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Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 14

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verses 1-27

The first oracle against Babylon 13:1-14:27

The reader would expect that Isaiah would inveigh against Assyria, since it was the most threatening enemy in his day, and since he referred to it many times in earlier chapters. However, he did not mention Assyria in this section but Babylon, an empire that came into its own about a century after Isaiah’s time. Babylon was a symbol of self-exalting pride, and its glory, dating back to the tower of Babel (cf. Isaiah 13:5; Isaiah 13:10-11). Thus what he said about Babylon was applicable to Assyria and other similar self-exalting powers in the eastern part of Israel’s world. Similarly, what marked the Medes (Isaiah 13:17-18) was their fierce destruction of their enemies, which was already in view but would become more obvious in the years that followed. When the prophet lived and wrote, Babylon was a real entity within Assyria, but Isaiah used it to represent all the nations in that area that shared its traits (cf. Genesis 9:20-25; Revelation 17-18). Behind Assyria Isaiah saw the spirit of Babel, which he condemned here. Yet this is also a prophecy against real Babylon. "Babylon" is the Greek name for "Babel."

The literary structure of this oracle, omitting the introduction (Isaiah 13:1), is chiastic.

"A The day of the Lord: the beckoning hand, a universal purpose declared (Isaiah 13:2-16)

B The overthrow of Babylon: the end of the kingdom, the fact of divine overthrow (Isaiah 13:17-22)

C The security and future of the Lord’s people: a contrasting universal purpose (Isaiah 14:1-2)

B’ The overthrow of Babylon: the end of the king, the explanation of divine overthrow (Isaiah 14:3-23)

A’ The end of Assyrian power: the outstretched hand, a universal purpose exemplified and validated (Isaiah 14:24-27)" [Note: Motyer, p. 135.]

Verses 1-2

The focal point of this oracle against Babylon is Israel’s security and future after this judgment. These verses summarize what Isaiah later recorded in more detail in chapters 40-66.

Earlier Isaiah predicted that Israel would experience defeat and captivity. After that Yahweh would have compassion on her, choose her again for blessing, as He had following the Exodus (Exodus 19:4-6), and resettle her in her own land. Consequently many Gentiles would voluntarily attach themselves to God’s people. The Israelites would then have authority over those who formerly had authority over them (cf. 1 Samuel 17:8-9). They would take the lead domestically, militarily, and politically.

A second Exodus took place when the Israelites returned from captivity in Babylon, but a third Exodus will happen in the future when they return to their land following their present worldwide dispersion (cf. Isaiah 56:6; Isaiah 60:10; Isaiah 61:5). Amillennialists interpret this as a prophecy of the inclusion of Gentiles into God’s spiritual kingdom, the church. [Note: E.g., Young, 1:433-34.]

Verses 3-4

Having described the future destruction of Babylon (Isaiah 13:17-22), Isaiah now related the coming destruction of Babylon’s king.

After Yahweh gave Israel rest following her captivity, she would taunt (Heb. mashal, bring to light the truth about) Babylon’s proud ruler who had formerly taunted her (Isaiah 14:3-4 a; cf. Revelation 18). His death would be an occasion for joy, not sorrow. In view of the description that follows, Isaiah evidently did not describe one particular past king of Babylon, but ascribed traits of many kings of Babylon to this representative official. One writer believed Isaiah described Sennacherib (705-681 B.C.), but there are many differences between what Isaiah wrote here and what Sennacherib experienced. [Note: J. Martin, pp. 1061-62.] Another identified him as Merodach-Baladan, who sent the delegation to King Hezekiah in Jerusalem (cf. ch. 39). [Note: Watts, p. 204,] The king in view may be the eschatological Antichrist, since these verses describe conditions that will exist during the first half of the Tribulation.

Verses 4-8

The first strophe of this poem rejoices in the peace on earth that would result from the king’s death. Both animate and inanimate creatures could rest and be quiet after his reign of terror. The measure of an ancient Near Eastern king’s power was how much he destroyed. [Note: See Oswalt, p. 317.]

Mesopotamian kings regularly took parties of lumberjacks to the forests of Lebanon to cut timber to build their palaces and public buildings. Such timber was unavailable in Mesopotamia and Palestine. [Note: Watts, p. 208.]

Verses 9-11

The second strophe relates the joy in Sheol that would result when this king died. Other dead rulers there would rejoice because this great monarch now shared the humiliating fate of them all. Rather than honoring him, these dead leaders would mock him because in death he was not superior to them. Instead of an honorable bier he would get maggots for a bed and worms for a bedspread. What a final resting place for a king!

Verses 12-15

In the third strophe the scene shifts from the underworld to heaven and back to Sheol. This personification of Babylon’s pride led Babylon’s king to exalt himself to the position of God Himself. The five "I wills" in Isaiah 14:13-14 express the spirit of the Babylonian rulers, not that any one of them ever said these precise words. He claimed to be as Venus, the morning star, the brightest light in the night sky. However, like Venus when the sun arose, he was no longer visible when God arose in His sovereignty. Mt. Zaphon to the north of Palestine was the mythical residence of the gods (as Mt. Olympus was the mythical residence of the gods to the Greeks; Isaiah 14:13; cf. Psalms 48:2). Rather than being king of the gods, Babylon’s king proved to be only human, albeit having weakened nations through his domination of them. Even though he had exalted himself to near deity status, he would die and go to Sheol like every other proud person (cf. Genesis 3:5; Genesis 3:22; Genesis 11:1-9).

"A popular interpretive tradition has seen in the language of Isaiah 14:12-15 an allusion to the fall of Satan. [Note: E.g., Archer, p. 622; The New Scofield . . ., p. 725; and Wiersbe, p. 24. For a history of interpretation of these verses, see Gerald Keown, "A History of the Interpretation of Isaiah 14:12-15," (Ph.D. dissertation, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1979).] However, this subject ’seems a bit forced in this chapter.’ [Note: J. Martin, p. 1061.] The object of this taunt is clearly "the king of Babylon" (Isaiah 14:4 a). Instead the language and imagery seem to have their roots in Canaanite mythology, which should not be surprising in a quotation ostensibly addressed by ancient pagan kings to another pagan king (the quotation of the kings’ words is most naturally extended through Isaiah 14:15) [Cf. Isaiah 24:21-22; Isaiah 25:8; Isaiah 27:1]." [Note: Chisholm, A Theology . . ., pp. 319-20. See also idem, Handbook on . . ., pp. 50-51; Dyer, in The Old . . ., pp. 540, 542; John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, 7:442; and Delitzsch, 1:311-12. ]

Though some expositors have applied this description of self-exaltation and judgment to Satan, it is clearly the pride and destruction of a human ruler’s tyrannical reign that is in view, not only in Isaiah 14:12-15 but in the immediate context (Isaiah 14:4-21) and in the larger context (chs. 13-23). Satan may have rebelled against God in a fashion similar to what Isaiah wrote here, but this passage probably does not describe his rebellion.

"A suggested summary of the story would be: Helel son of Schachar was a great hero who determined to make himself the equal of a god, El Elyon. His ambition was to raise himself above the clouds, above all the stars of god, to the very mountain in the farthest north where gods gather and there to reign as king over the universe, including the gods. But the conclusion of this ill-advised ambition was his precipitous fall into Sheol, perhaps after a battle with El Elyon himself." [Note: Watts, p. 209.]

"Who was the historical king of Babylon referred to here? If the prophecy anticipates the fall of Babylon in 539 B.C. (as I argue below), then the king of Babylon taunted here may be Nabonidus (the official king of Babylon when it fell), Belshazzar (who was functioning as king at the time; see Daniel 5:1), or even Nebuchadnezzar, who ruled from 605-562 B.C. and made Babylon a world power. However, it is unnecessary to put a specific name and face with the king described here. Perhaps the ’king of Babylon’ simply symbolizes Babylonian power as embodied in her successive kings, beginning with Nebuchadnezzar or his predecessor Nabopolassar." [Note: Chisholm, Handbook on . . ., p. 51.]

"It is a strange paradox that nothing makes a being less like God than the urge to be his equal, for he who was God stepped down from the throne of his glory to display to the wondering eyes of men the humility of God (Philippians 2:5-8)." [Note: Grogan, p. 106.]

Verses 16-21

The fourth strophe returns to the reactions of people on the earth (cf. Isaiah 14:4-8). They expected that such a "great man" would enjoy an honorable burial, but this man received no burial at all. He died covered with the bodies of his fellow warriors rather than with earth. The pagans of Isaiah’s day believed that to leave a corpse unburied not only dishonored the dead person but doomed his spirit to wander forever on the earth seeking a home (cf. 1 Samuel 31:11-13; 2 Samuel 2:4-7). Viewing his unburied corpse, onlookers would wonder if this was really the infamous scourge of Babylon, who had ruined his own country, and ravaged his own people, as well as his enemies. They would view his lack of burial as divine judgment of him. They would then take measures to assure that his sons would not rise to power by cutting off his posterity, a common practice in the ancient Near East. [Note: Watts, pp. 211-12.] Hopefully they could remove his memory from the earth. I favor the view that the king of Babylon to be judged is the Antichrist.

The whole point of this poem is the futility and folly of self-exalting pride, which this idealized Babylonian king modeled (cf. Daniel 4:25).

Verses 22-23

Yahweh of armies promised to do to Babylon what the speakers in the poem above said. He would cut off the name and posterity of its rulers, and He would destroy the city to the extent that only wild animals would live in the swamps that remained there. Isaiah 14:22-23 form a conclusion to the poem as Isaiah 14:3-4 a introduced it.

Verses 24-27

This section of the oracle particularizes the judgment of Babylon in Isaiah’s day. Here we see the exemplification and validation of God’s universal purpose to judge human hubris that the prophet earlier declared (Isaiah 13:2-16). The particular manifestation of Babylonian pride that threatened Israel when Isaiah wrote was Assyria.

"Having announced the downfall of the Chaldean empire, the LORD appends to this prophecy a solemn reminder that the Assyrians, the major Mesopotamian power of Isaiah’s day, would be annihilated, foreshadowing what would subsequently happen to Babylon and the other hostile nations." [Note: The NET Bible note on 14:24.]

Yahweh of armies proceeded to swear that what He had purposed would happen (cf. Hebrews 6:13-14), namely, the destruction of Assyria (Isaiah 14:24). A stronger assurance is hard to imagine. God would defeat the Assyrians in His land, the Promised Land (cf. Isaiah 37:36-37). He would break the Assyrian yoke off of His people, and thus remove the burden that the Assyrians were to the Israelites (Isaiah 14:25; cf. Isaiah 9:3; Isaiah 10:27). This would be representative of what He would do to the whole world in judging sin and pride in the future (Isaiah 14:26). No one would be able to turn aside His hand stretched out in judgment because He is God Almighty (Isaiah 14:27; cf. Isaiah 13:2).

The near fulfillment came in 701 B.C. when the angel of the Lord slew 185,000 Assyrian soldiers who had surrounded Jerusalem (Isaiah 37:36-37). Later fulfillments came in 689 B.C., when the Assyrians under Sennacherib sacked Babylon, and in 539 B.C., when Cyrus the Persian destroyed it.

Verse 28

This oracle came to Isaiah in the year that King Ahaz died, namely, 715 B.C. The dating of prophecies is rare in Isaiah, so probably this date has some bearing on the interpretation of the oracle.

Verses 28-32

The oracle against Philistia 14:28-32

Another nation that some people in Judah wanted to trust in for protection from the Mesopotamian threat was Philistia, on Judah’s west, but she too was under the judgment of God.

Verses 29-32

The Philistines were rejoicing because some king or nation that had oppressed them had lost its power. This may be a reference to David, since with the death of Ahaz, the power of the Davidic dynasty was at its lowest level so far. [Note: Motyer, pp. 147-48.] It seems more likely, however, that Assyria is in view (cf. Isaiah 14:31-32). [Note: Watts, p. 219] The "rod" and the "serpent" could refer to Shalmaneser V, who laid siege to Samaria and dominated Israel for so long; and the "viper" and "flying serpent" could be Sargon II, who followed Shalmaneser. This setback led the Philistines to think that this enemy would not oppress them any longer. But Isaiah warned that the oppressor was not gone forever. A worse enemy would come from that nation in the future, probably Assyria or Babylon (Isaiah 14:29). Only the poorest of the people would survive the coming enemy. Most of the Philistines would starve or be slaughtered (Isaiah 14:30).

A disciplined enemy from the north would come against Philistia, totally demoralizing its inhabitants (Isaiah 14:31). Evidently messengers from Philistia (and Egypt?) were seeking an alliance with Judea for mutual protection. The Lord advised the people, through Isaiah, to trust in Him, Zion being the place of His presence on earth, rather than in Philistia, since it was doomed (Isaiah 14:32).

Sargon II the Assyrian invaded Philistia in 712 B.C., and in 701 B.C. another Assyrian, Sennacherib, punished anti-Assyrian elements in Philistia.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Isaiah 14". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/isaiah-14.html. 2012.
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