by BRIAN ZAHND on JANUARY 25, 2012
Satan and Empire
When asked to identify the origin of Satan we are commonly directed to Isaiah 14. This is the passage where the King of Babylon is called Lucifer (Day Star) and described as “fallen from heaven” after coveting the throne of God. But what should be readily apparent is that Isaiah is giving us a prophetic critique of empire by using the king of Babylon as a personification for the whole imperial project. This is quite clear from a simple reading of the text. Throughout Scripture (and especially in the book of Revelation) Babylon remains a prophetic symbol of empire and the kingdom of Satan.
Here are a few thoughts from Isaiah 14…
In prophetic Scripture the satanic is closely associated with empire. Empires are rich and powerful nations which believe they have a right to rule other nations and a manifest destiny to shape the world according to their agenda. God regards this as a transgression upon his sovereignty. What empires claim for themselves, God promises to his Son. The throne of God and political empire will always be in opposition to one another. God and Satan will always be in opposition to one another.
God loves nations. God has appointed the diversity of nations. But God hates empires. Empires seek a hegemony producing an unholy homogeny. This is a satanic corruption of the peace of God. The kingdom of God produces peace in the midst of rich and diverse cultures and nations. Satanic empire seeks to enforce “peace” through hegemonic “sameness.” This eventually results in resentment, retaliation, and war. The imperial/satanic project is always destined to fall. Thus the prophets continually cry, Babylon is fallen, is fallen! Through the animosity they engender among other nations, empires always sow the seed of their own eventual destruction. The prophets identify this as the judgment of God.
Isaiah understood that Israel would be deported to Babylon. This was seen as a “prison sentence” to be served for Israel’s sins. But when the sentenced was served, Isaiah said Israel would take up a taunt against their oppressor, Babylon (personified in the king of Babylon).
This is what we find in Isaiah 14:1-23. I encourage you to read it carefully.
Babylon is judged by God for ruling nations in anger. Ruling and oppressing other nations is the basic definition of empire. (vs. 1-6)
The fall of the empire results in the whole earth being at rest and quiet. (vs. 7)
The environment itself rejoices at Babylon’s fall because the empire no longer exploits natural resources. Empires are always arrogant in their environmental degradation; empires view the earth as theirs and not the Lord’s. (vs. 8)
Babylon will now join other nations that have already fallen. In Sheol the kings of these fallen nations taunt the king of Babylon saying, “You too have become as weak as we! You have become like us!” Of course, this is the inevitable fate of empires, despite their arrogant claim of being “exceptional.” Both Scripture and history bear witness to this. (vs. 9-11)
The real problem with empire is the hubris that impels them to impinge upon the sovereignty of God by seeking to rule other nations. This is condemned by the prophet as seeking to be like God. Empires seek to raise their throne (national sovereignty) to a level reserved for God. This is the essence and a primary origin of the satanic. (vs. 12-14)
But in reaching for the heavens (the throne of God), Babylon is fallen, is fallen. This is the constant prophetic cry against empire. (vs. 15-16)
Empires practice the propaganda of calling destruction “peace.” Isaiah says Babylon made the world like a desert and overthrew its cities. Many centuries later the Roman historian Tacitus would record the British chieftain, Calgacus, as saying, “Rome makes a desert and calls it peace.” I’m quite sure Calgacus never read Isaiah, but they were saying the same thing about the propaganda of empire. (vs. 17)
Isaiah criticizes Babylon for holding foreign prisoners indefinitely; for not letting the foreign prisoners return home. (vs. 17b)
All empires have an expiration date. God degrees their demise, lest they “rise and possess the earth, and fill the face of the world with cities.” Babylon and New Jerusalem seek the same thing, but they go about it in completely different ways—one is beastly, the other is lamb-like. (vs. 18-21)
God himself rises up against empires because what they claim as their manifest destiny, God has promised to his Christ. (vs. 22-23)
The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever. —Revelation 11:15
These are just quick observations with much being left unsaid; to say it well would require book-length treatment. But I think the connection between the origin of Satan and the rise of empire is a very significant revelation in Scripture.
(The artwork is Babylon by Nicholas Peart.)