Q85 : Is Satan in Isaiah and Ezekiel?

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Q85 : Is Satan in Isaiah and Ezekiel?

I have joined a small group at my Bible church and I convinced them to let me take them through a Bible study that basically covers the basic Bible doctrines from creation to the cross, it's called Firm Foundations from Creation to the Crossa by Trevor McIllwain.

Anyway this week I introduced the lesson of God being the Creator of the spirit being and Lucifer's fall. I was surprised when one of the people in our group began to make a case that the Ezekiel 28 passage and the Isaiah 14 passage were not talking about Lucifer. Secondly they made the statement that in the Hebrew language the word Lucifer is never used in the OT and that whenever the title of Accuser or Deceiver or these descriptive titles are used they are never used with a definite article that would designate an actual, specific individual is in view. Their final assessment seemed to be that there doesn't seem to be any mention of Satan in the OT but they were not willing to say he is not specifically identified in the NT by Jesus Himself (which of course he is). They felt like the Greek was clearer in identifying Satan in the NT but when challenged with what to do with the “protoevangelium” other passages that seem to clearly identify Satan they only continued to hold to their point about the Hebrew language and ask, “Well did the Hebrew writers make a mistake in not putting a definite article before these titles of Lucifer?”

I was not totally prepared to defend the reality of Satan from the Hebrew language although it seems very clear to me there are numerous passages that speak about someone who could not by any means be a human being. This individual also scolded me for using the NT to bring clarity to the OT passages on this issue saying I was reading the NT back into the OT and that was not “fair” to do that.

I know this is a very long email and you and the others at Spirit and Truth are busy people...if you are unable to respond at this time maybe you could provide me with some resources I can look up to read and study this further.

God Bless and I really do appreciate the work you all do in standing firm for the vital importance and non-negotiables of Bible doctrine.

A85 : by Tony Garland

We've used the children's version of Firm Foundations from Creation to the Cross in our children's ministry at our church. It seems like good material.

I've encountered the view you are encountering during my teaching as well. Some believers seem to be particularly troubled by the idea that these passages would speak of Satan. Differences of interpretation involving passages that are rich with typology is a common situation within Christianity. Some people (myself included) greatly value typology and find great riches from it while others seem very suspicious of it and consider it with a jaundiced eye.

There are two matters to consider when discussing these passages :

  1. The name Lucifer.
  2. The context of the passages.

The person in your group is technically correct in observing that the name “Lucifer” is never found within the OT (Nor is it found in the NT.) It simply reflects the proper name which the KJV translators used, apparently following in the footsteps of Wycliff, who followed in the footsteps of Jerome's Latin Vulgate which much earlier rendered the Hebrew at this verse by “lucifer.”

The actual Hebrew phrase is הֵילֵל בֶּן־שָׁחַר [hêlēl ben–šāḥar]. This phrase could be more literally translated as “morning star, son of the dawn.” This can be seen from the modern NASB translation which renders it, “O star of the morning, son of the dawn!”

But this matter of “Lucifer” not being in the Hebrew is somewhat of a red-herring. The reason being that “Lucifer” is of Latin origin and combines “lucis,” from “lux” (light) with the verb “confero,” (to bring, bear, or carry). The basic idea is “light-bearer” in a similar way in which “Christopher” means “Christ-bearer.” Cassell's Latin Dictionarya gives the meanings: “light-bearing,” “light bringing,” and also mentions its substantive use for “the morning star, Venus.”

So when we dig a bit deeper we find that the meaning of “Lucifer” is “bearer of light” with a tangential reference to Venus, the morning star. In point of fact, this is not very far from the underlying Hebrew which reflects Satan's role as an “angel of light.” We also see that the NT comes pretty close to describing Satan as “Lucifer” :

”And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light."
(2 Corinthians 11:14)

In fact, in the Latin Vulgate, “angel of light” (ἄγγελον φωτός [angelon phōtos]) at this verse is rendered by “angelum lucis”!

So yes, like the word “Trinity,” the word “Lucifer” is not found in the Hebrew or Greek. But the word is found in the Latin and, like the Trinity, the concept of Satan as a “light bearer” is completely Scriptural. The debate over the KJV use of “Lucifer” is similar to how the Jehovah's Witnesses make such a big deal over Bible translations which render the tetragrammaton by “LORD” rather than “Jehovah” (which is in itself an interesting topic for another time). The plain fact is that the concept embodied by the older term “Lucifer” is not far removed from what the Hebrew is saying. If we were living nearer to 1611 A.D., our knowledge of the original meaning of such terms as Lucifer would help us avoid making a mountain over a molehill.

Aside from the matter of how closely “Lucifer” renders the underlying Hebrew, there is the issue of context. Numerous scholars throughout history have noted that the language of both passages go well beyond the historical near-view of the kings of Babylon (Isa. 14:4) and Tyre (Isa. 28:11) to focus on the spiritual powers beyond. This is why the course materials you are using teach this view, why I hold this view, and why many bible translations used “Lucifer” in the first place. This is nothing more than what is made plain in Daniel 10, Ephesians 2 and 6 and elsewhere—that spiritual powers are often found behind the human players on the stage of history.

Space (and time) preclude a detailed exegesis of the passages, but aside from the context which includes sweeping statements that go well beyond the historical setting, we observe the following:

  • Jesus appears to make reference to Isa. 14:12 in his statement in Luke 10:18, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” How similar this is to Isa. 14:12, “How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer. . .” If not an explicit reference, it would seem to be a clear analogy. Notice Jesus parallels “Satan” (NT) with “Lucifer” (OT, KJV).

  • The king of Tyre is called a “cherub” (Eze. 28:14,16). Scripture applies this term to angelic beings. Some attempt to circumvent this problem by saying the passage is merely using language of comparison. No doubt there is a typological connection between the king of Tyre and a real cherub whom we know as Satan. But the passage lacks key words indicating mere comparison (such as “like,” “as”).

The king is not merely compared to a cherub, he is called “THE anointed cherub.” Here, the definite article comes about from the preceding particle in the Hebrew, אַתְּ־ [ ʾatt–] which serves to identify and emphasize the particular person in view.

Most interpreters agree that there is a typological connection between the king of Tyre and Satan in these passages. The question remains: 1) who is the type (the original model) and who the antitype (the later fulfillment)? As the language of the passages develops, it clearly looks to a time before that of the king of Tyre—back to Satan. The king of Tyre is the one who should be seen as the antitype of the more-significant and earlier true cherub, Satan.

Merrill Unger, in his Commentary on the Old Testamentb had this to say concerning the Ezekiel 28 passage: “That the career of Satan is here reflected under the person of the king of Tyre is true because of eleven reasons: . . .” which he then proceeds to enumerate over four columns of text which follow. (I highly recommend this excellent commentary on the OT which is a breath of fresh air among so much academic deadwood.)

Here we can make two solid conclusions:

  1. There is ample and good evidence to understand both passages as going beyond each king to speak of Satan. There are good scholars who hold this position (as ought to be evident from the fact that “Lucifer” has stood in Isaiah 14:12 across many years and translations). We are in good company when we see this too.
  2. There are also others who don't share this view and they are welcome to see otherwise. These also include good expositors (e.g., Kiel, and Calvin—who refers to views which apply Isaiah 14 to Satan as “useless fables.”) We don't have to convince them and they don't have to convince us.

Although the issue of whether Satan is intended in Isa. 14 and Eze. 28 might be open to different interpretations, it is without question that Satan is found in the OT. The Hebrew noun שָׂטָן [śāṭān] means “adversary” but also is used as a proper name, It is found in some 14 verses within the OT. In these same locations, the Septuagint (the Greek version of the OT) renders the term by ὁ διαβολος [ho diabolos] (nominative) or τον διαβολον [ton diabolon] (accusative). This is the same way which the Greek NT renders “the Devil.” Notice too, unlike the English OT, the definite article which exists in the Hebrew appears in the Greek version of the OT.

But even aside from the Septuagint rendering—which matches that of the NT where the devil is concerned—Satan IS found with a definite article in the Hebrew for most of the passages I took the time to check (Job 1:6,7,8,9,12; 2:1,2,3,4,6,7; Zec. 3:1,2).

For example, Zec. 3:2 has, וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אְל־הַשָּׂתָן [wayyōmer Yahweh ʾel–haśśāṯān] (“And God said to (the) Satan. . .”). This person seems to be confusing the English rendition, which simply has the proper name Satan without an article, with the underlying Hebrew which does in fact have the article. So the question arises as to why the article in the Hebrew doesn't necessarily carry across into the English?

This is a reflection of the fact that the use of the definite article—in both Hebrew and Greek—differs from its usage in English. Its use involves subtleties which those who have not studied the languages are generally unaware of. Translators understand these issues—having studied the languages—and look at both grammatical clues and the characteristics of both source and target languages to determine when to render the definite article. Even then, there are still disagreements among the experts.

For example:

There are a few special uses of the Hebrew article that do not correspond to English usage. . . . Vocative is a term used to indicate direct address. This means that a definite article can be used on names or titles when a speaker is referring to the person with whom he or she is talking (usually translated “O king,” . . .).
Basics of Biblical Hebrewc

There are also situations where the Hebrew lacks the definite article, but the term should be translated with the definite article in English (e.g., unique appellatives, cosmological elements, earthly institutions, place names).

Satan occurs within the Hebrew as “the Satan" because he is not just any accuser, but because he is the primary accuser (Job 1; Zec. 3). In English, the title “Satan” is sufficient to carry this semantic payload without any definite article.

Among the examples of Hebrew proper names for individuals which have the definite article, but which are not rendered as such in the English, we find

הָאֱלֹהִים [hāʾělōhîm] (the god), הַבַּ֫עַל [habbaʿal] (the lord), and הַשָּׂטָן [haśśāṭān] (the adversary, or Satan).
An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntaxd.

It seems to me that this person has received some questionable teaching regarding the significance of the missing article in the English. This is not unusual with some who try to appeal to the original languages to support an idea, but lack sufficient understanding to handle the text properly. (As an aside, there are many today who hold that there is no longer an important reason for pastors to learn the original languages. This example in your study group is just one of numerous situations which demonstrate otherwise.)

If this person is also inferring that the serpent in Genesis 3 is something or somebody other than Satan (the Devil), this would be most unusual. I'm not aware of any conservative bible scholar who holds such a view and in any case it would conflict with passages which clearly equate the “serpent of old” with Satan (Rev. 12:9; 20:2).

As for your use of the NT to understand the OT, it is one thing to “reinterpret the Old Testament” through the lens of the New Testament and quite another to look at all of Scripture from the perspective of the complete canon of progressive revelation. This is simply comparing scripture with scripture which ultimate leads to developing a systematic theology—an undervalued approach in our day.

For example, we only come to find that Eve was deceived while Adam was not from the NT (1Ti. 2:14). We are not abusing Scripture when we add to our understanding of the OT from information about those same passages which are given in the inspired passages of the NT. So long as we take care not to interpret the passages in ways that deny their application in the original context. Here we are within bounds because we are not denying that the passages are about the kings of Babylon and Tyre. We are simply saying that the literal meaning of the passages cannot possibly be fulfilled in these kings and the text is following the frequently exhibited prophetic technique of capturing another ultimate subject—Satan. (Psalm 22 is a straightforward example of this prophetic technique. The text goes well beyond David to point to an ultimate referent, only finding fulfillment in the crucifixion of Jesus.) This is essentially no different from how Isaiah 7:14 talks about an actual child in the near historical context while at the same time having in view an ultimate reference to the virgin birth.

Among those who find Satan in these passages we find many careful interpreters of the Word. Men such as D. G. Barnhouse, Lewis Sperry Chafer, Charles Dyer, Paul Enns, Arnold Fruchtenbaum, H. A. Ironside, Robert Lightner, D. Martyn Lloyd Jones, Monty Mills, John MacArthur, J. Vernon McGee, Charles Ryrie, C. I. Scofield, Renald Showers, Merrill Unger, and John Walvoord. These are just a few I found checking some of my electronic sources within the limited time I had available. We can be sure that all these men are not promoting “useless fables” as Calvin maintained!

Stand firm with your study guide and may the Lord bless your willingness to step out in faith and “feed His sheep!”

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