The interpretation of Isaiah 14:12 and thus the following verses has been largely rendered a 'fait a complis' for English speaking nations by the Authorized Version which renders: "How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!" However modern translators and many commentators the go to the original languages have questioned this designation. The literal rendering of the underlying Hebrew for 'Lucifer' is actually 'day star' or 'morning star' or more literally yet 'star of light'. Thus whilst these verses may refer to Satan they are at most doing so via a metaphor. The object of this brief paper is to study the possibilities for whom this 'day star' may be and what the correct hermeneutic for Isaiah 14:12-17 may be.
The first thing to note is that there is no other place in the Bible where the word rendered 'Lucifer' or 'day star' in Isaiah 14:12 is used. There are three other relevant places where 'day star' or 'morning star' appears in English Bibles. The three references are: 2Pe 1:19, Rev 2:28 and Rev 22:16. The latter of these is clearly a reference to Christ: "...I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star." The former is almost as clearly a divine reference: "...take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts:". Personally I had always assumed Rev 2:28 was a reference to Christ as well although it has been suggested that possibly it is here Satan that is being handed to the overcomers.
Based upon Rev 22:16 JFB states that the true 'morning star' is Christ and if some other being is referred to by that then we have to assume irony is being used or the is being used of one imitating Christ. This essentially derives from Christ being the 'light of the world' and others simply reflections. However another possibility is that the morning star is a metaphor for the one that is now gaining ascendancy. We should note that Christ is the light of the World and yet on the two occasions He is certainly referred to by this are occasions in which He is coming to power. Perhaps a modern paraphrase would be 'the rising star'.
Having largely failed to identify the addressee of Isaiah 14:12 purely from the name given it is necessary to examine the immediate context to see what properties the individual possesses. Some become immediately apparent. He is considered to be a man he has been thrown out of his grave and his mangled corpse lay among those that died in battle. All three facts point away from Satan as being the individual in question. He is not a man; he will be consigned to the place prepared for him and as far as we can tell he is thrown in there alive. It is interesting to note too that Isaiah 14:14 suggests the individual aspires to ascend above the clouds. That is relatively un-ambitious for one that is already the prince of the power of the air!
If the principle addressee of this passage is a man then we should examine the context further to see who it is likely to be. Isaiah 14:4 gives us the immediate answer: the King of Babylon. Remembering that chapter 13 of Isaiah also dealt with Babylon this is a very strong context for Isaiah 14. The latter parts of Isaiah 14 then proceed to deal with Assyria and Philistia which again are both literal countries.
It is a general rule of hermeneutics that if a passage can be taken literally then it should. It therefore remains to see if Isaiah 14:12-17 could refer to the King of Babylon. At first sight some of the language appears to be a 'stretch'. We read of someone that makes all the nations quake and who planned on placing his glory above God. However when we read Daniel 4:20-22 we see that Babylon really was deemed to be a world kingdom and Nebuchadnezzar was seen as a tall tree that reached to heaven. We know too that Babylon was the kingdom represented as the head of Gold. Thus whilst Isaiah 14:12-17 would certainly be viewed as a poetic description of the king of Babylon it is certainly not infeasible. I therefore believe we should take this as the primary interpretation.
Notwithstanding the above I believe it is legitimate to ask why the language is quite so florid. Whilst Isaiah 14:12-15 can be applied poetically to a mighty king it certainly could have applied to Satan too. Perhaps the point is that the King of Babylon would certainly have been powered by Satan and Satan would have used the King to express himself. Thus in addressing the King of Babylon the prophet is implicitly addressing the power behind the throne and in these verses I suspect the language has been deliberately adapted so that the power behind the throne is in no doubt but that the curse upon his minion is applicable to him too.
In summary we have noted that the traditional assignment of this passage to Satan under the appellation of Lucifer is by no means mandated by the original text. We then suggested that the 'Day Star' is either Christ's by right and applied to others for effect or it has a connotation similar to the expression 'rising star' today. We then noted that the immediate context of these verses really do not allow for Satan being the principle addressee of this taunt: a person instead being the object. Once a human addressee was required the broader context of Isaiah 14 then immediately showed that the king of Babylon was the proper target. Further examination of the passage revealed that it all reasonably could be applied to him although some of the language would need to be considered hyperbolic. Finally we suggested that the apparent extremity of some of the descriptions when applied to a human king may have been caused by a deliberate intent to recognize within the message that the human king was driven by the Devil himself.