Take a moment to pray. Ask God to speak to you through his word—for his Spirit to convict you of sin, teach you the truth, and lead you in walking by faith.
Setting the Scene
Daniel was prepared to receive bad news in his 4th vision (Dan. 10:1-11:1). God was going to send Israel another set of trials, but that didn’t mean he didn’t love them. In fact, his love is seen in the way he graciously prepared Israel to trust him through this next trial.
The first main part of the 4th vision proper is a detailed prophecy of the rise of Greece under Alexander the Great and then the Ptolemy and Seleucid kingdoms in the 4th century BC. If you absolutely love history you can look up the details of the various rulers and battles referenced. I’m not going to trace them all here for the sake of space, but know that this prophecy is entirely accurate.
In this vision, Israel is a pawn in the struggle between the Ptolemy and Seleucid kingdoms of the 3rd century BC. The vision reveals that Israel will not become a strong, independent nation. On the contrary, they will essentially be a geo-political ping pong ball.
The main point of this vision is to get the Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV. His wickedness and defiling of the temple are the low point, and presented Israel with their greatest spiritual trial since the destruction of the temple hundreds of years before.
Here’s the question: would they trust God in the midst of such political uncertainty? Would they trust God when wicked men reigned? Would they trust God when evil seemed to be winning? This vision is designed to prepare them to do just that.
Dan. 11:2 Now I will tell you the truth. “Three more kings will arise in Persia, and the fourth will be far richer than the others. By the power he gains through his riches, he will stir up everyone against the kingdom of Greece.
This refers to Xerxes’ campaign against Greece from 481-479 BC. He used 100-150k men and hundreds of ships. Xerxes sought revenge for the defeat of Darius I at Marathon (490 BC). Although Xerxes did eventually defeat those 300 Spartans at Thermopylae in 480 BC, he was later defeated in 479 BC at Pataea north of Athens.
3 Then a warrior king will arise; he will rule a vast realm and do whatever he wants. 4 But as soon as he is established, his kingdom will be broken up and divided to the four winds of heaven, but not to his descendants; it will not be the same kingdom that he ruled, because his kingdom will be uprooted and will go to others besides them.
This mighty king was Alexander the great. Upon his death in 323 BC his half brother, son, and illegitimate son were all eventually murdered. The kingdom was then split into 4 parts. The rest of the vision focuses on the power struggle between two of those kingdoms: the Seleucids and the Ptolemies.
Dan. 11:5 “The king of the South will grow powerful, but one of his commanders will grow more powerful and will rule a kingdom greater than his. 6 After some years they will form an alliance, and the daughter of the king of the South will go to the king of the North to seal the agreement. She will not retain power, and his strength will not endure. She will be given up, together with her entourage, her father, and the one who supported her during those times. 7 In the place of the king of the South, one from her family will rise up, come against the army, and enter the fortress of the king of the North. He will take action against them and triumph. 8 He will take even their gods captive to Egypt, with their metal images and their precious articles of silver and gold. For some years he will stay away from the king of the North, 9 who will enter the kingdom of the king of the South and then return to his own land.
Ptolemy I (Soter) was surpassed by Seleucus I (Nicator). Seleucus was originally a general under Ptolemy, but he defected and essentially claimed his own kingdom, which was much larger than Ptolemy’s. The vision goes on to describe the intrigues, marriages, betrayals, and wars that followed between the Ptolemy and Seleucid kingdoms. Note specifically that Israel kept changing hands.
Dan. 11:10 “His sons will mobilize for war and assemble a large number of armed forces. They will advance, sweeping through like a flood, and will again wage war as far as his fortress. 11 Infuriated, the king of the South will march out to fight with the king of the North, who will raise a large army, but they will be handed over to his enemy. 12 When the army is carried off, he will become arrogant and cause tens of thousands to fall, but he will not triumph. 13 The king of the North will again raise a multitude larger than the first. After some years he will advance with a great army and many supplies.
In 219-218 BC the Seleucid ruler Antiochus III tried to take Palestine from Ptolemy IV. Ptolemy IV defeated Antiochus III at Raphia in 219/18 BC, and Antiochus III was forced to give Palestine and Phoenicia back to the Ptolemy IV.
In 203 BC Antiochus III again would attack the Ptolemies, trying to take advantage of the death of Ptolemy IV and the fact that Ptolemy V (Epiphanes) was only 4 years old. In this new campaign he made it as far south as Gaza, once again with Israel being caught in between.
Dan. 11:14 “In those times many will rise up against the king of the South. Violent ones among your own people will assert themselves to fulfill a vision, but they will fail. 15 Then the king of the North will come, build up a siege ramp, and capture a well-fortified city. The forces of the South will not stand; even their select troops will not be able to resist. 16 The king of the North who comes against him will do whatever he wants, and no one can oppose him. He will establish himself in the beautiful land with total destruction in his hand. 17 He will resolve to come with the force of his whole kingdom and will reach an agreement with him. He will give him a daughter in marriage to destroy it, but she will not stand with him or support him. 18 Then he will turn his attention to the coasts and islands and capture many. But a commander will put an end to his taunting; instead, he will turn his taunts against him. 19 He will turn his attention back to the fortresses of his own land, but he will stumble, fall, and be no more.
Ptolemy V’s youth simply encouraged enemies of the Ptolemies to attack, including pro-Seleucid Jews (“violent among your own people”). The Egyptian general Scopas abused the pro-Seleucid element in Jerusalem. He would lose at Banias (near Philippi) in 200 BC, retreating down the Phoenician coast.
As Scopas retreated, he sought refuge at Sidon. Antiochus III besieged Sidon, and Scopas capitulated. Thus Israel was finally secure in the hands of the Seleucids by 200 BC. Antiochus III had undisputed sovereignty over Israel, and in 198 BC was received as a benefactor (pro-Ptolemy Jews having been dealt with).
Dan. 11:20 “In his place one will arise who will send out a tax collector for the glory of the kingdom; but within a few days he will be broken, though not in anger or in battle.
Antiochus III’s first son was Seleucus IV Philopater. He sent Heliodorus to rob the temple at Jerusalem (again to pay tribute). Heliodorus never went through with it, and poisoned Antiochus III in 175 BC.
The whole point here is to get to Antiochus IV…
Dan. 11:21 “In his place a despised person will arise; royal honors will not be given to him, but he will come during a time of peace and seize the kingdom by intrigue. 22 A flood of forces will be swept away before him; they will be broken, as well as the covenant prince. 23 After an alliance is made with him, he will act deceitfully. He will rise to power with a small nation. 24 During a time of peace, he will come into the richest parts of the province and do what his fathers and predecessors never did. He will lavish plunder, loot, and wealth on his followers, and he will make plans against fortified cities, but only for a time.
Dan. 11:25 “With a large army he will stir up his power and his courage against the king of the South. The king of the South will prepare for battle with an extremely large and powerful army, but he will not succeed, because plots will be made against him. 26 Those who eat his provisions will destroy him; his army will be swept away, and many will fall slain. 27 The two kings, whose hearts are bent on evil, will speak lies at the same table but to no avail, for still the end will come at the appointed time. 28 The king of the North will return to his land with great wealth, but his heart will be set against the holy covenant; he will take action, then return to his own land.
Antiochus IV, former hostage in Rome, took the throne of the Seleucid empire in 175 BC from Seleucus IV (Demetrius I), the son of his murdered brother (cf. note on 11:20). He is described here as “despised.” He bribed governors to ignore Demetrius’ claim to the throne. Hence the throne was not his, but he claimed it by flattery.
Although not a remarkable leader, Antiochus IV is the most important “king” in this prophecy due to his blasphemy of God and desecration of the temple.
Thus Antiochus IV would return to Antioch, but with a posture hostile to the holy covenant of Israel with their God. This is a reference to the religion of the Jewish people- faith in Yahweh.
Dan. 11:29 “At the appointed time he will come again to the South, but this time will not be like the first. 30 Ships of Kittim will come against him, and being intimidated, he will withdraw. Then he will rage against the holy covenant and take action. On his return, he will favor those who abandon the holy covenant. 31 His forces will rise up and desecrate the temple fortress. They will abolish the regular sacrifice and set up the abomination of desolation. 32 With flattery he will corrupt those who act wickedly toward the covenant, but the people who know their God will be strong and take action. 33 Those who have insight among the people will give understanding to many, yet they will fall by the sword and flame, and be captured and plundered for a time. 34 When they fall, they will be helped by some, but many others will join them insincerely. 35 Some of those who have insight will fall so that they may be refined, purified, and cleansed until the time of the end, for it will still come at the appointed time.
Antiochus IV was later defeated in Egypt. Bitter from his defeat, he returned home through Palestine in 168 BC. He camped near Jerusalem. The High Priest Jason had taken the city in an attempt to oust Menelaus. Antiochus IV suppressed this coup, and decided to punish those who would revolt against those whom he had placed in authority (Menelaus).
According to 2Macc. 5:11-14 Antiochus IV killed 80,000 men, women, and children. He profaned the temple, and robbed it. This was Dec. 16, 168 BC. He tried to rename the temple of God in Jerusalem for Zeus (cf. 2Macc. 6:2), and had a statue of Zeus erected. This was the abomination of desolation.
“Those who violate the covenant” refers to the pro-Antiochus Menelaus and those loyal to him. Yet there were those loyal to God, faithful believers who would respond.
In the town of Modein the priest Mattathias Maccabee and his three sons started a rebellion. Initially this was a passive revolt, but it turned military by 166 BC. Judas led the faithful in guerrilla style warfare. This would culminated in the rededication of the temple in Dec. 164 BC.
The emphasis of the prophecy is not on the Maccabees, but on those who were faithful even at the cost of their lives.
These “wise” men would not all survive. Judas “the Hammer” was killed in 161 BC at the battle of Mt. Azotus. He had lost practical support due to Antiochus V’s revised policies. In 1Macc. 9:1-19 the story is related how he died honorably in battle rather than retreat.
The back and forth with the Seleucids continued until John Hyrcanus was able to establish a strong kingdom in 135 BC (although he was a wicked man). Even then, however, the Messiah had not yet come. Rome took over in 65 BC.
The Big Picture
This grand tour of hundreds of years of history to come for Israel assumes one key truth: God is sovereign over all of the events described—the wars, plots, assassinations, marriages—all of it. The repeated phrase “appointed time” drives this home. Who appoints the times? Who is sovereign? It is the God of Israel.
The entire set of circumstances prophesied here pushes Israel to realize that their ultimate hope can’t be in becoming a strong nation state. Rather, their ultimate hope is in the Lord and in the coming Messiah. God is still trustworthy even though the temple would be blasphemed.
Jesus actually quotes this vision in Matthew 24:15. His quotation reveals that Antiochus IV’s violation of the temple was just the first. He refers to a future time when Israel would see another abomination of desolation. This is most likely a reference to the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 to Rome. Some believe it refers to a still future judgment. Either way, Jesus prepared his followers to face significant trials, and to proclaim the gospel in the midst of them.
Taking It Home
We can apply the paradigm of this vision to all trials: God’s sovereignty sustains our faith when we suffer. Yes, we will face difficulties. Wars will come and go. Only faith in Jesus can sustain us.
Yes, God is sovereign over these huge events… and the small ones too. There is a purpose in the suffering: refinement, purification.
Satan wants you to worship comfort and thus curse God when you suffer. Satan wants you to reject the truth that God is in control of the universe (macro and micro). Satan wants you believe that God isn’t there. But not only is God there, he is working.
When we remind ourselves of God’s sovereign reign (context of Daniel), we prepare our hearts to walk through trials with faith, rather than with fear or anxiety or hopelessness.
Visions like this obliterate the lie of the “prosperity gospel”- believers will be rich and comfortable and attractive. What about when you’re not rich? What about when you’re suffering. God is still sovereign and trustworthy.
Christians can look forward to a life without any suffering, but not in this life. We look forward to the new heavens and new earth. Until then, we must prepare for the storms to come.
- Pray that God would prepare you to walk the trials he has ordained for your life. Ask him to help you learn to trust him in the small challenges and the big ones.
- Praise Jesus that he suffered to secure our future. Because of his death and resurrection, we have a living hope in the hardest of times.
- Ask God to help you trust him. Ask him to make his sovereignty and goodness clear to you.