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The Mighty Have Fallen: Evil Opposition in Isaiah 14…

May 29, 2012

Part 4 Evil Opposition in Isaiah 14…

In the past three posts we have introduced the concept that there is a textual and thematic connection in scripture which serve to give us a picture of the means and method of Evil’s opposition to God and His chosen Messiah.  We have looked at the characteristics of Evil opposition in Genesis and throughout the Old Testament, and we have examined a heightened type of this opposition in the Absalom Narrative in 2 Samuel 15.  Now we turn our attention to the presence of this opposition in Isaiah 14.

Isaiah 14:12-20 is often used as a text to describe the character and even origins of Satan.[1]  For our purposes we will assume the majority position that this passage in Isaiah, while directed at the king of Babylon, is also alluding to the fallen one, Satan.[2]

The passage comes in the middle of a taunt that Israel is to direct, by order of Yahweh, at the king of Babylon.  Here Babylon is the force in opposition to God’s anointed.  Many of the elements needed for evil opposition are present.  Pride, self-exaltation (14:13), murder (14:17) and a certain demise. (14:19)  Verse 19 shall be our primary focus.  I maintain that Isaiah has Absalom prefigured in this passage and especially in verse 19.  While one could certainly argue that the pride and self-exaltation on display would be common to any number of opposition narratives within the Bible; verse 19 serves to narrow our focus and tie this text to Absalom’s narrative.

Verse 19 is as follows:

       “But you have been cast out of your tomb

Like a rejected branch,

Clothed with the slain who are pierced with a sword,

Who go down to the stones of the pit,

Like a trampled corpse.

(Isaiah 14:19 NASB)

While the Hebrew text does not support many lexical links between this passage and 2 Samuel 18, we will explore the conceptual similarities at work.  In Isaiah, we have one who is cast out; who is like a “loathed branch, clothed with the slain;”  who is “pierced with a sword;” and is thrown down, buried in a pit, with stones.  Within this verse we see a four elements that the two texts share in common.  First we can see that the figure is cast out. Absalom was cast out as he fled from the scene of battle. (2 Sam 18:9)  Second, Samuel describes Absalom as being caught in the branch of a tree, figuratively clothing the branch of a tree with his slain body.  Third, He is pierced with a sword by Joab.  Fourth Absalom is buried in a pit covered with stones. (2 Sam 18:15,17)  Ultimately he is denied the right to be buried like a king, failing to be united with his royal heritage in burial. (Isa. 14:20)

These similarities are striking and serve to add meaning to both the text in 2 Samuel and this text in Isaiah, which allows the careful reader to see a greater nuance in the reproach against the King of Babylon.  Though he is like Satan in his pride and Absalom in his actions, he shares the fate of both.  He will be cast down, and meet his end like those who are a “loathed branch, clothed with the slain,” “pierced with the sword”, “buried in the pit.”  A certain end for one who opposes Yahweh.

Is Isaiah 14 speaking of Satan when it describes one “fallen from heaven… cut down to the earth…”? Most likely yes.  Is Isaiah 14 recording a taunt from Israel meant for the king of Babylon? Yes.  Is it also giving us a picture of evil opposition as seen in the Absalom narrative?  I believe that it is.  But it is also giving the reader a picture of another opposition scene.  I believe that both the Absalom narrative and the Isaiah passage, in addition to reflecting meaning on each other, serve to craft an image of a greater opposition yet to come.  We will now look how both of these passages serve to reflect and inform the narrative of Christ’s betrayal at the hand of Judas.


[1] “It is possible that there is a reference to the fall of Satan… Isaiah uses language that seems too strong to be referring to any merely human king.” Wayne Grudem Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 2000. 413.

[2] It is true that some commentators disagree with this assessment and view the exalted language as mere poetic imagery, (See John D.W. Watts Word Biblical Commentary on Isaiah 1-33, Waco: Word Pub. 1985. 212.)  Watts argues that there is little linking the account of the fall of Satan in Rev 12 with the description here in Isa 14.  It seems more plausible that this passage as pointing to Satan, “not directly but indirectly, much like the way the kings of the line of David point to Christ.” (See Geoffrey W. Grogan. Expositor’s Bible Commentary Vol 6, Isaiah. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 1986. 105)

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