Arrogant King of the North

The war between the kings of the “North” and “South” culminates in the rise of an arrogant ruler who persecutes the saints - Daniel 11:5-45.

Greek Temple - Photo by FERNANDO TRIVIÑO on Unsplash
Beginning with the fourfold division of the Greek kingdom, the interpreting angel outlined the coming conflicts between two of the subsequent realms that culminated in the rise of a “
contemptible” ruler. Previously, the rise and division of the Greek empire was portrayed in the vision of the “Ram and the Goat,” representing the kingdoms of the “Medes and Persians” and of “Greece.” - [Photo by FERNANDO TRIVIÑO on Unsplash].

The prominent horn of the “Goat” symbolized the first “great king” of Greece; undoubtedly, Alexander the Great. After his demise, “four kingdoms stood up out of the nation, but not with his power.” From one came a “king of fierce countenance” who sought to “destroy the mighty ones and the holy people.” He despoiled the “sanctuary,” stopped the daily burnt offering, and erected the “transgression that desolates” – (Danial 8:1-27).

As great and swift as Alexander’s conquests were, his empire did not survive his death. When it was divided, the four subsequent realms were “lesser kingdoms,” and not one was ruled by any of his offspring – (“but not to his posterity”).

When Alexander died, a struggle ensued between his generals over the succession. Eventually, his domain was divided among four generals, two of whom played significant roles in the history of Judea – Ptolemy I in Egypt (“king of the south”), and Seleucus I in Syria and Mesopotamia - (“king of the north”).

The first half of chapter 11 deals briefly with the conflicts between the “king of the south” and the “king of north,” which spanned several generations. This section ends with the assassination of Seleucus IV Philopator in 175 B.C., the ruler of the Seleucid empire. Through subterfuge, his younger brother, Antiochus IV (also known as Antiochus Epiphanes or “God manifest”), seized the throne – (Daniel 11:5-20).

In the narrative, Antiochus is described as a “contemptible man,” most likely, referring to his usurpation of the throne, since he was not the legitimate heir – (“and they have not given unto him the honor of the kingdom”) – (Daniel 11:21).

Seleucus IV had two legal heirs, his eldest son, Demetrius I, and a younger one, also named Antiochus. Both were underage when he died. Antiochus IV exploited the situation by seizing the throne for himself. This is represented in symbolic language in the earlier vision of the “little horn” before whom “three horns” were removed, Seleucus IV and his two sons (Daniel 7:8).

Periodically, Antiochus waged war against the Ptolemaic kingdom in Egypt. When he was at the point of achieving final victory, a delegation from the Roman senate intervened and ordered him to cease his attack or face the wrath of Rome – (“For ships of Kittim will come against him; therefore, he will be grieved and return” – Daniel 11:30).

Frustrated by the setback, on his return from Egypt he vented his rage by attacking the city of Jerusalem, which marked the start of his suppression of the Jewish religion, especially its Temple rituals:
  • (Daniel 11:30-31) – “And he will return, and have indignation against the holy covenant, and will do his pleasure… And have regard to them that forsake the holy covenant. And forces will stand on his part, and they will profane the sanctuary, even the fortress, and remove the daily burnt-offering, and they will set up the abomination that makes desolate.
Again, as in the previous visions, we find references to the profanation of the “sanctuary,” the cessation of the daily burnt offering, and the setting up of the “abomination that desolates,” events predicted in the visions of the “Ram and Goat,” and in the prophecy of the “seventy weeks”:
  • (Daniel 8:11-13) – “The little horn magnified itself, even to the prince of the host; and it took away from him the daily burnt-offering, and the place of his sanctuary was cast downHow long will be the vision concerning the daily burnt-offering, and the transgression that desolates, to give both the sanctuary and the host to be trodden under foot?
  • (Daniel 9:26-27) – “ And after the sixty-two weeks will the anointed one be cut off, and will have nothing: and the people of the prince that will come will corrupt the city and the sanctuary…And he will make a firm covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he will cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease; and upon the wing of abominations will come one that makes desolate; and even unto the full end, and that determined, will wrath be poured out upon the desolate.
The verbal parallels are consistent between the several visions, and the same events are in view in each case. The “little horn” before whom three horns were removed, the “king of fierce countenance,” and now, the “contemptible man,” all refer to the same person.

Most likely, the “abomination that desolates” is the altar to Zeus Olympias installed in the Jerusalem “sanctuary” on the order of Antiochus. On it, reportedly, “unclean” animals were sacrificed to honor the Syrian deity.

In his discourse on the Mount of Olives, the reference by Jesus to the “Abomination of Desolation” was derived from this chapter in the history of Israel. Likewise, the attempt by Antiochus to “exalt himself against the God of gods,” thereby corrupting the “holy people,” became the model for Paul’s “man of lawlessness” and the final “apostasy” that would precede the parousia or “arrival” of Jesus – (Matthew 24:15, Thessalonians 2:1-10).

Another link to the earlier visions are the references to the “indignation” and its “determined” end:
  • (Daniel 8:19) – “I will make you know what will be in the later time of the indignation; for it belongs to the appointed time of the end.
  • (Daniel 9:27) – “And he will make a firm covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week, he will cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease; and upon the wing of abominations will come one that makes desolate; and even unto the full end, and that determined, will wrath be poured out upon the desolate.
  • (Daniel 11:30) – “For ships of Kittim will come against him; therefore, he will be grieved, and return, and have indignation against the holy covenant, he will even return, and have regard to them that forsake the holy covenant.
  • (Daniel 11:36) – “And the king will do according to his will; and he will exalt himself, and magnify himself above every god, and speak marvelous things against the God of gods; and he will prosper till the indignation is accomplished; for that which is determined will be done.”
Thus, the malevolent figure portrayed in the several visions was the pagan ruler who suppressed the religious practices of the Jews. The man known from history who fits the description is Antiochus IV, the ruler of the Seleucid kingdom - (reigned 175-164 B.C.).
His concentrated attacks against the Jews occurred between 168 and 164 B.C., a little over three years. This is the period described in Daniel as the “time, times, and part of a time,” the “two-thousand three-hundred evenings-mornings” (i.e., 1,150 days), and the second half of the “seventieth week.”

Besides outright persecution, his efforts included attempts to corrupt the Jewish leadership by their adoption of Hellenistic customs and religious practices - (“The Leader who comes corrupts the people”; “And such as do wickedly against the covenant will he corrupt by flatteries”). The attack on the “holy covenant” and the “saints” is described variously in each of the visions, for example:
  • (Daniel 7:21) – “And the horn made war with the saints and prevailed over them.”
  • (Daniel 8:23-24) – “And in the latter end of their kingdom, about the completion of the transgressors, there will stand up a king of fierce countenance…and wonderful things he destroyed, and he prospered and wrought, and corrupted the mighty ones, and the people of the saints.”
The description of the king who “exalted himself above every god and spoke marvelous things against the God of gods” refers to his violations of the Temple rituals. “Speaking marvelous things” recalls the description of the “little horn with the mouth speaking great things,” as well as the “king of fierce countenance” who “corrupted marvelously.”

The story in chapter 11 ends with the demise of the “king of the north,” here told enigmatically and briefly. His end was told in similar terms in the earlier visions:
  • (Daniel 11:45) - “And he will plant the tents of his palace between the sea and the glorious holy mountain; yet he will come to his end, and none will help him.”
  • (Daniel 7:26) – “But the judgment will be set, and they will take away his dominion, to consume and to destroy it unto the end.”
  • (Daniel 8:25) – “He will also stand up against the prince of princes; but he will be broken without hand.”
  • (Daniel 9:27) – “And he will make a firm covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week, he will cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease; and upon the wing of abominations will come one that makes desolate; and even unto the full end, and that determined, will wrath be poured out upon the desolated one.”
The described downfall of Antiochus also echoes the conclusion of Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the “great image” that represented four kingdoms – (“He will be broken without hand.” “He will come to his end, and none will help him” - Daniel 2:44-45).

Antiochus died in 164 B.C.; unfortunately, the surviving records provide sparse details on precisely where, when, and how his death occurred. According to the second book of Maccabees, it was due to disease and a consequent fall from his chariot - (2 Maccabees 9:5-9).

The language in Daniel describing his downfall is echoed in Paul’s description of the destruction of the “man of lawlessness” when Jesus returns in power and glory - (“he will be broken without hand”):
  • (2 Thessalonians 2:8) – “And then will be revealed the lawless one, whom the Lord Jesus will slay with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the manifestation of his arrival.”
The visions from Daniel tell the story of the agelong struggle between the “kingdom of God” and the kingdom(s) of the present fallen age. The actual battles are waged against the “saints,” as malevolent political powers attempt to corrupt and destroy the people of God.

The main protagonist who fights for the “saints” is the one “like a son of man,” also called the “prince of princes” and the “prince of the host.” He also is a surrogate for the people of God, for an attack on the “saints” is the same as an attack against the “Son of Man.”

And in Daniel, events climax “in later times” with the appearance of the main antagonist, the malevolent ruler who seeks to “corrupt” the people of God, the “little horn,” the “king of fierce countenance,” the “leader” who corrupts the people, and the “contemptible person” who arrogates worship to himself – (“Such as do wickedly against the covenant will he pervert by flattery; but the people that know their God shall be strong”).

The “little horn” that waged “war against the saints,” desecrated the “sanctuary,” caused the cessation of the daily sacrifices, and “set up the abomination that desolates,” provided the historical and scriptural background used by the New Testament to describe another “abomination of desolation,” as well as the final end-time figure known as the “man of lawlessness,” the “beast,” and the “Antichrist.”




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