Daniel — Prophet to the Gentiles
If you asked any children’s Sunday school class what their favorite Bible stories are, you’d probably hear such replies as “Noah’s ark,” “Moses and the Israelites crossing the Red Sea,” “Joshua and the battle of Jericho,” “David and Goliath,” and “Jonah and the whale” among the highest ranking contenders for first place. Somewhere in the mix would probably be at least one story from this book, including “Daniel in the lion’s den” or “the three Hebrew children in the fiery furnace.”
The first half of this book contains a chronicle of these famous interactions between some members of the Jewish royal family that had been taken into exile and the rulers of Babylon. The second half contains several mind-boggling prophecies concerning the Gentile nations that would dominate the world until the time of Christ. The book was written as a hybrid between an autobiographical sketch of Daniel and his friends, and then a prophetic diary. Both sections are arranged in chronological order, with the author referencing the ruler and the year of his administration to set the time for each chapter.
Although liberal scholars contest his authorship, the prophet Daniel claims to have written the book, frequently repeating, “I, Daniel…” throughout his narrative. The contention of modern critics is that the prophecies regarding the nations described are so accurate, it had to be written in retrospect. While clearly denying the inspiration of Scripture by the Holy Spirit, in a back-handed way, they actually validate God’s word! The Jewish Talmud affirms Daniel’s authorship, while Jesus Himself referred to “Daniel the prophet” when quoting Daniel 9:27 in Matthew 24:15 [Nelson’s Complete Book of Bible Maps & Charts, p. 234].
Based on the historical events described in Daniel’s writing, conservative biblical scholars place the date of this writing somewhere between 605 B.C., when the first wave of Hebrew exiles were carried off to Babylon (including Daniel and his friends), and 530 B.C., the ninth year of Cyrus the Persian [Nelson’s, p. 236]. In the earliest manuscripts, the first and eighth through twelfth chapters are written in Daniel’s native Hebrew, while the second through seventh are in early Imperial Aramaic, the trade language of the Babylonian and Medo-Persian empires. Some liberals consider the Aramaic sections to be later addenda to the original Hebrew texts [pp. 236-237]. But, if you consider that Daniel was writing this book, not only to instruct his fellow Jews, but also to reach out to Gentiles, it makes perfect sense that those portions pertaining to non-Jewish nations should be in a universal language, while those parts that specifically address Jews would be in Hebrew.
Daniel Chapter 1
In the first chapter of the book of Daniel, we learn about Nebuchadnezzar’s first siege of Jerusalem “in the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah” and how the pagan king brought back the Judean king, along with some of the treasures from the temple in Jerusalem, which he placed in the temple of his god (Dan. 1:1-2). 2 Kings 24:1-2 tells us that Jehoiakim was Nebuchadnezzar’s vassal for three years, before he rebelled and then was harassed by raiders from Chaldaea [Babylon]. According to 2 Chronicles 36:5-7, it was in Jehoiakim’s eleventh year that Nebuchadnezzar took some of the things from the temple and brought Jehoiakim in bronze fetters to Babylon. So perhaps the siege began in Jehoiakim’s third year, after his rebellion, and it was not until the eleventh year that Nebuchadnezzar succeeded in capturing the city and carrying off its goods and its king?
Thereafter, Nebuchadnezzar told a head of staff to select some good-looking, intelligent young men from the nobility of Israel to train as courtiers (Dan. 1:3-4). The first mention of members of the royal family being deported was after Jehoiachin’s brief reign of three months, when Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem and the king of Judah surrendered with all of his officers. According to 2 Kings 24:8-16, in addition to the treasures of gold from the royal palace and what remained at the temple, Nebuchadnezzar carried off all the nobility of Judah, its warriors, craftsmen and smiths and anyone of any account to Babylon. So Daniel must have been referring to this time period, which took place in 605 B.C.
When Nebuchadnezzar decided to educate some of the best and brightest of the captive royal family from Judah, his intention was not only to train new advisers, but to show his dominion over them, incorporate them into Babylonian culture and eradicate all hopes they might have of ever exercising power of their own. In all likelihood, Nebuchadnezzar had the young Israeli men castrated, since the man charged with their care and training was “Ashpenaz, the master of his eunuchs” (Dan. 1:3). For three years, they were immersed in the language and literature of the Chaldeans, expected to eat what the Babylonian ruler ate, and given new names—all in order to remind them that they were no longer Jews, but Babylonian citizens (vv. 4-7).
Four of these young men were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah (6). Daniel, whose Hebrew name means, “God is judge,” was renamed Belteshazzar, or “prince whom Bel favors” [Bel was the chief of the Babylonian pantheon and Nebuchadnezzar’s favorite deity]. Hananiah, which means “YHWH has been gracious,” was renamed Shadrach, “the command of Aku” [another pagan god]. Mishael, which means “Who is like God?” became Meshach, “Who is what Aku is?” And Azariah, which means “YHWH has helped,” became Abednego, “servant of Nego” [the Babylonian sun god]. So their captors replaced the names that honored YHWH, the God of the Hebrews, with blasphemous names that hailed the pagan deities of Babylon, instead! No doubt, they cringed every time they heard these new names called.
Apparently, the youths could do nothing about most of their lot, but they did take action in one area they thought they might control. When informed that they would be given food from the king’s own table to eat and drink, Daniel balked. As a devout Jew, he knew he could not consume the royal diet—either because it was food first offered to idols, or it was not ‘kosher’ (or both)—lest he “defile himself” (8). When he first requested an exemption from the king’s diet from the chief eunuch, the man was kind, but refused to serve anything different, for fear that the king would have his head over the matter (9-10).
However, when Daniel made a similar request of one of the chief’s subordinates, he found a more willing party (11). Rather than attempting to explain their dietary requirements of ‘clean’ animals—like deer, cattle, sheep and goats—versus ‘unclean’ animals—including pork, duck and other omnivorous creatures—Daniel proposed a simple vegan diet. “Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink.” he said, “Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see” (Dan. 1:12-13, NIV). By setting a time limit and encouraging the steward to compare him and his friends to the other lads in the program, Daniel gave the steward a potential ‘out’ in case the results were not favorable, so the man agreed (14). But by the end of the trial period, Daniel and his friends were so much better off than the others that the steward allowed them to continue in their diet throughout the program (15-16).
Now does that mean we should all eat nothing but a vegan diet of fruits, vegetables, beans and grains? No. When the Lord described acceptable and unacceptable foods in the Mosaic Law, certain animals, fish and even insects were permitted (See Leviticus 11). He had already given mankind every imaginable green plant and its fruit for food (Genesis 1:29). Grain and wine were part of the sacrificial system of which the priests were allowed to partake—including bread made with and without yeast (Lev. 1-7 & 23:1-24:9). And Abraham served the Angel of YHWH and His companions beef, bread, butter/cheese and milk when they visited (Genesis 18:1-8). So the idea that we should all be vegans, vegetarians or eat a “Paleo” diet like our “ancient hunter-gatherer ancestors” is nonsense. It would be nice if we could eat kosher food like the Jews (which is much healthier than the typical American diet). But we certainly can’t think that, because God gave Daniel and his friends special grace to eat nothing but plant products and water for three years, that’s the way we should all eat all of the time.
I have done a 21-day “Daniel fast,” and it is hard! I didn’t lose any weight or feel better during that time. I was mostly hungry and feeling deprived. It was fine for a season, but I was so glad when it was over. I cannot imagine eating that way for three whole years! I’ll bet Daniel and his friends were glad when they graduated from the University of Babylon and got to eat a more complete diet.
By the end of their education, Daniel and his friends were clearly at the head of their class, since “God gave them knowledge and skill in all literature and wisdom; and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams” (Dan. 1:17). When Nebuchadnezzar interviewed everyone, “he found them ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers who were in all his realm,” so Daniel, Hananiah, Azariah and Mishael were inducted immediately into the king’s service (vv. 18-20).
Daniel Chapter 2
Having read Daniel’s resume in the last chapter, you may have wondered what it mattered that this young man was able to understand dreams and visions. That particular skill was put to use in an extraordinary way not long after Daniel and his friends came into the king’s service. Nebuchadnezzar had a disturbing dream and woke up demanding that his magicians, astrologers, sorcerers and Chaldeans be brought to him at once (Dan. 2:1-2). When his chief advisers were assembled, the king said he had had a dream and was anxious to understand its meaning (v. 3). They, of course, wanted to hear what he had dreamed, so they could interpret it (4 & 7). However, he insisted that he must hear from them both the dream and its interpretation to be sure they were telling him the truth; otherwise the consequences would be dire (vv. 5 & 8-9).
When the Chaldeans said the king was asking the impossible—that only the gods could reveal such an enigma, Nebuchadnezzar became incensed (10-12). He ordered that all the wise men of Babylon be executed. When the executioner arrived at Daniel’s door, he wisely asked what the urgency of the matter was all about (13-15a). After Arioch, captain of the king’s guard explained the situation, Daniel immediately sought an audience with Nebuchadnezzar and asked for time to give him the answer he sought (15b-16). Then he went home and told his buddies what was up and asked them to pray with him for God to reveal the secret and spare Daniel and his friends from execution (17-18).
During a vision that came in the night, God explained the whole thing (19). The first thing Daniel did was break out in praise—giving God credit for His wisdom and might, for changing times and seasons, removing and raising up kings, dispensing knowledge and wisdom and illuminating secrets hidden in darkness (20-22). He thanked God for giving him “wisdom and might,” making known the very thing he and his friends had asked of the Lord (23). Only then did Daniel go to find Arioch, urging him to spare the rest of the wise men, promising that he was able to tell the king what he wanted to know (24).
The captain of the guard rushed Daniel to the throne room. Seeking favor for himself, Arioch said, “I have found a man of the captives of Judah, who will make known to the king the interpretation” (25). Daniel, in contrast, took no credit for himself, but told Nebuchadnezzar “there is a God in heaven who reveals secrets, and he has shown King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in the future” (Dan. 2:26-28, NLT). Although he could have compared himself with the other wise men, he said God had first given the dream to Nebuchadnezzar and then revealed its interpretation to Daniel for the king’s benefit (vv. 29-30).
With that introduction, Daniel proceeded to describe the dream God gave the king of a huge, multi-colored statue made of gold, silver, bronze, iron and clay (31-33). Then “a stone was cut out without hands” and struck the feet of iron and clay, breaking them in pieces (34). While the entire rest of the statue was reduced to fine dust and carried away by the wind, the stone “became a great mountain and filled the whole earth” (35).
Having satisfied the first of Nebuchadnezzar’s demands by retelling the dream, Daniel then gave its interpretation (36). He told the king that the head of gold represented Nebuchadnezzar, the greatest king, whom God had placed in authority over both man and beast at this time (37-38). His kingdom would be followed by one not so great, represented by the silver part of the statue, which in turn would be replaced by a lesser kingdom of bronze which would dominate the earth (39). The fourth kingdom would have the strength of iron to crush everything else, but it would be divided, having the weakness of iron mixed with clay (40-42). He further elaborated that “the people will be a mixture and will not remain united, any more than iron mixes with clay” (Dan. 2:43, NIV).
During the time of this fourth group of kings, “the God of heaven” was going to establish His eternal kingdom. While it would demolish all the others, this new kingdom was incapable of being destroyed or replaced (v. 44). The fact that the rock was cut without hands, Daniel said, was indication that “the great God has made known to the king what will come to pass after this. The dream is certain, and its interpretation is sure” (45).
With this revelation, Nebuchadnezzar was so impressed, he bowed to Daniel and had an offering and incense brought before the wise man (46). He admitted that YHWH was superior to all of his gods, saying, “Truly your God is the God of gods, the Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets, since you could reveal this secret” (47).
He then promoted Daniel from mere junior wise man to mayor of the capital city of Babylon and head wise man (48). At Daniel’s request, his three friends were given administrative responsibilities under him over all of Babylon, while he had direct access to the king (49).
All of that is fine and dandy. But just what was that statue really all about?
We know from history that Babylon was one of the most powerful empires in the then-known world. Nebuchadnezzar had grown insanely prosperous by conquering all the other lands around it. His authority was absolute. No one could do anything to change what he said, but he himself had the power to change his own mind.
Next came the Medes and Persians. Like the chest and arms of silver, their kingdom was rich, grand and powerful, but not so much so as Babylon. Because they were an alliance of two kingdoms, there was some separation, like arms from the chest. The kings of Medo-Persia were also limited in their power. Once an edict was passed, there was no undoing it—not even by the king himself.
The third kingdom was Greece. Under Alexander the Great, the Greeks were unified and strong—like the belly of bronze—pushing into southeastern Europe, northern Africa, western Asia, and even as far as India. When Alexander died, his empire was divided into four, and then merged into two main forces under Ptolemy and Seleucus’ progeny—something like the thighs of Nebuchadnezzar’s statue. Having arisen from a primarily democratic society, Greek rulers did not have the absolute authority that Nebuchadnezzar had, or even as much as the Medo-Persians did.
The fourth kingdom was that of Rome. It had the overwhelming power to crush its enemies, like iron; however, its might was that of many cultures and people groups blended together unwillingly. It extended from the British Isles, along the western coast of Europe to all that had once belonged to Alexander. It was interconnected through an impressive system of well-built roads. Nevertheless, being a democratic-republic, like the United States, with power divided between its emperor, Caesar, and the Senate, it again lacked the absolute authority enjoyed by Nebuchadnezzar. Hence the legs of iron, which eventually degenerate into the feet and toes of iron mixed with clay.
It was during the dominion of Rome that Jesus’ kingdom was established on the earth. He was the stone “cut without hands” that initiated the fall of that great empire. It has been gradually infiltrating and replacing all the other kingdoms of the earth. It is the only kingdom that will be established forever and cannot be replaced.
Daniel Chapter 3
In this chapter, we find one of the best-loved stories of courage and conviction ever written. Nebuchadnezzar—probably impressed by the head of gold in his dream—decided to commission the construction of a huge 90 x 9 foot statue of himself (Dan. 3:1). After this was erected on a large, flat, open space in Babylon, the king assembled all his public officials from every sector of his empire and ordered them to bow before the golden image, when they heard the music from his royal band (vv. 2-5). Anyone who didn’t comply would be thrown into a burning furnace (6). So naturally, the servants of the king did as they were told—all, that is, except for Daniel’s three friends (7-12).
To an idolater like Nebuchadnezzar, this was a no-brainer: You show your allegiance to king and country by bowing to the symbols of said king and country—much like Americans salute the stars-and-stripes when they go by. But to these devout Jews, who worshiped an invisible God, who got upset when you bowed to anyone or anything else (Deuteronomy 415-18 & 5:6-10), this was a big no-no.
When Nebuchadnezzar was told that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego not only refused to worship the Babylonian pantheon, but would not pay homage to the king’s golden statue, he was incensed (Dan. 3:12-13). No doubt, wanting to seem like a reasonable man, the king called these three into his presence, reiterated his expectations, and then gave them a second chance to bow to the golden image (vv. 14-15a). “But,” he said, “if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?” (Daniel 3:15b, NIV). Who is going to resist that kind of logic?
I imagine it like a scene from The Godfather: The three offenders are brought before the boss and his most trusted dons. A designated spokesman for the big man says something like, “I’m sure this has all been a simple misunderstanding, so I’m gonna spell it out for ya, see? You bow to that million-dollar statue of the boss, and you live. We let bygones be bygones, and everybody’s happy. You don’t bow, you die. We fit you with a pair of cement galoshes, and throw you in the river.” One of the dons makes a slashing motion across his Adam’s apple. “Capiche?”
Surprisingly, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego respectfully declined the king’s offer, and insisted they would not worship the statue or the gods of Babylon. They believed their God, YHWH, could and would deliver them. And even if He did not, they would still be true to their God (vv. 16-18).
In a fit of fury, Nebuchadnezzar had the furnace cranked up to seven times its normal temperature (19). Clearly, this guy could have benefited from an anger management class, if there was such a thing back then! He was obviously used to getting his own way, and didn’t handle differences of opinion well. The three Hebrews were bound and thrown into the furnace—fully clothed with their coats, pants and turbans (20-21). The fire was so hot, it instantly killed the soldiers who threw in the Jews, and one would expect the prisoners, too, were quickly burnt to a crisp when they fell down into the flames (22-23).
However, Nebuchadnezzar was soon astonished to see the three unharmed, unbound, and walking around in the fiery furnace (22-24)! Not only that, but they were accompanied by a fourth man, whose appearance was “like the Son of God” (25).
When the king called the men out, the three of them were completely untouched by the flames: Their hair wasn’t singed, their garments weren’t scorched, and they did not even smell of smoke (26-27)! Nebuchadnezzar was so impressed, he praised the God who had thus “delivered His servants who trusted in Him,” when they refused to compromise their beliefs (28). He made a decree that no one could bad-mouth this exceptional deity, and then promoted these men who had stood up to him (29-30).
Daniel Chapter 4
Daniel distinguished himself among the king’s advisers, yet again, with the interpretation of another of Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams. This time, Nebuchadnezzar described the situation in his own words in a royal missive sent out to all his subjects.
God sent another terrifying dream, which none of the king’s wise men could interpret (Dan. 4:1-7). Finally, Daniel, in whom Nebuchadnezzar acknowledged was “the Spirit of the Holy God,” came and listened to the king’s frightening dream (vv. 8-18).
When Daniel heard how the king had seen a huge tree, which reached the heavens and fed every living thing on earth, but then was cut down by divine decree and turned into an animal for seven years, he was speechless at first (10-19a). Nebuchadnezzar, who addressed Daniel as Belteshazzar, told his wise man not to let the dream or its interpretation bother him so (19b). When he regained his composure, Daniel said, “My lord, may the dream concern those who hate you, and its interpretation concern your enemies!” (19c).
Daniel then proceeded to inform the king that he was the great tree, since he had “grown and become strong,” with his authority and dominion extending practically worldwide (20-22). But now he would be driven from men and go mad, living like an animal for seven years, until he recognized “that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses” (23-25). As the vision showed that the “watchers” [angels] would leave the stump and roots of the tree, God was promising Nebuchadnezzar a return to the throne, once he acknowledged the Lord’s overarching authority (26).
Genuinely concerned for his master, Daniel urged Nebuchadnezzar to “Stop sinning and do what is right. Break from your wicked past and be merciful to the poor. Perhaps then you will continue to prosper” (Daniel 4:27, NLT). Whether Nebuchadnezzar took Daniel’s advice or not, we are not told. But a year later, this disaster came upon the king, when he was boasting about his self-made greatness as he surveyed Babylon from the roof of his palace (vv. 28-30). A heavenly voice declared his sentence to the king, stripping him of the kingdom and driving him out into the wilderness (31-32). The poor fellow was absent seven years, exposed to the elements, eating grass like an ox, with his nails and hair uncut, till they grew to frightful lengths (33).
Finally, the Lord restored reason to the man, and he praised the God of heaven (34a-b). Nebuchadnezzar acknowledged at the beginning and end of this message that God’s kingdom is everlasting (2-3 & 34c). God does whatever He wants, and no one can resist Him (35).
YHWH did, indeed, send men looking for Nebuchadnezzar and restored him to his position as king of Babylon (36). However, not before the Lord had humbled Nebuchadnezzar’s pride and proven His superiority (37).
Daniel Chapter 5
Now, before we delve into this chapter of Daniel’s autobiography, a bit of historical background is in order. Babylon’s great king, Nebuchadnezzar, reigned for many years after his conquest of Jerusalem (from 605-562 B.C.). When he died, his son, Evil-Merodach (which means “man of Marduk,” another Babylonian deity), ruled instead (562-560 B.C.).
According to historical records, Evil-Merodach was in power only two years, before his general and brother-in-law, Neriglissar, assassinated him [Daniel: God’s Pattern for the Future Study Guide, by Charles Swindoll, p. 44]. Nebuchadnezzar’s son-in-law was in charge for four years (560-556 B.C.), and then was succeeded by his son (Nebuchadnezzar’s grandson), Labashi-Marduk.
This king lasted only nine months before he was overthrown by Nabonidus, who married another daughter of Nebuchadnezzar to legitimize his seizure of the throne. Nabonidus ruled seventeen years, but did not spend much time in Babylon. Instead, he made his son, Belshazzar, co-regent in charge of the administration of the Babylonian province. Meanwhile, Nabonidus ruled in Teima, an Edomite city he had conquered.
It was this Belshazzar we read about in Daniel 5. During the siege of Babylon by the Medes and Persians, “Belshazzar the king made a great feast for a thousand of his lords, and drank wine” in front of everybody (Dan. 5:1). The walls around Babylon were so thick, you could have chariot races on top. The city was huge and well-stocked to resist years of attack. Everyone inside believed any invading army would wear out, run out of resources, or simply get the hint that Babylon was impregnable, so Belshazzar and his courtiers were throwing this party as a sort of ‘in-your-face’ protest of the war.
Under the influence of the wine, wicked Belshazzar made a fatal mistake. No doubt as a further gesture of arrogance against those who dared defy his empire, the king “gave the command to bring the gold and silver vessels which his [grand]father Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple which had been in Jerusalem” (v. 2). By letting the nobles, the king’s wives and concubines drink from the holy vessels, Belshazzar probably was making a symbolic gesture against all the gods of the nations. As they raised the golden goblets to their lips, the king and company “praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze and iron, wood and stone” from the Babylonian pantheon (3-4).
That very hour “the fingers of a man’s hand appeared and wrote opposite the lampstand on the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace” (5). Seeing this disembodied hand writing on the wall freaked Belshazzar out so much that his hips went slack, “and his knees knocked against each other”—this fellow that was making fun of Medo-Persia and Israel’s God was literally shaking in his boots (6)!
Immediately Belshazzar called for “the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers” and promised riches and honor to whomever could explain what the writing on the wall meant (7). Unfortunately, the best minds of Babylon couldn’t make heads or tails of the mysterious message, which further distressed both the king and his guests (8-9). They knew something Supernatural had taken place, but the king’s spiritual advisers had no clue!
That’s when the queen mother came to the rescue. Nebuchadnezzar’s daughter, Nabonidus’ wife, Belshazzar’s mother, made an appearance in the banquet hall and told everyone not to worry (10). “There is a man in your kingdom in whom is the Spirit of the Holy God” (11a). She gave Belshazzar a history lesson in how King Nebuchadnezzar had been so impressed with the divine wisdom of “Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar,” that he “made him chief of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans, and soothsayers” (11b). Considering how adept Daniel had been at “interpreting dreams, solving riddles, and explaining enigmas” in the days of Nebuchadnezzar, she was certain he would be able to provide the answers in this current situation (12).
When “Daniel was brought in before the king,” Belshazzar immediately sought to put him in his place: “Are you that Daniel who is one of the captives from Judah, whom my father the king brought from Judah?” (13). With a note of skepticism in his voice, the king said he’d heard “that the Spirit of God is in you,” and that Daniel possessed insight, understanding and wisdom (14). With a dismissive wave toward the other wise men, Belshazzar said they had failed to explain what was written on the wall, but promised to grant Daniel royal robes, a gold chain and the third highest position in the empire, if he could do better (15-16).
Daniel disregarded these enticements. “Let your gifts be for yourself, and give your rewards to another; yet I will read the writing to the king, and make known to him the interpretation” (17). Then Daniel proceeded to give Belshazzar yet another history lesson in how “the Most High God gave sovereignty, majesty, glory, and honor to your predecessor, Nebuchadnezzar” (Dan. 5:18, NLT). Consequently, Nebuchadnezzar exercised absolute authority over “all peoples, nations, and languages” of the then-known world (v. 19). But then Daniel reminded Belshazzar of how God took all of that away and drove Nebuchadnezzar insane, until he remembered Who gave him that authority to begin with (20-21). He then rebuked the upstart king for not humbling himself as his grandfather had (22). He accused him of lifting himself “up against the Lord of heaven,” bringing in His holy vessels and toasting their false gods with them; while, “the God who holds your breath in His hand and owns all your ways, you have not glorified” (23). That’s why the frightful hand was sent from the Lord and why the inscription was written (24-25).
Daniel then began to read and interpret each word up on the wall: “MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.” Mene, a Chaldean word meaning “numbered,” Daniel said indicated “God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end” (Dan. 5:26, NIV). Tekel, from the Chaldean word shaqal, meaning “to balance,” indicated “you have been weighed in the balance and found deficient” (Dan. 5:27, HCSB). Peres, which meant “split up” or “divided,” indicated “Your kingdom has been divided, and given to the Medes and Persians” (v. 28).
Relieved to have the answers to this colossal riddle, King Belshazzar fulfilled his promise and commanded his servants to deck Daniel out in purple robes, put a gold chain around his neck and proclaim him third ruler of Babylonia (29). A lot of good that did him. The Medo-Persian army infiltrated the mighty walls of Babylon by damming up the water leading into the city and entering through the river gate. The city was taken completely by surprise. “That very night Belshazzar, king of the Chaldeans, was slain. And Darius the Mede received the kingdom, being about sixty-two years old” (30-31). The man who mocked God was executed, while Daniel was spared.
Daniel Chapter 6
After the fall of Babylon around 539 B.C., Darius the Mede was put in charge of what had previously been the Babylonian Empire. He set up a new administrative cabinet to govern the territory he had been allotted by Cyrus the Persian, supreme ruler of the Medo-Persian Empire. King Darius set up 120 satraps, or “protectors of the land,” and made them accountable to three governors, of which Daniel was one. Darius’ goal was to make sure everyone was supervised, to keep anyone from becoming corrupt, “so that the king would suffer no loss” (Dan. 6:1-2).
Daniel made an especially good impression on the king, “because an excellent spirit was in him,” so Darius seriously considered promoting Daniel to chief administrator over all the governors and satraps (v. 3). However, the other members of Darius’ administration did not want to be under Daniel’s authority. Perhaps they were prejudiced, because he was a Jew, or they were worried that a man of principle wouldn’t let them get away with any dishonest or lazy practices. It may very well have been that they simply didn’t want an old guy of 80 telling them what to do! At any rate, they conspired together to discredit Daniel.
These men plotted a means to bring the prophet down, “but they could find no charge or fault,” regarding his work practices, “because he was faithful” and meticulous (4). They realized the only way they could trip him up was to do something “concerning the law of his God,” since they knew Daniel to be a Hebrew of great faith and devotion (5).
“So these governors and satraps thronged before the king,” and proposed that he make a law designating himself as the only authorized deity for 30 days. In other words, no one could pray to anyone but Darius for an entire month, lest they face the penalty of death by being fed to hungry lions (6-7). Obviously, Darius was flattered. He fell for their scheme and “signed the written decree,” as the conspirators suggested (9).
Daniel was soon made aware of the decree, but did not allow it to alter his behavior in the least. As was his habit—in keeping with the idea first suggested by King Solomon at the dedication of the temple—the man of God went to his upper room, opened the windows toward Jerusalem, and prayed to YHWH three times a day (1 Kings 8:46-52 & Dan. 6:10).
The other leaders assembled at his home to spy on Daniel (Dan. 6:11). Then, having confirmed that he was still praying to his God in violation of their decree, they wasted no time in going back to report the matter to the king and remind him of the document he had signed (vv. 12-13). As soon as he heard their accusation against Daniel, the king must have realized what a mistake he had made and how he had unwittingly set a trap for his must trusted administrator. He tried everything he could to reverse the death sentence, but the men insisted he’d signed a binding agreement, which under Medo-Persian law could not be altered in any way (14-15).
Reluctantly, the king gave the order, and Daniel was cast into the lion’s den in accordance with the law Darius had instituted. But before the chamber was sealed, Darius encouraged his governor, “May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!” (Dan. 6:16, NIV). Then a heavy stone was laid over the mouth of the cave and sealed with the signets of the king and his lords, thus leaving Daniel to be devoured by the hungry predators (v. 17).
The night, King Darius fasted and prayed for his friend. He accepted neither food nor entertainment, and could not sleep (18). Early the next morning, he rushed to see whether his prayers had been answered (19). When he got to the lions’ den, Darius anxiously called out, “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to deliver you from the lions?” (20).
Imagine the suspense while the king waited to see whether there would be a response. Did he envision the bones of the prophet or a bloodied carcass lying in a corner?
What relief Darius must have felt when he heard Daniel’s cheery reply, “O king, live forever!” (21). Then the man of God assured his master that, since he had done nothing to offend either God or the king, YHWH had sent an angel to shut the lions’ mouths and keep them from harming him (22). When Daniel was taken up out of the den, the king was thrilled to find not a mark on the man, “because he believed in his God” (23).
Having witnessed the vindication of his servant, the king now turned his attention to the envious accusers, who had tricked the king and nearly cost him the life and service of his most trusted official. He ordered that they, their wives, and their children all be cast into the lions’ den to face the very fate they had wished for their rival. No sooner had these wicked men fallen into the pit, than the hungry beasts “overpowered them, and broke all their bones in pieces before they ever came to the bottom of the den” (24). So much for any postulations by liberal scholars that the lions just weren’t interested in eating the day that Daniel was dropped into their midst! No doubt any successors of the men paid Daniel proper respect when they were appointed to serve in the dead men’s places.
In response to this event, Darius wrote a much better decree and addressed it “To all peoples, nations, and languages that dwell in all the earth” (25). He ordered everyone under his authority to “tremble and fear before the God of Daniel,” the living God, whose kingdom cannot be destroyed and who had the power to deliver, rescue and perform signs and wonders—including His preservation of Daniel’s life from the lions (26-27). The chapter concludes by saying, “So this Daniel prospered in the reign of Darius and in the reign of Cyrus the Persian” (28).
Daniel Chapter 7
The first year that Nebuchadnezzar’s grandson, Belshazzar, reigned in Babylon, Daniel had a prophetic dream of his own (Dan. 7:1). As “the four winds of heaven were stirring up the Great Sea” [i.e.—the Mediterranean], he saw four monstrous beasts rising up out of it (vv. 2-3).
The first was like a lion with eagle’s wings. Then its wings were removed, and it was made to stand upright “on two feet like a man, and a man’s heart was given to it” (4). Although Daniel was given no interpretation of this beast in chapter 7, we can piece together from chapters 2 and 8 that this was probably Babylon. Furthermore, Jeremiah 4:5-18 and Ezekiel 17:3-21 compare King Nebuchadnezzar to a lion and an eagle. And the royal palaces in Babylon were guarded by statues of winged lions.
The second beast was a lop-sided bear munching on three ribs, which was told, “Arise, devour much flesh!” (Dan 7:5). Again, although Daniel was told later that the beasts represented “four kingdoms that will rise from the earth” (Dan. 7:17, NIV), we aren’t told which one this is. Nevertheless, chapters 2 and 8 clue us in that the kingdom consisting of two allied nations (with one slightly more powerful) that was to succeed Babylon is Medo-Persia. History reveals that the Persians were superior to the Medes and eventually became the face of the empire that slowly devoured all the Babylonians had claimed, and then some.
The third beast was swift and terrible as a winged leopard, but it had four heads (v. 6). The kingdom of bronze in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and the male goat in Daniel’s later vision (chapters 2 & 8), this beast represented the kingdom of Greece. It arose quickly from loosely-allied city-states to a mighty empire that swept the Middle-east and southeast Europe under Alexander the Great. But then it was divided into four parts, under the headship of Alexander’s generals, after he died.
Beast number four was the most fearsome of all—big, powerful, breaking nations to pieces with its iron jaws, and then trampling them underfoot. It had ten horns—three of which were uprooted and displaced by a little horn that boasted big things (7-8).
It was this fourth beast that most concerned Daniel (19). He noticed the little horn had eyes and a mouth like a man and became more prominent than any of the others (8 & 20). It spoke “pompous words” and made war against God’s people “until the Ancient of Days came and pronounced judgment in favor of the saints of the Most High, and the time came when they possessed the kingdom” (Dan. 7:8, 11 & 20-22, NIV).
Again, looking at Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, this beast is most likely the same as the iron and clay parts of the statue the king saw (chapter 2). Many scholars think the ten horns coincide with the ten toes of the statue and represent ten kings.
The one little horn that grew up and displaced three others seems to be the emperor, Vespasian. After Nero committed suicide, there was a vacuum in leadership over Rome, which was temporarily filled by three men in different parts of the empire: Galba, Aulus Vitellius, and Otho. Galba and Otho were killed. General Vespasian was declared emperor just 21 days more than one year from Nero’s death, and troops loyal to him defeated and killed the surviving Vitellius. It was Vespasian that ordered the destruction of Jerusalem and his son, Titus, who carried it out. If you begin by counting Julius Caesar, Vespasian was the tenth emperor of Rome. Although I could find no definite quotes that would be described as “pompous words,” the death toll inflicted by Vespasian against the people of God was astronomical.
The prophet saw this magnificent Being, called “the Ancient of Days,” wearing a white robe to match His white hair, who was seated on a flaming throne before a fiery stream (vv. 9-10). He was attended by more ministers than Daniel could count. When He set up court and opened His books, the horned beast was slain and thrown into the fire, then the other three were relieved of their authority but allowed to remain “for a season and a time” (10-12).
Then there appeared “One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven!” (13). He gained an audience with the Ancient of Days, who put Him in charge of “all peoples, nations and languages” forever (14).
All of this was overwhelming to Daniel, who was grieved in body and spirit, so he found one of the heavenly beings in his vision and asked what it all meant (15-16). The angel told the prophet the beasts were kings/kingdoms and that the fourth in particular would be “A fourth kingdom on earth, which shall be different from all other kingdoms,” devastating the whole world (17 & 23). “The ten horns are ten kings who shall arise from this kingdom,” with the last being different from the rest, who “shall subdue three kings” (24). Not only would he blaspheme the Most High God, but he would go after God’s people and “change times and law” (25a). For three and a half years, “the saints shall be given into his hand,” but God’s court would convene, and remove the fourth beast from power “to consume and destroy it forever” (25b-26). An everlasting kingdom set up under the Son of Man would be given to the saints to possess “forever and ever” (27 & 18).
The parallels between Daniel 7 and Revelation 4, 7, 13, 17, 19 and 20 are uncanny: The fourth beast in Daniel’s vision is very similar to the beast from the sea in Revelation 13:1-10 and the one in 17:3-18. It has ten horns (Dan. 7:7; Rev. 13:1, 17:3 & 7). It rails against God and makes war against His people (Dan. 7:20-21 & 25; Rev. 13:6-7, 17:14). And its ultimate destiny will be the lake of fire (Dan. 7:11 & Rev. 19:20). “The Ancient of Days” in Daniel 7:9-10 sounds very much like the One seated on the throne in Revelation 4:2-11. Daniel’s ten thousand times ten thousand sounds very much like John’s “great multitude which no one could number” in Revelation 7:9-17. The “One like the Son of Man,” who appeared in the clouds is clearly Jesus in His regal glory (Dan. 7:13 & Rev. 19:11-21). Just as the Ancient of Days gave the Son of Man and the “saints of the Most High” an everlasting kingdom (Dan. 7:14 & 26-27), so Jesus and His faithful followers will reign together (Rev. 20:4-6 & 22:3-5).
Because he lacked the understanding of hindsight which we enjoy today, Daniel was deeply disturbed by this vision—so much so that he admitted, “my countenance changed” (Dan. 7:28). Other than recording it all in his prophetic diary, Daniel kept the matter to himself.
Daniel Chapter 8
Two years later, “In the third year of the reign of King Belshazzar,” Daniel saw another vision (Dan. 8:1), but this time was given more explanation regarding its meaning. That day, he was in “Susa in the province of Elam…beside the Ulai Canal” (Dan. 8:2, NIV). This, it turns out, was one of the Persian royal cities, more than 200 miles east of Babylon, in the very spot Queen Esther may have stood almost a century later [Bible Knowledge Commentary].
Daniel looked up and saw a ram with two big horns—one higher than the other, but having arisen later than the smaller one (v. 3). The ram was pushing its weight around to the west, north and south, and no animal could resist him (4).
Next, there appeared from the west a shaggy male goat, galloping with such speed across the earth that it didn’t even seem to touch the ground! It had one big horn right in the middle of its forehead (5). [This is the verse people cite when they claim there are unicorns in the Bible.] The goat plowed into the ram, broke its horns, overpowered it, and trampled it underfoot (6-7). The goat grew very great, but then its horn was broken off and replaced by four others growing in each of the four cardinal directions (8). Out of one of them grew a little horn, which exerted power to the south and east—including “the Glorious Land” [Israel] (9).
This horn, which had the arrogance of the one on beast number four in Daniel’s previous vision, exalted itself to equality with “the Prince of the host” of heaven and got rid of the daily sacrifices at God’s sanctuary (10-11). He was given this authority “for 2,300 evenings and mornings,” or 1,150 days of twice-daily sacrifices—about three years and two months—“because of transgression” (12-14). During that time the sanctuary would be desecrated and the people of God and His truth repressed.
While Daniel was trying to figure this all out, he was joined by “one having the appearance of a man” (15). A voice from somewhere in the river called the being Gabriel [which means, “God is my strength”] and instructed him to help Daniel understand the vision (16). Something about Gabriel was terrifying to Daniel, so he fell face-down in front of him, nearly unconscious with fear, until the angel touched him and stood him up on his feet (17-18). This was no pretty, girly-looking Christmas tree angel; Gabriel was glorious and awe-inspiring!
Gabriel told Daniel plainly that the ram with its uneven horns represented the kings of Media and Persia, while the male goat was Greece (20-21). Each of these kingdoms was in existence at the time, but had not yet become empires to the extent they did later on. The large horn on the goat was the first king of the Grecian Empire—Alexander the Great—who overthrew the Medo-Persian Empire and expanded its borders from Macedonia, all the way to Egypt and India, before he died c. 325 B.C.
Verse 8 says, “Therefore the male goat grew very great; but when he became strong, the large horn was broken…” At the height of his career, after conquering a huge swath of land from Macedonia and Egypt all the way to western India, Alexander died in his early thirties. Although rumor had it that he was poisoned by his cup-bearer, or that soldiers were sent to assassinate him; while others suggest it was liver damage caused by his excessive drinking that killed him, a diary of his final days indicates something else. In his careful notes gleaned from the writings of Plutarch, whose history of Alexander relied heavily on the royal diaries, James Ussher tells of several days that the king was so feverish, he soaked for hours in baths, ate very little and grew progressively weak and ill [The Annuls of the World, revised and updated by Larry and Marion Pierce, Master Books, 2003, p. 298]. Painstaking analysis of historical records has led modern physicians to believe that Alexander most likely died of typhoid fever, contracted from drinking contaminated water while he resided in Babylon [See the article, “Intestinal Bug Likely Killed Alexander the Great,” at http://umm.edu/news-and-events/news-releases/1998/intestinal-bug-likely-killed-alexander-the-great#ixzz3V3VP3QKP.].
The four horns that grew in place of the one that was broken off represented four kingdoms that arose after the demise of the first king, “but not with its power” (22). This would be the four territories divided among the following generals in Alexander’s army: Cassander governed Macedonia and Greece in the northwest; Lysimachus got Thrace and western Asia Minor in the northeast; Ptolemy ruled Egypt and North Africa, the Holy Land, Cilicia and Cyprus in the southwest; while Seleucus got the rest of the Middle East into India in the southeast.
Toward the end of the Grecian Empire, Gabriel indicated, “when the rebels have reached the full measure of their sin,” a fierce, scheming king would arise with a power not his own (Dan. 8:23-24, HCSB). He would destroy, prosper and thrive, overcome the mighty and God’s people. So cunning and deceitful would he be, that he would even deceive himself into believing he was as great as God, until he was destroyed without human power (25).
This was, no doubt, Antiochus Epiphanes, the hated Seleucid tyrant opposed by faithful Jews in the Apocryphal books of the Maccabees. So arrogant was this king, that he erected a statue of Zeus that looked like himself in the temple of YHWH! History reports that this wicked man was, by his own admission, stricken by God with worms and died a slow, agonizing and humiliating death [Annals, p. 444]. (See more about this Antiochus Epiphanes in the section on Daniel Chapter 11.)
Three times the angel told Daniel this would all take place far in the future, near the time of the end (17, 19 & 26). Most likely he meant it was the end of the prophetic calendar of the Jews that culminated with the first advent of the Lord Jesus Christ and the end of Israel’s status as the exclusive people of God.
Again, the revelation was very traumatic to Daniel, who “fainted and was sick for days” (27). He eventually returned to work, but “was astonished by the vision.” Either no one could figure it out, or he told no one, and they couldn’t understand why he was so out of it.
Daniel Chapter 9
Sometime during the first year of King Darius’ appointment “over the realm of the Chaldeans,” Daniel calculated that the seventy years of desolation prophesied by Jeremiah against Jerusalem was nearly completed (Dan. 9:1-2). Whether he was referring to Jeremiah 25:8-14 or 29:10-14, or both, is not certain. But either way, he was motivated to seek the Lord by prayer, supplication, fasting, sackcloth and ashes (v. 3). Imagine: One of the most powerful leaders in the province of Babylon was humbling himself in behalf of his people, going without food, wearing coarse clothing and throwing dust on his head!
He acknowledged the authority, power, faithfulness and mercy of God, and admitted the wickedness, rebellion and unfaithfulness of his people in comparison (4-5). Although one of the few Old Testament saints declared blameless in God’s sight (c.f.—Ezekiel 14:14 & 20), Daniel identified completely with Israel, confessing, “we have sinned,” left Your precepts behind, ignored the prophets, etc. (Dan. 9:5-6). He acknowledged God’s righteousness and the shame of all Jews—from the remnant that escaped from Jerusalem to those in captivity throughout the nations (7). For seven verses, the prophet confessed the sins of his people and admitted God was completely justified in fulfilling His word against them, bringing unprecedented disaster against Jerusalem (vv. 10-12). He said, because the people had sinned and not repented, God had kept all their offenses in mind (13-14).
Daniel took the initiative to reverse this trend, and prayed for the God who brought Israel out of Egypt to likewise turn His wrath away from Jerusalem and bring His people back from all the places He had scattered them (15). He urged God—for the sake of His reputation and mercy—to remember His temple, to hear his prayer, forgive their sin, and act to restore His people to their homeland (16-19).
In verses 20-21, Daniel wrote, “Now while I was speaking, praying, and confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication…the man Gabriel…reached me about the time of the evening offering.” The angel had been “caused to fly swiftly” to Daniel, in order to give him skill/wisdom/insight to understand (21-22). As soon as the prophet started praying, God had sent His messenger to His servant, “for,” the angel said, “you are greatly beloved” (23a). What an honor to be so highly regarded by God!
Although we aren’t told whether Daniel had had any kind of vision at this time, the angel said he wanted the man to “understand the vision” (23b). He began by saying,
Several English translations incorrectly say “seventy weeks” in this passage. However, in the context of the prophecies of Jeremiah concerning the seventy-year exile of the Jews, Daniel would surely have recognized that this “seventy sevens” had something to do with the years Israel should have let its land go fallow, but had not (See Leviticus 25:1-7). According to Leviticus 26:32-35, when His people disobeyed, one of the curses they would come under was a desolation of their land, during which it would “rest and enjoy its sabbaths,” which they had not given it during the years they lived there. The writer of 2 Chronicles 26:20-21 definitely understood this to be the case and made mention of it at the end of his account of Jewish history.
At any rate, Gabriel said there would be seven sevens and 62 sevens “from the going forth of the command to restore and build Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince” (Dan. 9:25). The city wall would be rebuilt “in troublesome times,” the Messiah would be “cut off,” but not for anything He had done wrong, and then the city and sanctuary would be destroyed again by “the people of the prince who is to come” (v. 26). For seven years this other prince would establish some sort of covenant, but halfway through this period, he would put an end to the holy sacrifices and set up some horrible thing “until the consummation, which is determined, is poured out on the desolate” (27).
The prophet recorded no further explanation. Nevertheless, history tells us that this word was fulfilled in all but one way.
First, the command to rebuild Jerusalem was made not long after this by Artexerxes I in response to Nehemiah’s petition to the king (Neh. 2:1-8), thus activating this prophetic clock. The reconstruction of Jerusalem’s walls actually did occur “in troublesome times,” with Sanballat, Tobiah and other Gentiles harassing the Jews at every turn (Neh. 2:20-20, chapters 4 & 6). While the wall was finished in an amazingly short period of 52 days, the city itself was not done until 48 years later—the first set of seven sevens recorded in Daniel 9:25.
The next time period—62 sevens—was fulfilled by the crucifixion of Christ. Precisely 434 years after the reconstruction of Jerusalem, Jesus rode into the city on a donkey’s colt and was killed—for our sins, not His own—just days later (Dan. 7:26). In A.D. 70, part of the next portion of the prophecy was fulfilled when Titus, one of “the people of the prince who is to come” [i.e.—the Roman Emperor] destroyed Jerusalem and the sanctuary.
The last seven of the seventy sevens has yet to be fulfilled, when “the prince who is to come” makes some sort of agreement with the Jews, then violates it, by putting an end to sacrifices halfway through the seven years, and desecrates the new temple (v. 27).
Daniel Chapter 10
In the third year of King Cyrus’ rule, another disturbing vision compelled Daniel to mourn and fast for three weeks—eating “no pleasant food, no meat or wine” (Dan. 10:1-3). Even though the prophet understood this revelation, not only did he abstain from eating his normal fare, but he said he also didn’t “anoint” himself for 21 days. Whether this means he went without bathing or simply left off with the men’s cologne of the day, we are not told, but we do know he must have done these things out of a deeply felt concern over what he had been shown.
While he walked along the banks of the Tigris River, Daniel was met by a man whose clothes and appearance were blindingly bright and whose voice was as loud as the shouts of an army (vv. 4-6). The men accompanying Daniel were spared from seeing the angelic being, but they ran in inexplicable terror from the area, nevertheless (7). Daniel was so traumatized by the unexpected apparition, he fainted dead away (8).
When the prophet recovered enough that he could gaze up from his hands and knees, he was assured of his great value in God’s eyes (10-11). The messenger said YHWH sent him on the first day of Daniel’s fast (12), just as we saw in chapter 9. However, this time, “the prince of the kingdom of Persia opposed me for 21 days” (Dan. 10:13, HCSB). It sounds like some powerful demonic spirit detained the heavenly being, until “Michael, one of the chief princes [of God], came to help.”
Three times the hand of “someone who looked like a human being” touched Daniel to strengthen him sufficiently to converse with the angel (Dan. 10:16, CJB; also v. 10 & 18). The Hebrew words, ben adam, translated variously as “children of men,” “human,” and “sons of men,” means literally “son of Adam” or “son of man.” Those who have read C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia will recognize the author’s name for human males. Serious students of Scripture know that Jesus frequently referred to Himself as “the Son of Man.” Moreover, Daniel referred to the Son of Man reigning with the Ancient of Days in heaven in chapter 7, verse 13. For this reason, I am inclined to believe that that this human-looking individual may have been none other than a pre-incarnate appearance of our Lord and Savior Himself.
Thus strengthened by the Master’s touch, Daniel was able to receive the message dispatched from heaven from “the Book of Truth” (Dan 10:21, NIV), which we read in the last two chapters of Daniel. The concluding verses of this chapter inform us that the angel planned to return to his battle with the prince of Persia, after which “the prince of Greece will come” (Dan. 10:20, NIV). He added that, “No one supports me against them except Michael, your prince” (v. 21). This and other passages have caused many Bible scholars to believe that the archangel, Michael, is the chief defender of the nation of Israel (See also Daniel 12:1, Jude 1:9 & Revelation 12:7).
Daniel Chapter 11
The rest of this book give a blow-by-blow account of the events to follow for the land and people of Israel. Daniel’s description is so accurate that some liberal scholars assert that it was written after the events occurred. Because the angel did not name the players involved, it can be very confusing to follow.
I am thankful for Bible teachers like Chuck Swindoll, commentator Adam Clark, historian James Ussher, and various other resources that have helped me connect the prophetic timeline to events in history. To get a revised copy of James Ussher’s The Annals of the World, go to http://www.christianbook.com/annals-world-james-usshers-classic-survey/james-ussher/9780890513606/pd/513600.
First, the angel informed Daniel that he had been helping Darius the Mede from the beginning of his administration (Dan. 11:1). Then he said three kings would succeed Cyrus as rulers of Persia, followed by a fourth, who would be richer and greater and would stir up trouble with Greece (v. 2). Indeed, Cambyses, Gaumata, Darius I Hystaspes, and Xerxes (Queen Esther’s Ahasuerus) followed Cyrus to the Persian throne. King Xerxes lauched a massive campaign against Greece, which failed miserably.
Next, the “mighty king,” Alexander the Great, would arise and rule “with great dominion” (v. 3). When he died, his kingdom would be “broken up and divided to the four winds of heaven, but not to his descendants” (Dan. 11:4, HCSB).
Alexander’s throne was violently contended for by various family members and military leaders. On his deathbed, he told his officers he could think of no one to lead his army when he was gone. Asked to whom he would leave his kingdom, Alexander replied, “To the strongest,” and then entrusted his signet to a man named Perdiccas [Annals, pp. 298-299]. Shortly after his death, one wife, Roxana, murdered another, Statira. Alexander’s brother reigned for six years, and then was killed by order of Alexander’s mother, Olympus. She, in turn, was slain in revenge by Greek soldiers. Alexander’s son, Alexander Aegus, and the lad’s mother Roxana, was executed by order of Cassander, one of his generals. According to Adam Clarke’s Commentary, “Two years after, his other son Hercules, with his mother Barsine, was privately murdered by Polysperchon; so that in fifteen years after his death not one of his family or posterity remained alive!”
As you can see, although he had more than one wife and sired more than one son, through a series of intrigues, all of Alexander’s wives and other heirs were murdered. Therefore, his vast domain was divided between four generals—Cassander, Lysimachus, Ptolemy and Seleucus [See the notes over Daniel 8]. Naturally these four kingdoms were not nearly as powerful as Alexander’s original empire, because it was “uprooted and given to others” (Dan. 11:4b, NIV).
The rest of Daniel 11 deals with the conflicts between the two kingdoms closest to Israel—the Ptolemies (referred to as the kings of the South) who ruled Egypt, and the Seleucids (called the kings of the North) who ruled Syria. Verse 5 talks about the expansion of territory and power by General Ptolemy Lagus, known also as Ptolemy I Soter. After a long and bitter war between his successor, Ptolemy II Philadelphus, and Antiochus II Theos in the North, there was an attempted alliance through marriage. Verse 6 foretells the tragic end of Berenice, Ptolemy’s daughter, and Antiochus—both of whom were murdered, along with Berenice’s son, by the king’s first wife, Laodoce.
To avenge his sister Berenice’s death, Ptolemy III Eurgetes marched against Laodice’s son, Seleucus II Callinicus of the North as described in Daniel 11:7-8. History tells us he not only killed Laodice, but brought back abundant spoils of war—including gold and silver idols and numerous captives. The reciprocatory attack and defeat of Seleucus is foretold in verse 9. He was outlived by Ptolemy, just as the angel said.
Seleucus III Soter and Antiochus III, the Great, are alluded to in verse 10—the older of the two sons expanded the kingdom toward the north by invading Asia Minor; the younger by pushing the Ptolemies back into the south. The back-and-forth conflict between Ptolemy IV Philopater and his successor and Antiochus III the Great are described in Daniel 11:11-13, along with the tens of thousands of casualties inflicted. In verses 14-15, we read of the siege of Egypt by Antiochus the Great, as aided by Philip V of Macedonia. Although militant Israelis tried to form an alliance with Egypt, they were defeated. In fact, after his campaign against Egypt, Antiochus besieged Sidon in order to capture the rebels, and followed up with further attacks against Israel, “the Glorious Land,” in order to take control of this buffer zone between North and South (15-16).
No doubt weary of war, Antiochus tried another tactic. He offered his daughter, Cleopatra to Ptolemy V Epiphanes of Egypt. Daniel 11:17 says, “he [Antiochus] shall give him [Ptolemy] the daughter of women to destroy it [Egypt].” Undoubtedly, the northern ruler was thinking along the same lines as King Saul when he gave Michal to David—“that she may be a snare to him” (1 Sam. 18:21). However, Antiochus’ scheme worked about as well as Saul’s, since Cleopatra ended up caring more for her husband than for her father, and warned Ptolemy against his evil intentions.
Next, Antiochus sought to take hold of “the coastlands”—that is, Macedonia, Greece and the islands along the northern edges of the Mediterranean Sea (Dan. 11:18a). He amassed a fleet of ships to invade the Macedonian portion of what had formerly belonged to Alexander, thus threatening nearby Rome, which was becoming a world power of its own. Defeated by the Romans, Antiochus returned to Syria and was eventually forced to pay 15,000 talents as a tribute to Rome and leave his son as a hostage. Not long after, the Seleucid king was reportedly killed when attempting to plunder a Greek temple to pay the fine. According to Adam Clarke’s Commentary, the exact details of his death were widely disputed, thus fulfilling the prophecy of Daniel 11:19, “he shall stumble and fall, and not be found.”
Antiochus’ son, Seleucus IV Philopator, fulfilled verse 20, which tells us, “There shall arise in his place one who imposes taxes on the glorious kingdom; but within a few days he shall be destroyed, but not in anger or in battle.” During his eleven-year reign, Seleucus was forced to tax his kingdom to pay his father’s fine. According to the Bible Knowledge Commentary, he sent his treasurer, Heliodorus, to seize the funds deposited in the temple of Jerusalem [in Hebrew, the heder malkût, “the glory of the realm,” or capital city]. It turned out that the very man sent to rob the temple of YHWH poisoned the king in order to take his place—again, perfectly fulfilling the prophecy!
The rest of Daniel 11 focuses on Antiochus IV Epiphanes—“the Illustrious One”—who wreaked so much havoc for the people of God that they called him Epimanes—“the Madman.” This is the monstrous king whose evil exploits are described in the Apocryphal books of the Maccabees, and the writings of Josephus. He is the “little horn” of Daniel chapter 8, and the model of what people think the Antichrist will look like.
Daniel 11:21 tells us that in Seleucus’ place “shall arise a vile person, to whom they will not give the honor of royalty; but he shall come in peaceably, and seize the kingdom by intrigue.” When Heliodorus assumed the throne, the former hostage Antiochus slipped in, gained several allies through flattery, and managed to have himself declared king. Not only did he overwhelm all other contenders for his position, but Antiochus deposed the “prince of the covenant,” the rightful Aaronic high priest Onias III, and put in his place Jason [who, according to Adam Clarke, had given him a great sum of money] (v. 22-23). He redistributed the wealth of the kingdom among his allies, and then he invaded Ptolemy VI Philometer in the South (24-25a).
By corrupting Ptolemy’s officials, Antiochus managed to overthrow the Egyptian’s power and seize much of his territory (25b-26). With nothing but Alexandria left to him, Philometer was deposed and replaced by his younger brother, Euergetes. Philometer and Antiochus met, each trying to gain an advantage over the other, but as verse 27 says, their evil schemes and deceit “shall not prosper.” Although he headed back to his land with tremendous wealth plundered from the Egyptians, Antiochus was dissatisfied that he had not been able to defeat all of Egypt, so he took out his frustrations against the Jews by robbing the temple of its treasures (28).
Another campaign two years later was thwarted, when “ships from Cyprus” came against him (29-30a). A Roman emissary brought a letter from the Senate forbidding him from engaging in war with Egypt. This time, Antiochus went completely berserk against the people of God, rallying apostate Jews to “defile the sanctuary fortress…take away the daily sacrifices, and place there the abomination of desolation” (30b-31). Various historical sources inform us that not only did General Apollonius attack Jerusalem on the Sabbath—when the people would have been least prepared for war—but he and his 22,000 soldiers killed many, took women and children as slaves, and then plundered and burned the city. According to the Bible Knowledge Commentary, Antiochus outlawed all but the Greek religion, forbidding Jewish festivals and circumcision and requiring the burning of Torah scrolls. As if this was not enough, the beast erected an altar to Zeus on the temple mount, and then sacrificed a pig on it! Thereafter the Jews were compelled to do the same on the 25th day of each month, in honor of Antiochus’ birthday.
Completed Jew, Marvin Rosenthal, points out in his book, The Pre-wrath Rapture of the Church, that this was common practice in the ancient world:
Daniel 11:14-15 describes step one, when Antiochus the Great defeated the Jews with their allies, the Ptolemies, in battle. Verse 28 was step two, when Antiochus Epiphanes carried off the treasures of the Jews, along with his loot from Egypt. The final step was the desecration of the temple mount in verses 30-31, when he erected a pagan altar and idol and forced the Jews to make sacrifices in his honor.
Daniel 11:32-34 tell us that what followed was a deeply divided and trying time for the Jews. On the one hand were the Hellenists—apostate Jews, “those who do wickedly against the covenant”—who were corrupted with Antiochus’ flattery, threats and bribes (v. 32a). On the other hand were Mattathias, the priest, his five sons and other “people who know their God,” who were strengthened to resist the king and his minions, who continued to teach the Law, but who suffered “by sword and flame, by captivity and plundering” (32b-33). Those who understood the truth were refined, purified and made white “until the time of the end,” because of their suffering and the intrigues of their enemies (34-35).
Many commentaries end their discussion of Antiochus at this point, insisting that the final verses of Daniel 11 refer to a coming Antichrist. However, I believe that Antiochus Epiphanes, the king discussed in the preceding verses, is still the subject of verses 36-45.
Antiochus commissioned an idol of the most powerful deity in his pantheon with a face resembling his own, and then he had it erected in the holy of holies of YHWH’s temple. If that did not fulfill the prophecy regarding this king who “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” (Dan. 11:36, NIV), I don’t know what else it could be! This arrogant man not only thumbed his nose at YHWH, but he made himself out to be a god, by putting his face on Zeus’ body. I’d say that was also a blatant disregard for the “god of his fathers,” the Greeks, who worshiped Zeus as the king of the Olympian gods (v. 37a).
According to Wikipedia, “Antiochus was the first Seleucid king to use divine epithets on coins,” declaring himself theo epiphanes—which means “manifest/illustrious/eminent god.” Daniel 11:38 tells us that instead of his ancestors’ gods, this king would “honor a god of fortresses, and a god which his fathers did not know he shall honor with gold and silver, with precious stones and pleasant things.” Verse 39 adds that Antiochus would “act against the strongest fortresses with a foreign god, which he shall acknowledge, and advance its glory…” No doubt, this foreign deity was the Roman god, Jupiter Capitolinus, considered the guardian of the state, for whom Antiochus erected a temple in Antioch.
Now, some people look at verse 37a, which says, “He shall regard neither the God of his fathers nor the desire of women,” and assert that this person was [or, if they believe this passage has yet to be fulfilled, is going to be] a homosexual. Yet this is not the case. Antiochus had both a wife and a concubine, and fathered two sons and a daughter; history gives us no indication he was engaged in Sodomy (unlike Alexander the Great, who was reported to have several men who served him as women). ‘The desire of women’ is a Hebrew euphemism—either for Messiah (since every Jewish woman wanted the honor of being His mother), or a goddess (such as the Queen of Heaven revered by women in Jeremiah 7:18 and 44:15-19). This makes much more sense, considering the rest of that sentence, which says, “nor regard any god.” Antiochus’ worship of self far outweighed his concern for any other supposed deity.
Because the next section, Daniel 11:40-45 begins with the phrase, “At the time of the end,” many Bible scholars believe it no longer refers to the kingdoms of the Ptolemies and the Seleucids, but the seventieth week previously described in chapter 9. They say verses 40 and following describe the activities of the Antichrist and conflicts between an Arab alliance and Russian forces. Some bring in Gog and Magog from Ezekiel and make a general mish-mash of the whole passage.
Adam Clarke believed that it referred to the end of the Greek Empire, which makes a bit more sense. For the “king of the South,” Clark suggested the Saracens, Arab forces “headed by the false prophet Mohammed, who…made war on the Greek emperor Heraclius, and with amazing rapidity deprived him of Egypt, Syria, and many of his finest provinces.” The “king of the North” he said represented the Turkish leaders who “seized on the remains of the Greek empire; and in process of time rendered themselves masters of the whole.” He talked about how the Turks eventually got control of northern Africa, the Holy Land and the entire eastern part of the Roman Empire in what became known as the Ottoman Empire [Adam Clarke’s Commentary].
While I cannot find details to explain how all of Daniel 11:40-45 were fulfilled, I don’t think this refers so much to the end of the Greek Empire so much as it does the end of Antiochus’ kingdom. The madman continued his campaign to expand his kingdom and line his coffers, pushing into Armenia and Persia. Meanwhile, he sent half his forces with Lysias of Syria to crush the Jews.
However, Judas Maccabeus and his little band of faithful Jewish men (He led an army of only 6,000 against millions!) eventually defeated the Seleucid army, cleansed the temple and reestablished their traditional worship system in Jerusalem. Judas successfully drove various foreign armies out of the territories of Israel and Edom and Ammon and destroyed the pagan temples there.
Meanwhile, Antiochus Epiphanes suffered a prolonged and hideous death from maggots infesting his body. His contemporaries suggested it was punishment for pillaging the temple of Diana. Yet, according to 1 Maccabees 6:12-13, Antiochus told his friends it was because “He had robbed the temple at Jerusalem and sent forces to destroy the Jews without any cause.”
On his death bed, the king appointed his friend Philip as guardian of the kingdom and his son. However, because Philip feared General Lysias, with whom Antiochus had left the boy, Philip retreated to Egypt where Ptolemy Philometor was in power. Upon news of Antiochus Ephiphanes’ death, Lysias made his son king and called him Antiochus Eupater. The boy pretty much let the older man run the kingdom. [Annals, p. 444-445]
After some time, Philip came with forces from the South to assert his right and oppose Lysias [Annals, p. 449]. This seems to be the fulfillment of Daniel 11:40a, which says, “the king of the South shall attack him.” Nevertheless, I cannot find how the second half of the verse was fulfilled, which says, “the king of the North shall come against him like a whirlwind, with chariots, horsemen, and with many ships; and he shall enter the countries, overwhelm them, and pass through.”
Eupater did “enter the Glorious Land” (v. 41), enraged at the Maccabees for expelling his forces from Judea. With 110,000 foot soldiers, 5,300 cavalry, 22 elephants and 300 scythed chariots, Eupater marched against Judea, eventually camping outside Mount Zion itself [Annuls, pp. 448-449]. The Maccabees valiantly defended their country. Only when news of Philip’s invasion coming from Medo-Persia—toward “the east and the north” of Jerusalem—did he break off the invasion and negotiate a hasty peace with the Jews. After stabilizing the Syrian kingdom, Eupater returned to Antioch to find Philip in command, captured the city and had Philip killed [Annuls, p. 451]. These events resemble what was foretold in Daniel 11:44-45.
Again, I admit my uncertainty as to the fulfillment of verses 41b-43. Eupater met his doom when Demetrius, son of Antiochus the Great, escaped from Rome and had his uncle’s son and Lysias killed after he asserted himself as rightful ruler in Antioch.
If the events of verses 40-45 are yet to be fulfilled, then we are looking at an invasion from Egypt (the king of the South), followed by a sweeping attack from Syria (the king of the North) with both ground and naval forces. Naturally, Israel (the Glorious Land) would be caught in the middle. Jordan (which encompasses Edom, Moab and Ammon) will likely remain neutral and thereby escape molestation. I am not so sure that there is much gold, silver or precious things to be had in Egypt these days, as Britain has pilfered most of the treasures of the Pharaohs and put it in her museums. Neither does it seem that Libya and Ethiopia are so hostile against that country that they would align themselves with Syria. Would Iraq, Iran or Saudi Arabia oppose Syria, causing its leader to be troubled with news from the east and north? No one is very happy with that nation right now!
Revelation 16:12-14 & 16 tell us that the Euphrates River will be dried up and that armies will be gathered by demonic envoys from the dragon, the beast and the false prophet at Mount Megiddo to fight against God and His people. They will be defeated by the Lord Jesus (Rev. 19:11-21). This I can definitely see fulfilling Daniel 11:45.
Daniel Chapter 12
This part of Daniel’s prophetic diary we know has not been fulfilled. The angelic messenger told Daniel, “At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then…” (Dan. 12:1a, NIV). Jesus said something similar in Matthew 24:21-22, but promised that, “for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.” Daniel was told that those “found written in the book” would be delivered (Dan. 12:1b).
The dead will be raised—“Some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt” (v. 2, NKJV). This corresponds with Revelation 20:11-15. The wise will shine with the brilliance of the heavens, “And those who turn many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever” (Dan. 12:3). Jesus said something quite like this in His explanation of the parable of the tares and wheat in Matthew 13:36-43.
Daniel was told to seal up the book of prophecy, “until the time of the end” (Dan. 12:4a). It is certainly not sealed to us now, which leads me to believe that “the time of the end” in Daniel 11:4 may not mean the end times, as eschatologists generally interpret it. The angel added, “many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase” (12:4b). Never in the history of mankind has that statement been so true! Thanks to modern transportation, we can travel just about anywhere in a day’s time or less. The world’s knowledge is just a mouse-click away via computer data bases and the internet.
The holy messengers spoke between themselves, indicating there would be a three-and-a-half-year period until “the power of the holy people has been completely shattered” and all these things were finished (vv. 5-7). When Daniel asked for clarification, he was told, “Many shall be purified, made white, and refined, but the wicked shall do wickedly; and none of the wicked shall understand, but the wise shall understand” (8 & 10). The angel said it wasn’t something Daniel could or should worry about, since it wasn’t meant to be understood until the time of its fulfillment (9).
Again, a timespan was given: “From the time the daily sacrifice is abolished and the abomination of desolation is set up, there will be 1,290 days”—which was three-and-a-half calendar years, plus thirty days (Dan 12:11, HCSB). The angel added, “Blessed are those who wait until they reach 1,335 days” (Dan 12:12, GW).
Both Jesus and Daniel 11:31 talked about this “abomination of desolation”—skiqquts shamem in Hebrew; bdelygma eremosis in Greek. In both languages, the first word suggests an idol, which the Jews and their God would consider detestable. In addition to the idea of making a place desolate, which is communicated by the second Greek word, the Hebrew connotes something that causes shock and astonishment or destroys and makes destitute. Jesus’ disciples would have remembered the fulfillment of Daniel 11:31 by Antiochus Epiphanes. However, both Matthew 24:15 and Mark 13:14 were still future in Jesus’ day; Daniel 12:11 is, too. So it looks like history will be repeated—at least regarding this defilement of God’s temple yet again.
Just as the angel said that those who survived to the 1,335th day were blessed (Dan. 12:12), so Jesus said, “But he who endures to the end shall be saved” (Matt. 24:15). This indicates that believers or faithful Jews will go through these troubling times, but will be helped through it.
Although Daniel still had questions regarding the future, the angel told him two times, “Go your way” (Dan. 12:8-9 & 13). He concluded by assuring the prophet, “for you shall rest, and will arise to your inheritance at the end of the days” (v. 13). Clearly, he meant that Daniel would die, and then be resurrected when everything was over and done with.
This book teaches us two important lessons: First, even when we find ourselves living under ungodly leaders, the Lord of the Universe is still in charge. Time and again, YHWH showed Daniel and those in authority over him that He is the boss. Whether we acknowledge Him as God or not, He determines who is in power and for how long. Furthermore, man’s power over God’s people can only stretch so far as He allows it to.
Second, God knows the future and wants us to be aware of His plans, but He doesn’t want us obsessing over it. It’s both comforting and unnerving to know that even one of God’s most beloved prophets didn’t understand what the angelic interpreters of his visions were talking about! While we may be curious about what it all means, those of us who trust in the Lord don’t need to worry about the future. We should focus on walking the path set before us by God and fulfilling His purpose for our lives. He will see to it that we are informed and kept safe to enjoy our eternal reward at the proper time, just like His faithful and beloved prop
Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations are taken from
the New King James Version of the Bible—© 1982, by Thomas Nelson, Inc.