After his wife died of cancer, C.S. Lewis wrote a book about his experience in the aftermath of that tragedy entitled A Grief Observed. It is a raw, moving account of a man struggling through the pain of loss in light of his Christian faith. At one point in the book, Lewis reflects on the fact that he has always professed to know that suffering is part of what we must experience in this life, and that Christian teaching has always said so from the start. And yet, when the abstract notion of suffering became deeply personal for him, it shook him to his core. In one memorable line he writes about his faith, “If my house has collapsed at one blow, that is because it was a house of cards.” Real life often shows us whether or not we really we believe what we believe.
The question I am posing in this message is this: Is your theology—that is, what you believe about God, his world, and yourself—a house of cards? By that, I am not asking if your theology is wrong. I am asking if you have a good, true set of beliefs, but only in the abstract. Do your beliefs fail to connect in important ways with your life?
This is a danger for all of us. Our hearts, darkened by sin, are fully capable of loving theology, much the same way we might love a fairly challenging puzzle, but not be drawn to God himself. In the television drama House from several years ago, Dr. Gregory House was an incredibly skilled physician who specialized in diagnosing hard cases. Modeled after Sherlock Holmes, Dr. House would search for every possible clue and use his brilliant intellect to search out the truth until he had found it. And yet, Dr. House hated patients. He couldn’t stand interacting with people. A man whose life was dedicated to healing people really didn’t care for people all that much. It is a tragic example of missing the point, but also a good warning for us to beware the very real possibility that we could love our theology more than we love God. Even if you have a good theology, if it doesn’t connect with your heart and life, it is nothing but a house of cards.
And it is particularly in times of suffering that we see our beliefs revealed for what they truly are. Suffering is the crucible in which our pretensions are burned away, and the truth of our hearts is revealed. In this passage we see reference to a group of people who showed what their faith was made of during a time of suffering. Verse 32 reads, “He shall seduce with flattery those who violate the covenant, but the people who know their God shall stand firm and take action.” What is it in the book of Daniel that marks out those who know God from mere pretenders? It is their standing firm through turmoil, persecution, suffering, even when others fall away. As Jesus said in Mark 13:13, “The one who endures to the end will be saved.” Nothing purifies the people of God like hostile powers of this world that pressure pretenders into compromise and reveal those who really mean business when it comes to their faith.
I want to raise two questions about these “people who know their God” and then answer them from this text and from the broader context of the book of Daniel. Those two questions are (1) Why do they stand firm in the face of opposition? And (2) How can we imitate them? But before I address those questions, I want to give an overview of what this vision is about so that we can understand the context.
This is the last of four visions given to Daniel in the latter half of the book. It begins in chapter 10 and runs through chapter 12. In this section (vv. 2-35), the angel shows Daniel almost four hundred years of history in advance. It is perhaps the most meticulously detailed prophecy in all of Scripture. In fact, it is so detailed that I have decided not to go into the specific details of each verse. I have, however, provided a handout [included at the end of this manuscript for those who are reading] that will give you more of the details that you can review on your own. Here is an overview of what is going on. In verse 2, the angel summarizes the future of the Persian Empire, the empire that was in power at the time this revelation was given (around 536 BC). He says three more kings will come, followed by a fourth king who would be more wealthy than the others (Xerxes I), who would “stir up all against the kingdom of Greece” (v. 2). In 480 BC, Xerxes I invaded Greece, beginning a chain of events that would eventually lead to Persia’s downfall at the hands of the Greeks. It took over a century, but in 331 BC, the Greek emperor Alexander the Great conquered Persia, bringing about the reign of the third kingdom prophesied in Daniel chapters 2 and 7. Alexander is the “mighty king” mentioned in v. 3. He died suddenly at the age of 32, and both of his sons were assassinated, so his empire was divided among his four generals, and these events are predicted in verse 4. So in three verses, the angel tells Daniel of the future history and fall of the Persian Empire, followed by the rise of the Greek Empire and its subsequent breaking up into pieces.
Then in verses 5-20 the prophecy narrows in focus to two relatively small pieces that remained of Alexander’s empire: the Ptolemaic dynasty in Egypt and the Seleucid dynasty in Syria. Historically, these two kingdoms are nothing compared to the empires that preceded them, either in terms of size or significance on the world stage, and yet they receive much more attention in this prophecy. Why is that? It is because Egypt lies to the southwest of the land of Israel, and Syria lies to the north. So when you see “the king of the south,” that refers to the king of the Ptolemaic dynasty in Egypt at any given time, and “the king of the north” refers to the Seleucid ruler in Syria at any given time. The struggles between these two powers caught the people of Israel in a crossfire (“the glorious land” in v. 16 refers to the land of Israel), and power over the Promised Land was sometimes in the hands of the Ptolemies in Egypt, and at other times in the hands of the Seleucids in Syria. What seems to have little meaning for world history has great meaning for God’s people, kingdom, and purpose. And then when we get to verse 21, the focus narrows to one particular king of the north. This is a prophecy of a man whom we have already seen as the “little horn” of chapter 8: Antiochus IV Epiphanes. He is sometimes called the “antichrist of the Old Testament” because of his arrogance and absolute opposition to God and to the people of God. To make a long story short, Antiochus Epiphanes had great success against Egyptian forces until, on his third campaign into Egypt, the Romans intervened and demanded that he desist and turn back. Antiochus agreed to Rome’s demand in fear, and on his way back home he passed through Israel and took out his rage on the Jews. He made it his aim to obliterate the Jewish religion and way of life. He slaughtered multitudes, robbed the temple in Jerusalem, put an end to sacrifices, and even built an altar to the pagan god Zeus and slaughtered a pig, an unclean animal, on it, thereby defiling the temple. This is what verse 31 means when it refers to “the abomination that makes desolate”—the defiling of the temple under Antiochus.
How did the Jewish people respond to Antiochus? Well, some of them willingly complied with him in order to protect themselves, or even to align themselves with political power. Again, verse 32 reads, “He shall seduce with flattery those who violate the covenant.” This is a reference to the covenant God made with Israel at Mount Sinai. Some of the Jewish people willingly violated the covenant that bound them to their God and disobeyed his laws when pressure came from a Greek ruler. But others, namely, those who knew God, refused to compromise. They would not compromise their identity as God’s people in their practices, but they stood firm and even took action against Antiochus. One family among the Jewish people who came to be known as the Maccabees actually led an armed revolt against Antiochus. After a three-year military campaign of guerilla warfare, they won Israel’s independence and rededicated the temple to the worship of Israel’s God in the year 164 BC. To this day, the festival of Hanukkah (which Jesus observed) commemorates this event, when those who knew their God stood firm against the anti-God forces of their day, in spite of great risk to themselves, and triumphed.
So let’s come back to our two questions about the people who know their God. The first question is this:
What is it that motivates them? Actually, this text doesn’t tell us a lot about the Maccabees themselves, but it does present the Maccabees as those who will carry on the legacy of Daniel himself and his three friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (or Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego). So, in order to answer this question, I want to draw from the broader context of the whole book of Daniel and what it teaches about these men (Daniel and his friends) who stood firm in their faith when it was risky to do so.
Were Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego the only Jews at the plain of Dura on the day that Nebuchadnezzar ordered all of his high-ranking officials to bow down to the image of gold he had set up or be thrown into the fiery furnace (Daniel chapter 3)? The text doesn’t tell us, but I would guess that they weren’t. There may have been a number of Jews who bowed down to the image along with everyone else, coming up with some kind of rationalization to excuse their sin. And yet, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego literally stood out in the crowd. Why did they stand when everyone else, even perhaps some of their own countrymen, fell to their faces before worldly power? Decades later, why did Daniel continue kneeling before his open window to face Jerusalem as he prayed to the God of Israel, even after King Darius had issued an irrevocable decree that anyone praying to any god other than the king for a month would be fed to lions? The answer for Daniel and his friends, as well as for the Maccabees who are foretold in this vision, is that the truth about God had worked its way into their hearts.
Here I have two truths in particular in mind:
(1) God is the sovereign ruler of all things.
Story after story, vision after vision, this has been the main theme of the book of Daniel from beginning to end. In spite of all of the ups and downs of history, in spite of all of the turmoil, injustice, wickedness, rebellion, and suffering, one main idea keeps coming up over and over again: God rules over it all. Here we see that again in chapter 11. Notice first the meticulous detail of this vision. As you can see on the handout, Daniel receives a message from a heavenly visitor that foretells in precise detail a complicated mix of events involving the rise and fall of empires and kingdoms that would unfold over almost four-hundred years. In fact, so precise is this prophecy that many scholars have concluded it must have been written in the second century BC (the 100’s), after the events had happened. But in 10:1, we see the text itself claims that this vision came to Daniel “In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia,” or approximately 536 BC long before the end of the Persian Empire, long before Alexander the Great and the Greek Empire, long before the battles between the Ptolemies and Seleucids, and long before Antiochus IV. If you don’t assume from the outset that the future cannot be foretold (as anyone who believes in God should not assume), then there is no compelling reason to say this revelation was not written when it claims that it was written.
In Scripture, what conclusion are we meant to draw from the fact that God foretells the future? Is it that God is a mere seer, a passive observer of coming events that will happen on their own? No, it is that God foretells the future because he controls it. Isaiah 46:8-10 declares, “Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other, I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.’” God’s foreknowledge is indistinguishable from his foreordination. What he knows, he plans, and what he plans, he knows.
Even the terminology of this prophecy makes this point repeatedly. Notice verse 27: “And as for the two kings [of the north and the south], their hearts shall be bent on doing evil. They shall speak lies at the same table, but to no avail, for the end is yet to be at the time appointed.” Verse 29: “At the time appointed he [Antiochus IV] shall return and come into the south.” Verse 35: “and some of the wise shall stumble, so that they may be refined, purified, and made white, until the time of the end, for it still awaits the appointed time.” Who is the one who has appointed these times, not only the time of the end but of events leading up to it? Clearly, it is God, the sovereign ruler of all things. The people who know their God will stand firm in faith in spite of great risks to themselves because they know that even their enemies merely fulfill the role God has appointed for them in this grand drama. We are living in God’s story, and knowing that makes a world of difference in the way you face opposition.
But if we believed in a sovereign God, yet questioned his heart toward us, we might still waver when faithfulness to him cost us anything. And so a second truth that works its way into the hearts of those who know their God is this:
(2) God is for his people.
Put these two things together: God is the supreme power over all things, directing the course of history as he will, and he deeply loves and seeks the good of his faithful people. What conclusion must you draw? If I am among the faithful people of God, no matter what I face now, everything will turn out for my good in the end. No other outcome is possible if both premises are true.
Here I want to draw attention to one particular word in verse 32: “He [Antiochus IV] shall seduce with flattery those who violate the covenant, but the people who know their God shall stand firm and take action.” We don’t really know God until we know him as our God, the God who has given himself to us in the promises of his covenant, taking us as his bride, so that his interests and ours become one and the same. Once this truth has worked its way into your heart, no power on earth will be able to tear you away from him, whatever you stand to lose in this world. For you will know that whatever difficulties lie on the pathway of obedience, it is all for your good in the end if you stand with your God. Viewed from this perspective, obedience to God is never risky. Disobedience to God is what is truly risky. The Jews who willingly violated the covenant in order to align themselves with the political power of Antiochus may have preserved their lives for a time, but what did they lose in the end by aligning themselves with the enemies of God? What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and yet lose his soul?
The people who know their God stand firm in spite of great risks to themselves because they know that God is sovereign, and God is for them. So that brings me to a second question:
Perhaps you hear me talking about the Maccabees and about Daniel and his friends, and you’re thinking, “That sounds great. But I’m not being pressured by a pagan ruler to abandon my faith in Christ. If I am not being tested that way, how can I make sure my theology is not a house of cards?” And that’s a good question. First, I want to say that, even if you are not being tested in a severe way right now, don’t assume that day will never come. It very well could. As Western culture continues its slide toward paganism, especially with regard to issues of sexual practice and identity, we will find ourselves more and more the oddballs and outcasts of society. Christians are already paying a price for their faithfulness to the Bible’s teaching about the nature of male and female in many sectors of society. But sexuality is not the only issue that makes us offensive. Just recently, Senator Bernie Sanders suggested in a Senate hearing that the historic Christian teaching that those who are outside of Jesus Christ stand condemned before God is an unacceptable position for government officials to hold. That idea may not get much traction, but if it does, how far might it spread? Will it one day be applied to public school administrators, principals, coaches, and teachers? Will it spread to corporate America and effectively end opportunities for Christians to advance in the business world? If so, we must make up our minds now that we will not compromise the truth of the gospel, no matter what opportunities we may lose as a result.
But for us, that day is not here yet, and it may in fact never come. So what can we do now to make sure we are ready if it does? I want to suggest three things:
(1) Meditate often on the truth of who God is.
In his modern classic Knowing God, J.I. Packer’s second chapter is a meditation on this passage entitled “The People Who Know Their God.” In it, Packer makes the point that those who know God have great thoughts of God. They stand in awe of his majesty, power, sovereignty, and wisdom. They do not settle for a sub-biblical doctrine of a god whose power is limited by the will of man. Daniel reveals his own thoughts of God in his prayer of chapter 2, specifically in verses 20-22: “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might. He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding; he reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with him.”
But we must meditate not only on the greatness of God, we must also search out the wonders of his love for us. If you read Daniel’s prayer of repentance in chapter 9, specifically verses 16-19, you see a man who prays with confidence that his God is a God of abundant grace and forgiveness. Actually, I think that in our circles, this point is typically harder for us to work into our hearts. Most of the conversations I have had with Cornerstone church members indicate to me that, by and large, we don’t have a problem acknowledging God’s sovereignty. We may have questions here or there about how it fits together with human responsibility, and we may feel a sense of mystery about the whole subject, but Cornerstone people typically don’t question whether or not God is in control. But that God might actually be for us, that one can be harder to swallow. I think Paul recognized the human tendency to doubt the love of God for us, and this is why he prayed for his readers in Ephesians 3:16-19, “that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” Being filled with all the fullness of God is a direct result of taking in the unfathomable love of God for us in Christ. Paul is acknowledging here that taking hold of that love for us is something that surpasses our ability to do. That’s why he prays for supernatural power through the Spirit of God to enlarge our capacity to do so. Would you seek to know God? Then you must take hold of him as he has given himself to you in love, through Jesus Christ, crucified and risen to rescue you from the wrath to come. Meditate often on the truth of who God is, not only in his majesty and power, but especially in his love for you.
What else can we do to be among those who know their God? Second,
(2) Devote yourself to regular practices that shape your heart in a Godward direction.
Think back to Daniel chapter 6, where Daniel, now an old man living under the reign of the Persian king Darius, hears that the king has issued a decree that cannot be revoked, stipulating that anyone who prays to any god other than the king for a whole month will be thrown to the lions. Upon hearing this, Daniel goes up to his room and prays before an open window facing Jerusalem, and there he was caught. Why did Daniel do this? Was this his way of making a public demonstration, a political statement to express his resentment against Persian power? Actually, no. Daniel 6:10 tells us Daniel was doing the same thing he had always done: getting down on his knees to pray three times a day. Daniel merely continued with his regular routine of prayer at set times before his open window.
Do you think there were days when Daniel didn’t feel up to it? Could he have justified skipping out on prayer because, after all, he didn’t want to be a legalist about it? Could he have rationalized that prayer ought to be spontaneous and heartfelt, and if he’s really not in the mood for it, it’s not worth bothering with? He certainly could have, but there is no evidence that he did. This is a man who walked with God, day in and day out, in large part because he cultivated a godly habit.
If you do not have a plan to devote yourself to hearing from God daily in his Word and responding to him in prayer, guess what: you will be inconsistent in it. Life will take over, and your lack of self-discipline will leave you spiritually dry. I want to say something especially to our children and teenagers here: one of the most important things you can do is make it a habit to read a little bit from your Bible each day, to think over what you have read, and to pray. I think the best time to do this is in the morning before you start your day. Talk to your parents about some ideas about how you can do this. What is a good place in the house to go to, what time of day, etc.? Make it a habit to seek the Lord every day, and to pray about anything and everything: thank God for the many blessings he has given you, naming them one-by-one. Ask him for help in your struggles and difficulties. Pray for strength to obey him and glorify him. Pray for the needs of others, especially missionaries who are taking the gospel to the world. Doing these things regularly, day in and day out, even when you don’t feel like it, will shape your heart over time.
And, of course, the most important practices to which you must devote yourself are the practices of gathering with the church regularly to worship, to hear the Word of God proclaimed, to practice loving one another, to partake of the Lord’s Supper. Don’t stay on the periphery of the life of the church. Be here on Sunday mornings to worship, on Sunday evenings to pray, to encourage one another, to open up about your life and struggles. Gather with your small group during the week to go deeper into the biblical text and into each other’s lives. Come to Sunday School to help shape your thinking under the authority of Scripture. If you are not a member of Cornerstone, we are glad you are here, but we don’t want you to get comfortable with the experience of being here for a long time with no covenant commitment to this body. Jump in with both feet, and devote yourself to the rich means of grace that God has put in front of you here.
Begin each week gathering with your church, and begin each day with Scripture and prayer. Do that consistently for the next five years, or ten years, and see how your heart has been shaped in the knowledge of God during that time.
One final point of application in answer to the question of how we can imitate those who know their God. Third,
(3) Take concrete steps of obedience with what is in front of you now.
Your life or livelihood may not be on the line with respect to your faith right now, but what are you doing with smaller matters that are less risky, but still involve a cost to you? Do you have an unbelieving neighbor that you have thought about having over to get involved in his life with the hope of sharing the gospel, but you have never felt like the timing was convenient? Do you have a letter you need to write to that family member to address head on that issue that you have been dreading? Have you sinned against someone else, and your pride has kept you from seeking forgiveness and reconciliation? Have you been reluctant to give regularly a noticeable portion of your money to Christ’s mission because you are unsure if you can truly rely on God to provide for you, or because you are unwilling to let go of some of the perks of your lifestyle? Are you a husband and father who knows you need to step up and lead your family to make a hard decision for the glory of God, but you have been reluctant to risk it?
Steps of faith happen over a lifetime in these kinds of day-to-day decisions. Isn’t it interesting that the book of Daniel begins with a story about Daniel and his three friends making a decision not to eat food from King Nebuchadnezzar’s table that would defile them under the Law of Moses? If Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had no courage to obey with regard to the food in front of them in chapter 1, could you imagine them willingly going into the furnace in chapter 3 for their refusal to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s idol? If Daniel had no courage to obey with regard to the food in front of him in chapter 1, could you imagine him willingly going into the lion’s den in chapter 6 for his refusal to stop praying to the God of Israel? Your life and livelihood may not be on the line today, but are you obeying God with what is in front of you now? If not, how will you ever obey when the stakes are higher? One way to know your theology is not a house of cards is if you intentionally connect it to the decisions you make to be obedient with what is in front of you now.
In August of 2006, I enrolled in the Ph.D. program at Southern Seminary. I had been at the school for a few years, but starting a new program, I went through new student orientation again. As I gathered together with all of the new students at orientation, several of the professors in the school of theology were asked to introduce themselves to us by telling us their names, what they taught, what current writing projects they had going, and why they taught at the seminary. Dr. Bruce Ware, a professor of theology, gave all of the information and then said, “The reason I am teaching here is because I want you to know God.” That was a profound statement. He could have said, “The reason I am teaching here is because I want to train you to be good pastors” or, “I want to teach you to be good Christian scholars” or, “I want our churches to be built on the truth.” All of those would have been great answers, and doubtless he wants to accomplish all of those things. But he really went to the heart of the matter when he said, “I want you to know God.” There is nothing more important than that.
Our theology, our set of beliefs, matters immensely, but without a personal knowledge of God, it is nothing but a house of cards waiting to fall. In John 17:3, Jesus prayed to the Father, “This is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” If you would know God, you must receive him as he has made himself known, by giving himself to you in his Son. Apart from Christ, there is only death. If you are outside of Christ, you are alienated from God, cut off from the life that he gives. Scripture declares that you are an idol-chaser, a rebel against the true God, and, if you persist in your rebellion, will fall under God’s condemnation and endure an eternity away from his presence. It is difficult to fathom the reality of hell, but one thing it must be is a place of profound isolation, where you neither know nor are known. It is the place of exile for those who are, essentially, forgotten, because they would rather hold on to the sin and rebellion that has no place in the world to come than turn from it to the lordship of Christ. Don’t let that be you. Call to him now, seeking his forgiveness, and give yourself over to him. If you would know God and be forever known by him, which is the very purpose for your existence as a human being, then Jesus Christ is your only hope. Come to him, and mark your transition from death to life in baptism.
If you are a baptized believer who is a member of a local church and not under the discipline of that church, I call on you to press on in the faith you have professed and to grow in the personal knowledge of God. Do that now by coming back to this tangible reminder of the gospel of your salvation: the broken body and shed blood of the only-begotten Son of God. As John 1:18 says, “No one has ever seen God; the only-begotten God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” Come, and welcome, to Jesus Christ.
The Fulfilled Prophecies of Daniel 11:2-35
After King Cyrus of Persia (see 10:1), there arose “three more kings” (11:2), followed by a fourth, Xerxes, who was richer than all who preceded him and invaded Greece. Some years later “a mighty king” (v. 3) arose as leader of the Greek Empire, Alexander the Great. He overthrew the Persian Empire and conquered much of the known world before his sudden death at age 32. His sons were later assassinated, leaving his empire in the hands of his four generals, dividing it “toward the four winds of heaven” (v. 4).
From this point on, the prophecy focuses on two dynasties that grew out of the division of Alexander’s empire, the Ptolemaic dynasty in Egypt and the Seleucid dynasty in Syria. The text refers to each Ptolemaic ruler as “the king of the south” because Egypt is south of Israel. Likewise, it refers to each Seleucid ruler as “the king of the north” because Syria is north of Israel.
Ptolemy I was a strong “king of the south,” but Seleucus, one of his princes, became stronger and established his own rule and dynasty in Syria (v. 5). Some years later, in an attempt to forge an alliance, Ptolemy II (a king of the south) sent his daughter Berenice to marry Antiochus II (a king of the north). Antiochus II divorced his current wife Laodice to marry Berenice, but after the death of Ptolemy II, he divorced Berenice and took Laodice back. But she poisoned him and later had Berenice killed as well (v. 6). Laodice’s son, Seleucus Callinicus, took over rule of the north, and Berenice’s brother Ptolemy III took over rule of the south. He is the “branch from her [Berenice’s] roots” mentioned in v. 7, because he came from the same father. He led a successful campaign against Syria (the north), but then Seleucus Callinicus (king of the north) regained his power after two years and led an unsuccessful campaign against the south (vv. 8-9).
Verses 10-13 describe ongoing battles between Ptolemy IV (the king of the south) and Antiochus III (the king of the north), one of the sons of Seleucus Callinicus mentioned in v. 10. These opposing forces traded victories and lands for some time, including control over the land of Israel.
Some Israelites rose up against the next ruler of Egypt, Ptolemy V (king of the south), but they were unsuccessful (v. 14). Then Antiochus III (the king of the north) led a very successful military campaign against the south, and in the process took control of “the glorious land,” which is Israel (v. 16). In an attempt to forge an alliance and gain a political advantage, Antiochus III gave his daughter Cleopatra in marriage to Ptolemy V, but his plan backfired when she gave more loyalty to her new husband than to her father (v. 17). Antiochus III furthermore attacked Roman lands but was stopped by the Roman general Lucius Cornelius Scipio, and this resulted in Roman control over Syria (v. 18). Beaten back by the Romans, Antiochus III returned to his own land, where he was killed in an insurrection (v. 19). Seleucus IV Philopater became king in place of his father Antiochus III, but he was later poisoned by one of his officials, Heliodorus (v. 20).
III. THE CLIMACTIC KING OF THE NORTH (vv. 21-35)
The prophecy now focuses on one king in particular, Antiochus IV (the king of the north), also known as Antiochus Epiphanes. In a previous vision, he was identified as a “little horn” (see Daniel 8:9-14). Some have called him “the antichrist of the Old Testament” because he represents the height of arrogance and opposition to God and his people. Verses 21-28 describe his deceitful rise to power and his stunning success in battle against the south. His success in taking control of territory was unprecedented, so that he did “what neither his fathers nor his fathers’ fathers” ever did (v. 24).
However, “at the appointed time” (v. 29), that is, God’s appointed time, he came into the south for his third invasion. The year was 168 BC. This time things turned out differently. “Ships of Kittim” (v. 30) came against him. These were Roman forces, and the Roman ambassador, Popilius, demanded that Antiochus desist from his attempt to invade Egypt. Popilius drew a circle in the sand around Antiochus and demanded that he give an answer before he left that circle. In fear, Antiochus consented to Rome’s demand and turned back. On his way back he passed through Israel, and in his rage he acted out against “the holy covenant,” that is, the Mosaic covenant that faithful Jews observed (v. 30). He robbed the temple in Jerusalem, put an end to the sacrifices, and “set up the abomination that makes desolate,” an altar to the Greek god Zeus, on which he slaughtered a pig, thus defiling the temple with an unclean sacrifice and pagan worship (v. 31). His aim was to obliterate the Jewish religion and impose Greek culture and religion on the people of Israel.
He was able to lure many Jews to compromise their faith, but others stood firm against this pagan influence (v. 32). Among the latter were the Maccabees, a group of faithful Jews who led a three-year military campaign against Antiochus and, despite their sufferings and losses (vv. 33-35), eventually won independence for Israel and rededicated the temple to the worship of God in the year 164 BC. Jews still celebrate the festival of Hanukkah every year in commemoration of the rededication of the temple to the worship of the God of Israel.
Such detailed events were foretold by the angel who appeared to Daniel and were written down by Daniel in the year 536 BC, almost four-hundred years before these events came to pass! These fulfilled prophecies provide confirming evidence that the Bible is no ordinary book but is the Word of God. God foreknows the future completely because he has already determined it and will bring it to pass according to his will.