“You will take up this taunt against the king of Babylon:” (Isaiah 14:4a)
Isaiah 14:1-4a introduces another near and far fulfillment oracle concerning the restoration of God’s people and the judgment upon God’s enemies. While today’s passage does in fact refer to Judah’s return to the Promised Land following their 70 year captivity in Babylon (2 Chronicles 36), it also focuses upon the beginning of the Millennial Kingdom of Jesus Christ and the fall of the great harlot Babylon at the conclusion of the tribulation (Revelation 18:1-20:3).
It must be understood that this oracle contained in Isaiah 14 was prophetic for the prophet, even as it is primarily historical for believers today. However, there remains a prophetical element in the oracle as it relates to the Millennial Kingdom of Jesus Christ (Revelation 20:1-3).
Isaiah heralded to the citizens of Judah that they were to take up a taunt against the king of Babylon. Even though the downfall of the king, along with Judah’s freedom from the king’s rule, was still future, God’s deliverance of His people was assured. So also was God’s judgment upon His enemies (Isaiah 14:4b-21).
The word taunt means a saying, a proverb of wisdom, an oracle or a parable. Taunt could also refer to a song to be sung by a freed people from a fearful king by a merciful God.
There is an ongoing debate as to who is the king of Babylon. Historically, some expositors propose that it was Sennacherib of Assyria (705–681). There are interesting parallels between the description of the tyrant in Isaiah 14 and the curse against Sennacherib in Isaiah 37:21–29. However, still others believe the king is either Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 1-4) or Belshazzar, the last king of Babylon before it fell to the Medes and the Persians (Daniel 5). Still others believe the title refers to the final Antichrist who will rule not only Babylon but the entire world (Revelation 17:1-18). Then there are those who teach that Isaiah 14:12-14 describes Satan’s fall (Luke 10:18; Revelations 12:8-10). Finally, the title could refer to any ruler who represents oppressive human power.
Dr. R. C. Sproul explains that, “In that day, the oppressed people of God would be saved so definitively that they could taunt the once-mighty king of Babylon (Isa. 14:3–4). Isaiah does not name the king, so he likely has no specific individual in mind. The prophecy could refer to any king of Babylon or even Assyria, for “the king of Babylon” is an ambiguous phrase. Babylon was the capital of the Babylonian Empire, but the city fell under Assyrian rule at times. If there is no specific king in view, the passage is designed to give the ancient people of God hope no matter when they lived. Any faithful child of Jacob could read this passage and know for certain that the enemies of God’s people would be destroyed one day.”
“Although we do not know if the passage refers to a specific king such as Sennacherib or Nebuchadnezzar, it is clear that this text is not speaking directly of the devil. Based on Luke 10:18 and Revelation 12:7–9, which describe the fall of Satan, many thinkers in church history have believed that the fallen Day Star in Isaiah 14:12–21 is the devil. Even though a specific king is not mentioned, the prophet still has a human ruler in view (vv. 3–4), so Isaiah was not talking about the Enemy when he gave this prophecy. Nevertheless, we will not be too hard on church history. Even we might draw an indirect analogy between the fall of the prideful ruler of Babylon and the fall of Satan from grace.”
Take note of Isaiah 14:22. It says, “I will rise up against them,” declares the Lord of hosts, “and will cut off from Babylon name and remnant, descendants and posterity,” declares the Lord.” God’s judgment upon His enemies, and the enemies of His people, is sure and certain.
In today’s passage, the king of Babylon is denied burial, and his corpse is left out in the open (Isa. 14:18–20b). In the ancient Middle East, this was the most shameful thing that could happen to a person, especially a king. God’s message through the prophet was clear: When the Lord defeats His enemies, it is full and final. Such is our hope today. May each of us rest in this confident assurance.
Soli deo Gloria!