Daniel chapter 11 is one of the longest chapters in the book, and certainly the most difficult for any preacher. It is mainly about kings, and two of the principal kings come from the South and from the North. The obvious question arises, south of what and north of what ? The answer, of course, is of the people of God. The Lord’s covenant community under the Old Testament lived in one geographical area, the land of Israel with Jerusalem as its capital. It is that people who are the target of the king of Egypt in the south and of Syria in the north. At the end of the chapter the people of God are again the target of the king of the latter days (11:36ff): “He will also invade the beautiful Land (11:41).
This chapter’s perspective is that the centre of the universe as far as God is concerned is his people. The Bible’s first sentence is, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The structure of that sentence is climactically emphatic, “and especially the earth.” Of the whole universe God loves planet earth. As the Lord surveys the world he homes in upon his people. When he considers a town he is touched by the feelings of the infirmities of his people as they are scattered through that community. He sees this Christian woman whose husband has Alzheimer’s disease. Two years ago he could repair television sets, and now he cannot even switch one on. She is doing everything for her husband, and all of omnipotent love is focused on that home and what that woman is doing for the one to whom she made promises as a girl that he would be her husband ’till death us do part’. Also in that town there is a teenage boy who has started work in a garage. He is the butt of the men’s horseplay, especially since they have discovered that he is religious. He stammers out something for his Saviour, and not a word falls to the ground. God is concerned for him too. Then there is a family of which the wife alone is a Christian, but because of God’s endless love for her then her husband in some special way is sanctified (I Cor.7:14). Her children too, though they are not Christians, are in that same way ‘holy’ (I Cor.7:14), that is, they have come into the orbit of the Saviour’s loving interest. She continually pleads a promise, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved and thy house.”
God focuses his love upon his people and it really matters to him how the world deals with them. Let not a hair on their heads be touched. The Lord Jesus spoke some of his most sober words, repeated in three of the gospels, when he said, “Whoso shall offend one of these little ones” (he is not referring to children but to his own people) “which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matt.18:6). Christians carry about the baggage of failure because of the ordinariness of their congregational lives, the way they are ignored by society, their negligible impact upon their communities, and the frailty and inconsistency of their testimony. Transcending those concerns we are conscious of what little creatures are, living on a tiny planet on the edge of a universe of unimaginable vastness. We have to remind ourselves continually of Genesis 1:1 – “and especially the earth” which God created for purpose, and we say to ourselves, “I matter to God. He really cares for me. I’m the apple of his eye. I in Christ am the centre of his universe, not the great kings to the north and south but me. I am poor and needy but the Lord thinks on me.”
We do not receive that encouragement from anything in the world. Christians are nonentities in the eyes of men and women. “The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him” (I John 3:2). Wherever we look, to the four points of the compass, we see kings rising, extending their boundaries, battling with other kings and declining. That is the picture of the future that Daniel is shown in chapter 11. No kings from north or south will usher in a world government or achieve Utopian peace. That is what the Lord Jesus Christ declares when he speaks of the future in Mark 13 and also in Matthew 24. “You will hear of wars and rumours of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains” (Matthew 24:6-8). This has been world history, and it will characterise the story of fallen mankind until the end will come.
So the promise of the return from exile under Cyrus has been fulfilled. There are believers actually back in Jerusalem. Thousands will follow them. The 70 years’ exile has come to an end. Is this going to be the beginning of a wonderful dawn for mankind – a new world order ? That is how some may have been talking. Triumphalism is in the air and so has entered their theology. Then “a revelation was given to Daniel … and it concerned a great war” (10:1). While the holy people are in the world the world will hate the church as it hates the church’s Lord. Whether you look to the north or south, the present or the future, the story is going to be nations rising and falling, blood, sweat and tears. In this eleventh chapter Persia is mentioned by name (11:2), and Greece is named (11:2), and Egypt too (11:7). All were extraordinary civilisations but what they did was the very reverse of establishing world peace. “The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed” (Roms.8:19) Only then will “the creation itself be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Roms.8:20-23). There can be no regeneration of all things by the kings of the earth. Alliances, dynastic marriages, and the sacrifice of thousands of soldiers in the cause of world domination are of no avail in renewing creation.
There is an exactness about the prophecy of this chapter with only the actual names of the kings and some of their empires omitted. The three kings who appear in Persia after Cyrus (11:2) were Cambyses, Smerdis and Darius Hystaspia. “A fourth, who will be far richer than all the others” (11:2) was Xerxes. The attempted invasion of Greece was the height of Persian power. The “mighty king” who appeared was Alexander the Great, whose empire was soon broken up into four divisions (11:4). The next stage is the rise of Egypt, “the king of the South” (11:5-20). The dynasty which ruled in Egypt after the breaking up of Alexander’s kingdom was known as Ptolemaic, and that which ruled in Syria was known as Seleucid. Ptolemy Soter (322 – 305 BC) was the king of the South and the prince mentioned is Seleucus. “The daughter of the king of the South” was Berenice who married Antiochus II, and yet was unable to maintain herself against a rival wife, Laodice. Antiochus finally divorced her and Laodice encouraged her sons to murder Berenice. “The one from her family line” (11:7) who arises and takes her place was her brother who came against an army from the north and also succeeded in killing Laodice. The passage then goes on to relate the various struggles and wars between the Ptolemies and Seleucids until the appearance of Antiochus Epiphanes.
In the next section the book of Daniel returns to the rise and reign of Antiochus Epiphanes (11:21-35). He is the “contemptible person” who seizes the kingdom “through intrigue” (11:21). He won over the support of the kings of Pergamus, and the Syrians gave in to him. His ability to “act deceitfully” (11:23) earned him the nickname of ‘Epimanes’ (‘madman’) instead of the title which he himself assumed ‘Epiphanes’ (‘illustrious’). His Egyptian campaigns are mentioned (25-29), and after the first of three were completed he set his heart “against the holy covenant” (11:28), i.e. the land of Palestine. All of this is seen as coming “at the appointed time” (11:27 & 29). God is in control of every detail.
Antiochus failed in his third invasion of Egypt because of Rome’s nautical intervention. “Ships of the western coastlands will oppose him, and he will lose heart” (11:30), so he turned in his fury on Palestine. Jerusalem was invaded on the Sabbath, a heathen altar was erected on the altar of burnt-offering and the daily sacrifices ended. There were apostate Jews in league with Antiochus and they carried out his designs “but the people who know their god will firmly resist him” (11:32). Teachers arose and instructed the people though they are fearfully persecuted. But, “when they fall, they will receive a little help” (11:34) and that apparently refers to Judas Maccabaeus, whose rebellion proved to be successful, so that on December 25, 165 BC the altar of the Temple was rededicated.
The final section in this chapter of warfare (11:36-45) takes the persecution of the church by Antiochus to a higher plane, and he becomes a prefigurement of future persecution by a more notorious person, the one referred to in the New Testament as the man of lawlessness (II Thessalonians 2). Antiochus persecuted the church shortly before the first advent of Christ, while the antichrist will persecute the church before the second advent. Antiochus is not in Daniel 11:21-35 referred to individually as a “king”, only once when his negotiations with another are mentioned then “the two kings” (11:27) are collectively referred to. He is certainly called “a contemptible person” (11:21) and then merely as “he”. There is an avoidance of dignifying him, but the figure in 11:36-39 is referred to specifically as “the king”. His threat to the church will be marked by four characteristics:
1] “He will show no regard to the gods of his fathers … nor will he regard any god” (11:37). Agnosticism or atheism will be the common cultural attitude.
2] “The desire of women” will not be held in regard (11:37). That desire is for human and family love and is an example of the best of true humanity. A disdain of tenderness will characterise personal relations at that period. In the Russian Revolution various leaders adopted strong names to show their superiority to mere men, for example, “Stalin” (‘steel’) and “Molotov” (‘hammer’).
3] “He will exalt himself above all the gods” (11:37). There will be a self-assertion to the point of self-deification.
4] “He will honour the god of fortresses.” He is the personification of human strength. War will be his god and warfare he will support with all that he has (11:38). “There is always some Carthage that must be destroyed for some Rome to be free for its own brand of slavery” (R.J.Rushdoony, Thy Kingdom Come: Studies in Daniel and Revelation, p.77).
The final five verses illustrate the symbolism of this section (11:40-45). The nations of Edom, Moab, and Ammon are long-dead states and peoples. They are not going to be reconstituted ever again. At the end of the present age the antichrist will engage in fierce conflict for the control of world powers. They are symbolised in the powers which Daniel and his readers know – Edom, Moab and Ammon. “He will pitch his royal tents between the seas and the beautiful holy mountain” (11:45). The sea symbolises the world (Daniel 7:2 & Rev.17:15), and the “beautiful holy mountain” is a frequent type of the true church. The antichrist will seek to straddle the two, church and world, with an open door to both, and so syncretistically control them, breaking down the barrier between them. “Yet he will come to his end, and no one will help him” (11:45).
All this history is summarised so fully because at the rise of Antiochus Epiphanes and of the antichrist the covenant people of God will need this knowledge as a balm and rationale for action. Such knowledge will keep them sane and faithful through everything they were going to face. The unusual fact about this chapter is that in the first 27 verses not a word is recorded about the church, but the events that occurred were effecting the very existence of the people of God, and the coming Redeemer, and so the Lord is involved. That is why such attention is paid to the rise and fall of these nations. The Scriptures do not describe what was happening in the great Inca civilisation of Peru. They do not tell us what was going on in China or in India. The silence does not infer that those civilisations were unimportant or lacking in colossal achievements but that in those years their cultures had no effect upon the redeemed people of God. The Bible is a history of redemption, of the Saviour and of the saved, and it was whenever the world brushes God’s people that the events were recorded. Everything revolved around the holy people and the Holy Land. The church and its Lord is the mid-point of human history.
Someone has said that ‘history is the scaffolding’ God uses to build his temple. As soon as the last of the people of God are added to this temple then there will be no further need of scaffolding any longer, nor of the labourers who helped with the building. There will be no need any longer for the kings of the North and the South, the kings of Persia, Greece and Egypt: no need for Alexander, Philip of Macedonia and Antiochus Epiphanes. When Christ comes again there will be no need for preachers and missionaries, once that last stone is placed upon the temple to shouts of grace.
All that happens at every point of the compass, if it touches God’s people, must work for their good. When the Romans and the Jews worked together to crucify our Lord Jesus Christ it was according to God’s determinate counsel and foreknowledge. It was also working for our good. Everything happens for the sake of the church. We are the meaning of Golgotha. It is because of God’s goal for the church that events happen to us as they do. All things revolve around the church.
The first half of this chapter record a sad time for world history when the church was being ignored. The voice of the prophet was silent, and there was little expectation. The church was compromising with the world, and ignored by it. The salt was losing its savour. God’s people were silent about the Lord and so the Word of God is silent about them. When Antiochus Epiphanes re-emerges in the narrative he becomes a sort of icon, a figure that comes to personify and enflesh the powers of evil. He points forward to the coming Man of Sin. It is fascinating to contrast him with the Lord Jesus Christ. In the Old Testament the Saviour is foreshadowed by many figures such as Melchizedec, Moses, David and Solomon, and we see Christ in them, albeit through a glass darkly. We are conscious of all the graces that the Spirit of Christ in them had conceived, and in them we find the Lord Jesus. But there is only one prefigurement of the antichrist in the Old Testament and that is Antiochus Epiphanes IV.
This book of Daniel returns to the figure of Antiochus Epihanes on a number of occasions. What is this teaching us ? What do we do when such a figure is about? How do we act when evil marches through the land? Two things. Resist ! “The people who know their God will firmly resist him” (11:32). The subversive church is always a resistance movement. Teach ! “Those who are wise will instruct many” (11:33). We insist upon an educated faith. We give people knowledge and discernment. We build them up in any and every legitimate way. Literature, preaching, discussion groups, camps, conferences – everything we can do to commend the Word of God, “teaching them to obey all things whatsoever Christ has commanded us” (Matt. 28:20). The survival kit of the resistance movement is the Bible. It is alive and powerful. It is spirit and life.
There is great fascination now with a newly elected government, so-called New Labour. There is some perplexity as to what New Labour actually believes. What are its policies and the ideological principles of government ? The honeymoon period, the first 100 days, have come to an end and what of the tough times that every government faces? The Labour Member of Parliament for Grimsby has recently explained his concerns for the future of his party with this question “Does it have sufficient ideology to take it through the hard times ?” That is the test of any movement, isn’t it ? Certainly it is the test of the gospel church of the Lord Jesus Christ. This chapter is full of prophecies of tough times ahead. How do we survive ? Resist, and teach. You survive great tribulations by the Word of God.