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Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 14

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries



Except for the last nine verses of this chapter, it is a continuation of the prophecy against Babylon. Those last verses carry prophecies against Assyria and against Philistia.

Scholars of all shades of belief have joined in extolling the sublime, effective manner in which this chapter is written. The highly imaginative reception which the illustrious dead are represented as giving the fallen king of Babylon is unique in the literary history of mankind. There’s nothing like it anywhere else. It appears in the form of a sarcastic “welcome” to Babylon’s fallen monarch, in which his former glory is dramatically contrasted with his position in death!

The first two verses carry an assurance that God’s promises to Israel will yet be fulfilled; Isaiah 14:3-20 present the taunting, sarcastic “welcome” to Babylon’s dead king! Isaiah 14:21-23 have a final prophetic curse against Babylon; Isaiah 14:24-27 prophesy the breaking of the power of Assyria; and the final five verses (Isaiah 14:28-32) have a prophetic warning for Philistia.

Verses 1-2

“For Jehovah will have compassion on Jacob, and will yet choose Israel, and set them in their own land: and the sojourner shall join himself with them, and they shall cleave to the house of Jacob. And the peoples shall take them, and bring them to their place; and the house of Israel shall possess them in the land of Jehovah for servants and for handmaids: and they shall take them captive whose captives they were; and they shall rule over their oppressors.”

The promise here that God will “again” choose Israel means first of all that Israel, through repeated rebellions, had at this point in their history lost their status as God’s chosen people, a solemn truth emphasized especially in the prophecy of Hosea. There were, of course, some new things in this second “choice” of the Israel destined to receive all of God’s promises. This also is spelled out in Hosea (See my comments on this in Vol. 2 of the Minor Prophets Series). The Israel to be honored in this “second choosing” would not apply to any race whatever but would be equally applicable to Jews and Gentiles alike. Gomer, the wife of Hosea, it will be remembered, was bought back from slavery by her husband, not as his wife but as his slave. In the same manner, Israel would be “chosen” again, all right; but her status was forever altered as a race. Moreover, their re-entry into “Jehovah’s land” would be in the Church of Jesus Christ, not a re-entry into Palestine. It should be carefully noted, as Barnes pointed out that, “Although the names Jacob and Israel used in these verses simply denote Jews, they do not imply that all who were to be carried into captivity would return.”(F1) Only a remnant returned; and the undeniable meaning of this is that only a very small part of racial Israel would be in that “second choosing.”

The statement here that the former oppressors of the Jews would become their captives as “servants and handmaids” cannot possibly be construed literally. “The true meaning is that Jewish ideas (particularly Christianity) shall penetrate and subdue mankind generally, and that among such converts to Christ there will be those peoples who once had enslaved the Jews.”(F2)

There is a prophecy in Revelation 3:9 in which God foretold that racial Jews would “come and worship before the feet of the Church in Philadelphia,” not literally, of course, but as beautifully explained by James Moffatt’s Translation of the Bible (1929). Throughout the ages many faithful Jews have received Christ, and they are still doing so. Thus, in what Moffatt calls, “The grim irony of providence,”(F3) “What the Jews fondly expected of the Gentiles, they themselves will give to the Gentiles. They will play the roll of the heathen and acknowledge that the Church is the true Israel of God.”(F4) (For further comments on this see Vol. 12, p. 80 in my New Testament Series.)

The key to understanding this is in the truth that Christ Alone is the true Israel of God (See John 15.). Every baptized believer “in Christ” is a bond-servant of Christ; and every Gentile who ever became a Christian by being baptized “into Christ” thus became a “servant” of Christ, who is indeed the true Israel of God. No doubt the racial Jews of Isaiah’s day mistakenly believed that they were “the” Israel of God who were destined to possess their enemies as slaves. It is all a question of understanding who are the “slaves” (Christians) and who are the “Israel.” In this prophetic promise of Revelation 3:9, the “worshippers” are the convened Jews represented as worshipping the Lord, the true Israel; and in Isaiah’s passage here, the “slaves” are the convened Gentiles, slaves of Christ. Thus, the “slaves” of this passage and the “worshippers” of Revelation 3:9 are merely “Christians” gathered from every race under heaven without racial preference or partiality of any kind.

As Hailey put it, “The returned Jews never actually enslaved Gentiles. The prophecy was fulfilled as they conquered foreigners by the Spirit of God through the truth, `Bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ’ (2 Corinthians 10:5).”(F5)

To be sure, the ultimate complete fulfillment of this lay so far into the future that the prophecy could have been of little value to the Jews of Isaiah’s times; and that no doubt accounts for the great fact that there were also included in the prophecy many things relating to immediate fulfillments. For example, the “turn of the captivity of Israel” in the ultimate sense related to the rescue of the nation and their deliverance from sin, as indicated in Luke 4:18. The peoples (Gentiles) taking the Jews and bringing them into their place had an immediate fulfillment. “This refers to the fact that Cyrus would assist them (Ezra 1).”(F6)

There was also an immediate fulfillment of the Gentiles becoming servants of the Jews in the sense of their becoming fellow-worshippers of the true God, proselytes to the Jewish faith, of whom there were increasing numbers as the falsity and futility of paganism became more and more evident. Cornelius (Acts 10) was such a person.

Verses 3-8

“And it shall come to pass in the day that Jehovah shall give thee rest from thy sorrow, and from thy trouble, and from the hard service wherein thou wast made to serve, that thou shalt take up this parable against the king of Babylon, and shall say, How hath the oppressor ceased! the golden city ceased! Jehovah hath broken the staff of the wicked, the scepter of the rulers; that smote the people in wrath with a continual stroke, that ruled the nations in anger, with a persecution that none restrained. The whole earth is at rest, and is quiet: they break forth into singing. Yea, the fir trees rejoice at thee, and the cedars of Lebanon, saying, Since thou art laid low, no hewer is come up against us.”

Who is this “King of Babylon,” against whom these verses are pointed? We favor the view that he is a symbolical figure, standing in the passage for all of the evil rulers of that era, and symbolizing, ultimately, all of the wicked tyrants who ever lived. Barnes believed he was Belshazzar, the evil Babylonian ruler whose reign terminated the kingdom.(F7) Kidner believed it was “the whole dynasty”;(F8) Kelley pointed out that many scholars identify the ruler here as an Assyrian king, perhaps Sargon II.(F9) This latter suggestion violates the text which clearly says the “king of Babylon.” It would appear that Hailey’s comment is correct. “No one king is before the prophet’s mind; Isaiah is simply personifying the whole spirit of Babylonian rulers.”(F10) It is also true that, here where we have the great kings sleeping on maggots and worms in death, “We are confronted with the last brutal truth for the hedonist,”(F11) not just for some ancient king, or even for some ancient dynasty, but for all men of every age or nation who live solely for the world and its power and glory.

“The golden city (Isaiah 14:4)” This title was given to Babylon, because she was an exactress who extorted gold from her victims and stored great quantities of it.

“Broken the staff of the wicked” The staff, or scepter, was a symbol of the power great rulers exercised over their subjects. What is meant is that God would thwart the purposes of evil rulers.

The metaphor of the firs and cedars joining in the song of joy that the evil ruler has fallen is in keeping with many similar passages in God’s Word. “Let the heavens rejoice… the sea roar… the field be joyful… the trees rejoice” (Psalms 96:11-13).

Verses 9-11

“Sheol from beneath is moved for thee to meet thee at thy coming; it stirreth up the dead for thee, even all the chief ones of the earth; it has raised up from their thrones all the kings of the nations. All they that answer and say unto thee, Art thou also become as weak as we? art thou become like unto us? Thy pomp is brought down to Sheol, and the noise of thy viols: the worm is spread under thee, and worms cover thee.”

What a welcoming committee! The kings who have brought death to so many are doomed to death; and this inspired picture reveals the kind of welcome they would receive in the other world!

Sheol is not a very definite place, as the word is used in the Old Testament.; but here it refers to the dwelling place for the spirits of the wicked dead; and what we have here represents these wicked dead as welcoming the king of Babylon, “with malicious satisfaction, because all of his brief earthly glory has been extinguished, even as was theirs.”(F12)


Properly speaking, this word means “the grave” or the realm of the dead. It comes from a word which means “asking, demanding, requiring, seeking,”(F13) and carries with it the thought of insatiable desire to consume all living beings. It is variously translated as the grave, hell, Hades, or the pit. It is different from a grave in that a grave is dug for some individual, whereas, Hades includes all graves, and beyond that all who ever died without regard to where their bodies were placed. All the dead are in Sheol, but not all the dead are in graves. Some are in the sea, and others were trodden or plowed into the mire of some battlefield, or eaten by wild beasts.

It is called: Abaddon (destruction), Job 26:6; a place of silence, Psalms 94:17; a place of darkness and the shadow of death, Job 10:21; in Sheol are the foundations of the mountains, Deuteronomy 32:22; men penetrate Sheol by digging into the earth, Amos 9:2; the roots of trees strike down into it, Ezekiel 21:16; Korah and others went down alive into it, Numbers 16:30; Numbers 16:33; “In Sheol, there is no knowledge, nor can any praise God or give thanks there, Psalms 6:5; Ecclesiastes 9:10; and Isaiah 38:10-11.”(F14)

However, “It is erroneous to think of Sheol as a place independent of God; `If I make my bed in Sheol,’ says the Psalmist, `Behold, thou art there’ (Psalms 139:8).”(F15)

There is little Biblical information regarding the question of whether the dead are conscious or not. Based upon an inaccurate understanding of Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus, some think that perhaps the wicked dead are conscious; but Lazarus was not portrayed as conscious. Others cite the fact that Samuel was summoned from the dead (1 Samuel 28:11-15) and that in this section of Isaiah the dead kings of ancient times are represented as giving a sarcastic welcome to the arrival in death (Hades) of the king of Babylon. However, we believe this so-called “example” of conscience activity in death is no more than a literary device. The case of Samuel cannot be so explained; but certainly, we can deny that the witch of Endor had anything to do with it. Samuel came back, all right, but it almost scared the witch to death!

And then, there is the case of Moses and Elijah appearing on the mount of Transfiguration with Christ and carrying on intelligent conversation with the Lord. In this event, however, there was an extraordinary factor. Elijah was most certainly translated; and since God buried Moses, it is likely that he also was translated. At least, no one knows for sure.

The scripture most favorable to the idea of consciousness in Sheol is Christ’s astounding declaration in Matthew 22:31-33 that God is God of the living and not of the dead, affirming at the same time that He is indeed the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob. Add to this, the sacred promise of Jesus Christ that he will be with his church “always, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20), which most certainly includes God’s being with his saints in Sheol.

To us, there does not appear any sufficient grounds for dogmatic conclusions on this question; and therefore we leave it as one of “the hidden things,” belonging unto the Lord.

This sarcastic “welcome” song addressed to the fallen king of Babylon has two themes, identified by Kidner as: (1) the unqualified relief that the whole world (even the trees of the forest) received when they heard he was dead (Isaiah 14:3-11); and (2) the second theme pertained to the “fallen Day Star (Lucifer in KJV),”(F16) and the king of Babylon’s vain ambition (Isaiah 14:12-21).

Verses 12-14

“How art thou fallen from heaven, O day-star, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, that didst lay low the nations! And thou saidst in thy heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; and I will sit upon the mount of the congregation, in the uttermost parts of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.”

We are glad that our version (American Standard Version) leaves the word “Lucifer” out of this rendition, because it was the cause of misunderstanding based on Luke 10:18 and Ezekiel 28. Satan does not enter into this passage as a subject at all! Kelley approvingly quoted some scholars who believe that Isaiah here made use of a mythological story from Canaanite religion to illustrate the fall of the king of Babylon. This tale, largely an invention by critics, tells how a minor god of the Canaanites “sought to ascend to heaven and sit on the mount of the assembly of the gods, but was cast down to Sheol.”(F17)

How ridiculous critical commentators make themselves when they resort to ancient mythology to explain Bible texts. This alleged Canaanite myth is an invention. Kidner flatly stated that, “If such a tale ever existed, it has not come to light.”(F18) The same author also pointed out that, “The idea of storming heaven, however, was certainly connected with Babylon, i.e., Babel (Genesis 11).”(F19) It was the avowed purpose of the rulers of Babel (Babylon) to build a tower high enough to reach heaven itself (Genesis 11:4). Thus God’s Word substantiates Babylonian ambition, and it needs no supplement from Canaanite mythology.

Barnes pointed out that the true meaning of the passage in Genesis 11:4 is that, “the king of Babylon did not intend to acknowledge any superior either in heaven or earth, but designed that himself and his laws should be regarded as supreme.”(F20)

Verses 15-20

“Yet thou shalt be brought down to Sheol, to the uttermost parts of the pit. They that see thee shall gaze at thee, they shall consider thee, saying, Is this the man that made the earth to tremble, that did shake kingdoms; that made the world as a wilderness, and overthrew the cities thereof; that let not loose his prisoners to their home? All the kings of the nations, all of them, sleep in glory, everyone in his own house. But thou art cast forth away from thy sepulchre like an abominable branch, clothed with the slain, that are thrust through with the sword, that go down to the stones of the pit; as a dead body trodden under foot. Thou shalt not be joined with them in burial, because thou hast destroyed thy land, thou hast slain thy people; the seed of evil-doers shall not be named forever.”

Notice that this is written in the future tense, outlining what was to happen to the proud king of Babylon. His great glory would culminate in the destruction of Jerusalem, the captivity of God’s people, and the incompetent, drunken Belshazzar’s desecration of the sacred vessels of the House of God by Belshazzar and his wives and concubines drinking wine from the sacred vessels in the frenzied orgy that terminated both Belshazzar and his kingdom.

Whatever specific king the Lord could have been speaking of in this prophecy, we must believe that this chapter should be read, “as a prediction of the fall of every human tyrant and his fate in the afterlife.”(F21) The projected fate of the Babylonian despot reminds one of what Herod Agrippa II said at Caesarea, when, shortly after having had himself proclaimed as a god, he collapsed on the stage and at once died from being eaten up internally with worms! (Acts 12). He said, “I, whom you call a god am commanded presently to depart this life. Providence thus reproves your lying words. I, called by you immortal, am immediately to be hurried away by death.”(F22)

The whole point in these remarkable verses is the remarkable contrast between the earthly glory of ambitious rulers (actually all mortal glory) and the inevitable frustration and defeat terminating all of it at last in the dust of the grave. The picture here of people already dead gazing in astonishment and wonder at the king of Babylon and the taunting remarks made to him is a highly imaginative device used to emphasize the depths to which the tyrant had fallen. If the dead knew anything, and if the dead knew all about earthly affairs that took place after their own death, and if they could have spoken to vainglorious earthly rulers after the death of such rulers, then we might suppose that the scene depicted here is factual; but such assumptions cannot be based upon anything that one may read in God’s Word. Nevertheless, students of all ages have marveled at the power of this passage.

According to the thinking in ancient times, “To be excluded from burial was the most extreme disgrace for a king.” Isaiah 14:20 adds even that to the humiliation of Babylon’s vainglorious monarch who would have assaulted heaven itself.

Verses 21-23

“Prepare ye slaughter for his children for the iniquity of their fathers, that they rise not up, and possess the earth, and fill the face of the world with cities. And I will rise up against them, saith Jehovah of hosts, and cut off from Babylon name and remnant, and son and son’s son, saith Jehovah. I will also make it a possession for the porcupine, and pools of water: and I will sweep it with the bosom of destruction, saith Jehovah of hosts.”

This little paragraph is a kind of final curse upon Babylon. Note that there are to be no inhabitants whatever. Wild creatures such as porcupines would live there. We have already noted that the absolute and final desolation of Babylon actually occurred centuries after the prophecy; but there were also portions of it that were fulfilled much earlier.

Note the reference to “pools of water.”… “The works of irrigation connected with the Euphrates being destroyed the land would become a morass. This in fact happened after the conquest of Babylon by Cyrus.”(F23)

Verses 24-27


Some writers love to refer to this brief paragraph as “a fragment”; but it is no such thing. It is merely the inspired prophet’s manner of revealing God’s Word to men, “here a little, there a little, line upon line, line upon line, precept upon precept, line upon line, etc.” See the Introduction.

“Jehovah of hosts hath sworn, saying, Surely, as I have thought, so shall it surely come to pass; and as I have purposed, so shall it stand: that I will break the Assyrian in my hand, and upon my mountains tread him under foot: then shall his yoke depart from off them, and his burden depart from off their shoulder. This is the purpose that is purposed upon the whole earth; and this is the hand that it stretched out upon all the nations. For Jehovah of hosts hath purposed, and who shall annul it? and his hand is stretched out, and who shall turn it back?”

God’s promise here that he would “break the Assyrian” came at the very zenith of Assyrian domination; and the complete, astounding fulfillment of it came very swiftly after the promise was revealed, so that the rapid fulfillment became a pledge of the ultimate fulfillment of the promised doom of Babylon. The date usually given for this little prophecy is about 713 B.C.(F24) The date of its fulfillment in the destruction of Sennacherib’s army was 701 B.C.(F25)

The common view that this brief paragraph is merely a summary or repetition of the previous prophecies about Assyria is incorrect. “The new thing in the prophecy here is the information that God `hath sworn’ to destroy Assyria.”(F26) This conforms to the usual pattern observed in Holy Scripture.

Verses 28-32


“In the year that king Ahaz died was this burden. Rejoice not, O Philistia, all of thee, because the rod that smote thee is broken; for out of the serpent’s root shall come forth an adder, and his fruit shall be a fiery flying serpent. And the first-born of the poor shall feed, and the needy shall lie down in safety; and I will kill thy root with famine, and thy remnant shall be slain. Howl, O gate; cry, O city; thou art melted away, O Philistia, all of thee; for there cometh a smoke out of the north, and there is no straggler in his ranks. What then shall one answer the messengers of the nation? That Jehovah hath founded Zion, and in her shall the afflicted of the people take refuge.”

This prophecy is dated by the prophet Isaiah as having been given in the year that king Ahaz died, which was about the year 725 B.C.(F27)

The background of this prophecy, according to Kidner, lay during the period immediately after the death of Ahaz and in the early years of Hezekiah, and in the atmosphere created by an ambassage from Philistia to Hezekiah proposing a rebellion against Assyria, an idea always attractive to Hezekiah.(F28)

God’s reply to Hezekiah, through the prophet Isaiah, was threefold: (1) There are worse things to come from Assyria. “The basilisk and the flying serpent (Isaiah 14:29) are symbols of worse and worse oppressors.”(F29) (2) Philistia is a doomed people (Isaiah 14:30-31). (3) True help and support can come only from the Lord, spoken of here as the founder of Zion and the true refuge of God’s people. Kidner noted that reliance upon the power of God instead of alliances with other nations should have been the right course for Hezekiah to follow. “The constant message of Isaiah is `Trust not Intrigue.’“(F30)

Isaiah 14:26, above, deserves further attention. “This is the purpose that is purposed upon the whole earth; and this is the hand that is stretched out upon all the nations.”


What is this “purpose” which applies to the whole earth? It is simply this: nations that become excessively wicked are in turn defeated and destroyed by other nations; and specifically, those nations which exalt themselves against God are repeatedly, one after another, doomed and crushed.

Is it still being done? Are not the proud nations today getting by without punishment for their pride, ambition, and self-exaltation? It may appear, now and then to be so; but in the larger movement of history, the hand of God is still clearly visible. The Emperor of Germany, Kaiser Wilhelm loved to refer to himself as the “All Highest”; but look at what happened to him. Prior to that, the French Revolutionists installed “The God of Reason” to take the place of the Lord. They began “a new era,” so they thought, and even changed the names of all the months in the year; but today no one on earth knows what the new names are, except by his reference to an encyclopedia! Since the evil French nation had their revolution, their government has fallen forty times, and for years and years, their country was crashed under the heel of invaders.

It was no different with Nazi Germany. The Fourth Reich was to last a thousand years. God split open the ugly heart of Nazism and spilled its filth upon the ground, split the nation in two; and the troops of their destroyers are still deployed in their cities! Yes, God still rules in the kingdoms of men (Daniel 4:25)!

Just recently, as this is being written, the Emperor of Japan has been buried, not as a god, worshipped by millions of people, which was surely his status in World War II, but as an ordinary mortal. Thus, our generation has just seen a “god” formally relinquish his title and became like all other men, mortal, perishable, and destined at last for the grave. This remarkable renunciation and transformation took place aboard the Battleship Missouri during the take-over of Japan by General Douglas MacArthur.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Isaiah 14". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/isaiah-14.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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