seems to refer to a special assembly of spirit beings, because if it only referred to a place where all of God’s spirit beings assembled, then the Devil would not have made such a big deal about going there. As an important spirit being, he would have already been invited to any general meeting of all the spirit beings. Thus, the mount of assembly is a place where God’s intimate divine council meets. [For more on God’s divine council, see commentary on Genesis 1:26. For more on God’s holding general assemblies for all His spirit beings, see commentary on Job 1:6].(top)
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“Prepare for slaughter of his children because of the iniquity of their fathers.” This verse is sometimes said to contradict Deuteronomy 24:16, but this is not the case. Deuteronomy 24:16 is speaking of civil penalties carried out by the government. This is clear from the context. Isaiah 14:21 is speaking of national calamities (in this case, war) that are the result of the evil of earlier generations. The two subjects are totally different. Many “children” (men 16-25) died in WWII because the “fathers” sat by while Hitler preached hate, then built a huge army. Similary, “sons” now die of mercury poisoning because “fathers” dumped mercury, PCBs, etc., into lakes.(top)
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“burden.” The word of the Lord can be a burden to the prophet, and then, when it is spoken, can be a burden to the people. It might have been more clear in the English to say “burdensome message” instead of “burden,” but the Hebrew word is “burden.” Here we added the word “prophetic” for clarity. [For more information on “burden,” see commentary on Malachi 1:1].(top)
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“Howl, O gate! Cry out, O city!” This is the figure of speech personification.(top)
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