Sunday, February 24, 2008

Does Isaiah 14:12 refer to Satan?

We have taken up this question in our adult SS class to some profit, I think. In previous weeks we have invested time to work through all the preliminary issues, including the meaning of sheol in the OT and the overall Biblical teaching on Satan. With this background material established we can at least answer the question with a proper understanding of the context that exists in Isaiah 14. I’m thankful that we hold this class first thing Sunday morning when everyone is fresh. It has taken some effort to make it through all these issues.

I’ve already tipped my hand in class that I don’t believe the passage is speaking of Satan but I have not yet presented all my reasons. I’m not sure anyone in my class even knows that I have a blog, so I think it’s safe to explain my reasons here without spoiling next week. So, what are my reasons?

First, the context clearly depicts the death of a human monarch. The previous earthly kings greet him as he unexpectantly enters the grave (sheol) in verse nine. They notice that the one who previously made them weak (14:12) has now become weak like themselves (14:10). He has left the pomp and glory of his reign behind and is now covered with worms and maggots in the grave (14:11). He is a man (14:16) who ends up disgraced (14:15), without a proper burial (14:18-20) and without a legacy (14:20-22).

Second, the fall of Satan described in Luke 10:18 begins his reign of terror on the earth, while the fall of the king of Babylon in Isaiah 14 depicts the end of his rule and reign. Edward Young makes this point succinctly when he writes,

“Tertullian, Gregory the Great, and others have referred this verse to the fall of Satan, described in Luke 10:18. But the present passage pictures the end of a tyrannical reign. The Babylonian king had desired to be above God, and so fell from heaven. He falls to Sheol, and his power is done away. Not so Satan. His fall was against God, but he continues yet his tyrannical acts against God’s people. ‘His doom is sure,’ for Christ has died, but not until the final judgment will he be confined to the lake of fire. Inasmuch, then, as this passage describes a king’s downfall and removal from the scene, it cannot apply to Satan.” (Young, Vol. 1, p. 441)

Third, the language used of “Lucifer” in Isaiah 14:12-15 is often used of other human leaders or peoples. It is not, as I have often heard, exalted language that could only refer to Satan. So, for example, the Bible uses similar language in regard to the Anti-Christ in Daniel 8:9-10 (“[the little horn] waxed great, even to the host of heaven; and it cast down some of the host and of the stars to the ground”) and 2 Thessalonians 2:4 (“who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.” David can say in Psalm 139:8, “If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in sheol, behold thou art there.” The very first Babylonians used similar language in Genesis 11:3-4 when they said, “let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make a name…”

The real kicker, though, comes in Luke 10:15, where Jesus refers to the city of Capernaum with these words, “And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted to heaven, shalt be thrust down to hell (hades).” This is the exact terminology used regarding the king of Babylon in Isaiah 14. The city of Capernaum was made up of regular people, not demons. Now, they both may have been aligned with Satan but that is not the same thing as actually being Satan or representing Satan. If Christ can use this language to refer to regular people, then Isaiah can, too. There is nothing in the wording of Isaiah 14 that forces us to conclude that Lucifer is Satan.

So, why is this so important? First, I think it is always good to interpret the Bible properly and to help people learn how to interpret the Bible properly. Second, the KJV twice uses the word “hell” when it translates sheol in this passage and I think some people get the erroneous idea from this that when Satan fell, he became the ruler of Hell. Nothing could be further from the truth. Third, when we speak of the pride of this king, I don’t think it hits home to us as effectively as it should when we view this person as Satan. Of course Satan is full of pride; he is the epitome of wickedness. The hard truth is that we can exhibit pride in the exact same way. We can exalt ourselves in our minds to a position equal with and above God. I don’t think it is uncommon at all but we dull the force of this passage if we say that it uses exalted language that cannot apply to regular people. Fourth, and finally, the point of the passage is that Judah should trust in the LORD rather than the king of the most glorious nation on earth (cf., Isaiah 13:19). The fact of the matter is that no matter how glorious, intimidating, or fearful this man may be, he is just a man. He will go to his grave just like every other man. In fact, his death will actually be an ignoble death. He cannot do his will on earth forever. So, trust in the Lord, who alone can swear as He does in Isaiah 14:24, “As I have planned, so shall it be, and as I have purposed, so shall it stand.” When the LORD of hosts purposes something, no one can annul it! (14:27)

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Happy Birthday Handel

My favorite composer, G. F. Handel, was born on this date 323 years ago in 1685. Check out my guest post in commemoration of that event over at Theosource.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Biblica – The Bible Atlas

Absolutely stunning is the only way to describe Biblica, a new Bible Atlas compiled by Dr. Barry Beitzel, Professor of Old Testament and Semitic Language at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Dr. Beitzel was the chief consultant for this project that included over 25 different contributors. It is not a traditional atlas in that maps are not the primary focus. Rather, as the subtitle says, it presents a “social and historical journey through the lands of the Bible.” It does this with maps, of course, but also with breathtaking, full-color paintings, photographs, and drawings, along with engaging narrative. Its shear size (13.3 x 10.3 x 2.2 inches and over 9.5 pounds!) contributes to its impressive presentation of the material.

The atlas is divided into 10 major sections: an (1) Introduction that deals with the history, spread, and archeology of the Bible, followed in the next section with an overview of the (2) Geography and History of the Bible Lands. Next comes chapters covering the historical context for each major division of the Bible, (3) Genesis and the Patriarchal Period, (4) the Judges, (5) the Kings, (6) the Prophets and the Righteous, (7) the Conquest of the Kingdoms, (8) the Life of Jesus of Nazareth, and (9) Spreading the Word. Lastly, there is a (10) Bible Reference section that contains several helpful charts, Biblical family trees, Scripture reference index, a gazetteer (index of places and names), and a more general index.

The narratives are not always conservative. There is a boxed text that advocates a late date for some of Daniel’s prophecies based on historical-critical scholarship. The prophecy in Isaiah 7:14 is of a young woman, not a virgin. The section on the crossing of the Red Sea gives room for non-miraculous explanations (“Some people prefer to speak of this event – the parting of the sea—as the consequences of perfectly natural causes.”) I have not read all 575 pages but I suspect that you would find similar types of problems scattered throughout the book. It is not reliable as far as consistently presenting conservative positions on the subject matter, but the narrative is engaging and helpful as far as it goes, and it does give insights into the socio-political context of the Biblical narrative.

More than anything else, though, it is just a pure pleasure to browse through this work and soak in the stunning artwork so prominently displayed throughout its pages. Other reviews claim that is contains over 650 color pictures. Some are ancient paintings or reproductions from old Bibles; some are more modern photographs. Even though not as prominent, the maps are equally as engaging and very well-presented. One caution however – there are a few not so modest painting or sculptures and there are some that depict the Biblical history in rather graphic detail (e.g., Isaiah getting sawn in two – not exactly how I pictured that event, BTW) --nothing that you probably wouldn’t find in a standard encyclopedia, though.

So, if are looking for a grand coffee table book, or something just to flip through when you have some extra time on your hands, or to show your kids when they are learning about various Bible stories, this might be just the thing.