Daniel Chapter 11, Seleucid and Ptolemic Kingdoms: known by God
“For, "All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands for ever."
1 Peter 1:24-5
Daniel 11 focuses on the Persian and Greek periods and especially the reigns of Antiochus 3rd and 4th. Throughout the chapter we read of man’s attempt to secure power for self through any means. Yet any worship system that is directed to gods made in man’s image will ultimately pass away like the dust blown off a dirty table.
“Worship of any but the true God always leads to cultural and moral degeneration. History confirms such a pattern and result over and over again. As Proverbs 14:34 states, “Righteousness exalts a nation but sin is a reproach to any people.” Again we read, “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ our Lord.” Sin (rebellions against the Creator) leads to death. This is true for a culture as well as an individual. An example is the region where ziggurats once were prominent. All that remains today are the findings of scientists, half-buried ruins, and the mound of towering ziggurat’s, still rising above the silent, hot Iraqi desert. That once great culture with all of its surprisingly high technology is now dead. All that remains are ruins.”
D. Chittick in, ‘The Puzzle of Ancient Man’ p 76-77.
In Chapter 11 we read of the cataclysmic events, deceit, war and suffering that was going to take place, yet there is nothing new under the sun. Ultimately God knows all things and reaches in as and when He likes. There is great comfort in this for we are part of His plan and our standing in Him is His workmanship through Christ Jesus (Eph 2:10). When things are tough for us and when all we think we can do is stand still, we need to remember this: God is still in complete control. Joseph was still able to hear from God whilst in a prison cell and Daniel was able to hear from God in a pagan city. Elsewhere, John was able to hear from God and called to write Revelation whilst exiled on Patmos.
In all things and in all ways and with all that we may face or go through, there is the continual challenge to let go of our blurred vision and wrong thinking and focus on the Lord.
Once upon a time, there was a man who thought he was dead. His friends were concerned that he might go along to the cemetery one day and bury himself and so they took him to a doctor. This doctor spent a few hours with him, showing him all sorts of slides and diagrams to prove to the man that dead men did not bleed. Finally, the man who thought he was dead said, “Yes I can see that it’s absolutely true: dead men do not bleed.” With that the doctor took a pin and pricked the man’s finger. The man looked at his finger in horror and then at the doctor and said, “Doc, you’ve got it wrong! Dead men do bleed.” Sometimes, no matter the evidence, we seem to want to hold on to our own thinking!
Throughout the Bible, God challenges us to let go of our independence and fragmented thinking and totally rely on Him. This should be an encouragement to us because God never wants us to ‘go it alone.’
God will challenge us and in His grace and mercy, He does work and will continue to work in all manner of ways to encourage us to let go of all that hinders and holds us back. There is nothing outside of self that can hold us back from seeking the Lord.
History is turbulent and there are many ups and downs, yet the great Shepherd is always with us and knows exactly what is going on. Our job is to submit our lives to Him on a daily basis and keep the channel of communication open through reading the scriptures and praying.
The next few pages deal with events in history and may seem a little heavy-going to some, yet please persevere. What they clearly reveal is that God knows all things and His plan will come about in the fullness of time. Nothing takes Him by surprise. Having just said that, please feel free to skim over the chapter; don’t let yourself get too bogged down!
After King Cyrus (560/59-530BC), there were going to be three more Kings (v2) in Persia and then a fourth very rich king (v2). After this, a mighty king would appear (v3) and the empire would fall to the Greeks. So who were these kings?
The three kings were Cambyses 2nd, (530-22), Smerdis (522), Cambyses’ younger brother and Darius the 1st (522-486). These three kings were part of the Archaemenid Empire founded by Cyrus with the name ‘Archaemenid’ coming from King Archaemenes who ruled Persia between 705 and 675 BC).
During Darius’ reign (the third King) he organised the empire into seventy two provinces and placed satraps (governors) over them. Darius also organised a uniform monetary system and made Aramaic the official language of the empire.
The fourth rich king (v2) was Xerxes (486-465) who attempted to conquer Greece in 480 (v2). During his reign he dealt with the Egyptians and had his son-in-law violently deal with a revolt in Babylon. Fortresses were torn down, temples pillaged and the god Marduk’s statue was destroyed. Xerxes then abandoned the titles ‘King of Babylon’ and ‘King of Egypt’ and simply called himself, ‘King of the Persians and Medes’.
History moves on and the prophesied mighty King (v3) appeared who rules with great power and does as he pleases (v3). This refers to Alexander the Great coming to the throne (336) and conquering from Turkey to India. He unexpectedly died of a fever in 323. His two sons were soon killed (the empire will not go to his descendants) and his empire was parcelled out (v4) to his four generals. Prophecy then goes on to speak of the north and the south. The king of the south is initially Ptolemy 1st. But where did Ptolemy 1st come from?
Ptolemy was one of the four generals who split the empire of Alexander the Great after his death. He went to Egypt and seized control in, 323BC, and eventually became known as the king of Egypt in 305BC. Greek kings were to rule Egypt until Egypt was annexed by Rome. Ptolemy 1st had his capital in Alexandria, a Greek city in Egypt.
Ptolemy 1st is the King of the South who became strong (v5), yet one of his commanders was to become even stronger than Ptolemy. This stronger king (v5) was, Seleucus 1st (311-280). But where did he come from?
Seleucus 1 Nicator was another of Alexander the Great’s generals. His father had served under Alexander’s father (Philip 2nd of Macedonia). After Alexander died, Seleucus took part in a campaign to remove Ptolemy, who was then a governor in Egypt. However in Egypt, he turned on the one who had initiated the campaign (Perdiccas) and along with others, had him killed. At the division of the empire in 321 he became governor of Babylon. Due to the usual power struggles, he ended up in trouble and eventually had to run from a general called, Antigonus, to Ptolemy in Egypt for help. Antigonus was a great threat to everyone because he wanted to become ruler of the whole of Alexander the Great’s Empire.
Seleucus enters a coalition (315-311) with Ptolemy (become allies v 6) to deal with this threat and becomes one of Ptolemy’s generals. They defeat the son of Antigonus in battle and Seleucus then sought to return to Babylon, conquering Babylon with a small army in 312. Antigonus is none too happy with this and orders one of his generals and his son, Demetrius, to attack Babylon; but they fail.
Seleucus becomes king throughout Syria and Media circa 310 and so within a few years of each other both Seleucus 1st and Ptolemy 1st are kings. Therefore we have the Ptolemy era and the Seleucid era. Circa 301, he moved his capital to Syrian Antioch (a city he founded). Through the terms of a peace treaty, he should have gained control over Palestine but Ptolemy refused to let this go. From this point on, the Seleucids regarded Palestine as theirs – which was to cause friction and problems for decades.
Verse 6 then moves on with history and a king of the south sends his daughter to the king of the north to make an alliance. So who are the kings and how do we get to the time of this alliance?
The king of the South is now Ptolemy 2, Philadelphus. He had co-reigned with his father for a while and then ruthlessly killed off all possible rivals to the throne. This ‘new’ Ptolemy extends his rule in Syria and Asia Minor and starts influencing Ethiopia and Arabia.
The Ptolemy and Seleucid rivalry was on the go and to see who was on the Seleucid throne at this time of rivalry, we need to go through a few kings from Seleucus 1st who had been assassinated. We move on past his son, Antiochus 1 Soter, who ruled until his death in 261 and into the reign of Antiochus 2nd – the king who married Ptolemy’s daughter. Antiochus lived from 287-246BC and spent much of his reign at war with Egypt. After overthrowing a tyrant in Miletus, the citizens of the city worshipped him as a god and this led to an empire-wide cult and also to him calling himself ‘Antiochus Theos’. Such is the arrogance of man.
Ptolemy 2nd had continued the contest with the Seleucids until 252 when he made a treaty to mend the relationship with the Seleucid Empire in the north (the north being under Antiochus 2nd Theos)!
Part of the terms of this treaty was that Antiochus married Berenice (the daughter of the kingdom of the South will go to the north – verse 6). In order to marry her, Antiochus divorced his then powerful wife, Laodice, and sought to prevent either of his sons from succeeding the throne. Yet Berenice was not able to hold on to her power (not retain her power v 6) and after two years, Antiochus went back to Laodice who then had him killed along with Bernice, their son and others (handed over along with the one who supported her v6). Yet someone from Berenice’s family line was going to arise and take her place (v7).
This ‘shoot from the same root’ was none other than Ptolemy 3rd Euergetes (‘Benefector’) - Berenice’s brother, who had come to the throne in 246BC. He, rather obviously, was not amused at events surrounding his sister’s death and invaded the Seleucid empire, conquering (attack their fortresses v7) much of Syria. This war raged from 246-241. He killed Laodice and took his plunder back to Egypt, yet without conquering the whole Seleucid Empire. According to history, this included 40,000 talents of silver and 2500 idols (seize their gods v8) previously taken out of Egypt.
Under Ptolemy 3rd, Egypt was at the peak of its power. Because of this recovery, Ptolemy 3rd had the title ‘Euergetes’ (benefactor) bestowed upon him. A treaty was eventually made between Ptolemy 3rd and Seleucus 2nd (one of Antiochus and Laodice’s sons) in 240.
Seleucus the 2nd had only survived the initial bashing from Ptolemy 3rd because he’d remained in a remote area of the empire. Seleucus 2nd eventually regained control of northern Syria and Phoenicia from Egypt in the 230’s. Having launched a few counter-attacks, he was eventually forced to return to his own country (retreat to his own country v9). Next we have the events prophesied as; “His sons will prepare for war and assemble a great army…”
Seleucus 2nd dies in 226 and along comes his son, Seleucus 3rd, who came to power and reigned from 226-223 but was murdered on a campaign in Turkey. Antiochus 3rd (the Great), his younger brother (Seleucus 2nds other son) then comes to the throne (223-178). He was known as ‘the Great’ due to the success of his military campaigns, hence a son whose army swept on like an irresistible flood (v16).
The king of the south (now Ptolemy 4th – 221-204) is angry at what is going on (marches out in a rage v 11) because Antiochus has been flexing his muscles for fourteen years or so campaigning in Turkey and the East.
Amazingly Ptolemy 4th, with a very small army beats up Antiochus’ army at the battle of Raphia on the Palestinian border (the large army is defeated v11). In the following peace, Antiochus 3rd (the Great) cedes all Phoenicia and Palestine back to Ptolemy 4th. During the following years he has his greatest successes in the Middle East. However, his interest in Egypt is resurrected on the death of Ptolemy 4th in 203. Antiochus the Great sees a chance to come against Ptolemy 5th, who was a child at that time. When Ptolemy 4th died, a corrupt minister (Sosibius) murdered Ptolemy’s mother leaving him an orphan with Sosibius as his guardian. In the north, Antiochus was aware of the Egyptian weakness.
Antiochus had already taken some territory under Egypt (e.g. Cilicia and Lycia) and joined forces with Philip 5th of Macedonia to bring a huge army against Ptolemy 5th (who gets more than a little squashed in 201). Verse 14 also tells us that ‘many will rise up against the king of the South’ and that violent men from amongst the Jews would also participate, but without success. So who are these ‘violent men’?
Some of the Jewish people at this time (violent men of your own people v 14) aided the Syrians in driving the Egyptians out of the holy land; yet trouble was on the horizon. But why had some of the more ‘violent’ Jewish men gotten involved?
In Judaism at this time, the high priest (Onias 2nd) held both political and religious authority but had to share political power with his brother in law, Tobias. There was tension between the two since Onias was anti-Egyptian with most of the Tobiads being pro-Egyptian. Back to Antiochus the third, also known as Antiochus the Great.
The fortified city that was captured (v15) was the Mediterranean port of Sidon.
Antiochus carried on seizing Ptolemaic lands in Asia Minor but Roman diplomatic intervention eventually halted the war and in 194/3 BC. Antiochus would undoubtedly have continued on to attack and destroy Egypt, but was aware that Rome was flexing her muscles. Because of this problem, he decided to marry off Cleopatra to Ptolemy 5th circa 194BC (verse 17). This was a good move on Antiochus the Great’s part because Cleopatra took - as her dowry - the revenues of Coele-Syria (a land that Egypt had been after for a long time). The marriage agreement meant that Egypt remained neutral in Syria’s continuing bash with the Romans.
Unfortunately for him, Antiochus’ plans did not go as well as expected, especially when his daughter Cleopatra proved loyal to her husband Ptolemy 5th. Antiochus 3rd (the Great) then turned his attention to the ‘coastlands’ (v18). He took many of the Egyptian held areas of Asia Minor, but Antiochus was going to end up as a vassal of Rome. So what happened?
Amongst other activities, Antiochus had sent a navy to land in central Greece in 192. Rome decided to rattle her sabre and Antiochus was beaten up by the Romans in 191 at a command post he had fortified at Thermopylae, a narrow pass.
Eventually, Antiochus had to surrender all claims to Europe and the greater part of Asia Minor. He also lost his entire elephant brigade; his navy and twenty Seleucid hostages were taken (this included his son Antiochus 4th). On top of this he was expected to pay a huge indemnity; money was going to be tight. Antiochus, the now ‘not so great’ turned his attention back to his own lands (v19) but stumbled and fell. He was killed at Elymais, in 187 whilst pillaging the treasury of Bel (one of his own gods) in order to pay the tribute imposed on him by Rome. Here endeth the life of Antiochus 3rd, father to the infamous Antiochus 4th. But what has been going on amongst the Ptolemy’s of Egypt at this time?
As we have already mentioned, Antiochus 3rd’s daughter, Cleopatra, was married off the Ptolemy 5th and they had a child (who would later be Ptolemy 6th). Cleopatra’s husband died in 180 and so Cleopatra became Queen Regent due to the young age of her son. Her son would eventually be called Ptolemy 6th, Philometor (Gk: Loving his mother). Cleopatra 1st was well-liked and known as being loyal to the cause. She kept peace with Syria and at the same time, made sure she did nothing to alienate Rome. Due to this, Egypt remained free from invasion. Cleopatra 1st died in 176BC.
Antiochus the Great is dead and the son who would become Antiochus 4th is in Rome – so what happens next? Another of Antiochus’ sons – Seleucus 4th comes to the throne (his successor v20).
This successor – Seleucus 4th - has the job of collecting and paying the tribute that was imposed on his father and sends his finance minister, Heliodorus, to take money from the temple treasury in Jerusalem. However Heliodorus returned empty-handed, apparently because of a frightening vision he had of angels assaulting him.
King Seleucus 4th reigned for twelve years (a few years v20) and was eventually poisoned by Heliodorus (he will be destroyed v20). This poisoning may have been a plot devised by Seleucus 4th’s younger brother, Antiochus 4th, who was now heading home from Rome. Antiochus 4th – the contemptible person of v21, arrives in his homeland and is going to reign for around fifteen years (175-164 BC). Note that he is the little horn of Daniel 8:9-27.
So, the ‘despicable person to whom royal honour has not rightfully been conferred’ that we read of in v21 is Antiochus Epiphanes. ‘Epiphanes’ means ‘manifest’ and points to Antiochus 4th’s claim to being the earthly manifestation of Zeus. The throne should have gone from Seleucus to his son Demetrius (one of the other hostages in Rome). Instead it went to Antiochus 4th, not rightfully been conferred v21. Many of the people who would have initially expected Demetrius to come and rule were won over by the persuasiveness of Antiochus.
Antiochus was a man who always had ulterior motives and became known for making and breaking agreements as well as using bribery. Yet what is this all about a ‘covenant leader being destroyed’ v22?
The covenant leader who was destroyed was probably Onias 3rd – the Jewish high priest at that time - who was assassinated by Antiochus 4th in 171BC having been detained by the King in 174.
The pro-Greek Jew, Jason (Onias’ brother!), bribed Antiochus to install him as the high priest. He also promised to help promote Greek culture at the expense of his Jewish counterparts. However, around three years later, up popped his brother, Menelaus, who was supported by the Tobiads. He effectively ‘bought’ the priesthood off of Antiochus and out went Jason: kicked out but not killed.
However there is a possible overlap in the prophecy, “A covenant leader being destroyed” speaking of the defeat at the human level as well as religious. Antiochus made a loose agreement with the King of Egypt, with whom he was initially supposed to be united.
In v23 we read more of Antiochus’ deceit. Despite the agreement between Syria and Egypt, there was always a point of contention; the possession of Coelo-Syria and Palestine. Due to this, the region often passed from one to the other and back again with various treaties as well as being the cause of wars. Antiochus the Great had made them part of the dowry of his daughter who became queen of Egypt. Yet Antiochus Epiphanes did not regard this as of any value and sought to dismiss its claims (hence: act deceitfully v23) and this contentious issue was at the heart of the wars he had with the Egyptians. Through manipulation and coercion, he rose to power with only a few people (v24).
Antiochus 4th would eventually do what none of his predecessors (neither his fathers nor his forefathers did v24) had been able to do concerning the conquest of Egypt. Unlike them, Antiochus took Pelusuim (known as the key to the door of Egypt) and overthrew many fortresses, also taking Memphis and laying siege to Alexandria. By this time, he had also secured the surrender of Ptolemy 6th who was now his prisoner. Antiochus was eventually driven from Alexandria by a threat from Rome.
Ptolemy 6th was now in the hands of Antiochus, so the Egyptians raised up another king: Ptolemy Physcon (Gk: Potbellied), who also became known as ‘Ptolemy 8 Eurgetes 2nd’ (Ptolemy the Benefactor).
Antiochus supposedly attacked Egypt (circa 168BC) as a means of supporting Ptolemy 6th Philometer against his brother’s arrival on the Egyptian throne. His real objective was to make Egypt his own. After his initial attack, Ptolemy Physcon (Ptolemy 6th brother) appealed to Rome and also entered negotiations for peace with Antiochus. He was rejected, but on seeing how hard it would be to take Alexandria and being aware of Rome on the horizon, Antiochus ‘gave up’ the kingdom to Ptolemy Philometer, left a garrison at Pelusium and went home The two Ptolemy’s then ruled together.
The two kings whose minds were filled with evil, were more than likely Antiochus and his captive nephew Ptolemy 6th. Yet, despite all the planning and goings on, there is nothing new under the sun and as Daniel writes, “an end will still come at the appointed time.” V27
Antiochus 4th was now on his way home due to Rome having rattled her sabre in a threatening way. It was at the time of this sabre-rattling that a rumour came back to Jason in Jerusalem, which wrongly stated that Antiochus was dead (oops!). Jason promptly sought to regain the office of high priest and took Jerusalem with over a thousand men, killing Menelaus (his brother and high priest) and anyone he thought was an enemy.
At the end of his Egyptian campaign, Antiochus IV began his journey home with a large amount of captured loot. He heard of Jason’s attack and wrongly assumed that all Jews were revolting. Therefore on his way home, he dealt with Jerusalem and also raided the Temple treasury in Jerusalem in order to gain additional funds for his on-going military campaigns.
In verse 29 we find Antiochus heading into the Southern Kingdom again. This happened because in the South, Ptolemy made an agreement with his brother Physcon to share government and stand against Antiochus. As a means of raising more troops they hired mercenaries from Greece. It also included a Phoenician navy based at Kittim (Cyprus) v30.
Antiochus’ second campaign (at the appointed time v29) against Egypt came about in 168BC and is known as the Second Egyptian War. Antiochus successfully besieged Memphis and took control of lower Egypt. He even crowned himself as King of Egypt. However Egypt appealed to Rome for help.
Antiochus was met by Roman ambassadors at Alexandria who told him to leave Egypt and Cyprus in peace or expect war. Antiochus said he would put the issues before his council. In response to this, one of the Roman ambassadors (Caius Popilins Laenas) used his staff to draw a circle around the king in the sand and said, “Before you leave this circle, you must give me an answer which I can report to the Senate.” Antiochus conceded. His war did not turn out the way the former one had v29. A dangerous and frustrated Antiochus 4th headed home and on the way, directed his indignation against the holy covenant v30
On his journey home, Antiochus sought to Hellenise the whole of Jerusalem by force and sent in 20,000 troops under Apollonius. In December, 168 troops were ordered to enter the Temple and he banned Jewish worship circa June 167BC. Eventually, another altar was placed on top of the Jewish altar which he dedicated to Zeus (verse 31). Pigs were then offered on the altar to deliberately offend all Jews. This is the abomination that causes desolation (destruction). Note the parallel prophecy to this in Daniel 8:23-25. Christ refers to this in Mt 24:15 prophetically also pointing beyond this to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD.
"So when you see standing in the holy place 'the abomination that causes desolation', spoken of through the prophet Daniel — let the reader understand — 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.”
Antiochus was a man who knew how to make promises and threats at the same time and came against all who remained faithful to Judaism. Many were to fall by the sword (33), this possibly referring to the Father of Judas Maccabeus who rose against Antiochus but initially refused to fight on the Sabbath and ended up beaten. There were those who joined Maccabeus purely as mercenaries (many who were not sincere v34) but others, although they stumbled (v35), were proven to be supportive of Judaism and not just into fighting for the sake of money and position.
In Daniel 11:36, we read more of Antiochus 4th as ‘the King who exalts himself.’ Antiochus had been brought up in Rome and never seems to have taken much notice of the beliefs of his fathers (no respect v37) and set himself up against gods and the God of gods (v36) through dictating which god, if any, should be worshipped, and how. The god loved by women (37) could be the Dionysus, who was slighted by Antiochus through his attempts to take over the Kingdom of the South. The god of fortresses and unknown to his fathers (v39) probably refers to Jupiter who was thought to be the sky god who threw thunderbolts and has the eagle as his primary sacred creature. This was the most common symbol of the Roman army. This would tie in with Antiochus as a man of force and power, with gods who had little concern for justice and compassion, instead ruling by force. Note that Antiochus came against the then strongest places in the nations, including Jerusalem, Sidon and Memphis (v39) with his foreign beliefs (v39) and introduced false worship wherever he went. The conquests would be seen by many as proof that his god was with him. After conquest, he would divide up the land and put in rulers (v39), also honouring any who sided with him (v38).
Antiochus continued to flex his muscles and attempt an ultimate victory over the Ptolemys of the south who engaged with him in battle (v40). Antiochus is spoken of in scripture as sweeping in like a flood with chariots and horsemen. He invaded Israel (41) and many countries fell, but not all and some are delivered from his hand. Treasures are seized from Egypt (v43). Reports then came through of the Parthians (in the eastern part of the Seleucid Kingdom) and the Armenians in the north, rattling their swords and so Antiochus goes off to re-establish order (v44). His tents had been pitched between the Mediterranean (composed of more than one sea hence seas v45) and the mountain - the hill on which the Jerusalem Temple was built. ‘With no one to help him’ speaks of isolation and separation as well as helplessness. Antiochus 4th Epiphanes died in Tabae in Persia at the end of 164BC, during his campaign against troublesome Parthians. (V45)
In scripture, the north and south is sometimes used to express totality and all earthly space. For example, in Psalm 89:11-12 we read:
“The heavens are yours, and yours also the earth; you founded the world and all that is in it. You created the north and the south; Tabor and Hermon sing for joy at your name.”
Babylon in the North and Egypt in the South could well go beyond the kingdoms and personalities that rose and fell at this point of history. In a sense, they go beyond this to represent the turbulence and suffering of history in a world of false religion and human endeavour as man seeks to carve out an empire and name for self. Yet this too will pass away. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives for ever (1 John 2:17).
God knows all things
In Chapter 11 we have read of the cataclysmic events, deceit, war and suffering that was going to take place, yet there is nothing new under the sun. As we stated at the beginning of this chapter, ultimately God knows all and is in charge of all and in this, there is great comfort for we are part of His plan and our standing in Him is His workmanship through Christ Jesus (Eph 2:10). When things are tough for us and when all we think we can do is stand still, we need to remember this: God is still in complete control.
“What does man gain from all his labour at which he toils under the sun? Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains for ever.”
In the book of beginnings – Genesis – we see that every good thing is a result of God’s creative will. Then in the gospels we read of the Word of God becoming flesh (John 1:1). At the end of the Bible, the book of Revelation clearly reveals that everything is subject to God’s judgement as He restores harmony to His world. History is in His hand as are nations and the widow who had only two small coins to put in the temple coffers.