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Bible Commentaries

Layman's Bible Commentary

Daniel 11

Verses 1-45

Vision and Contemporary History (11:1-45)

Verse 1 is an introduction which seeks to fix the date in the first year of Darius the Mede. Actually the vision is a continuance of what began in chapter 10.

Verses 2-20 form a preamble to the career of Antiochus IV, who as always is the bestial villain of this piece. After Cyrus, "Behold, three more kings shall arise in Persia." These are a foreshortened dynasty of the great kings who ruled over Persia, namely, Darius I, Artaxerxes, and Xerxes. A fourth king, who is not easy to identify, but who is probably either Xerxes I or Darius III, will inherit such power and wealth that there will be envy among nations. It is possible that the prediction (vs. 2b) about stirring up "all against the kingdom of Greece" has specific reference to the Persian wars against Greece before the rise of Philip of Macedon. Afterward "a mighty king" shall arise to have great dominion. "And when he has arisen, his kingdom shall be broken" (vs. 4). So Alexander’s kingdom was broken and was given to four successors, none of whom was rightful heir to his power (I Macc, 1:8-9). Like most of this chapter, these verses correctly chronicle actual history.

The king of the south (vs. 5) was Ptolemy I Soter (305-285 B.C.), who sheltered Seleucus I (312-280 B.C.), one of his princes, only to have the latter return to Antioch and gain power greater than that of Ptolemy himself. In fact, Seleucus I gained extensive control over the empire which Alexander’s death left without a decisive ruler. "After some years they shall make an alliance" (vs. 6). About 250 B.C., Ptolemy II (285-246 B.C.) gave his daughter Berenice ("daughter of the king of the south") in marriage to Antiochus II (261-247 B.C.), but Antiochus had to put away his former wife Laodice to consummate the political alignment (vs. 6). Laodice, after a brief period, resumed living with her husband, succeeded in poisoning him, killed the child of Berenice, and finally disposed of Berenice herself. It is this blood-curdling sequence of events to which the writer refers (vs. 6) .

Such treachery could not go without vengeance, which is described in three brief verses (7-9). The "branch from her roots" was Berenice’s brother Ptolemy III, who marched northward in a very successful campaign which netted much booty, including "molten images" and "precious vessels of silver and of gold." For a brief period all was quiet, but then the king of the north, Seleucus II, tried a counterblow which met with only limited success.

Verses 10-19 deal with various aspects of and events in the reign of Antiochus III (223-187 B.C.), who is popularly known as Antiochus the Great. Antiochus, determined to wrest Palestine from the hands of the Ptolemies, came into the land in 219 B.C., when he scored great success. However, the threat of invasion spurred Ptolemy IV, who finally routed the Seleucid forces at Raphia in 217 B.C. Nevertheless, the words of the text are quite correct, "he shall not prevail," for Ptolemy IV was so impressed with his initial success that he did not follow it up (vs. 12).

After an interval of fourteen years Antiochus III, having regrouped his forces, came against the south again "with a great army and abundant supplies" (vs. 13) . Meanwhile Ptolemy IV had been succeeded by the inept boy-king Ptolemy V. This made the task much easier for Antiochus. In those days there were also constantly recurring efforts to overthrow the Ptolemaic dynasty, but all failed. In any case, an attack was laimched against Ptolemy V at Paneas, which was the last Ptolemaic stronghold in Palestine, and within two years (198 B.C.) "the glorious land" came under Seleucid control (vs. 16).

Antiochus III prepared to throw the full force of his kingdom against Egypt but, for reasons beyond our knowing, came to peace terms with Egypt in 197 B.C. (vs. 17). The treaty was sealed when Antiochus sent his daughter Cleopatra to be married to Ptolemy V. The intent behind the union was to use this marriage "to destroy the kingdom" by making it subservient to the Seleucid rule. This, however, did not eventuate because Cleopatra championed her husband’s rule and urged the alliance with Rome against Syria (vs. 17). This was what the author meant by the cryptic expression, "it shall not stand or be to his advantage."

Fired with the desire for greatness, Antiochus III began a series of campaigns with a view to the conquest of "the coastlands" (196-191 B.C.). His ultimate target was Greece itself, whence Alexander had come, but the plan was not to succeed. Roman power was thrown decisively into battle at Thermopylae (191 B.C.) and at Magnesia (190 B.C.). Humiliated in defeat, Antiochus in did "stumble and fall" when, trying to sack a temple at Elymais, he was killed. Thus a reign of great glory came to an inglorious end (vss. 18-19).

Seleucus IV (187-175 B.C.) succeeded his father, but his reign was one of little significance; as the writer says, "he shall be broken, neither in anger nor in battle" (vs. 20). Reference here is to the historic fact that Seleucus was assassinated by Heliodorus, his finance minister and partner in crime, who turned on his master.

Having sketched the history of events leading to the rise of Antiochus IV, which at best formed a sorry chronicle, the writer turns to the point of this vision — namely, that the climax of wickedness in Antiochus IV is a forecast of the end-time. Antiochus IV was the "contemptible person to whom royal majesty has not been given" (vs. 21). The right of succession did not belong to Antiochus IV, who was younger than Demetrius, the son of Seleucus IV. By cunning and flattery, however, he succeeded in gaining power.

The text of verses 22-24 is uncertain at this point, but the intent is to show that Antiochus swept all opposition before him in Palestine, plundering and spoiling at will. In the words "but only for a time" Antiochus is warned and the people are promised that there has been a limitation set on this program of destruction.

Egyptian campaigns which were made by Antiochus IV are described in verses 25-30a. Trouble began between Egypt and Syria in 172 B.C. when two courtiers (Eulaeus and Lauaeus) seized power in Egypt and began plans to attack Antiochus IV. In 169 B.C. the attack came, but Antiochus IV won the battle and made Ptolemy VI his vassal king. Ptolemy’s advisers were "his undoing" (vs. 26). The "two kings" are Ptolemy VI and Antiochus IV, who "speak lies at the same table, but to no avail." There was in neither the sincere desire for harmony or for peace, because Antiochus’ chief purpose was to make Egypt a subject people and Egypt’s motivation was to turn the tables. The ultimate outcome of history remained in hands greater than those of any earthly king and "the time appointed" had been set by God.

Returning to Jerusalem in the flush of success and "with great substance," Antiochus set himself against "the holy covenant," the Jewish faith, and plundered the sanctuary. Troops were stationed at the Temple, the place was sacked, and many Jews were massacred. This was done largely because a false report of Antiochus’ death in Egypt led to the overthrow of Menelaus, who had replaced Jason as high priest. Upon his return, the king reinstated his choice for high priest and punished the rebels.

Once the situation was set right at home, Antiochus returned to Egypt for further campaigning, but in this second attempt fortune did not smile on him ("it shall not be this time as it was before"). "Ships of Kittim," which were Roman vessels under the command of Popilius Lasenas, forced Antiochus IV to retreat homeward (vs. 30). These same "Kittim" are mentioned in literature from the Dead Sea Scrolls, where they must also be identified as the Romans.

The time of horror began for the Jews when a defeated and frustrated would-be conqueror returned to his homeland. He immediately turned his energies to the major domestic problem, which was the fullest integration of the Jewish people into Greek life and customs (1 Maccabees 1:41-50). It was this determination which triggered the Maccabean revolt. Action "against the holy covenant" was the attempt to repress Jewish faith and life by persecution. In his effort Antiochus began to "give heed to those who forsake the holy covenant" and who thus became supporters of the newer Greek way of faith and life. "Forces from him shall appear and profane the temple and fortress, and shall take away the continual burnt offering" (vs. 31; see 1 Maccabees 1:54-61). The general, Appolonius, on orders from Antiochus did capture Jerusalem, profane the Temple, and replace the regular ritual of offerings with Grecianized offerings and liturgies honoring Zeus Olympus, which in Jewish eyes was an "abomination that makes desolate" (vs. 31). Some Jews were seduced "with flattery" to support the new way, but the people who knew their God stood firm and took action (vs. 32; see 1 Maccabees 1:10-15). Whether this action meant belligerent reaction, as epitomized by the Maccabees, or quiet withdrawal cannot be known (1 Maccabees 2:29-50).

The wise, like Daniel, "shall make many understand" the ultimate purpose of God, "though they shall fall by sword and flame, by captivity and plunder, for some days." When they fall they shall receive "a little help." This is a reference to the Maccabean revolt, begun by Mattathias in Modein in 168 B.C. (1 Maccabees 2:1-28). But this temporary revolt could not by definition be the ultimate source of aid, since that help could come from God only. Still there remained a division among the people — some choosing to join Antiochus and the new way, and others remaining wise and loyal unto death. The martyrdom of these saintly leaders served to refine and purge the community of the faithful, giving it a new purity ("to make them white"). But even this purging and cleansing by martyrdom must continue "until . . . the time appointed" (vs. 35).

Like so many tyrants, Antiochus IV was possessed by a god-complex. Daniel says of him that he would "magnify himself above every god, and . . . speak astonishing things against the God of gods." Even so, he would prosper in his mad thirst for power and divine status, yet only for a season. The same God who could enthrone or dethrone the great Nebuchadnezzar would find it a simple matter to deal with this contemptible and upstart ruler. Verse 37 bluntly states that Antiochus gave no heed to any god, neither the gods of his fathers nor "the one beloved by women" (Adonis), "for he shall magnify himself."

It is possible that "the god of fortresses" (vs. 38) may mean Jupiter, but it would appear more likely that the god of war in general was meant. Antiochus put his trust in his own divine power to wage successful war. The god "whom his fathers did not know" must be Jupiter Capitolinus, for whom Antiochus built a temple at Antioch, or Zeus Olympus, who was the head of the Greek pantheon. Both of these received homage from Antiochus at Jerusalem. By the help of one of these foreign gods he dealt with many fortresses, which fell before his attack. Those who agreed to his magnification of himself were given places of rulership, and among them the property was divided.

To this point in the chapter the author was actually recounting events which had already happened and was thus seeking to help his audience see the true meaning of these events in the light of God’s sovereign rule. With verse 40 a change of perspective is introduced, because here the author begins to deal with the future and the substance of his message becomes predictive. Whereas in the earlier materials his only forecast was that God would remain in control and the time of distress would be limited, now the whole shape of the future becomes a matter for prophetic prediction.

The author foresaw another attack by "the king of the south," to which Antiochus, "the king of the north," would react with a rush of "chariots and horsemen, and with many ships," Although thousands will fall, Edom, Moab, and Ammon will escape the carnage which will engulf "the glorious land." These three traditional foes of Israel were employed to represent the heretics and turncoats who had gone over to the Greek way; they should in no way be interpreted literally. Those who were allied to the Greek cause would naturally escape the wrath of Antiochus’ armed might. His rule is to extend over vast territory and his dominion will include Libya, Egypt, and Ethiopia (vs. 43). However, at the very peak of his power, news "from the east and the north shall alarm him" and he will go in fury to meet the threat at home. He shall pitch his tents between "the sea" (the Mediterranean) and "the glorious holy mountain," a location somewhere between Jerusalem’s Temple and the sea (vs. 45). There the long-awaited end would come as predicted (Ezekiel 39:4; Zechariah 14:2; Isaiah 14:25).

In point of fact Antiochus IV marched eastward into Parthia in the spring of 165 b.c. and during an extensive military campaign developed some kind of mental illness and died at Tabae, in Persia, in 163 b.c. The writer was apparently unaware of this exact pattern of events, but in general symbolic language he saw Antiochus IV on the verge of world dominion when trouble at home interrupted and prevented final success. His end came as predicted, even though the details of the prediction are not altogether exact. But what the author set out to do he had done, namely, demonstrate that Almighty God was still on the throne of history, making the decisions that would determine the ultimate course of history.

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Daniel 11". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/daniel-11.html.