Content Essay: Isaiah 14:3–23
Updated: Jul 5
The book of Isaiah is not the work of three different prophets but is the work of the eighth-century prophet Isaiah throughout. The prophecies of Isaiah are fulfilled, and his supernatural prophesies leave unbelievers without excuse. Isaiah 14:3–23 contains information from the first series of oracles against the nations in Isaiah chapters 13-23. The purpose of this essay is to answer specific questions about Babylon and Babylonian oppressors. Unlike Revelation in some respects, Babylon in Isaiah is a real geographical location and the oppressors are actual historical figures.
The short answer to the question “Who is the King of Babylon” is that the King of Babylon is simply a chief representative of oppressive power. However, there are a few names worth considering. According to Timothy Allen Little, “The identity of the King of Babylon in Isaiah 14 has perplexed scholars for millennia. The early church sometimes identified the king as Nebuchadnezzar, but most also saw a deeper meaning and believed Isaiah 14:12–14 referred to Satan.” However, Nebuchadnezzar is not mentioned in the book of Isaiah and is first mentioned as King of Babylon in 2 Kings 24:1. Dr. Floyd Nolen Jones writes, “According to the Babylonian chronicles, almost every year during the period from 609 to 598 BC, a Babylonian army under the command of Nabopolassar or his son Nebuchadnezzar entered the area along the Mediterranean coast toward Judah to oppose Egyptian domination of that part of the Fertile Crescent.” Isaiah ministered for more than forty years, from 740 until well after 701 BCE. Therefore, it is possible for Nebuchadnezzar to be the King of Babylon if Isaiah were older than one hundred years old, but that is not likely. Joseph Blenkinsopp admits the Servant is unnamed but writes about a probable time of Isaiah’s death “With respect to his relation to God, it is stated explicitly [in Isaiah] that God afflicted him, though innocent, with severe suffering and persecution (Isa. 53:4, 6, 10).”
There are five kings that are potential candidates as the King of Babylon during the time of Isaiah. According to Britannica Academic, Tiglath-pileser III, who flourished in the eighth century BCE as King of Assyria (745–727), inaugurated the last and greatest phase of Assyrian expansion. “He subjected Syria and Palestine to his rule, and later (729 or 728) he merged the kingdoms of Assyria and Babylonia.” Also from Britannica Academic, “Shalmaneser V, also dictated in the eighth century BCE as King of Assyria from 726–721. He “subjugated ancient Israel and undertook a punitive campaign to quell the rebellion of Israel’s King Hoshea (2 Kings 17).” Regarding King Sargon, Josette Elayi writes, “According to the Babylonian Chronicle, King Shalmaneser V died in the month of Tebet (the tenth month of the Assyrian calendar, January) in 722 BCE, and Sargon succeeded him on the throne of Assyria on the twelfth of Tebet.” Lastly, Grayson and Novotny write, “Sennacherib was remembered long after his death for besieging the Judean capital Jerusalem, an event described in the Bible (2 Kings 18:13-19:36, and 2 Chronicles 32:1-22), and for destroying Babylon and its revered temples.” Sardon was the King of Babylon in Isaiah 20:1, and Sennacherib was the King of Babylon in Isaiah 36:1; 37:8, 17, 21, 36, and 37. Worth noting is that around 701 BCE, the Assyrian King Sennacherib (704-681 BCE) led a powerful invasion force to suppress Judah’s revolt.
Within the context of Isaiah and along with the context of historical Babylon and historical Judah, the “Babylon” to which God’s people taunt their oppressor is referring to the city of Babylon north of Ur and south of Asshur in the Babylonian Empire. Regarding the impact of the oracle in Isaiah 13 on an interpretation of Isaiah 14:3–23 is, according to Chisholm, “the first oracle, which pertains primarily to Babylon (see Isaiah13:1) includes an introduction depicting worldwide judgment (Isa 13:2-16), a lengthy description of God’s judgment on Babylon (Isa 13:17-14:23), a brief judgment speech against Assyria (Isa 14:24-25), and a concluding summary that returns to the theme of worldwide judgment (14:26-27).”  This is not the Neo-Babylonian Empire or eschatological Babylon but the actual city of Babylon during the Assyrian period and the crown jewel of the Babylonian Empire. Chisholm writes, “here in Isaiah 13 the ‘day of the Lord’ refers to a time of worldwide divine judgment that begins with the downfall of the historical Babylonian Empire.”
The taunt in Isaiah 14:12–15 shifts away from the King of Babylon but not yet to the “power” behind the King of Kings. The core of this oracle is against Babylon, and “Lucifer, son of the morning” (Isa 14:12) has attempted to claim an exalted position in heaven (v.13) and be like the Most High (v.14) yet is told he will be brought down to Sheol and into the Pit (v.15). The “power” behind the King of Kings is in Isaiah 14:23, “For I will rise up against them, says the Lord of hosts, And cut off from Babylon the name and remnant, And offspring, and posterity, says the Lord.”
There is not a prophetic glimpse back in time to image the fall of “Lucifer (or Satan). Chisholm writes that “Because of the imagery used in verses 12-15, many interpreters have seen an allusion to the fall of Satan here, but this is contextually unwarranted.” In Ezekiel 28:2, 6, and 17, the ruler of Tyre also thought his heart was lifted up, that he was a god, and he was cast to the ground. Dunn writes, “There are echoes in the story of Adam and Eve cast from God's presence because they wanted to be like him (Gen 3:5, cf. Isa 14:14, and Phil 2:6).”
The reference in Isaiah 14:12 to the “Day Star, son of Dawn” should be understood as “a lesser deity in the West Semitic pantheon who, according to tradition, tried to usurp the place of the high god (Isa 14:12-13).” Dunn includes Canaanite myths about a god, and about Greek myths of a son of Helios the sun god, but says that none are satisfactory because there is no evidence. Dunn continues with “In their present form, these oracles condemned the ruler of Tyre, but like the Oracle in Isaiah 14, they were probably being reused (cf. Isa 43:27–28). These were the myths about kings who were also described as stars (cf. Num 24:17; Isa 24:21).”
The Book of Revelation, similar to Isaiah, reveals the destruction and fall of Babylon by various oppressors. It is important to understand the difference between literal and symbolic Babylon, especially because of some lesser-known facts about the history of Babylon and the Babylonian kings. Babylon appears prominently in the biblical books of Daniel, Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Revelation. Babylon is a literal location currently 55 miles south of Bagdad, modern-day Iraq, and the ruins are open for tourism. Babylon was first founded in 2300 BCE and became a seat of great military power but then fell apart after the death of its Amorite King Hammurabi around 1750 BCE. A new line of kings "resurrected" Babylon, a Neo-Babylonian empire, around 626 BCE. Nebuchadnezzar II held thousands of Jews captive there until Babylon again fell in 539 BCE to Persian King Cyrus, a pagan, who was also known as King of Babylon among many other titles such as "King of the Four Corners of the World.”
With Cyrus in command, Neo-Babylon became part of the Persian Empire which fell to Alexander the Great in 331 BCE. Subsequently, Babylon became deserted and forgotten, and there was no township of Babylon. Consequently, references to Babylon in Revelation could be interpreted as symbolic. Symbolically, as we see later in Revelation, any society, city, or nation seducing people away from true worship with false religions and sexual exploitation can be viewed as forms of "Babylon." Today, Babylon can therefore be Rome, Jerusalem, Egypt, or any other community having such immorality. One could also include the movements of Socialism, Marxism, Communism, and any other “–ism” taking one’s eyes off the Cross. The word Babylon is derived from the word Babel, from the tower story in Genesis 11 and Babylon is a code word for humanity seeking to build a city without God.
Blenkinsopp, Joseph. "The Sacrificial Life and Death of the Servant (Isaiah 52:13-53:12)." Vetus Testamentum (Brill) 66, no. 1 (2016): 1-14.
Chisholm, Robert B. Handbook On The Prophets. Ada, MI: Baker Academic, 2018.
Dunn, James D.G., and John W. Rogerson. Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003.
Elayi, Josette. Sargon II, King of Assyria. Atlanta, GA.: Society of Biblical Literature, 2017.
Grayson, Albert Kirk, and Jamie R. Novotny. The Royal Inscriptions of Sennacherib, King of Assyria (704–681 BC) Part 1. Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2012.
Jones, Floyd Nolen. Chronology of the Old Testament: A Return to the Basics. Green Forest, AR.: Master Books, 2007.
Little, Timothy Allen. The Identity of the King of Babylon in Isaiah 14:4-21. (PhD. diss., Clarks Summit University and Baptist Bible Seminary, ProQuest, 2018), iv.
 Timothy Allen Little, “The Identity of the King of Babylon in Isaiah 14:4–21” (PhD diss., Clarks Summit University and Baptist Bible Seminary, 2018), iv.  Floyd Nolen Jones, Chronology of the Old Testament: A Return to the Basics (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2007), 190.  Joseph Blenkinsopp, “The Sacrificial Life and Death of the Servant (Isaiah 52:13-53:12)” Vetus Testamentum 66, no. 1 (2016): 2. Britannica Academic, s.v. “Tiglath-pileser III” accessed July 21, 2021, https://academic-eb-com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/levels/collegiate/article/Tiglath-pileser-III/72451. Britannica Academic, s.v. "Shalmaneser V," accessed July 21, 2021, https://academic-eb-com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/levels/collegiate/article/Shalmaneser-V/67100. Josette Elayi, Sargon II, King of Assyria (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2017), 25. Albert Kirk Grayson, and Jamie R. Novotny, The Royal Inscriptions of Sennacherib, King of Assyria (704-681 BC) Part 1 (Winona Lake, Ind: Eisenbrauns, 2012), 32.  Robert B. Chisholm, Handbook on the Prophets (Ada, MI: Baker Academic, 2018), 47.  Ibid., 49.  Chisholm, Handbook on the Prophets, 50.  James D.G. Dunn, and John W. Rogerson. Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003), 511.  Robert B. Chisholm, Handbook on the Prophets (Ada, MI: Baker Academic, 2018), 49.  Dunn, Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible, 511.