Isaiah 14 is a biting and vivid prophecy against the king of Babylon. In Isaiah 14:9–21, the prophet Isaiah imagines the king’s death and his subsequent entrance into the realm of the dead. The dead mock the king of Babylon as he enters his new abode: in contrast to his great aspirations, the king is now equal to everyone who came before him (Isaiah 14:10–11). Weak, dethroned, and powerless, he finds that all his great ambitions have come to nothing (Isaiah 14:19–21). In the center of their sobering taunt, the dead recount the king of Babylon’s enormous pride: “You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to the heavens; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of Mount Zaphon. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’ But you are brought down to the realm of the dead, to the depths of the pit” (Isaiah 14:13–15).
While these verses are talking about the king of Babylon, many interpreters, including some early church fathers, saw a secondary reference to Satan’s fall from heaven (Luke 10:18; this view is the basis for John Milton’s famous confrontation between Satan and God in Paradise Lost). In this interpretation, “I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High” also represents Satan’s ambition to overthrow God. Assuming a secondary reference to Satan in Isaiah 14:14, why was it a sin for Satan to want to be like God?
In the context of Isaiah 14, being “like the Most High” does not mean “being like God in character or attitude.” Isaiah 14:12–15 is talking about an attempted coup, a desire to surpass God. Verses 13–14 are laden with ancient Near Eastern images of divine dominance and power, including stars, mountains, and clouds. The speaker wants to be like God in power and authority. He wants to wield ultimate cosmic power, even over God Himself. Simply put, he would like to be God, ruling the universe with unopposed might.
A desire to be like the Most High in holiness and righteousness is not evil but is encouraged by the Scriptures (Ephesians 5:1–2). But a craving to have God’s power and authority is evil, stemming from the depths of depravity (Proverbs 16:5). God is incomparably great (Psalm 145:3), so it is irrational to attempt to surpass Him. He alone is God, so it is irrational to attempt to be God. The only reason a creature would want to become its Creator is due to a warped, prideful sense of self-importance. Selfishness, envy, and pride drive rebellion against the perfect Creator. It is a sin for Satan to attempt to be “like the Most High” in glory and power because it is a pointless attempt fueled by overweening ambition and pride.
Thankfully, Satan’s rebellion against God is futile. God remains enthroned over the cosmos (Isaiah 40:12-31). Satan is in no way comparable to God because God is incomparably awesome (1 Chronicles 29:11; 2 Timothy 1:7; Colossians 1:16; 1 John 5:18–19). God’s power has no match, and He has no equal. He is the perfect King and governs the universe with righteousness and love (Mark 10:18; Isaiah 28:28; Romans 11:33; Psalm 100:5; 1 John 4:8). Satan’s plans have already been defeated, and he will be subject to eternal torment for his sins (John 12:31; 16:11; Colossians 2:15; Hebrews 2:14; Revelation 20:10). “This is what the Lord says—Israel’s King and Redeemer, the Lord Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God” (Isaiah 44:6).