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The God of History

Date: Nov. 5, 2017

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

Daniel 11:2-35

Key Verse: Daniel 11:35

“Some of the wise will stumble, so that they may be refined, purified and made spotless until the time of the end, for it will still come at the appointed time.”

Today, we are in the second part of a three-part section of the book of Daniel. It’s the last section of the book and gives us the true climax of the entire book. As we have mentioned before, the book of Daniel is all about God’s sovereignty and how to live in this upside-down world. We’ve been going through the second half of the book, which deals with a lot of visions and prophecies. God has been showing Daniel what is to come, and we are now at this last vision. We heard last week that Daniel was given a terrible vision that caused him to mourn for three weeks, but we never heard about the contents of the vision. We’ve got the angel’s description of where he was, but nothing in regard to the vision itself. That content is the subject of this chapter. When we were reading it, it was really confusing trying to figure out what is going on. When you get in to the depths of the passage, you realize how detailed this passage is. Hopefully, I can help straighten some of the out and we can come to understand the meaning behind it all, that God is the God of history.

Our passage today, starts out in verse 2, “Now then, I tell you the truth: Three more kings will arise in Persia, and then a fourth, who will be far richer than all the others. When he has gained power by his wealth, he will stir up everyone against the kingdom of Greece.” The angel told Daniel that three more kings would arise in Persia. History tells us that these kings are Cambyses, ruling from 530 to 522 BC, Smerdis from 522 BC and Darius I who ruled from 522 to 486 BC. The passage then talks about a fourth king who is Xerxes I who ruled Persia from 486 to 465 BC. It was Xerxes that attempted to expand the empire into Greece. He attacked a number times only to be pushed back. There were more kings of Persia after Xerxes, but he was the catalyst of getting Greece involved. It was Xerxes continued provocation of Greece that led to its organization into an empire and its eventual defeat of Persia.

For more than a hundred years, Persia and Greece had a number of skirmishes, but what is shown in verses 3 and 4 is different. “Then a mighty king will arise, who will rule with great power and do as he pleases. After he has arisen, his empire will be broken up and parceled out toward the four winds of heaven. It will not go to his descendants, nor will it have the power he exercised, because his empire will be uprooted and given to others.” This mighty king is Alexander the Great who began is rule in 336 BC. Within two years of his kingship, Alexander began to go on the offensive against Persia. He invaded the Persian Empire and completely conquered it in three years, in the year 331 BC. Eight years later, in 323 BC, Alexander died in Babylon from a fever at the age of 32. I talked about all this three weeks ago. This passage also mentions that the empire will be broken up into four pieces. The history is a bit more complicated as there were attempts to divvy up the empire diplomatically. However, that division led to a time of turmoil as the satrapies fought with each other and, eventually, four kingdoms and empires formed. The kingdoms were Macedon and Greece, the Kingdom of Pergamon, the Ptolemaic Kingdom, and the Seleucid Empire.

Verses 5-20 give a history of two of the divisions of the Greek Empire and they are the ones that deal mostly with the Holy Land, the Ptolemaic (Egyptian) and Seleucid (Syrian) Empires until the reign of Antochus IV Epiphanes around 175 BC. These 16 verses deal with a history that covers 148 years that begin around a hundred years after Daniel’s death. Verse 5 states, “The king of the South will become strong, but one of his commanders will become even stronger than he and will rule his own kingdom with great power.” The king of the South is the first ruler of Egypt after Alexander’s death, Ptolemy I Soter who ruled from 323 to 285 BC and was one of Alexander’s generals. Ptolemy’s kingdom will be one of the strongest of the four kingdoms. The verse says that one of his commanders will become stronger than he. This refers to Seleucus I Nicator, who had been a lesser general under Alexander. He was the satrap of Babylonia starting in 321 BC, but another general seized Babylonia and Seleucus fled to Ptolemy in 316 BC to serve under him becoming one of his commanders. When the other general was defeated in 312 BC at Gaza, Seleucus returned to Babyonia as satrap and increased his power to eventually control more territory than Ptolemy.

There was a lot of fighting between the two kingdoms during the time of the first rulers. When Ptolemy I died in 285 BC, the clashes continued under his son Ptolemy II Philadelphus who ruled from 285 to 246 BC. Ptolemy II has an important note in faith in that, according to tradition, he was the one who ordered the Hebrew Bible be translated into Greek, creating the Septuagint. After a time, Ptolemy II make a peace treaty with Antiochus II Theos who ruled from 261 to 246 BC. It is noted in the passage in verse 6, “After some years, they will become allies. The daughter of the king of the South will go to the king of the North to make an alliance, but she will not retain her power, and he and his power will not last. In those days she will be betrayed, together with her royal escort and her father and the one who supported her.” This refers to Ptolemy’s daughter Bernice being given to Antiochus as a bride. Their child was to be the next rule. Unfortunately, Antiochus was already married to a woman named Laodice. Laodice had Antiochus, Bernice and the child killed to install you son Seleucus II as king, while she became queen regent.

Our passage continues, “One from her family line will arise to take her place. He will attack the forces of the king of the North and enter his fortress; he will fight against them and be victorious.” (7) Bernice’s brother Ptolemy III attacked Syria in response to her murder. The war lasted five years (from 246 to 241 BC) and he was able to capture the capital of Antioch. The passage says, “He will also seize their gods, their metal images and their valuable articles of silver and gold and carry them off to Egypt. For some years he will leave the king of the North alone.” (8) Evidently, the gods that Ptolemy stole were originally from Egypt and the Persians had stolen them when they ransacked Egypt. The people were so grateful toward Ptolemy III that they gave him the name Euergetes, which means benefactor. In 240 BC Ptolemy made a treat with Seleucus II in order to pursue conquests elsewhere.

The peace between the two kingdoms, however, was not meant to last. Verse 10 says, “His sons will prepare for war and assemble a great army, which will sweep on like an irresistible flood and carry the battle as far as his fortress.” Seleucus II died in 226 BC, but his sons Seleucus II Ceraunus and Antiochus III continued the wars with Egypt. Seleucus III ruled three years from 226 to 223 BC, and after his murder, his brother Antiochus III came to power. He ruled from 223 to 187 BC. He was also called Antiochus III the Great because of his military successes. In 219-218 BC Antiochus captured Phoenicia and Palestine, areas of the Holy Land from Egypt for a short time.

“Then the king of the South will march out in a rage and fight against the king of the North, who will raise a large army, but it will be defeated. When the army is carried off, the king of the South will be filled with pride and will slaughter many thousands, yet he will not remain triumphant.” (11-12) In retaliation to Antiochus’ attack, Ptolemy launched a counter attack. A big battle took place and Ptolemy’s army killed thousands and won. With is victory, Ptolemy IV became proud, but it is during this point in history that Egypt’s power waned and Syria became the dominating of the two.

After Ptolemy IV’s death, his son Ptolemy V became king at the age of 5 or 6. Seeing this weakness, Antiochus III launched a new attack. “For the king of the North will muster another army, larger than the first; and after several years, he will advance with a huge army fully equipped.” (13) And in verse 16, “The invader will do as he pleases; no one will be able to stand against him. He will establish himself in the Beautiful Land and will have the power to destroy it.” Antiochus III captured the Holy Land and made it a permanent part of the Northern kingdom. The passage says that he has the power to destroy it and that means that the North completely controls it, but it is also ominous and sets the stage for Antiochus IV to come to power and his importance we will get to in a little bit.

Verse 17 continues, “He will determine to come with the might of his entire kingdom and will make an alliance with the king of the South. And he will give him a daughter in marriage in order to overthrow the kingdom, but his plans will not succeed or help him.” Antiochus III gave his daughter Cleopatra to Ptolemy V to seal a peace treaty. Now, this is not the famous Cleopatra who lived more than a hundred years later. Antiochus hoped that his daughter would help him gain control over Egypt and that her child with Ptolemy V would become the new ruler. Unfortunately for Antiochus, as the passage says, his plans would not succeed. You see Cleopatra came to love Ptolemy, her husband, more than she loved her father.

After this treaty was in place, Antiochus turned his attention elsewhere, but his success was limited. As it is mentioned in verse 18, “Then he will turn his attention to the coastlands and will take many of them, but a commander will put an end to his insolence and will turn his insolence back on him.” Antiochus was defeated in Greece by the Romans and he was forced to sign a treaty. In the treaty, he had to pay tribute to Rome, give up land and hand over twenty hostages. One of which was Antiochus IV. “After this, he will turn back toward the fortresses of his own country but will stumble and fall, to be seen no more.” (19) Antiochus III returned home and in order to meet the Roman demands, he raided and pillaged the temple of Zeus but the people wouldn’t have it. They defended their temple and killed him in 187 BC.

Next, the passage talks about a successor. “His successor will send out a tax collector to maintain the royal splendor. In a few years, however, he will be destroyed, yet not in anger or in battle.” (20) This successor was Seleucus IV Philopator, Antiochus III’s son who ruled from 187 to 175 BC. The tax collector mentioned in the verse is Heliodorus, who was sent out to collect money to pay the annual Roman tax as part of the treaty with the Romans signed by Antiochus III. In the year 175 BC, Heliodorus tried to gain the throne for himself and he poisoned Seleucus IV, possibly encouraged by Antiochus IV.

That is a lot of history with tons of details in those 19 verses, but everything in those verses merely set the stage for one of the main points of the vision. One of the main points is what Antiochus IV will do to the people of God. The rest of our passage today deals with Antiochus IV and what he would do to the Jews. This section starts, “He will be succeeded by a contemptible person who has not been given the honor of royalty. He will invade the kingdom when its people feel secure, and he will seize it through intrigue.” Antiochus IV is called contemptible because of the persecutions that we will unfurl. He will kill thousands in an attempt to eradicate the faith of God. He chose for himself the name Epiphanes, which means “magnificent one” or “illustrious one”, but others called him Epimanes, or “madman”. Antiochus was not the rightful successor to Seleucus IV, but his brother. The rightful ruler was Seleucus’ son Demetrius I Soter, but he was being held hostage in Rome, and Antiochus use the opportunity to seize the throne. The part about invading the kingdom when the people feel secure is probably about Antiochus’ rise to power in Syria. Heliodorus was probably secure in his thought of his rule, but Antiochus used stealth and intrigue to gain support for his rule with prominent people in the government.

In 169 BC, Ptolemy VI tried to regain the Holy Land from Syria, but as the passage notes, “Then an overwhelming army will be swept away before him; both it and a prince of the covenant will be destroyed. After coming to an agreement with him, he will act deceitfully, and with only a few people he will rise to power.” (22-23) Antiochus defeated Ptolemy VI and captured him. While in captivity, Ptolemy VI made a pact with Antiochus to regain the throne in Egypt, which was taken by Ptolemy VI’s brother Ptolemy VII. Antiochus thought with Ptolemy VI’s treaty, he would have a foothold in Egypt, but Ptolemy VI betrayed Antiochus and aligned himself with his brother to drive out the Syrians.

But while he was still a prisoner, we see the events of verses 25-27 “With a large army he will stir up his strength and courage against the king of the South. The king of the South will wage war with a large and very powerful army, but he will not be able to stand because of the plots devised against him. Those who eat from the king’s provisions will try to destroy him; his army will be swept away, and many will fall in battle. The two kings, with their hearts bent on evil, will sit at the same table and lie to each other, but to no avail, because an end will still come at the appointed time.” These verses show Ptolemy VI’s initial defeat at the hands of Antiochus IV and his eventual capture. Verse 27 says that the two kings will sit at the same table and lie to each other. This was during Ptolemy VI’s imprisonment when Ptolemy VII took power in Egypt. The two kings planned how to return Ptolemy VI to power, but both kings had no intention of keeping their promises. Speaking lies at the same table is important because it shows the nature of the two kings. In their culture lying at a table of hospitality was one of the lowest things you could do. Typically, you were friends with the people you shared a table with, and friends don't lie. However, Ptolemy and Antiochus lied to each others faces. But the verse ends with “an end will still come at the appointed time.” This continues to show God’s sovereignty over all things. They had evil intent, but God would only let it go on until his appointed time.

In verse 28, we see the beginning of the reason for the vision the persecution of God’s holy people. “The king of the North will return to his own country with great wealth, but his heart will be set against the holy covenant. He will take action against it and then return to his own country.” After his win in 169 BC in Egypt, Antiochus was returning home going through Palestine and he found an insurrection in progress. He put down the rebellion by killing eighty thousand men, women and children and plundering the temple. It was a dark time for God’s people.

In 168 BC, Antiochus attacked Egypt again, but this time the result was different. “At the appointed time he will invade the South again, but this time the outcome will be different from what it was before. Ships of the western coastlands will oppose him, and he will lose heart. Then he will turn back and vent his fury against the holy covenant. He will return and show favor to those who forsake the holy covenant.” (29-30) Egypt had asked Rome to come and help and the Roman fleet came to Alexandria while Antiochus was attempting to surround the city and besiege it. Instead the Roman commander Gaius Popilius Laenas met Antiochus four miles outside the city and delivered a letter from the Roman Senate that told him to leave Egypt or face war with Rome. Then the commander drew a circle in the sand around Antiochus and told him to respond before leaving the circle. Now, Antiochus was familiar with Rome and how powerful they were. Remember, he was a hostage in Rome after his father’s defeat in Greece. Antiochus stood in silence for a moment before he agreed to leave Egypt. He was utterly humiliated by the Romans and he turned that humiliation into anger against the Jews.

Antiochus sent Apollonius, his chief mercenary, to Jerusalem. He pretended to come in peace but attacked on the Sabbath without warning, killing many people and plundering the city. Antiochus rewarded the Jews who abandoned their faith and supported the Greek way of life. That wasn’t the end of the persecution. “His armed forces will rise up to desecrate the temple fortress and will abolish the daily sacrifice. Then they will set up the abomination that causes desolation.” (31) In December of 167, Antiochus would suspend the Jewish religion and set up an altar to Zeus in the temple of the Lord and would sacrifice pigs on that altar, which was the highest form of desecration the Jews could experience.

Even though a number of Jews were enticed by Antiochus’ offers, there were some, who still remained in the Lord. “With flattery he will corrupt those who have violated the covenant, but the people who know their God will firmly resist him.” (31) The Maccabean revolt pushed back on Antiochus’ military commanders and retook Jerusalem in 164 BC. On December 14, 164, about three years after it was desecrated, the temple was rededicated to the Lord and Hanukkah was born. After the temple was rededicated, the battles were not over. “Those who are wise will instruct many, though for a time they will fall by the sword or be burned or captured or plundered.” The revolt showed the people the truth both spiritually and physically. Those who are wise are true believers that brought the people back to God, but Antiochus continued his persecution of the Jews. Many believers died, in the tens of thousands. Some died in battle but others were executed. Antiochus died in 163 BC in Persia, but the persecution continued on until at least the year 160 BC.

There is an important thought here in verse 35, “Some of the wise will stumble, so that they may be refined, purified and made spotless until the time of the end, for it will still come at the appointed time.” The stumbling is the persecution that they face, not some sort of stumbling into sin, but it is a time to refine the people and prepare them for the end. Now, this end is the end times, which hasn’t even come yet. The refinement, purification and being made spotless are all the process of becoming more like God, which comes through Jesus whose ministry would come in 190 years. This passage is proof of God’s power and plan.

There is a lot going on in this passage. There is so much history here that it is amazing to think that it was written before it all happened. The prophecies in this passage are the most detailed prophecies in the whole Bible. There are some prophecies that are more important, like those that pertain directly to Jesus, but none of them have the detail that this passage has. In fact, there is so much detail that there are those out there that think it was written after the events happened, but we know our God. Our Lord is the God of history and he is outside of time itself. This is a tech school and we love our sci-fi and science fact. We can talk about Demogorgons, demodogs, Mind Flayers, the Upside Down and we get interested. Time travel and time manipulation cause us to sit up and take notice. Having a being that exists outside the normal space-time is not an unheard-of thing. A number of sci-fi shows have their characters stuck in a time loop, like Groundhog Day, but there is always someone who is outside the loop and experiences each one. God exists outside of time. He sees the past, present and the future all at the same time. The movie The Arrival had aliens with a similar ability. They could see all time at the same time. One of the human characters learns to think in the same way and the memories she was having are revealed to be future memories. But again, God is greater than that. He doesn’t just see all time, he is in charge of it. It is his creation.

What that means for us is that God knows our history. He knows our personal history, every little last bit of it, both our past history and our future history. God knows where we have been and where we will go. The prophet Jeremiah wrote, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” (Jeremiah 29:11) This was written prior to the Jewish exile to Babylon and encouraged the people to not worry about their situation. They needed to trust God, because he had their back. The same holds for us. We live in a time of great confusion. There are a lot of terrible things going on in the world, but God knows the history of it all. It is his book of Truth that is at the heart of it all. It is already written down as truth. No matter what may happen, it is God’s story and nobody can derail that. Antiochus tried to destroy the worship of God, but God was still in charge. He kept his people safe and made them victorious. Antiochus died, possibly violently, and for all his achievements, his rule is no more than a footnote in history. The true hero and the main character is Jesus. All this history here paved the way for Jesus to come and the people were ready for a savior.

We are no different. All of our history points to the fact that we need Jesus. All the hardships we face are meant to draw us to him. The pain and the heartache are to bring you to the healer. The sorrow in your heart is to bring you to the comforter. The guilt you carry is to bring you to your redeemer. We need to be broken like this so that we can give him ourselves. Sometimes, we like to think that God wants for us to do something, but what God want is us. He wants for us to come to him, to know we really do need him and surrender to him. Most of the time, that comes when we are broken. He comes to heal us and redeem us. He knows that where we are is not where we have to be. We can turn to God and be encouraged by the history that is to come. Daniel was given his vision so that the people could become aware of what is to come, not to despair but to know God’s hand in it all. It may look bleak, but it would bring about the greatest things the world has ever known, the salvation of mankind through Jesus Christ our Lord.

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