In the last essay we began a study of the final vision of the book of Daniel. We noted, then, that it is the longest and most complicated of the visions in the book, extending from 10:1 through 12:3. Thus it has three sub-visions within the larger vision. The first sub-vision is a vision of a visitor by the Tigris River in chapter 10, which we studied in the last essay. Then in 11:1-39 comes a second sub-vision, in which the visitor reveals future events regarding certain coming kings. And in 11:40 through 12:3 we find the third sub-vision, which is a vision of the end-time.
This morning we will study the middle sub-vision, the vision of the kings. As we get into it, you will see that Daniel was given amazing, minute details about future events that led up to the reign of Antiochus IV, and of the reign itself. It is the presence of these minute details that has led liberal scholars to conclude that the book was written after the events. They do not believe in real predictive prophecy. Therefore in their view, the material had to be written after the fact.
In verses 2-20 we find the events that led up to Antiochus’ reign. The Persian king at the time when Daniel was given this vision was Cyrus (10:1). I have listed Cyrus and the next four kings, with the dates of their reigns below:
–Darius I (521-486)
You will note that Smerdis was king for only part of a year. Indeed he was an imposter, who reigned only for six months. So most scholars assume that he was not included in the prophecy. That means that Xerxes instead of Smerdis was the fourth, very rich, king who stirred up the kingdom of Greece. And that fits actual history very well.
The “mighty king” of verse three, whose kingdom was broken and divided in four directions, “but not to his posterity,” was Alexander the Great. You will recall that we noted in earlier essays about how four of Alexander’s generals divided Alexander’s kingdom among themselves, after he died in 323 B.C.; and of course, they were not of “his posterity.”
In verses 5-9 we see that the primary kingly players here are the “king of the south” and “the king of the north.” The original kings of the south and north would have been the two generals of Alexander who took over those parts of Alexander’s kingdom. The one who took over the south, which consisted of Egypt and Palestine, was named Ptolemy. His descendants are called Ptolemies. The one who took over the north, which essentially was the former Persian Empire, was named Seleucus, and his descendants are called Seleucids.
The attempted but failed alliance described in verse six was initiated in 248 B.C. Ptolemy II was on the throne of Egypt at that time, and he gave his daughter Bernice in marriage to Antiochus II (grandson of Seleucus). But the alliance failed three years later when Bernice was murdered.
The “branch from her roots” of verse seven was Bernice’s brother. He became king of the south and won a war against the Seleucids. The results of that war are related in verse eight.
Verses 9-20 continue the detailed account of the thrusts back and forth between the two kingdoms. We won’t work through all of that; but historical records document that all of it took place. So the prophecy is quite detailed.
Little of permanent change happened during those many decades until 198 B.C. In that year the Seleucids finally won Palestine away from the Ptolemies. You will recall that it had been in the control of the Ptolemies since the death of Alexander in 323. The account is in verses 15 and 16.
The “well-fortified city” is the city of Sidon, where a decisive battle occurred that brought Palestine under Seleucid control. If you have a map of Palestine in your Bible, Sidon is a coastal city in northern Palestine in present-day Lebanon. The expression “beautiful land” refers to Palestine. Thus the king of the north won a great victory over the king of the south.
Seleucid rule over Palestine was still in effect during the time of Antiochus IV. Antiochus IV became the Seleucid king (that is the king of the north) in 175 B.C. The vision picks up his story in verse 21. This is exactly how Antiochus IV came to power. He seized it while the rightful heir, a nephew of his, was being held hostage in Rome. That circumstance enabled Antiochus to take the throne by flatteries.
Once he had the reigns of power, he was successful in keeping them; and he engaged in frequent military pursuits. Verse 22 tells us that he quickly brought Palestine under his thumb. The “prince of the covenant” was either the Jewish High Priest, or it could be a reference to Israel herself.
Verses 25-27 speak about the first of two military campaigns Antiochus made against Egypt. Verse 25 indicates that Egypt had a large army; but it wasn’t very effective, because as verse 26 suggests, there was treachery within the ranks. So Antiochus won a victory, and the two kings (of the north and south) sat down to eat together in an attempt to settle matters. But as verse 27 prophesied, neither was honest with the other; and evidently, neither believed the other. At any rate, verse 28 informs us that Antiochus returned with considerable booty, part of which he took from the Temple in Jerusalem as he passed through Israel.
Antiochus’ second campaign was the more important. It is prophesied in verses 29-39. “At the time appointed” in verse 29 was 168 B.C. That was the year of Antiochus’ second campaign against Egypt. He believed that this time he could actually win Egypt for himself.
But a new factor entered into the situation this time. As the prophecy indicates, “ships of Kittim” became an unexpected part of the military equation. The term “kittim” historically referred to the island of Cyprus. But the meaning of the term became broadened to mean places across the sea, especially to the West, such as Macedon. In this case the Romans are meant.
As Antiochus IV approached Alexandria Egypt, a fleet of Roman ships appeared on the scene. Antiochus was handed a letter from the Roman Senate forbidding an attack. It was a classic instance of international power politics. The idea was, if you attack Egypt, we will consider it an attack on us. Since Antiochus did not want war with the Romans, he reluctantly, and angrily, backed off.
On the way home, of course he had to pass through Palestine. So Antiochus took out his frustrations on Israel. He schemed with certain apostate Jews in Israel; and he turned his wrath on “the holy covenant,” the “holy covenant” being a euphemism for Israel.
This attack was not just an opportunity to plunder, as was the case when he returned from his first campaign. This time Antiochus, as verse 31 says, profaned the Temple. He abolished the Jewish sacrificial system, and set up what Daniel’s visitor called “the abomination that makes desolate.”
Notice in verse 32 that some ofthe Jews cooperated with Antiochus, because they believed it would be to their advantage. He evidently made them flattering promises. But others fought him and died for their efforts. Verse 35 indicates that Israel would be purified by the struggle. But it also contains what we have seen is a characteristic leap to the end-time.
Now then, verses 36-39 present an interesting interpretive problem. Liberal interpreters, of course, interpret them as referring only to Antiochus. Others would interpret them as an example of prophetic perspective and apply them to both Antiochus and the end-time Antichrist. And still others would interpret the verses as part of the vision of the end-time.
It seems to me that the reference to both Antiochus and the end-time antichrist is possible, though I lean towards the end-time only interpretation. But I see no need to make a dogmatic decision about it, so I would call these verses a transition to the end-time.
The verses certainly cannot be referring to Antiochus alone. Antiochus did not do the second of the four things mentioned in verse 36. He did do his own will; he did speak some astonishing things against God; and he did prosper. But he did not magnify himself as God. The Antichrist is the one who will do that (2 Thess. 2:4).
If we believe in predictive prophecy, and I certainly do, it seems to me that the coming to pass of this kind of minutely detailed prophecy indicates that God does indeed know what we call the future. Those of us who are locked into a spectrum of time, and all human beings are in that category, have no way of predicting future events with any certainty, especially events that are in the distant future. But God does have that capacity.
Classically in theology, this ability on God’s part has led to formulation of the attribute of God called omniscience (all-knowing). And for God to be omniscient, he has to have the ability to function outside of time. In the next essay we will study the end-time vision.