By David McClister
Open any number of commonly used Bible reference works and look up the entry for “Satan.” You will probably get a familiar story. I quote L.O. Richards’ Complete Bible Handbook as typical:
The O.T. indicates that Satan was created by God as a ruling angel called Lucifer, with great powers. But pride led Lucifer to rebel against God (cf. Isa. 14:12-14; Ezek. 28:12-15). Warped now by sin, Lucifer is transformed into Satan, which means “enemy” or “adversary.” .. . Satan is a powerful fallen angel, intensely hostile to God and antagonistic to God’s people (pp. 245, 801).
Ask most Bible-believing people where Satan came from and nine out of ten will give you a version of the story quoted above. The idea that Satan is a fallen angel whom God kicked out of heaven and who fell to earth is so wide-spread that many people believe that the Bible teaches it.
It may surprise you to find that the Bible teaches no such thing. Sure, there are passages in the Bible that speak of beings falling from heaven, but they are not about Satan and they use figurative language. Only by a careless reading of these texts can anyone arrive at the popular story concerning Satan’s origin. Let us examine the relevant biblical passages in context.
Just Who is Satan?
The name “Satan” is a transliteration of the Hebrew satan, denoting an accuser in the legal sense, a plaintiff with a charge to bring. In Zechariah 3:1 we read: “then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him” (NASB). In a word, Satan opposes us, works against us, or “prosecutes” us in an attempt to defeat us spiritually and morally. Jesus called him a murderer and a liar in John 8:44. In Revelation, John pictures Satan as a great dragon (Rev 12:9), a depiction that emphasizes his terrible nature. That same verse identifies him as the serpent (a reference to Gen. 3) and as the devil, which is another common biblical name for him. Perhaps 1 Peter 5:8 tells us what we most need to know about him: “Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”
The biblical emphasis is on what Satan is in relation to us (an enemy). Some people, however, think that certain biblical texts go even farther and tell us how Satan came to be this way. Let us examine these texts carefully.
This passage reads: “How you have fallen from heaven, O star of the morning, son of the dawn! You have been cut down to the earth, You who have weakened the nations! But you said in your heart, `I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, And I will sit on the mount of assembly In the recesses of the north. `I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.”‘ You will notice immediately that this passage does not mention Satan by any of his common biblical names. One can wring from this text a theory of Satan’s origin only by assuming that this passage describes him and by ignoring the context of this passage in Isaiah’s message.
Isaiah was not discussing Satan in Isaiah 12, nor does the origin of Satan in any way figure into the prophet’s message. If we say that this text is about the origin of Satan, it simply makes nonsense of the larger context. Isaiah prophesied during the reigns of the Hebrew kings: Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah (Isa 1:1). His ministry spanned (approximately) 750-686 B.C., some 65 years at the most. This was a time when God’s people had become corrupted with idolatry. God sent Isaiah to preach repentance to his people and to warn them that a failure to turn from idolatry would mean disaster on a national scale. Isaiah preached to both the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, fulfilling his commission by telling the people of those kingdoms that they would suffer terribly if they refused to repent. Isaiah 10:5-6 summarizes the message to the northern kingdom. There is similar language (13:3-6) reserved for the southern kingdom, the kingdom against which God would send the Babylonians.
Isaiah’s message was not completely one of gloom and doom. The Assyrians and the Babylonians, he preached, were simply instruments that God would use to punish his people. Once God had used these nations for his purposes, he would then turn and exact his judgment on them for their own wickedness. It is an awe-inspiring look at the sovereignty of God in action. Babylon would fall, and after this God would renew and regather his people and give them a glorious new existence. Isaiah 14 is about the fall of the Babylonian empire. Isaiah tells the inhabitants of the southern kingdom of Judah that after they had endured punishment the day would come when they would be able to see the fall of their oppressor and jeer at Babylon the way Babylon once jeered at Judah. Look at verses 4 and following. This is about Babylon.
Now why would Isaiah start the chapter talking about the downfall of Babylon, interrupt it with a description of the origin of Satan, and then resume speaking about the fall of Babylon? It just does not make any sense in the context here to see 12:12-14 as about Satan’s origin. The fact is that Isaiah was describing for the Judahites what they would be saying as they jeered at the king of Babylon who had been brought low and who had fallen from power (v 4). The tables would turn, and Isaiah is describing the irony of it all. Even a cursory reading of the passage reveals that the language here is poetic and figurative, and we need to treat it accordingly. “Heaven” in verse 12 is figurative language for that which is high and exalted, and Isaiah is here de-scribing the high esteem in which the king of Babylon was held. The prophet describes his fall from power figuratively as a fall from heaven. He then calls the Babylonian monarch, also figuratively, the “star of the morning.” In his glory, at one time, the sovereign of Babylon was like a brilliant star in the sky. However, his kingdom and his power would fall, and, in keeping with the imagery, Isaiah depicts his demise as a falling star.
Part of the popular misunderstanding of this passage stems from the appearance of the word “Lucifer” in the King James Version rendering of verse 12. The Hebrew word in question here is helel, which means “morning star” and has no connection with Satan. The translators of the King James Version used a word that, in 1611, was equivalent to the Hebrew word helel. “Lucifer” is an old Latin word that originally meant “light bearer” and was the name of the planet Venus whenever it appeared in the morning sky (Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary, 1072). When King James English was still being spoken, “Lucifer” did not mean Satan. Unfortunately, to many people today Lucifer is the name of Satan (because Isa. 12:12-14 is assumed to be about Satan!). It is not that the translators goofed but that people of later times either forgot what Lucifer meant or they wrongly assumed it was a name for Satan, or both.
Isaiah 12:13 recites the arrogant boasting of the Babylonian king. He once thought he was the greatest one in the world, that he had power and authority equal to God himself. One of the characteristics of the prophetic picture of Babylon is its great pride. However, God would bring this king low, to the lowest level imaginable to the Hebrew mind: Sheol, the abode of the dead (v. 15). Verses 9-11 de-scribe how the inhabitants of Sheol would stand surprised that one who was thought to be so “high” was now among them in a place so “low.” The point is that the Babylonian king went from the extreme of worldly exaltation to the extreme of humiliation, and this was God’s doing, God’s judgment. The whole thing is a picture, an image, but not a literal historical narrative. The emphasis is on the contrast between the Babylonian ruler’s “before” and “after” conditions. People would then look at the failure of the Babylonian king and ask, “Is this the man who made the earth tremble, who shook kingdoms, who made the world like a wilderness and overthrew its cities, who did not allow his prisoners to go home?” (vv. 16-17).
You see, then, that when we examine Isaiah 14:12-14 in its context it tells us nothing about the origin of Satan. It is a figurative description of the fall of the king of Babylon.
Another supposed origin-of-Satan passage is Ezekiel 28:12-16, which reads: “. . . Thus says the Lord GOD, `You had the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering: the ruby, the topaz, and the diamond; the beryl, the onyx, and the jasper; the lapis lazuli, the turquoise, and the emerald; and the gold, the workmanship of your settings and sockets, was in you. On the day that you were created they were prepared. You were the anointed cherub who covers, and I placed you there. You were on the holy mountain of God; you walked in the midst of the stones of fire. You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created, until unrighteousness was found in you. By the abundance of your trade You were internally filled with violence, and you sinned; therefore I have cast you as profane from the mountain of God. And I have destroyed you, 0 covering cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire.'”
The reference to Eden is, for many, a sure indicator that this passage must be about the origin of Satan. Never mind that Satan was already man’s enemy in Eden. But again, it is only by assuming that this passage is about Satan (the very thing that must be proved) that we can read it that ext page
When we examine way. The context here argues in another direction.
Ezekiel’s words here concern the king of Tyre. Verses 1 and 11 make this plain. Chapter 27 is about the fall of the nation, and chapter 28 is specifically about the fall of that nation’s king. Paying a little attention to the context goes a long way! Just as in the Isaiah passage, to take the prophet’s words as descriptive of Satan and his “fall” is to make complete nonsense out of this chapter.
The message here is in two parts, but each part presents the same message. Verses 1-10 describe the king of Tyre from God’s viewpoint. Like the king of Babylon, the king of Tyre was proud, arrogant, and boastful. He thought of himself as divine, and thus he claimed glory that did not belong to him (vv. 2, 6, 9). The prophet describes the monarch’s greatness sarcastically in verses 3-5. For his arrogance, the proud king will reap the judgment of God.
The judgment upon him is that God will bring him low (vv. 7-10). Verses 11-19 repeat this message. The prophet’s sarcastic portrait of the king reappears in verses 12b-16a. The increase in the level of imagery and figures in the language heightens the sarcasm. The king thought of himself in the absolute highest terms, but to God this was pure foolishness. The reference to Eden in verse 13 is not literal but means that the king thought of himself as being privileged above all others. He thought he was so special, like God’s anointed cherub or as one who lived on the very mountain of God (v. 14). He pictured himself in the most glorious terms. For this arrogance, God would judge him severely (vv. 16b-19).
Again, therefore, when we read this passage in its con-text, we see that it has nothing to do with the origin of Satan. In the next part of this study we will look at some New Testament passages that are commonly put forth as explaining the origin of Satan and then try to draw some conclusions.
Guardian of Truth XL: 9 p. 9-10
May 2, 1996