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Isaiah 14:3-23 – Taunt Song against the King of Babylon

Summary

The king of Babylon, like all oppressors, will finally be brought down by a just God. Their arrogance will be their downfall.

Analysis

This text makes clear the sense of the oracles against the nations in chapters 13-23. The point is not hostility to the outsider, but rather God's unwavering opposition to tyranny and injustice. The nations are not rejected because they are foreign, but only when they oppress others and claim to act with the power of God (14:13-14). Indeed, Isaiah's broader message is clear: God desires the salvation of all nations, not just of Israel (45:22; 56:6-7).

The text is a taunt song, filled with the kind of mockery and derision one might hear from children celebrating that a playground bully has finally found his or her comeuppance. Babylon saw itself as master of all it surveyed, which was largely true from a human perspective. But Babylon used its power tyrannically, so all rejoice when God assures them of its eventual downfall.

In another of Isaiah's oracles that include the impact of God's actions on the entire creation, the hearer overhears the rejoicing of the cypresses and the cedars of Lebanon over Babylon's collapse (v. 8). Lebanon was renowned in the ancient Near East for the glory of its cedars, which were exploited rapaciously by rulers for their arrogant building projects, especially Babylon (here) and Assyria (2 Kings 19:23). But Israel was not immune; Solomon, too, used the cedars for the building of the temple of Jerusalem (1 Kings 5:6). This text might be an implied rebuke of Solomon's grandeur as well, the cost of which contributed to the breakup of the monarchy (2 Kings 12:1-19).

The passage uses a well-known Canaanite myth when it describes the king as the "Day Star, son of Dawn"--a would-be god who falls from heaven. This mythic connection remains as the Latin version of the passage renders "Day Star" as "Lucifer," thus making a connection with the image of Satan falling from heaven described by Jesus (Luke 10:18).

Isaiah 14:3-23

Downfall of the King of Babylon

3 When the Lord has given you rest from your pain and turmoil and the hard service with which you were made to serve, 4you will take up this taunt against the king of Babylon:
How the oppressor has ceased!
   How his insolence* has ceased!
5 The Lord has broken the staff of the wicked,
   the sceptre of rulers,
6 that struck down the peoples in wrath
   with unceasing blows,
that ruled the nations in anger
   with unrelenting persecution.
7 The whole earth is at rest and quiet;
   they break forth into singing.
8 The cypresses exult over you,
   the cedars of Lebanon, saying,
‘Since you were laid low,
   no one comes to cut us down.’
9 Sheol beneath is stirred up
   to meet you when you come;
it rouses the shades to greet you,
   all who were leaders of the earth;
it raises from their thrones
   all who were kings of the nations.
10 All of them will speak
   and say to you:
‘You too have become as weak as we are!
   You have become like us!’
11 Your pomp is brought down to Sheol,
   and the sound of your harps;
maggots are the bed beneath you,
   and worms are your covering.


12 How you are fallen from heaven,
   O Day Star, son of Dawn!
How you are cut down to the ground,
   you who laid the nations low!
13 You said in your heart,
   ‘I will ascend to heaven;
I will raise my throne
   above the stars of God;
I will sit on the mount of assembly
   on the heights of Zaphon;*
14 I will ascend to the tops of the clouds,
   I will make myself like the Most High.’
15 But you are brought down to Sheol,
   to the depths of the Pit.
16 Those who see you will stare at you,
   and ponder over you:
‘Is this the man who made the earth tremble,
   who shook kingdoms,
17 who made the world like a desert
   and overthrew its cities,
   who would not let his prisoners go home?’
18 All the kings of the nations lie in glory,
   each in his own tomb;
19 but you are cast out, away from your grave,
   like loathsome carrion,*
clothed with the dead, those pierced by the sword,
   who go down to the stones of the Pit,
   like a corpse trampled underfoot.
20 You will not be joined with them in burial,
   because you have destroyed your land,
   you have killed your people.


May the descendants of evildoers
   nevermore be named!
21 Prepare slaughter for his sons
   because of the guilt of their father.*
Let them never rise to possess the earth
   or cover the face of the world with cities.

22 I will rise up against them, says the Lord of hosts, and will cut off from Babylon name and remnant, offspring and posterity, says the Lord. 23And I will make it a possession of the hedgehog, and pools of water, and I will sweep it with the broom of destruction, says the Lord of hosts.

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10 February 2011

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