The title “lord of the dead” was probably some kind of honor in the minds of the pagan Canaanites. The spirits of the Rephaim were called “warriors of Baal” and “warriors of Anat” (their incredibly violent war-goddess), and some scholars believe that one of Baal’s functions may have been to resurrect them at ritual meals to which the Rephaim were summoned.
However, the prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel make it very clear that this was a demotion.
You were in Eden, the garden of God;
every precious stone was your covering,
sardius, topaz, and diamond,
beryl, onyx, and jasper,
sapphire, emerald, and carbuncle;
and crafted in gold were your settings
and your engravings.
On the day that you were created
they were prepared.
You were an anointed guardian cherub.
I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God;
in the midst of the stones of fire you walked.
You were blameless in your ways
from the day you were created,
till unrighteousness was found in you.
In the abundance of your trade
you were filled with violence in your midst, and you sinned;
so I cast you as a profane thing from the mountain of God,
and I destroyed you, O guardian cherub,
from the midst of the stones of fire. (Ezekiel 28:13–16)
All of [the Rephaim] will answer
and say to you:
“You too have become as weak as we!
You have become like us!”
Your pomp is brought down to Sheol,
the sound of your harps;
maggots are laid as a bed beneath you,
and worms are your covers. (Isaiah 14:10–11, 15)
From the pinnacle of creation to a bed of maggots. A real comedown. Even the Rephaim, who are supposed to be Satan’s warriors, recognize his diminished status.
Lest you think we’re reading our preconceptions of Satan into Isaiah 14, let’s take this a bit further. Scholars have known for a long time that the prophet was a brilliant writer, and he was a master of wordplay. The influence of Egypt on the kingdom of Judah during Isaiah’s lifetime provided him with another opportunity to make his point.
All the kings of the nations lie in glory, each in his own tomb; but you are cast out, away from your grave, like a loathed branch, clothed with the slain, those pierced by the sword, who go down to the stones of the pit, like a dead body trampled underfoot. (Isaiah 14:18–19)
At the risk of pointing out the obvious, the phrase “a loathed branch” in verse 18 is weird. And remember: weird = important. What in the world did Isaiah mean by that?
The Hebrew word netser is easy. It means “branch.” The adjectives translators chose to describe the branch includes “loathed,” “repulsive,” “rejected,” “worthless,” and “abominable,” but they convey the same sense—something utterly detestable. The Hebrew word rendered “abhorred” or “abominable,” taʿab, is significant. It modifies the noun netser, which would normally have a positive connotation. In this context, taʿab means something like “unclean” or “ritually impure.”
Still, even trying to allow for differences in cultures over the last twenty-seven hundred years, calling someone an “unclean or impure branch” is puzzling. But there is a likely explanation: Isaiah meant something other than “branch” because the Hebrew netser wasn’t the word he used at all.
[The] term is best explained as a loanword from the common Egyptian noun nṯr. Nṯr is generally translated “god,” but is commonly used of the divinized dead and their physical remains. It originally came into Hebrew as a noun referring to the putatively divinized corpse of a dead king, which is closely related to the Egyptian usage. (Emphasis added.)
The Egyptian word nṯr is especially relevant here. Isaiah connects the divinized dead god, Baal/Satan, with the dead kings venerated by the pagan Amorites and Canaanites, the Rephaim—the spirits of the Nephilim destroyed in the Flood.
This is not a weird, out-of-left-field stretch to force the Scriptures to fit a pet theory involving antediluvian giants. The prophet devoted several chapters, especially Isaiah 30 and 31, to condemning Israel for turning to Egypt instead of Yahweh for protection against Assyria. Sennacherib’s official mocked Hezekiah for “trusting in Egypt, that broken reed of a staff, which will pierce the hand of any man who leans on it.”
Recently, a seal of Hezekiah was found in Jerusalem at the foot of the southern wall of the Temple Mount. While this one, apparently from later in Hezekiah’s reign, featured an Assyrian-style winged solar disc, his older seals were decorated with a scarab beetle, which represented the Egyptian sun-god Ra. This was apparently part of Hezekiah’s foreign policy, an attempt to curry favor with his stronger neighbor, Egypt, to further his dream of reunifying Judah and Israel. This required standing up to the Assyrian juggernaut, which had destroyed the northern half of the kingdom of David and Solomon about six years after Hezekiah became king.
By using a loan word from Egypt that meant “dead god”—and not “branch,” as translated in our English Bibles—Isaiah was emphasizing the theme of chapter 14: The entity who rebelled in Eden, the storm-god Baal (whom Jesus identified as Satan), was cast down to the land of the dead to become the unclean, profane, abominable lord of the shades—the Rephaim.
This theme is echoed by Ezekiel in chapter 28. A deeper dive into the Hebrew of that text reveals a surprising parallel with Isaiah.
Your heart was proud because of your beauty;
you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor.
I cast you to the ground;
I exposed you before kings,
to feast their eyes on you. (Ezekiel 28:17)
Reading this as another account of Lucifer’s fall to Sheol is a bit of a stretch, but only until we dig into the original Hebrew behind the English text. The word translated “kings,” mǝlākîm, uses the same consonant sounds, M-L-K, as mal’akh, or “messenger,” a word usually translated into English as “angel.” But in the Semitic languages spoken in the lands to the north and east of the ancient Israelites, similar words such as maliku and malku referred to underworld spirits who received kispum offerings and were possibly linked to the Rephaim.
Translators, both English and Hebrew, seeing the consonants mlkm would understandably assume that the word referred to kings. Translators may not have been aware of the maliku spirits of ancient Ebla or Mari or why they were relevant to Ezekiel’s verse. But in the context of the cults of the ancestors and divinized dead kings who were an integral part of the pagan religions in and around ancient Israel, it seems more likely that Ezekiel was referring to malakim, the malevolent spirits of the dead Nephilim, rather than “kings,” just as Isaiah called the demoted rebel from Eden an unclean dead god and not a “loathed branch.”
This has interesting implications. It suggests that the fall of Satan, or at least his punishment, took place after the Flood, because the “shades,” the Rephaim (the spirits of the Nephilim), were already in Sheol when Satan landed there. That assumes, of course, that time in the spirit realm moves in a linear manner, the way it does for us. But that kind of speculation is way outside the scope of this book.
The bottom line is this: Satan’s ambition got the better of him. He was thrown out of Eden, cast down from the mountain of God, where he was greeted by the shades, the Rephaim—and not exactly with praise and thanksgiving (“You have become as weak as we!”).
However, while Satan was down, he wasn’t out. Although he’d been demoted from guardian of the throne of God to overseer of the disembodied spirits of the Nephilim, Satan took the form of the storm-god under names like Hadad (Baal), Zeus, Jupiter, and Thor, and set himself up as king of pagan pantheons from India to Rome to Scandinavia. And the Rephaim, called “warriors of Baal” in ancient Amorite ritual texts that have only been translated within the last fifty years, have been literally bedeviling humanity—which they will continue to do until Jesus returns.
Derek Gilbert Bio
Derek P. Gilbert hosts SkyWatchTV, a Christian television program that airs on several national networks, the long-running interview podcast A View from the Bunker, and co-hosts SciFriday, a weekly television program that analyzes science news with his wife, author Sharon K. Gilbert.
Before joining SkyWatchTV in 2015, his secular broadcasting career spanned more than 25 years with stops at radio stations in Philadelphia, Saint Louis, Little Rock, and suburban Chicago.
Derek is a Christian, a husband and a father. He’s been a regular speaker at Bible prophecy conferences in recent years. Derek’s most recent book is The Great Inception: Satan’s PSYOPs from Eden to Armageddon. He has also published the novels The God Conspiracy and Iron Dragons, and he’s a contributing author to the nonfiction anthologies God’s Ghostbusters, Blood on the Altar, I Predict: What 12 Global Experts Believe You Will See by 2025, and When Once We Were a Nation.