Guests: Dave Thomas and Kent Bramlet
Corresponds with Sabbath School Study Guide: Dec 11-24
Many students of the Bible consider Daniel 11 to be one of the most difficult chapters in the Bible. The chapter is unusually long, full of details, its style is more literal than symbolic, the language is condensed, the pronouns are not used with precision, etc. So, a question may be raised here on what to do with the passages from the Bible that are too hard to understand and interpret. A good principle in the study of the Bible is to focus on the passages that are clear. Then, only once we have done our homework on clear texts and we feel that we have grasped their messages, we can safely proceed to the passages that are more difficult and that often escape a clear understanding. A simple rule to follow here is that we should move from that which is known to that which is less known or unknown, and not the vice-versa.
In their approach to Daniel 11, people usually take one of the following three positions: (1) Some give up in despair any attempt to understand the content of the chapter and its message. Someone once said: “All I know about Daniel 11, I can say in three minutes and nothing more.” (2) On the opposite side are those who claim that they have been able to figure out every single detail found in this text. The same people often claim to have solutions to the rest of the problems found on the pages of the Bible. Many interpreters who belong to this group tend to be extremely literalistic in their explanation of prophecy and in their zeal to leave no stone unturned they find a great deal of information in a minutest detail in the text. (3) I propose that in our study here we take the middle road. A suggestion is given that although this chapter has been very challenging for interpreters, we can discern in it some connections with the other chapters from the book and also we can set some guidelines that will help define its basic message intended for the reader by its author.
Various interpretations that have been proposed differ mostly on the meaning of verses 16-39. A topic that is hotly debated is whether the kingdom of Rome is or is not intended to play role in this chapter. It is interesting that precisely in this part of the chapter there are three key parallels with the preceding chapters: Verse 22 tells of “a prince of the covenant” who is destroyed, and this may be a link between this text and chapter nine. Verse 31 talks about “the daily” that will be abolished, and this reminds the reader of chapter eight. Finally, verse 33 is about persecution of the wise, the topic that reminds of a similar persecution of the saints from chapter seven. When viewed in this way, it becomes clear that chapter 11 is a more detailed report on the long conflict between the forces of good and evil previously seen in Daniel’s visions.
The plan for this chapter is not built on chiasm, but on another literary figure known as merism. Merism is defined as putting together two or more contrasting elements in order to express a totality. In our case here, it would mean that symbols of the directions east, west, north and south convey the idea of the totality of the planet earth. The proposed plan may be given as follows:
A. Conflicts between East and West (11:2-4)
B. Conflicts between South and North (11:5-12)
B’. Conflicts between North and South (11:13-39)
C. Time of the End (11:40-45)
Relevant Biblical Passages
- Daniel 10:21 and 12:1. The long report on the conflict recorded in Daniel 11 is sandwiched between these two references to Michael, the great prince of Daniel’s people. In biblical literature, when two similar concepts envelop a literary unit, that is called an inclusio. Why was Daniel’s attention turned toward this “Alpha and the Omega” person before and after the long report on this conflict? How is Michael different from the Kings of the South and the North?
- Daniel 11:2-4. These verses are not difficult to interpret. Rather than describing a new vision given to Daniel, they seem to be a further revelation on the previously given visions. The kingdoms of Persia and Greece are clearly identified. Some commentators find an extensive description of Rome in the verses that follow. Others, drawing a clear parallel with chapter eight, see only two powers in conflict, with Rome conspicuously absent and possibly only alluded to in the last words of verse four where it says “and given to others” where the word “others” referring to Rome. What do you think about the mention of Rome in this chapter?
- Daniel 11:5, 6. The details that are given here are often compared to the historical events tied to the love-hate relations between the divided Greek rulers, the Seleucids in the north and the Ptolemies in the south. Another proposal is that beginning with verse five, the powers represented by these two kings should be viewed as figurative, and their roles applied on a worldwide scale. How should we approach the many details found in this chapter? Do you think that every single one should be directly related to a historical reality? Or, should the chapter be viewed from a literary point of view, where the role of the details would be to make an impression on the reader?If the meaning of concepts such as “north” and “south” are taken as figurative, what is then their meaning in the context of the Bible? See for example what Isaiah 31:1-3 has says about the king of Egypt who was from the south! How can texts from the other writing prophets shed light on this passage? Do they have anything to say about the final conflict between God and the enemy nations?
- Daniel 11:36-39. The boastful king who is described here reminds so much of the little horn? How similar or different this description is from the ones from chapters seven and eight?
- Daniel 11:40-45. Some interpreters have tried to predict the future down to the Second Coming based on a literal application of the symbols and events given in these verses. Should biblical prophetic symbols that focus on the time after the cross be applied literally or figuratively, locally or universally?
Lessons for Life
We have learned from this chapter about some passages from the Bible that are very difficult to interpret. How can this knowledge help us stay focused on what’s really important in our personal study of the prophetic messages? How can we help others avoid either extreme or narrow approaches to the Bible?
Is it possible for believers, who are involved in this long and complicated conflict between good and evil, to keep their eyes fixed on Michael? And the final question is: “Is Michael our prince, too, or was he only the prince of Daniel and the Jewish people?”