Relevant Verse: Daniel 11
Theme: Caught between North and South
Leading Question: How to deal with difficult truth in a sensible manner?
Daniel 11 begins with the words of the human-like divine High Priest conveying the truth as it is inscribed in the “Book of Truth” (Daniel 10:21):
Behold, three more kings are going to arise in Persia. Then a fourth will gain far more riches than all of them; as soon as he becomes strong through his riches, he will arouse the whole empire against the realm of Greece. And a mighty king will arise, and he will rule with great authority and do as he pleases. But as soon as he has arisen, his kingdom will be broken up and parceled out toward the four points of the compass, though not to his own descendants, nor according to his authority which he wielded, for his sovereignty will be uprooted and given to others besides them. (Daniel 11:2–4)
Daniel receives an extraordinary description of history that concerned the Jewish people from the fourth to the second century B.C.E. Three kings would rule after “Darius the Mede” (Daniel 11:1)The Septuagint has replaced “Darius the Mede” in Dan 11:1 with “Cyrus the Persian” indicating that Cyrus was the Great King of the empire at the time. and then a fourth one would come who is interpreted as Alexander the Great. Since, historically there were thirteen Persian kings who ruled from Darius the Mede / Cyrus until the demise of the Medo-Persian empire, the number is not to be read in a literal sense. Commentators offer different solutions to the numerical conundrum of “three more kings” and the “fourth one” speaking of the progression from three to four as in Proverbs 30:15–31, or of the number four as the totality of earthly rulers until the time of the end. During much of this time period wars raged over the land of Palestine.
In verses 5–20 the history of the conflicts between the north and the south begins with an alliance initiated by the south followed by an attack on the King of the North. In the second phase of this long conflict the attack is from the north, and the King of the North triumphs over the south. Starting in verse 21 to 35, a transition in style happens as a most “despicable one” arises and replaces the King of the North by actions that surpass all that happened before. In verses 36 to 45, another significant section poses great interpretation challenges so that one commentator wrote that its difficult nature demands “humility and charity” of its interpreters (Hill, Daniel, 199).
Among the majority of interpreters, the contemptible person in Daniel 11 is Antiochus IV Epiphanes who eventually turned the Temple in Jerusalem into a pagan shrine, massacred Jews, and burned much of Jerusalem. Gentile priests killed pigs and other unclean animals in the Temple as sacrifices to Zeus; circumcision was outlawed; festivals and Sabbaths were forbidden, and sacred scrolls were burned, and their owners killed (see 1 Macc 1;20–57). Adventist commentators recognize the stylistic break in the narration from verse 21 onward, but do not identify one single ruler with the “despicable” king but point to similarities between the activities of the King of the North followed by the contemptible person in Daniel 11 and the little horn in Daniel 8, where destructive earthly events culminate in a spiritual battle of cosmic magnitude (Doukhan, Secrets of Daniel, 168–179; Stefanovic, Daniel, 407–422).
Questions: What do you think is most important here? Knowing the identities of the King of the North/South? If not, why is it in the Bible? How do we treat matters we don’t clearly understand? What is the larger picture here? Was God condescending in showing to Daniel what would happen? In the light of Daniel’s prayer, what does prayer do? What kind of God is at work here?
What are we to make of Daniel 11? Here is how one pastor prayed about it, “Lord, I don’t even like reading this chapter. How can I interest [my congregation]?” Later, he found a way of preaching the text and confessed:
One of my principles of sermon preparation is to outline the passage, but I wondered what outlining the eye-glazing-over details of Daniel 11 would achieve. Another idea struck me. Perhaps a picture would help. I began trying to produce a diagram of who did what to whom and when. Finally the message started to become clear.
Successive generations of northern and southern kingdoms were attacking each other, and cought in the middle was tiny Israel. “North” and “south” were from Israel’s viewpoint. Moreover, Isreal wasn’t just caught in the crossfire but increasingly cought in the crosshairs. And by the end, she became the singular tartget. That would certainly be consistent with Satan’s intent and completely consistent with historical details. . . . But between verses 36 and 40, the imagery departs from the historical record. At the same time the imagery reminds the reader of similar messages in the visions of chapters 2 and 7.
Is God showing a prototype pattern of history that would in many ways repeat itself until the unique close of the chapter just before the end of the current historical era? And was the revealing to mankind that God’s people would always be caught in the crossfire and in the crosshairs? Of course! How consistent with that doggedly repeated message of suffering in both Old and New Testaments that also has characterized the history of God’s people to the present day. How relevant to my congregation! (Finley and Morsey, “An Exegetical and Theological Study of Daniel 11”).
The story of suffering under oppressive rulers is the story of God’s people and one that is often deeply personal. The answer in Daniel 11 is that the times are in God’s hands, even appointed by Him (Daniel 11:27, 29, 35), and God is actively refining and purifying his own (verse 35).
Question: How would Jesus explain “the things concerning Himself” (Luke 24:27) from Daniel 11?