Daniel 11: Those Who Know Their God

The People Who Know Their God Will Be Strong and Do Exploits

Introduction: this week I read an article about fifteen cities that could be the next Pompeii. These are cities that conceivably could be destroyed by the eruption of a massive nearby volcano. The most at-risk city isn’t that far from the original Pompeii—it’s Naples, Italy. One expert called it the most threatened modern urbanization by volcanic eruption. Second is the city of Hilo in Hawaii, which sits near the site of the largest volcano on earth. Next in line are cities in Peru, Spain, and the Philippines. But despite the local volcano, people still move there; they still live there and raise their families there as they’ve done for hundreds and thousands of years. It’s as though you build your village beside a sleeping giant and you just assume he’ll never awaken. But what if you knew for certain the volcano was going to erupt? What if you knew the giant was going to wake up? That would change your thinking and your decisions. A knowledge of the certain future affects the decisions we make today. If only we knew what tomorrow would bring we’d look at everything differently and we would live differently.

Well, the Bible doesn’t tell us when specific volcanoes will erupt, but it does give us the future in enough detail that it should affect the way we live today. It does warn us of impending judgment. And one of the most remarkably predictive chapters in the Bible regarding specific historical events is Daniel, chapter 11. That’s the chapter we’re coming to today. This is the middle of three chapters that comprise the last great segment of the book of Daniel. Daniel 10, 11, and 12 are one unit. It represents the last extended vision in the book of Daniel.

Daniel 10 sets the stage for chapter 11 in a remarkable way. In chapter 10, Daniel had this vision approximately five centuries before the birth of Jesus. It troubled him. He began fasting and praying, and three weeks later he had a visit from an angel. The angel told a remarkable story. At the very moment Daniel had begun to pray, the answer to his prayer had been granted. Daniel had asked to understand the meaning of his dream, and the Lord say to one of the angelic messengers, “Go and tell Daniel what his dream means.” The angel sped off from heaven, but he was intercepted by demonic opposition, and for three weeks he was hindered in delivering the information to Daniel. Finally the archangel Michael was dispatched to the aid of the hindered angel, and the message got through at last. That’s chapter 10. Now we come to chapter 11, which is that explanation, that angelic explanation of the vision Daniel had.

At first, Daniel 11 seems confusing. If you just sit down and read it without any historical commentary or aid, it makes no sense. But with a little help, it becomes clear and wonderful. So let me give you an advance summary of the chapter before we tackle the verses. Here is the outline of Daniel 11, in which Daniel is given more information about the unfolding of coming days:

  • In verse 2, Daniel is given the future of the Persian Empire.
  • In verses 3-4, he is told about the Greek Empire of Alexander the Great.
  • In verses 5 through 35, we’re told about a long series of conflicts between Egypt and Syria—with Israel caught in the middle. These conflicts will culminate in the rise of a terrible dictator named Antiochus Epiphanes, against whom Israel will rebel and gain her independence.
  • In verse 36, the story suddenly leaps from Antiochus Epiphanes to the final great world dictator, the Antichrist and the remainder of the chapter describes the unfolding battles of the Great Tribulation period leading to the slaughter of the antichrist.
  • The key lesson of the chapter is contained in verse 32: The people who know their God will be strong and do exploits.

So verse 2 is about Persia; verses 3-4 about Alexander the Great and his Greek Empire; verses 5-35 about the prolonged turf war between Egypt and Syria, leading to the rise of Antiochus; and verses 36 to the end of the chapter about the antichrist and the Great Tribulation.

The predictions in these chapters are so detailed and precise that liberal critics insist they were written after the fact. Daniel gives us the historical account of what happens, in rough or round numbers, between 550 and 150 BC — a period of approximately 400 years, right up to Roman times. Liberals say that it’s impossible for Daniel to have known all this detail in advance, so he must be spurioius. To admit otherwise is to endorse divine inspiration. The explanation of Daniel’s vision really begins in verse 2, so let’s start there. In the interest of time, I’m not going to read or go through every verse in this chapter as we often do. I’m just going to try to hit the high spots.

Verse 2: Now then, I will tell you the truth…

The angel said, in effect: Now, Daniel, about that vision you had of the Great War—the long series of conflicts that made up your nightmare. Here is the true interpretation. Let’s begin with the present day—your Persian Empire.

Three more kings will arise in Persia, and then a fourth, who will be far richer than all the others. When he has gained power by his wealthy, he will stir up everyone against the kingdom of Greece.

Here in verse 2, in summary, is the prediction of the decline of the Persian Empire. Daniel was writing this during the days of the zenith of the Persian Empire, in 536 B.C., but God foresaw the decline and fall of Persia. It would be superseded on the world stage by the Greek Empire of Alexander the Great, who is described in verse 3:

Verse 3: Then a mighty king will arise, who will rule with great power and do as he pleases. In our prior studies in Daniel, we’ve seen Alexander predicted in previous chapters. But here in this chapter only this one verse is devoted to him. Even though he was the most remarkable figure in antiquity, God dispatched him with one brief verse in the discussion of the history of those days.

Verse 4: After he has arisen, 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.

This is exactly what happened. Alexander died suddenly in a debouched state at age 32 or 33, and we know very little about his children and heirs. He reportedly had two children by two different women, but both children were assassinated shortly after their father’s death and so his kingdom ended up being divided by others.

What happened next, in broad terms, was a long period of regional conflict. Two great powers – Egypt and Syria – vied for control of the Holy Land. Isn’t it interesting that even today, 2500 years later, the nation of Israel is still threatened by rising tides of violence from Syria and Egypt? I read an article the other day about the rising dangers of regional conflict because of what’s happening in Egypt and Syria, and about that threatens Israel. This is exactly the prospect facing Daniel in this chapter in the days following the death of Alexander the Great. So the following verses give a very detailed accounting in advance of the back-and-forth struggles between Egypt and Syria, and about the terrible consequences to Israel, which lay in the middle between the two. In these verses, Egypt is referred to as the South and Syria is referred as the North. In Egypt – the South – the ruling family was named Ptolemy. In Syria, it was Seleucus. The Ptolemies were the kings of the south, and the Seleucids were the kings of the north. Those phrases show up over and over again in Daniel 11, and if you don’t know who it’s talking about nothing makes sense.

Now, I’m going to read a few of these verses, starting with verse 5, to give you an idea as to how this chapter unfolds.

Verse 5: 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.

Now there follows quite a bit of palace intrigue and dynastic violence, all having to do with the struggles between Egypt and Syria. We can identify all these characters in history and we can isolate the battles that are mentioned. It wouldn’t mean a great deal to you if I did so in my commentary of these verses. Any good study Bible will give you the names, ranks, and serial numbers of all these characters and will give you an accounting of the battles. The thing about Daniel is that he did it all in advance, prophetically, before these things really happened. Let’s keep reading a little bit, continuing with verse 6:

Verse 6: 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 betrayed, together with her royal escort and her father and the one who supported her.

All this actually happened as predicted. A woman named Berenice who was a Ptolemy married a ruler who was a Seleucid, but the marriage didn’t last. Berenice was assassinated and the merger of the dynasties fell apart. And so forth…

I could go on and tell you who all these subsequent people are, but I’d have to use a lot of notes and you’d have to take a lot of notes. I can’t remember all these characters and dates and battles and conflicts. Daniel was looking at it in advance, and our historians today are looking at it retrospectively—but the story is the same. So let’s skip some of these verses, and go down to verse 21, where we come to the most despicable and terrible ruler of the days between Daniel and Jesus—the man who is the biblical prototype of the antichrist. Out of Syria comes this madman, who is described as…

Verse 21: …a contemptible person 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.

The subject this verse is named Antiochus IV Epiphanes who ruled for about a dozen years on the Syrian throne and who is repeatedly referred in the Bible as the prototype of the coming Antichrist. He is the “Little Horn” of Daniel 7 and Daniel 8. I think we need to be looking at the horizon of history every day to see if we can spot the Antichrist, and in order to recognize him we need to know what he’s going to be like. The one person in biblical history who previews the Antichrist is Antiochus IV Epiphanes. He’s described here as a contemptible person. He didn’t inherit the throne; he just seized power through intrigue. What follows in the next several verses are more back and forth battles between Syria and Egypt, with Antiochus for the most part being victorious. Now, let’s skip down to verse 29:

Verse 29-30a: At the appointed time he will invade the South again, but this time the outcome will be different form what it was before. Ships of the western coastlines will oppose him, and he will lose heart.

This is exactly what happened. Antiochus again tried to invade Egypt, but this time he was thwarted because ships of the western coastlines opposed him. What were these ships from the Western coastline? Who were these powers that opposed him? It was the rising power of Rome, the coast to the West. The rising power of Rome didn’t want a strong unified power in the East, and so, according to historians, when Antiochus moved to invade Egypt, the Roman senate sent a convoy to Egypt with an ultimatum. According to the accounts of several ancient historians, Antiochus asked the Roman officials to consider their demands, and one of the generals drew a circle in the sand around his feet and told him he had to make his decision before he stepped outside that circle. This happened in or near Alexandria. He didn’t have the forces to oppose Rome, and so he lost heart and gave up his quest to be Emperor of the East. Insane with rage, he headed back toward Syria and vented his fury on the people of Israel.

Verse 30b-31: 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. 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.

In other words, Antiochus flooded into Jerusalem with many thousands of bloodthirsty and frustrated soldiers. He forced the Jews to suspend the entire Mosaic system. He desecrated the temple and abolished the daily sacrifice. He attacked the Jews on the Sabbath day and killed men and woman and children at will and forcing others into slavery. He was determined to exterminate the Jewish religion and to Hellenize the Jews. He slaughtered 80,000 men. He ordered all copies of the Law to be burned and he tried to destroy every copy of the Holy Scriptures. On December 16, 167 B.C.—only about a century-and-a-half before Christ, he set up an altar to the Greek gods in the temple (the abomination of desolation) and had a pig sacrificed on the altar. The Jews were forced to offer a pig on their altar on the 25th day of each month in celebrate Antiochus’ birthday. And he promised apostate Jews that if they cooperated with him they would be well rewarded. The next verse says:

Verse 32a: With flattery he will corrupt those who have violated the covenant…

But now we come to one of the most courageous verses in the Bible—

Daniel 10:32b: But the people who know their God will firmly resist him. This is referring to a courageous family within Israel who lived between the Old and New Testaments—the Maccabees, who in 167 B.C. rebelled against Syria and gained freedom for the nation of Israel for the first time since the Babylonian invasion and for the last time until 1948.

I like the older translations that say: But the people who know their God shall be strong and do exploits. I’ll come back to this later. But for now, let’s skip down to verse 36. Here, at verse 36, suddenly, the action flashes into the far distant future, and in the terrible example of Antiochus we get a frightening glimpse of the real antichrist. One commentator said that verse 36 and the verses that follow summarize the seventienth period of seven  years (see Daniel 9) and give us details which are found nowhere else in the Bible. The historical personage of Antiochus Epiphanes as a type of antichrist is the perfect transition to a description of the real antichrist.

Verse 36: The king will do as he pleases. He will exalt and magnify himself above every god and will say unheard-of things against the God of gods. He will be successful until the time of wrath is completed for what has been determined must take place.

This prescribed doom of this antichrist is described in Revelation 19, at the end of the time of wrath (the Great Tribulations). Right up until the end when Christ comes again this powerful man will be vengeful and successful. He will be the most successful political leader the world has ever seen.

Verse 37: He will show no regard for the gods of his ancestors…

This statement has led some to believe the antichrist will be Jewish by race but will turn away from the God of Israel. The verse doesn’t really say that, so that’s a supposition. It simply says he will disregard any god or gods that his ancestors recognized. He will have no respect or reverence for any religious heritage.

Or for the one desired by women…

I’m not sure what that means but it could have a reference to his hated for the Messiah, who was the desire of the mothers of Israel. Some translations say he will not desire women and other translations say he will not desire the one desired by women.

Nor will he regard any god, but will exalt himself above them all.

He will declare that he himself is god and demand to be worshipped. And now we have several verses that described battles that will take place during the Great Tribulation period.

Verse 38: instead of them, he will honor a god of fortresses…

Power will be his god. The word “fortress” occurs five times in this chapter to describe political and military power. He will spend all his treasure to acquire power.

Verse 40: At the time of the end the king of the South will engage him in battle, and the kin got the North will storm out against him with chariots and cavalry and a great fleet of ships. He will invade many countries and sweep through them like a flood.

As the world lurches toward the final great war of history, armies from the South and from the North and from every side begin to converge on Israel–the Beautiful Land. The next verse says:

Verse 41: He will also invade the Beautiful Land. Many countries will fall, but Edom, Moab, and the leaders of Ammon will be delivered from his hand. He will extend his power over many countries: Egypt will not escape. He will gain control of the treasures of gold and silver and all the riches of Egypt, with the Libyans and Cushites in submission. But reports form the east and the north will alarm him, and he will set out in a great rage to destroy and annihilate many.

Verse 45 tells us where he will establish his headquarters: He will pitch his royal tents between the seas at the beautiful holy mountain. Between the Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee is Jerusalem and to the north the valley of Armageddon, where the antichrist will establish his military headquarters.

Yet he will come to his end, and no one will help him. At the very moment of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, the antichrist will be slain, the nation of Israel delivered, and Satan defeated.

Conclusion: So let me summarize. In chapter 10, Daniel has a terrible nightmare of a vast war involving the people of Israel. He begs God for understanding and the Lord answers immediately, but the devil doesn’t want this information released. There’s a conflict about it in the heavenly places, but the angel finally gets through and gives Daniel an event-by-event description of the next several hundred years of Middle Eastern history. He describes the end of the Persian Empire, talks about how the Greek Empire of Alexander the Great will rise and suddenly end. He describes centuries of conflict between Egypt and Syria, with Israel caught in the middle. And his story climaxes in the rise of the terrible dictator Antiochus, who will try to destroy the people of God. And in verse 36 to the end of the chapter the scene changes to the last days and to the Antichrist, who will come to a violent God-planned end. And the people who know their God shall be strong and do exploits. When I was in college someone had a poster in his dormitory room and this verse was inscribed on it. We found it very motivational, very bracing. It encouraged us to try to go out and change the world. I still want to know my God. I still want to be strong. I still want to do exploits for Christ.

God is interested in the details of history.  He knows them in advance and they are under his control. We should be students of history to see what God has done. We should be students of current events and prayerful about the unfolding of events. There is an end game to human history. But until then we must always remember that the people who know that those of us who know our God will be strong and do exploits. That’s what our church is about. That’s what our lives are about.