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Isaiah 14:12-15

Context

14:12 Look how you have fallen from the sky,

O shining one, son of the dawn! 1 

You have been cut down to the ground,

O conqueror 2  of the nations! 3 

14:13 You said to yourself, 4 

“I will climb up to the sky.

Above the stars of El 5 

I will set up my throne.

I will rule on the mountain of assembly

on the remote slopes of Zaphon. 6 

14:14 I will climb up to the tops 7  of the clouds;

I will make myself like the Most High!” 8 

14:15 But you were brought down 9  to Sheol,

to the remote slopes of the pit. 10 

1 tn The Hebrew text has הֵילֵל בֶּן־שָׁחַר (helel ben-shakhar, “Helel son of Shachar”), which is probably a name for the morning star (Venus) or the crescent moon. See HALOT 245 s.v. הֵילֵל.

sn What is the background for the imagery in vv. 12-15? This whole section (vv. 4b-21) is directed to the king of Babylon, who is clearly depicted as a human ruler. Other kings of the earth address him in vv. 9ff., he is called “the man” in v. 16, and, according to vv. 19-20, he possesses a physical body. Nevertheless the language of vv. 12-15 has led some to see a dual referent in the taunt song. These verses, which appear to be spoken by other pagan kings to a pagan king (cf. vv. 9-11), contain several titles and motifs that resemble those of Canaanite mythology, including references to Helel son of Shachar, the stars of El, the mountain of assembly, the recesses of Zaphon, and the divine title Most High. Apparently these verses allude to a mythological story about a minor god (Helel son of Shachar) who tried to take over Zaphon, the mountain of the gods. His attempted coup failed and he was hurled down to the underworld. The king of Babylon is taunted for having similar unrealized delusions of grandeur. Some Christians have seen an allusion to the fall of Satan here, but this seems contextually unwarranted (see J. Martin, “Isaiah,” BKCOT, 1061).

2 tn Some understand the verb to from חָלַשׁ (khalash, “to weaken”), but HALOT 324 s.v. II חלשׁ proposes a homonym here, meaning “to defeat.”

3 sn In this line the taunting kings hint at the literal identity of the king, after likening him to the god Helel and a tree. The verb גָדַע (gada’, “cut down”) is used of chopping down trees in 9:10 and 10:33.

4 tn Heb “you, you said in your heart.”

5 sn In Canaanite mythology the stars of El were astral deities under the authority of the high god El.

6 sn Zaphon, the Canaanite version of Olympus, was the “mountain of assembly” where the gods met.

7 tn Heb “the high places.” This word often refers to the high places where pagan worship was conducted, but here it probably refers to the “backs” or tops of the clouds. See HALOT 136 s.v. בָּמָה.

8 sn Normally in the OT the title “Most High” belongs to the God of Israel, but in this context, where the mythological overtones are so strong, it probably refers to the Canaanite high god El.

9 tn The prefixed verb form is taken as a preterite. Note the use of perfects in v. 12 to describe the king’s downfall.

10 tn The Hebrew term בּוּר (bor, “cistern”) is sometimes used metaphorically to refer to the place of the dead or the entrance to the underworld.



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