8. The Kings of the North and South (Daniel 10:1-11:35)

Audio (44:10)

Indian war elephants of Antiochus III and African war elephants of Ptolemy IV in the Battle at Raphia, 217 BC.
Indian war elephants of Antiochus III and African war elephants of Ptolemy IV in the Battle at Raphia, 217 BC. Illustration attributed to Peter Dennis.

If the previous lesson only covered a few verses, this lesson covers nearly two chapters. Chapter 10 describes Daniel's experience of receiving the vision -- and some hints about spiritual warfare in the heavenly places -- while chapter 11 is a prophecy detailing wars and kings that span hundreds of years, finally focusing on the cruel reign of Antiochus Epiphanes.

I encourage your patience as you study Daniel 10-11 with me. It may seem tedious, yet you will find a fascinating correlation in detail after detail of prophecy with history as it played out hundreds of years after Daniel's time. There is something for us to learn here about God's foreknowledge and predestination.

Revelation of a Great War (10:1-3)

"1  In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia, a revelation was given to Daniel (who was called Belteshazzar). Its message was true and it concerned a great war. The understanding of the message came to him in a vision.

2  At that time I, Daniel, mourned for three weeks. 3  I ate no choice[291] food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over." (10:1-3)

The third year of Cyrus II ("the Great," 559-530 BC) probably refers to the third year after his conquering of Babylon, so this would be about 536 BC.

A fearsome unnamed angel appears to Daniel in a vision, and then speaks in this vision explaining what will happen in the future. The vision concerned "a great war" -- actually a whole series of wars. It begins with Alexander the Great conquering the Persian Empire (330 BC) and continues through the six Syrian Wars (174-168 BC) that go on back and forth between the Seleucid kings of Syria and the Ptolemaic kings of Egypt. We'll consider that in detail later in this lesson.

Daniel Sees a Vision of an Angel (10:4-7)

Now Daniel details the circumstances of the vision. Daniel is standing on the banks of the Tigris River. Babylon is built on both banks of the Euphrates River. The Tigris roughly parallels the Euphrates for many miles, and is about 30 miles (50 kilometers) northeast of Babylon.

"4  On the twenty-fourth day of the first month, as I was standing on the bank of the great river, the Tigris, 5  I looked up and there before me was a man dressed in linen, with a belt of the finest gold around his waist. 6  His body was like chrysolite, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude. 7  I, Daniel, was the only one who saw the vision; the men with me did not see it, but such terror overwhelmed them that they fled and hid themselves." (10:4-7)

The figure is called a "man," but he is doubtless an angel, since he is involved in spiritual warfare alongside Michael the Archangel against the princes of Persia and Greece. He is dressed in white with a belt of gold. His body is like chrysolite, probably the semiprecious stone yellow jasper.[292] His face is so bright that it can't be looked on. His eyes are terrible flames, his limbs gleam like bronze, and his voice thunders.

Daniel is not alone when the vision appears. The men with him are terrified and run off, though they don't see the actual vision. So alone, completely sapped of strength, Daniel falls helpless[293] before the angel, his face to the ground, falling into a deep sleep.

The Vision Saps Daniel's Energy (10:3, 7-11, 15-17)

Verses 2 and 3 give us an idea of the effect of the vision on Daniel.

"2  At that time I, Daniel, mourned for three weeks. 3  I ate no choice[294] food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over." (10:2-3)

Daniel, who is now perhaps 80 years old, is devastated by the vision. I don't think he is deliberately fasting. He just has no appetite. He is crushed over what he sees -- and the destruction of his people that will come. He mourns for three weeks.

Daniel tells us more in verses 8 and 9.

"8  So I was left alone, gazing at this great vision; I had no strength left, my face turned deathly pale and I was helpless. 9  Then I heard him speaking, and as I listened to him, I fell into a deep sleep, my face to the ground." (10:8-9)

Many of us underestimate the physical, emotional, and spiritual toll involved in encountering God. Paul describes intercessory prayer as "struggling" or "wrestling" (Colossians 2:1; 4:12, agōn, agōnizomai). Spiritual warfare is compared to wrestling (Ephesians 6:10, palē). Later verses 12 to 14 we see spiritual warfare taking place at a country level by angelic beings. Many preachers can attest how drained they are after preaching. Being a prophet, seeing visions, takes a tremendous toll as well.

A few verses later we see the effects on Daniel again.

"15  While he was saying this to me, I bowed with my face toward the ground and was speechless. 16  Then one who looked like a man touched my lips, and I opened my mouth and began to speak. I said to the one standing before me, 'I am overcome with anguish because of the vision, my lord, and I am helpless. 17  How can I, your servant, talk with you, my lord? My strength is gone and I can hardly breathe.'" (10:15-16)

Daniel can hardly breathe! But the angel strengthens him again so he can finally stand.

"10  A hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees. 11  He said, 'Daniel, you who are highly esteemed, consider carefully the words I am about to speak to you, and stand up, for I have now been sent to you.' And when he said this to me, I stood up trembling." (10:10-11)

Q1. (Daniel 10: 3, 7-11, 15-17) Daniel is old, but why does the vision affect him so greatly? What is the physical effect on him? What is the mental and spiritual effect on him? Why is spiritual "work" so taxing on us?

Resisted by the Prince of Persia (10:10-19)

Now the angel relates an incident that can only be described as country-level spiritual warfare.

"12  Then he continued, 'Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. 13  But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted[295] me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained[296] there with the king of Persia. 14  Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come.'" (10:12-14)

  Notice that God sends an answer to Daniel's prayer immediately. However, the angel sent with the answer can't get to him for three weeks because of a battle.

"The prince of the Persian kingdom" isn't Darius or Cyrus. He seems to be a demonic power, a fallen angel, who is over the demonic forces that control Persia, the current superpower in the world, that had conquered the Babylonian Empire just a few years previously.

The Apostle Paul writes of what seems to be a hierarchy of demonic powers, what the KJV calls "principalities and powers."

"Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." (Ephesians 6:11-12)

Elsewhere, Paul calls Satan "the prince of the power of the air" (Ephesians 2:2).

The angel messenger is helped by Michael to extricate himself from the spiritual battle. Later in this chapter, Michael is described as "the great prince who protects your people" (10:21a). In Jude 9, Michael is referred to as an archangel. In Revelation, we read:

"And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back." (Revelation 12:7)

I can hear some of you say, I don't believe in angels and demons. I would ask: Why not? The Bible teaches us about this spiritual world that is beyond our sight. Why shouldn't you believe it? Unless you're an expert on prayer and spiritual warfare, you probably don't have enough experience to make an informed judgment anyway.

In Daniel 10 we learn that there is a spiritual battle for nations fought behind the scenes. Prayer is one of our chief weapons. God answers prayer, but the functionality of how it all works is normally hidden from us. In verses 12-13, God pulls back the drapes a bit so we can see. I think the lesson here is to be diligent in prayer and to intercede for our national leaders. They are subject to the normal human failings, of course. But they are also subject to the influence of country-level demonic forces that aren't immediately obvious.

Whether or not you agree with the politics of your country's leader, you must pray for him or her! We fight this battle on our knees. Why do our missionaries in foreign countries so need our prayers? Because they are contending for the souls of nations that are in deep spiritual darkness, kept so by country-level demonic powers. Dear friends, God calls us to pray.

In the last couple of decades, C. Peter Wagner has written extensively on these matters. To learn more, read his books: Wrestling with Dark Angels (edited  1990), Warfare Prayer (1992), Confronting the Powers (1996), and others.

Q2. (Daniel 10:12-13) Why wasn't the angel messenger able to bring his message in a timely manner? Who resisted him? Who helped him? What does this teach us about prayer? About spiritual warfare?

Daniel Receives Strength (10:15-19)

Daniel is weak, but the angel strengthens him, as we saw above.

"15  While he was saying this to me, I bowed with my face toward the ground and was speechless. 16  Then one who looked like a man touched my lips, and I opened my mouth and began to speak. I said to the one standing before me, 'I am overcome with anguish because of the vision, my lord, and I am helpless. 17  How can I, your servant, talk with you, my lord? My strength is gone and I can hardly breathe.'

18  Again the one who looked like a man touched me and gave me strength. 19  'Do not be afraid, O man highly esteemed,' he said. 'Peace! Be strong now; be strong.' When he spoke to me, I was strengthened and said, 'Speak, my lord, since you have given me strength.'" (10:15-19)

Wars against the Princes of Persia and Greece (10:20-11:1)

The angel continues to explain to Daniel some of the angel's future responsibilities.

"10:20  So he said, 'Do you know why I have come to you? Soon I will return to fight[297] against the prince of Persia, and when I go, the prince of Greece will come; 21  but first I will tell you what is written in the Book of Truth. (No one supports me against them except Michael, your prince. 11:1  And in the first year of Darius the Mede, I took my stand to support and protect him.)'" (10:20-11:1)

The Persian Empire, in power when Daniel saw this vision in 536 BC, continues for a couple of centuries, and is defeated by the Greek, Alexander the Great in 330 BC -- hence the angel's references to the "prince of Persia" and the "prince of Greece." Michael, too, is deeply involved in the spiritual battle, since Michael seems to be "your prince," the archangel assigned to protect God's people.

Our God, his angels, and his human servants are deeply involved in what is going on in our world today as well. Let us continue in prayer.

Prophecies of the Persian and Greek Kings (11:2-35)

Chapter 11 is largely taken up with detailed prophecies concerning the final kings of the Persian empire, and especially Alexander the Great and the Greek Empires of his successors, the Seleucid kings and the Ptolemaic kings. Your eyes may glaze over, and I'll understand if you feel that way. But I encourage you to read below how Daniel's prophecies, given in 536 BC, accurately predict the reign of kings hundreds of years after Daniel's time.

These kings are important to God's people living in Judea in those centuries, since many of the battles take place in Palestine, located right between the rival kings of Egypt and Syria.

Why is Daniel given this vision, and what is its importance to us today?

  1. This account of kings and battles over hundreds of years reminds us to number our days.
  2. We see God's amazing foresight of history. And in the process we reflect on the relationship between predestination or determinism and free will. God can see all this ahead of time, but those kings are still responsible for their actions, and are able to repent of evil if they so desire.
  3. We are encouraged that though persecution and hardship may rage, it will not last forever, and God will bring final justice.
  4. We also learn about the refining power of persecution (11:35).

Okay, with that introduction, let's launch into these amazing prophetic insights that extend far into the future beyond Daniel.

Four Persian Kings (11:2)

"Now then, I tell you the truth: Three more kings will appear in Persia, and then a fourth, who will be far richer than all the others. When he has gained power by his wealth, he will stir up everyone against the kingdom of Greece." (11:2)

Here are the kings of Persia during this period. Cyrus II the Great (576-530 BC), reigns when Daniel had this vision. The next three kings are Cambyses (530-522 BC), Smerdis (pseudo-Smerdis or Gaumata; 522 BC), and Darius I Hystaspes (522-486 BC). Xerxes I (486-464 BC) is probably the fourth king mentioned in the vision, since he invaded Greece in 480 BC, won the Battle of Thermopylae and captured Athens, lost the Battle of Salamis, and then pulled the bulk of his troops back to Asia.

Alexander the Great and His Four Successors (11:3-4)

"3  Then a mighty king will appear, who will rule with great power and do as he pleases. 4  After he has appeared, his empire will be broken up and parceled out toward the four winds of heaven. It will not go to his descendants, nor will it have the power he exercised, because his empire will be uprooted and given to others." (11:3-4)

This king is Alexander the Great, whom Daniel has foreseen in previous visions (7:6; 8:5-7, 22). You can read more about his history in Lesson 6A on Daniel 8:5-7. Upon his death, Alexander's empire is divided among his leading generals: (1) Ptolemy I Soter, (2) Seleucus I Nicator, (3) Lysimachus, and (4) Antigonus I Monophthalmus (the "One-Eyed"). Of these, Ptolemy (Egypt) and Seleucus (Syria) became dominant.

Wars between the Ptolemies and the Seleucids (11:5-9)

Following the division of Alexander's empire to his generals, there is much fighting back and forth, known to history as the Syrian Wars. (You can see a synopsis of the Syrian Wars in Appendix 4. Important Dates for the Book of Daniel.)

 Since one general is based in Egypt and another in Syria, when they fight, their armies often cause major disruptions in Judea. At the beginning of the Syrian Wars, Judea was under control of the kings of the South, the Ptolemies. This back and forth warfare is the focus of verses 5-9 where the prophet describes events with amazing accuracy.

"The king of the South will become strong, but one of his commanders will become even stronger than he and will rule his own kingdom with great power." (11:5)

The "king of the South" in verse 5 is Ptolemy I Soter (323-285 BC) the ruler of Egypt (cf. 11:8), one of Alexander's former generals. "One of his commanders" in verse 5 is Seleucus I Nicator (312/311-280 BC). Seleucus had been appointed satrap of Babylonia in 321 BC, but when another general, Antigonus, seizes Babylonia, Seleucus flees to Ptolemy Soter in Egypt in 316 BC to serve under him. When Antigonus is defeated in 312 BC in Gaza, Seleucus returns to Babylon, greatly increased in power ("even stronger than [Ptolemy I]," and comes to control Babylonia, Syria, and Media, the largest division in the Greek empire.

"After some years, they will become allies. The daughter of the king of the South will go to the king of the North to make an alliance, but she will not retain her power, and he and his power will not last. In those days she will be handed over, together with her royal escort and her father and the one who supported her." (11:6)

About 250 BC, an alliance/treaty of peace is made between Ptolemy II Philadelphus (285-246 BC) of Egypt and Antiochus II Theos (261-246 BC), grandson of Seleucus. According to the terms of the treaty, Ptolemy's daughter Berenice ("the daughter of the king of the South") is to marry Antiochus ("the king of the North"). Her son is then to become heir to the Seleucid throne. But Antiochus's former wife Laodice (whom he had divorced to execute this treaty with Egypt) ends up murdering Antiochus, Berenice, and their child. Thus their "power" did "not last." Laodice rules as queen regent until her son Seleucus II Callinicus (246-226 BC) becomes an adult.

"7  One from her family line will arise to take her place. He will attack the forces of the king of the North and enter his fortress; he will fight against them and be victorious.
8  He will also seize their gods, their metal images and their valuable articles of silver and gold and carry them off to Egypt. For some years he will leave the king of the North alone. 9  Then the king of the North will invade the realm of the king of the South but will retreat to his own country." (11:7-9)

"One from her family line" is Berenice's brother, Ptolemy III Euergetes (246-221 BC), who is now king of Egypt. In revenge for his sister's murder, from 246-241 BC Ptolemy III attacks Syria and its king, Seleucus II (246-225 BC) with a large army beginning  the Third Syrian War (246-241 BC). He captures and loots the Seleucid capital of Antioch. In 240 BC Ptolemy III makes a peace treaty with Seleucus II so he can pursue conquests in the Aegean region. Verse 9 seems to indicate an unsuccessful invasion of Egypt by Seleucus II, but there is no corroboration of this from contemporary sources.

Antiochus III the Great  vs. Ptolemy IV and V (11:10-17)

Antiochus III 'the Great' bust (possibly Roman copy of Hellenistic portrait), Louvre, Paris.
Antiochus III 'the Great' bust (possibly Roman copy of Hellenistic portrait), Louvre, Paris.

Seleucus II and Ptolemy III die and the Syrian Wars between Egypt and Syria move to the next generation.

"His sons shall wage war[298]  and assemble a multitude of great forces, which shall keep coming and overflow and pass through, and again shall carry the war as far as his fortress." (11:10, ESV)

Seleucus II's sons are Seleucus III Ceraunus (226-223 BC), who reigns for three short years, and Antiochus III the Great (223-187 BC), who reigns for 36 years. Through his military efforts Antiochus III restores much of the territory of the Seleucid Empire previously lost. He also seeks without great success to resist growing pressure from Rome.

"10  His sons will ... assemble a great army, which will sweep on like an irresistible flood and carry the battle as far as his fortress. 11  Then the king of the South will march out in a rage and fight against the king of the North, who will raise a large army, but it will be defeated. 12  When the army is carried off, the king of the South will be filled with pride and will slaughter many thousands...." (11:10-12a)

During the Fourth Syrian War (219-217 BC), Antiochus III campaigns in Phoenicia and Palestine ("as far as his fortress," probably at Gaza), which are at that time part of the Ptolemaic Empire of Egypt. Ptolemy IV Philopator (221-203 BC) fights back. According to ancient historian Polybius, Antiochus's army had 62,000 infantry, 6,000 cavalry, and 102 elephants. Ptolemy's army had 70,000 infantry, 5,000 cavalry, and 73 elephants. Egypt defeats the Syrians at the Battle of Raphia (Gaza) on June 22, 217 BC, one of the largest battles of the ancient world.

"12b ... Yet he will not remain triumphant. 13  For the king of the North will muster another army, larger than the first; and after several years, he will advance with a huge army fully equipped." (11:12b-13)

However, when Ptolemy IV dies in 203 BC, he is succeeded by his five-year-old-son, Ptolemy V Epiphanes (204-181 BC). Antiochus III takes this weakness as an opportunity to invade again in the Fifth Syrian War (202-195 BC).

"In those times many will rise against the king of the South. The violent men among your own people will rebel in fulfillment of the vision, but without success." (11:14)

Antiochus III is apparently aided by Philip V of Macedon, as well as Jews ("violent men among your own people") who take this as occasion to rebel against Egypt. These Jewish leaders are eventually punished by Egyptian General Scopas ("without success").

"15  Then the king of the North will come and build up siege ramps and will capture a fortified city. The forces of the South will be powerless to resist; even their best troops will not have the strength to stand. 16  The invader will do as he pleases; no one will be able to stand against him. He will establish himself in the Beautiful Land and will have the power to destroy it. " (11:15-16)

Egyptian General Scopas loses the Battle of Panium to the Syrians in 199 BC, and surrenders in 198 BC when Syrians besiege the city of Sidon, where the Egyptians have retreated. Now Antiochus III has complete power over Phoenicia and Palestine. Jerusalem becomes an important fortress to maintain Seleucid control over this territory in the future. At the time, Jerusalem welcomes Antiochus III as their deliverer.

"He will determine to come with the might of his entire kingdom and will make an alliance with the king of the South. And he will give him a daughter in marriage in order to overthrow the kingdom, but his plans will not succeed or help him." (11:17)

In a forced treaty to subdue Egypt, Antiochus's daughter, Cleopatra I, becomes the wife of Ptolemy V (193 BC). However, she ends up loving her husband and supporting the Egyptian cause over the Syrians.

"18  Then he will turn his attention to the coastlands and will take many of them, but a commander will put an end to his insolence and will turn his insolence back upon him. 19  After this, he will turn back toward the fortresses of his own country but will stumble and fall, to be seen no more." (11:18-19)

Now Antiochus III turns to conquests in the Mediterranean, invading Greek towns in Asia Minor as well as Greece itself in 192 BC. However, this threatens the growing power of the Roman Republic. The Romans win the Battle of Thermopylae (191 BC), the Battle of Magnesia (190 BC), and achieve victories over the Seleucid navy. They force upon Antiochus III the Treaty of Apamea (188 BC), whereby Antiochus III drops his claim to territory north and west of the Taurus Mountains in southern Asia Minor, has to surrender his war elephants, is limited to only 12 warships, and is forced to pay the costs of the war. In addition, he has to surrender 20 hostages -- one of whom is his younger son Antiochus (who later becomes Antiochus IV Epiphanes). Antiochus III is killed by an angry mob in 187 BC.

Okay, take a deep breath. I know this is overwhelming. But the point here is to illustrate how precisely the prophecy given in 536 BC comes to pass, as shown by the history of this later period. God knows the beginning from the end. Okay, let's continue.

The Tax Collector (11:20)

"His successor will send out a tax collector to maintain the royal splendor. In a few years, however, he will be destroyed, yet not in anger or in battle." (11:20)

Antiochus III's "successor" and older son is Seleucus IV Philopater (187-175 BC), who releases his brother Antiochus IV from being a hostage, exchanging his own son, Demetrius I Soter for Antiochus.

To pay the heavy annual tribute of 1,000 talents demanded by the Romans in the Treaty of Apamea (188 BC), Seleucus IV is hard pressed to find this kind of money and has exhausted the Syrian treasury. In response, he sent his prime minister Heliodorus (the "tax collector") who plunders the temple in Jerusalem (2 Maccabees 3:7-40).

Seleucus IV is assassinated by prime minister Heliodorus, and is succeeded by his brother Antiochus IV Epiphanes.

The Prince of the Covenant (11:21-24)

Bust of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, Altes Museum, Berlin.
Bust of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, Altes Museum, Berlin.

We've already outlined the events of the career of Antiochus Epiphanes in Lesson 6A, on Daniel 8:8-13, so you might review that. Below I am comparing Daniel's vision in chapter 11 with what contemporary history tells us of Antiochus Epiphanes.

"He will be succeeded by a contemptible person[299] who has not been given the honor of royalty. He will invade the kingdom when its people feel secure, and he will seize it through intrigue." (11:21)

Seleucus IV's rightful heir is his son, Demetrius I Soter, who is now a hostage in Rome. Instead of seeking his release (as Seleucus had done for him), Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175-164 BC) takes the throne for himself, with the fiction that he is serving as regent for Seleucus IV's infant son (also named Antiochus), who is murdered a few years later. Antiochus is not the rightful heir to the kingdom ("given the honor of royalty"), but he takes the throne anyway.

"22  Then an overwhelming army will be swept away before him; both it and a prince of the covenant will be destroyed. 23  After coming to an agreement with him, he will act deceitfully, and with only a few people he will rise to power. 24  When the richest provinces feel secure, he will invade them and will achieve what neither his fathers nor his forefathers did. He will distribute plunder, loot and wealth among his followers. He will plot the overthrow of fortresses -- but only for a time." (11:22-24)

In the Sixth Syrian War (170-168 BC), Ptolemy VI Philometor (181-146 B.C.) of Egypt attacks Syria to regain possession of Phoenicia and Palestine in 169 BC with an "overwhelming army," but is defeated and Ptolemy VI is captured, his power destroyed. Ptolemy VI is sometimes thought to be the "prince of the covenant" who acts deceitfully because he has made an agreement with Antiochus to help him regain his throne, and then reneges on his agreement. (Others see the "prince of the covenant" as a reference to the murder of Onias III, the last legitimate high priest.) Antiochus plunders his richest provinces and distributes the plunder among his followers.

War between North and South (11:25-27)

The battle mentioned in verse 22 (when Ptolemy VI attacks Antiochus to begin the Sixth and final Syrian War, 170-168 BC) is spelled out in further detail.

"25  With a large army he will stir up his strength and courage against the king of the South. The king of the South will wage war with a large and very powerful army, but he will not be able to stand because of the plots devised against him. 26  Those who eat from the king's provisions will try to destroy him; his army will be swept away, and many will fall in battle. 27  The two kings, with their hearts bent on evil, will sit at the same table and lie to each other, but to no avail, because an end will still come at the appointed time." (11:25-27)

Ptolemy VI (the king of the South) attacks Syria, but then isn't able to maintain his advantage. Antiochus meets with Ptolemy VI, and both give each other insincere promises. Antiochus agrees to help Ptolemy VI regain the throne of Egypt from his brother Ptolemy VII Euergetes (who had assumed the throne when Ptolemy VI had been a prisoner). This isn't altruism; Antiochus wants Syria to be able to exert better control of Egypt. But neither keep their promises.

Antiochus Invades Jerusalem (11:28)

"The king of the North will return to his own country with great wealth, but his heart will be set against the holy covenant. He will take action against it and then return to his own country." (11:28)

Here the "holy covenant" obviously refers to God's people and temple. As Antiochus returns home through Palestine with his army in 169 BC, he hears of a rebellion going on in Jerusalem (1 Maccabees 1:16-28; 2 Maccabees 5:1-11). He puts down the rebellion, massacres 80,000 men, women, and children (2 Maccabees 5:12-14), and loots the temple (2 Maccabees 5:15-21).

King of the North Shows Fury against the People of the Covenant (11:29-30)

In Antiochus's absence from Egypt, Ptolemy VI (whom he restored to power) has joined forces with his brother Ptolemy VII.

"29  At the appointed time he will invade the South again, but this time the outcome will be different from what it was before. 30  Ships of the western coastlands will oppose him, and he will lose heart...." (11:29-30a)

In 168 BC Antiochus invades Egypt again. He captures Memphis and marches on to Alexandria. But then the "ships of the western coastlands," the Roman fleet, arrives in Alexandria, who have come to Alexandria at the request of the Ptolemies. The Roman legate C. Popilius Laenas draws a circle in the sand around Antiochus and gives him an ultimatum from the Roman Senate to answer before he steps outside the circle: Leave Egypt or face war from Rome. Rome now has the power to easily threaten the Seleucid empire all over the Mediterranean. This is the origin of the famous "draw a line in the sand" saying. Antiochus backs down and removes his armies from Egypt.

If you remember Nebuchadnezzar's vision of a man in Daniel 2:

"There will be a fourth kingdom, strong as iron -- for iron breaks and smashes everything -- and as iron breaks things to pieces, so it will crush and break all the others." (2:40)

Rome doesn't figure much in Daniel's visions, but here is an appearance of the kingdom that begins to threaten the Greek kingdoms and will ultimately defeat them.

Antiochus Attacks Jerusalem (11:30b)

"Then he will turn back and vent his fury against the holy covenant. He will return and show favor to those who forsake the holy covenant." (11:30b)

Antiochus is angry about his humiliation in Egypt, but feels he needs to strengthen the southern border of his kingdom against any attack from Egypt. To do this he must secure Jerusalem. When he learns that the high priest he has appointed has been deposed in a rebellion, in 167 BC he sends an attachment of troops who attack Jerusalem on the Sabbath when few Jews will fight. He slaughters most of the inhabitants, sacks the city, and sells the women and children into slavery (1 Maccabees 1:29-40; 2 Maccabees 5:24-26). He believes the Jews will betray him, so he shows favor to those who accept his policy of Hellenization, and attempts to destroy those who try to keep their traditional Jewish faith.

The Abomination of Desolation (11:31-32)

"31  His armed forces will rise up to desecrate the temple fortress and will abolish the daily sacrifice. Then they will set up the abomination that causes desolation. 32  With flattery he will corrupt those who have violated the covenant, but the people who know their God will firmly resist him." (11:31-32)

To destroy the morale of the Jews, Antiochus Epiphanes desecrates the temple and sets up there an statue of Zeus -- "the abomination that causes desolation." The Jewish sacrificial system is disrupted. Circumcision of children is banned. The Gentiles now control the temple, and those Jews who go along with Antiochus's movement to Hellenize Palestine ("those who have violated the covenant") are flattered and shown favor. For more on "the abomination that causes desolation" see Lesson 6A.

A Resistance Movement -- the Maccabees (11:33-35)

However, Antiochus's move to destroy Judaism meets resistance.

"33  Those who are wise will instruct many, though for a time they will fall by the sword or be burned or captured or plundered. 34  When they fall, they will receive a little help, and many who are not sincere will join them. 35  Some of the wise will stumble, so that they may be refined, purified and made spotless until the time of the end, for it will still come at the appointed time." (11:33-35)

Teachers continue to teach the faith, even though they may face martyrdom. A priest named Mattathias, who lives in Modein, about l7 miles northwest of Jerusalem, resists. Three of his five sons become known as the Maccabees ("hammer") -- Judas, Jonathan, and Simon. In a series of amazing military victories against Antiochus's generals between 166 and 164 BC, they win independence for a portion of Judea, and rededicate the temple on December 14, 164 BC, an event celebrated by Jews to this day in Hanukkah (1 Maccabees 4:52). For the exciting story of this resistance movement, I recommend that you read the book of 1 Maccabees.

Verses 34-35 suggest that Jews who had sided with Antiochus switch sides out of expediency, when the Maccabees began to execute the traitors.


If you've gotten this far, you're probably overwhelmed by the level of detail, and the names and dates of how it all played out in the history of the next several hundred years. Here are a couple of discussion questions that will help you reflect on the meaning of what you've read.

Q3. (Daniel 11) What is your general impression of Daniel's vision after reading the prophetic words matched by their historical fulfillment? What other Biblical prophecies can you think of that have been fulfilled so precisely? What does this teach you about God?

Q4. (Daniel 11) What does this rehearsal of prophecy and history teach you about the world rulers and geopolitics of our own time? How does the "big picture" inform us about the events of our day? Do you believe that God knows and cares about the details of your country's struggles and future? Are you praying for your country's leaders?

Lessons for Disciples

Daniel: Faithful Discipleship in a Foreign Land, by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Available in book formats: paperback, Kindle, PDF

This lesson contains a great deal of detail of events that are now thousands of years in the past. But we learn a number of important lessons that are vital to disciples today.

  1. The high cost of spiritual work (10:2-3, 8, 15-17). Seeing what Daniel did as the vessel of this vision takes a heavy toll on Daniel. If we are to do spiritual work, we can expect to be spiritually depleted. This is the reason that we must continually refresh ourselves by constant conversation with the Lord, as well as putting on "the whole armor of God" (Ephesians 6:10).
  2. Spiritual warfare (10:13, 20; 11:1). These verses give us insights into the nature of spiritual battles that are normally hidden from view. Unless we are involved in intercessory prayer, we will have little effect on the outcome of these battles. Jesus' disciples need to engage the enemy at this level.
  3. Teach us to number our days. This account of one king succeeding another, of life and death, on and on, should teach us to be aware of our mortality and the importance of making a difference in our world while we are able. The Psalmist writes:

"Teach us to number our days aright,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom." (Psalm 90:12)

  1. God can see the future far ahead. What are the implications of God's foreknowledge? Some people believe that his foreknowledge is like his immutable decree, which cannot be changed. Others see his foreknowledge dynamically related to his actions. My own view of foreknowledge, predestination, etc. is dynamic. I believe the Bible teaches that God can and will "change his mind" by means of our prayers, and, as a result, do what he otherwise would not have done -- all in his own will, of course. We can speculate and philosophize about this, but what we know for sure is that God knows the end from the beginning. He knows our circumstances and cares about us. Peter writes:

"Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you." (1 Peter 5:7)

  1. Refining power of persecution (11:35). Finally, we can learn that God uses struggles and persecutions to refine us.

"Some of the wise will stumble, so that they may be refined, purified and made spotless until the time of the end, for it will still come at the appointed time." (11:35)

We can complain about our situation or we can learn from it, and be made more like Christ in the crucible of suffering. Come soon, Lord Jesus!


Father, it is difficult for us to comprehend the extent of your amazing foreknowledge. Teach us to number our days. Teach us to pray and be involved in spiritual warfare. Use our trials to refine us and make us like you. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.

Key Verses

"Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia." (Daniel 10:12-13, NIV)

"So he said, 'Do you know why I have come to you? Soon I will return to fight against the prince of Persia, and when I go, the prince of Greece will come; but first I will tell you what is written in the Book of Truth. (No one supports me against them except Michael, your prince. And in the first year of Darius the Mede, I took my stand to support and protect him.)'" (Daniel 10:20-11:1, NIV)

"Some of the wise will stumble, so that they may be refined, purified and made spotless until the time of the end, for it will still come at the appointed time." (Daniel 11:35, NIV)


[291] The adjective in 10:3 is ḥemdâ, "pleasant, precious," from the root idea of "to desire." TWOT #582c.

[292] "Chrysolite" (NIV), "beryl" (NRSV, ESV, KJV) is tarshîsh, "precious stone, perhaps yellow jasper" (TWOT #2546), "a precious stone, suggested chrysolite" (Holladay, p. 395). Chrysolite (from Greek chrysolithos, "yellow stone") referred to more than one type of mineral including topaz (see NEB uses below), yellow sapphire, yellow zircon, yellow garnet, and yellow-green olivine (R.G. Bullard, "Stones, Precious," ISBE 4:626).

[293] "Helpless" (NIV) is literally, "retained no strength" (NRSV, ESV, KJV).

[294] The adjective in 10:3 is ḥemdâ, "pleasant, precious," from the root idea of "to desire." TWOT #582c.

[295] "Resisted" (NIV), "opposed" (NRSV), "withstood" (ESV, KJV) is two words: ʿāmad, "stand, remain, endure, etc.," and the preposition neged, "in front of, in sight of, opposite to" (BDB).

[296] "I was detained" (NIV), "I left him there" (NRSV), "I was left there" (ESV), "I remained there" (KJV) is the Niphal stem of yātar, "remain over, leave." It refers to one portion of a quantity which has been divided (John E. Hartley, TWOT #936).

[297] "Fight" is lāḥam, "fight, do battle" (TWOT #1104).

[298] "Prepare for war" (NIV), "wage war" (NRSV, ESV), "shall be stirred up" (KJV) is gārâ, "stir up, be stirred up, contend, meddle, strive." Here "wage war" (NRSV, ESV) is better than "prepare for war" (NIV) (Bruce K. Waltke, TWOT #378); Miller, Daniel, in loc.

[299] "Contemptible person" (NIV, NRSV, ESV), "vile person" (KJV) is a participle of bāzâ, "to despise, distain, hold in contempt," from the basic meaning of the root: "to accord little worth to something" (Bruce K. Waltke, TWOT #224).

Copyright © 2024, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

Sign up now!To be notified about future articles, stories, and Bible studies, why don't you subscribe to our free newsletter,The Joyful Heart, by placing your e-mail address in the box below. We respect your privacy and never sell, rent, or loan our lists. Please don't subscribe your friends; let them decide for themselves.
Country(2-letter abbreviation, such as US)
Preferred FormatHTML (recommended) Plain text