Verse-by-Verse Commentary: Isaiah 14:3-23
14:3-4. Once the Lord frees Israel from pain, turmoil and harsh service for which they have been enslaved, they will taunt the king of Babylon. They will do this in song.1 This taunt song has the metric of a dirge. A dirge eulogizes the dead and is usually song during a funeral procession. However, this song while having the metric of a dirge serves to do the opposite of eulogizing. This song mocks the dead king of Babylon.2
14:5-6. A ruler has a scepter by which he rules the nation. He could extend this scepter to you as an act of mercy, as was the case when Esther came before king Ahasuerus, king of Persia, unsummoned. (cf. Est 4:11-12, 5:1-2) This king of Babylon’s scepter was more like a staff with which a cruel owner might beat his slaves and he did so unceasingly, without any moral restraint. In this taunt song, the Lord has broken the Babylonian king’s staff/scepter. By his unrestrained anger the king of Babylon demonstrated himself to be an unfit to ruler.3
14:7. This king so struck the nations with fury that at his death the whole earth is at rest and is quiet. This king was enemy to all the earth. He was powerful and mighty on the earth, this is evident because his death brings joy to all the earth.4 What did the earth look like during his reign?
14:8. Not only did the men of the earth rejoice, but trees rejoice. The forest of Lebanon was likely denuded by the king’s armies to build his palaces.5 The forest of Lebanon was considered to be a treasure by kings of the ancient world. The forest of Lebanon would have been an area of conquest for the kings of the ancient world.6 Having such a forest would have given them the materials to build grand palaces and cities. Now with the king of Babylon dead the forest is able to grow and replenish.
14:9-10. The Hebrew word Sheol occurs 66 times in the Old Testament. Sheol is the underworld. It is the place to which the dead descended.7 So death is excited to meet him when he comes. Sheol will raise up the kings of the earth from their thrones. Death is the great leveler. The king of Babylon is no longer enthroned in death. All the dead kings before him, from all the nations stand at his arrival, but they do so in mock tribute.8m//
14:11. How can one be prideful when they have become a rotting corpse covered by worms and maggots?9 All of the pomp of his kingdom has passed away for he sleeps on a bed of maggots and his blanket is worms.10 Everything that this king of Babylon thought that he was rots away.
14:12-15. Some commentators believe that the theme of the taunt seems to expand at this verse from the king of Babylon to the fall of the one who gives energy to his wicked kingdom, Satan or Lucifer.11 The Hebrew word “helel” which is used in this text does not occur anywhere else in the Old Testament. When Jerome translated this text into Latin12 he used the word “lucifers” which literally means shining one.13 Here the prophet addresses him as a star who desired to be above God and His stars. The patristic, Tertullian, believed that this passage referred to the fall of Satan as described by Christ in Luke 10:18.14 “And He said to them, ‘I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightening.” Edward J. Young in his commentary on the Isaiah passage does not believe that this passage refers to the fall of Satan, but solely to that of a tyrannical earthly king.15 I am having a tendency at this point to agree, but I do see similarities between the fall of the king of Babylon and Satan at the final judgment. However, there are differences between the two, this king of Babylon is thrust down to Sheol while Satan will be cast into the Lake of fire. (cf. Rev 20:10) “Sheol is the Hebrew word for the Netherworld. Though it might have been considered an act of judgment for a person to be consigned to Sheol from life, it was not in itself a place of judgment to be contrasted to the reward of a heavenly destiny.”16
14:16-17. People will see this king in death pondering over him. In death, he goes from power to complete humiliation. Those who gaze at him will see a dead man, a nothing who was once the most powerful of all the kings on the earth.
14:18-21. Many earthly kings are honored at their funerals and by the sight chosen for their burial, but not the king of Babylon. He is not given a decent place of burial. There will be no monument erected in his honor and his children will be cut off from ever taking his place as king.17
14:22-23. Here the text departs from the mocking dirge song about the king of Babylon. The text returns to the theme of the destruction of Babylon as depicted in Isaiah 13:17-22. This text seems to be a summary of what was said in the text leading up to the taunt against the king of Babylon. According to McArthur, Israel will have a remnant, but Babylon will not.18 Babylon will be a place for creatures and dirty water.