Who is Lucifer?

In my last several posts I have discussed the topic of demons, and some of the various theories concerning their origins, and explored some of the less mainstream views in detail. Specifically, the identification of demons with the mysterious “Nephilim” of Genesis 6, and the legend of the demon Lilith. However, in this post I thought I might post on the “prince of demons” himself, Satan. What can we say about his origins? The Christian Church has long maintained that Satan is a fallen angel, once called Lucifer, but whom fell from grace (Heaven) due to his pride. That Satan is a fallen angel is not questioned by practically all Christians, except perhaps those among the most uber Liberal ranks. However many Christians today, even from fairly conservative orthodox circles, do not believe Satan was Lucifer. Therefore in this post I will pose the question: Who is Lucifer?

Lucifer is a Latin word, and in the Christian tradition it is generally regarded as the angelic name of Satan prior to his fall. The actual Hebrew word to which “Lucifer” is ascribed is Helel, from the root, halal, which means “light bearer,” “shining one” or   “to shine”. Since the scriptures were written in Latin for so many centuries, most Christians came to know Helel by the aforementioned Latin name. So much so, that when the Bible was finally translated into English (The King James Bible), the translators simply kept the Latin form “Lucifer” in stead of the original Hebrew “Helel”. However, in most modern translations the word is often translated as either “morning star”, or “day star”, to which I will discuss later.

The word “Lucifer”, or more properly “Helel”, appears in the Bible only once, and only in select translations. The verse in question is from Isaiah 14:12-15:

“How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.” Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.” (Isaiah 14:12-14) KJB

So to whom, or what, is this text addressing? The answer to that question is a topic of much debate among theologians in recent times. Some believe that this passage is strictly addressing the King of Babylon. Others disagree, and see a deeper allegory, i.e. that this passage is making a comparison of the Babylonian monarch to Satan, the Day Star or both. Let us now proceed to take a closer look at these verses and explore which understanding fits best.

The context of this passage starts earlier, in verse 14:4, where God tells Isaiah to       “take up this proverb against the king of Babylon” and how he and his golden city will cease. Note: ‘this proverb’ is derived from the Hebrew word mashal, sometimes rendered as “parable”, “lamentation” or “taunt” in various translations. Most experts hold that it properly denotes a metaphor or a comparison. Therefore, the premise that the passage is an allegory (in some form) of God’s wrath against the king of Babylon is not really in question. That said, allegories can be both simple metaphors, or as more generally defined, “a story that has a deeper or more general meaning in addition to its surface meaning.” To that end: What is the metaphor, or deeper meaning, in these text beyond the Babylonian king? Before answering that question, lets first examine the identity of Satan.

The name Satan means “adversary,” he is also called the Devil, meaning “the accuser”, and each are fitting titles as his existence has become completely adversarial to both God’s will, and to humanity. That said, it is a mistake for anyone to view Satan as a rival on par, or equal footing (power) to God. There is only one eternal God, who’s power is absolute. Meanwhile Satan is a created being. To that point, we can say for certain from the scriptures that Satan was an angel, e.g. “One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them” (Job 1:6). “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). Additionally, we learn that he rebelled against God and was subsequently cast out of Heaven, i.e. “The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him” (Revelation 2:24). Jesus also testifies to this truth, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18).

So what happened? Why did this powerful angel, described as a beautiful cherub in Ezekiel, come to rebel against God? Paul provides us a clue in his pastoral letters. In writing to Timothy, he explains that one of the qualifications for pastors is that they “must not be a recent convert, or (they) may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil” (1 Timothy 3:6).  This passage clearly demonstrates that Paul understands pride to be among the causes of conceit. Moreover, when a person becomes prideful, they can become conceited, and then in turn fall into the same condemnation as the devil.  So why does Paul associate pride with the “condemnation of the devil” (Satan)?  The answer should be obvious: because pride was also the cause of Satan’s fall and condemnation. This is just one of many scriptures that help illustrate Satan’s character and fall. All taken together, we find that Satan was both envious and jealous of God’s position, and due to his pride led a futile effort to replace God, only to be cast out of heaven.

With this knowledge, let us now return to the passages of Isaiah 14 concerning the prophetic judgment against the Babylonian king. He refuses to acknowledge that he had any superior, both on earth or in heaven. Thereby proclaiming that he himself should be regarded as supreme, even above God himself. As a result of his PRIDE, and self-supremacy, the Babylonian monarch was condemned to FALL from his esteemed position. Does this not also sound like somebody else we just discussed? Once more, even from a surface level reading of these passages, it is clear that there is more going on here than just a prophetic judgment against the Babylonian king. For instance, “How art thou fallen from heaven” — the king of Babylon was NEVER in Heaven. But who was? As stated earlier, Jesus (the Word of God) specifically gives witness to such an event from the Gospels, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18).   Additionally, John tells us “there was war in heaven” and “the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, who deceives the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him” (Revelation 12:7-9).  In other words, the passage of Isaiah is more than just a prophetic judgment against the king of Babylon, but rather an allegory, which provides us with a deeper story, the story of Satan’s fall from Heaven. Meaning the Babylonian King’s pending doom is comparable to this fallen Helel figure (who was Satan). This has long been the view and interpretation of Isaiah 14 by theologians, Christian thinkers and Church Leaders for nearly two millennia. It is also the view I hold on this matter, for whatever it is worth.

That said, this is still a matter of interpretation, and as stated earlier, several theologians today do not share this view. In their corner are such renown theologians as Luther and Calvin from the Protestant Reformation. Both of whom argued this passage should be strictly read as speaking about the Babylonian king only. However, early Church Fathers such as Origen and Tertullian both understood this passage from Isaiah to be a reference to the Devil. In fact, in Tertullian’s writings he makes very clear that the “I will” proclamations of Isaiah 14:12-15 are to be read as the actual words of the devil himself. Moreover, this interpretation of Isaiah has long been a teaching of not only the Catholic Church, but numerous Evangelical groups, and is still a view held by many ministers and theologians today, e.g. Billy Graham and John Macarthur. So despite some objections, the Church (overall) has long deemed this passage to be a reference to Satan. To that end, with this understanding of Isaiah in mind, it was only natural that believers began to extrapolate that Satan, prior to his fall, was designated (or known) as the “light bearer” or “shining one” that fell. Therefore, when used by the proper noun, the devil, Satan, was once called “Helel”, better known to us today by the Latin version  ascribed to this name, “Lucifer”.

So why do most modern translations drop the proper name for the popular translation of “morning star” or “day star”? This is a little complicated, but I will do my best to explain. First, I will say upfront that I am not a linguist, nor an expert in foreign languages (of any kind). That said, as stated earlier, there are many today that do not make the connection of Isaiah 14 with Satan. However, this presents a major problem for those with such views, in that any surface level reading of the passage in question, clearly indicates that these texts are an allegory of some kind. Therefore, if it is not an allegory for Satan and his fall, then to whom, or what, is this text alluding to in addition to the Babylonian monarch? Many theologians, in order to solve this problem, have decided to correlate the passage in question to the “morning star” or “day star”. In other words, what we today would call the planet Venus. Such theologians point out that Venus is the brightest star of the sky in the morning, just before the sun rise — hence the phrase “son of the morning (or dawn)”  which follows Helel. Thus, they conclude the Babylonian King’s fall is best understood as an allegory to Venus (the Day Star) trying to take the Sun’s place in the sky, only to disappear upon the sun rise. To that point, many theologians, and translators of our modern text, start out with this view in mind. Therefore, the translation of the Hebrew Helel (the shining one) as either “morning star” or “day star,” would naturally seem the best translation. Theodore of Cyrus, a theologian and Bishop of the 5th century, also more or less held this view. To that end, I have no doubt that such Christians are sincere in their belief that this is indeed both the proper understanding and translation. That said, although I find this to be an interesting interpretation, and certainly a better one than those who maintain the text is strictly referring to the Babylonian king, there are still some fallacies with this thinking or understanding.

First, to correlate Helel with the “morning star” is to ignore the rest of the passage which makes clear that Helel desires to “exalt (his) throne above the stars of God … (and) be like the most High”. If this astrological metaphor is indeed the correct interpretation: then why is it not taken to its natural conclusion? Specifically, why is it that the “morning star” is used for Helel, but the “sun” is not used for God or the most High? The reason is, as attested to in all modern translations, that the text clearly  refers to “God” and NOT the “sun” in these verses. Therefore, this would seem to suggest by contrast that the proper term, Helel, should also be used in favor of either “morning star” or “day star”. Moreover, when the sun rises the “day star” (or Venus) disappears in its presence, only to reappear the next day. So why does the text say later in verse 14:14 that he will be brought down to “Hell“, or “the bottomless pit“? Clearly, at least in my view, and the view of many others, this astrological metaphor does not fit in well with the rest of the text. Moreover, despite some conjecture, there is currently no solid evidence that the day star (Venus) was ever known or called by “Helel” in Judaism, or any other ancient Near East culture for that matter. Although one could make a case for the Latin form Lucifer. That said, even if the correct translation of these text is that Helel should be read as a star — angels are referenced elsewhere in the scriptures as stars (e.g. see Revelation). So this does not preclude or takeaway from the understanding, in the least, that the passage in question is still speaking allegorically about Satan’s fall from Heaven. In fact, there are several theologians that hold that very position, i.e. that the text is an allegory to Satan, who was once called the “day/morning” star. Once more, as has already been discussed, the scriptures make abundantly clear elsewhere that Satan is a fallen angel that rebelled against God, and was subsequently cast out of Heaven. Therefore it is only natural to view Isaiah 14 as an allusion to Satan, in that it is consistent with everything we already know about his history and character described elsewhere in scripture. In simpler terms, the shoe fits perfectly.

However, there is yet another really good reason to pause at the translation of Helel to “morning star” in Isaiah 14:12, as even my preferred Bible translation (the NIV) makes. Why? Because Jesus Christ proclaims that He is the “Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star (Revelation 22:16). Peter also further attests to this association of Christ with the morning star in 2 Peter 1:19. How crafty is that Ancient Serpent, and Devil, that he appears to have convinced so many to use a title, designated for Jesus Christ, and erroneously apply it to a prophetic condemnation describing both the fall of a conceited and evil Babylonian monarch, and to himself? CRAFTY INDEED!

Now that we have explored the genesis of the name Lucifer, and the debates surrounding the interpretation of Isaiah 14, I would like to conclude with some final thoughts on Satan before wrapping up this post.

Why would this angel (Helel) rebel against God? As we have discussed, the reason is best summarized in just one word: Pride. Helel became jealous of God’s position, and in his pride he wanted to become God, so he decided to lead a revolt and take his place. Of course, naturally he failed, as there is only one God, and He is all powerful. Nevertheless his goal is still the same: to take God’s place. As such, Helel (Lucifer) is no longer “the shining one”, but rather “the adversary” — Satan.

As believers we must always remember three absolute truths about Satan. First, that he is indeed real, and very powerful. To that point, one of the greatest tricks the devil ever pulled off was to convince so many that he does not really exist. Second, that he is completely evil, deceitful and his goal is to lead us away from God and his redeeming grace through Jesus Christ. To that end, the Bible tells us, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”      (1 Peter 5:8). Finally, we need to remember that the devil is a defeated foe! Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior conquered Sin, Death and Hell. Moreover, one day Christ will come again, to among other things, pronounce judgment on Satan and all his followers.

On that note, I believe it is time to wrap this post up. Who is Lucifer? Lucifer is simply a Latin name for the Hebrew word Helel. Therefore, the more proper question to have posed for this post would have been: Who is Helel? Although there are differing interpretations among theologians and experts concerning the context and meaning of Isaiah 14:12-15. After considering the evidence and various options, the best answer in my view is the traditional one. That Lucifer (or Helel) was most likely a description (or angelic name) of Satan, prior to his fall. But enough already, I think I have discussed demons and the devil long enough. So in the coming posts, I will look for something else to talk about.

Thank you for reading. I hope some may have found this post insightful.

JDN

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