A while back I posted on the contrast between the weapons of political combat and those of spiritual combat. I argued the obvious point that the latter are more effective than the former, even in political combat. And along the way I stated that political power disappears rapidly and often unexpectedly.
That’s borne out repeatedly and pervasively in Scripture by both assertion (in Proverbs and often elsewhere) and example (throughout the stories of the kings, both Israelite and pagan). Shelley’s Ozymandias taught us nothing new.
A passage that particularly drives home this point is Isaiah 14. The chapter appears toward the beginning of a section on God’s sovereign plan for the nations with whom Judah regularly dealt: Babylon and Assyria, the Big Ones (13-14), Philistia (14.28ff), Moab (15-16), Syria (17-18), Egypt (19-20), Babylon again (21), Edom (21.11ff), Arabia (21.13ff), Israel (22), and Tyre (23).
After describing the military defeat of Babylon in chapter 13, Yahweh turns Isaiah’s prophecy toward the fate of Babylon’s king in chapter 14. His power having been broken, all his old enemies will join in celebrating his collapse (Isa 14.6-8). All the dead will come to mock his arrival at the gates of hell (Isa 14.9). Great and mighty kings, once unimaginably powerful on their earthly thrones, now effete in the realm of the dead, sarcastically welcome his “royal procession” from power to irrelevance (Isa 14.10-11). He who had once sent insufficiently powerful enemies to the grave (Isa 14.6) is now there himself, food for worms (Isa 14.11).
Verse 12 begins a paragraph that many interpreters see as having a double reference, describing the fall of Satan from heaven. I’m not convinced of that. I don’t see anything in the passage that couldn’t be accurate of the king of Babylon. Some point to the words “I will be like the Most High” in v 14, but my response is to ask, “Have you never talked to a politician?” There’s nothing in the reported words of the king that any US Senator hasn’t thought.
I think many interpreters are influenced by the fact that God here calls the king “Lucifer,” an accepted name for Satan. But I note that this is the only use of the name in Scripture—Satan is never called that anywhere else—and so to use it as evidence that this is Satan is circular reasoning. Since the name simply means “Light-bearer” (as the name Christopher means “Christ-bearer”), there’s no reason it has to apply to Satan. If the king of Egypt thought he was the sun god—as did Louis XIV—it’s not difficult to imagine that the king of Babylon might have called himself the Morning Star, the planet Venus.
So I don’t think “Lucifer” is actually a biblical name for Satan, and I’m inclined to think that what we’re reading here says nothing of Satan but lots about the king of Babylon and, by extension, all earthly kings. (For the detail-obsessive reader, let me answer the question hovering in your mind: I do think Ezekiel 28, addressed to the king of Tyre, has a double reference to Satan, since the context supports that.)
The upshot of all this is that those who hold political and military power also hold highly exalted opinions of themselves because of that power—opinions that are short-sighted and completely unfounded. Kings, emperors, presidents, and prime ministers all go the way of all flesh. Representative rulers lose their power when their terms expire, and even autocrats and dictators-for-life inevitably die, and regardless of the expense of the state funeral, someone else will take their place, and life will certainly go on for the people over whom they had so much power.
Is this the man that made the earth tremble—that shook kingdoms?! (Isa 14.16).
How shortsighted it is to worship at that altar! How foolish to look there for deliverance!
Come instead—boldly—to the throne of grace (Heb 4.16), to the one seated high upon a throne, whose train fills the temple, a house filled with smoke! (Isa 6.1; Jn 12.41). Come to the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, who was, and is, and is to come! (Rev 1.8).
His kingdom lasts forever, and his will is done to all generations.
Now that’s power.