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

The goat’s prominent horn symbolized Greece’s first “great king,” Alexander the Great. After his demise, “four kingdoms stood up out of the nation, but not with his power.” From one came the “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 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 of them, 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”).

ANTIOCHUS

The first half of the chapter deals briefly with the conflicts between the “king of the south” and the “king of the north,” which spanned several generations. The 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, seized the throne – (Daniel 11:5-20).

Antiochus is the “contemptible man.” Most likely, the term refers 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 sons, the eldest, Demetrius I, and the younger one was 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).

ABOMINATION

Frustrated by the setback, he vented his rage by attacking the city of Jerusalem, the event that marked the start of his suppression of the Jewish religion:
  • (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.
As in the previous visions, we find references to the profanation of the “sanctuary,” the cessation of the daily burnt offering, and the “abomination that desolates,” events predicted in the visions of the “Ram and Goat” and 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 since the same events are in view. 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” is derived from this chapter in Daniel. Similarly, the attempt by Antiochus to “exalt himself against the God of gods” and to corrupt the “holy people” became the model for Paul’s “man of lawlessness” and the final “apostasy” – (Matthew 24:15, Thessalonians 2:1-10).

Another link to the earlier visions is the reference to the “indignation” and its “determined” end:
  • (Daniel 8:19) – “I will make you know what will be in the latter 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.”

PERSECUTION

Thus, the malevolent figure portrayed in Daniel’s visions is 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 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.”

Acropolis - Photo by Miltiadis Fragkidis on Unsplash
[Acropolis Photo by Miltiadis Fragkidis on Unsplash]

Besides outright persecution, his efforts included attempts to corrupt the Jewish leadership by their adoption of Hellenistic customs and religious practices. The attack on the “
holy covenant” and the “saints” is described variously in each of the visions:
  • (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,” and the “king of fierce countenance” who “corrupted marvelously.”

The story in chapter 11 ends with the demise of the “king of the north” described enigmatically and briefly. His end was presented 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 downfall of Antiochus also echoes the conclusion of Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the “great image” (“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, 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).

IN THE NEW TESTAMENT

The language is echoed in Paul’s description of the destruction of the “man of lawlessness” at the return of Jesus (“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 in 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 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 - an attack on the “saints” is an attack on him.

Thus, the “little horn” that waged “war against the saints,” desecrated the “sanctuary,” caused the cessation of the daily sacrifices, and erected the “abomination that desolates” provides the historical and scriptural background employed by the New Testament to describe another “abomination of desolation,” as well as the final figure known as the “man of lawlessness,” the “beast,” and the “Antichrist.”



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