Scripture Text: Daniel 11:2-35
What To Do When Caught in the Middle (MP3)
What To Do When Caught in the Middle (Sermon Text)
I am amazed by God’s Word. It contains words of life about the Word of Life. It gives us a roadmap for living. It even reveals things that were written long before the events actually happened. For instance, the final vision in the book of Daniel gives a detailed overview of various earthly conflicts from the time of Daniel in the late sixth century B.C. until the end of the world. Some people regard this as a “prophecy after the fact”, meaning they believe it was actually written after the events happened. They say this because how detailed and accurate the predictions are. For those who do not believe in God, or who believe God is limited in knowledge and power, or who believe God does not reveal things that have not yet happened, then prophecies such as Daniel chapter eleven are problematic. If you do not believe God can or will reveal things unknown to you, things that have not yet happened, then you will read passages like this with skepticism. But, we believe God does indeed know the future and He has revealed it to His servants, like Daniel. God’s Word affirms the Lord’s ability and purpose to declare ahead of time what will happen in order to demonstrate His power and sovereignty.
Such an assurance of God’s sovereign control of history would have been profoundly relevant for Daniel’s day. Judah was being restored from exile, a fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy and an answer to Daniel’s prayer in chapter nine. Yet, the Jewish people would not really be free. The people of God would be subject to various kings and nations, such as the Persians, and then Alexander the Great, and after that they would be caught in the middle between powerful heirs of Alexander’s empire. Faithful Jews would be tempted to question God’s care for them and His sovereign control of history. How would these turbulent times display God’s concern for His people? How would God ever use His then-insignificant people to bring blessing to the whole world, a promise God made to Abraham? Daniel’s fourth and final vision in this book is therefore meant to reassure God’s faithful people. It is meant to give God’s people a detailed look into the future so that when these things happened they would trust Him.
Summary of Daniel’s Visions
As a brief reminder, God has been revealing things to us to show us His sovereign control of human history. In chapter two, from Nebuchadnezzar’s dream we read about a broad view of future events until the coming of Christ. In chapter seven, we received more detail of future events with a focus on God’s judgment and the Son of Man’s eternal kingdom. In chapter eight, we received more detail about the events surrounding one evil king, Antiochus IV, who caused much trouble for the Jewish people, but whose reign eventually ended and the Temple was restored. In chapter nine, we received another broad view of the future with a focus on seventy periods of seven years, showing that God has appointed the time for things to happen. Chapter ten was Daniel’s preparation for the final vision, which is where we are now. Chapter eleven gives us even more detail about the centuries of conflict immediately after Daniel until the end!
A Mighty King with Great Dominion
This vision described historical events in Daniel’s future where the Jewish people would be caught in the middle of various conflicts. Verse two describes three more kings of Persia and a fourth one who will make war with Greece. Then, verses three and four describe a mighty king from Greece who will defeat the Persian Empire.
Daniel 11:3–4 3 Then a mighty king shall arise, who shall rule with great dominion and do as he wills. 4 And as soon as he has arisen, his kingdom shall be broken and divided toward the four winds of heaven, but not to his posterity, nor according to the authority with which he ruled, for his kingdom shall be plucked up and go to others besides these.
This “great” king would rule a vast empire and he would do as he willed. This king was Alexander the Great, who ruled from 336–323 B.C. But Alexander the Great would die suddenly at a young age and his kingdom would be “broken and divided” into four parts. His enormous empire was divided among his four generals—none of whom were his descendants, his posterity, as the prophecy says. This prophecy is strikingly similar to Daniel’s vision of the “goat” in chapter eight, who was exceedingly great and strong, but was broken into “four horns”. Keep in mind that Daniel saw this vision in 536 B.C., almost two hundred years before Alexander the Great. It is remarkable how precise God revealed to Daniel details about future events. But wait, there is more!
War Between North and the South
The next section of this vision, verses five through twenty, is about several kings from Egypt and Syria. These are the kings from the South (Egypt) and the North (Syria). This section describes the many conflicts between these two kingdoms from the north and the south of Israel, which was caught in the middle and where the wars were often waged. It reminded me of the War Between the States. That war lasted only four years, from 1861-1865. The wars between the North and the South kingdoms described in this vision occurred for well over one hundred years. There was constant conflict between the two kingdoms, but around 250 B.C. Ptolemy II Philadelphus (“the king of the south”) attempted to make peace with Antiochus II Theos (“the king of the north”) by giving his daughter to marry him, which Daniel had predicted. But, royal marriages, as with any marriage, tend to have conflict in themselves. Look at the following verse.
Daniel 11:6 After some years they shall make an alliance, and the daughter of the king of the south shall come to the king of the north to make an agreement. But she shall not retain the strength of her arm, and he and his arm shall not endure, but she shall be given up, and her attendants, he who fathered her, and he who supported her in those times.
Antiochus II (the king from the north) planned to divorce his first wife and disinherit her sons so that he could marry Berenice, the daughter of the king of the south, and have a child who would then rule over his kingdom. But, his wife had him and Berenice killed, fulfilling the words of Daniel that “she shall not retain the strength of her arm and he and his arm shall not endure”. In the same year, Berenice’s father (he who fathered her) died in Egypt. Notice the incredible accuracy of God’s Word about things that had not even happened at the time of Daniel. In the years that followed, there was continued conflict between the north and the south, with Israel caught in the middle of the conflicts.
Daniel 11:11–13 11 Then the king of the south, moved with rage, shall come out and fight against the king of the north. And he shall raise a great multitude, but it shall be given into his hand. 12 And when the multitude is taken away, his heart shall be exalted, and he shall cast down tens of thousands, but he shall not prevail. 13 For the king of the north shall again raise a multitude, greater than the first. And after some years he shall come on with a great army and abundant supplies.
The kings of Egypt and the kings of Syria continued to war with one another. In the midst of these conflicts, the Jewish people would attempt to revolt against Egypt, the king of the south, but they would fail. Many more events would take place. These would be turbulent times. The conflict between the kings of the north and the south also introduced another power in the area, the Roman Empire, who would years later assume control of the whole region. The area would be unsettled with violent attacks and nations threatening one another. What would God’s people do in those times?
A Contemptible Person Shall Arise
Daniel’s vision in chapter eleven also reacquaints us with someone we have already been introduced. This individual is called a “contemptible person”. He was despicable and He was despised. Have you even known someone like this? It is like someone who does everything he can to make you not like him. In the midst of the ongoing conflicts came an evil king of the north who caused great trouble. Look at the following verses.
Daniel 11:21–23 21 In his place shall arise a contemptible person to whom royal majesty has not been given. He shall come in without warning and obtain the kingdom by flatteries. 22 Armies shall be utterly swept away before him and broken, even the prince of the covenant. 23 And from the time that an alliance is made with him he shall act deceitfully, and he shall become strong with a small people.
This contemptible person Daniel mentioned is the same one Daniel called the “little horn” in chapter eight. From the Jewish point of view, he was a vile monster. This vision describes Antiochus IV Epiphanes who seized the throne from his nephew and enlarged his kingdom through military power. According to Jewish history, Antiochus IV was a tyrant who tried to unify his kingdom by forcing all of his subjects to adopt Greek cultural and religious practices. He tried to rule God’s own people by forcing them to denounce their Jewish culture and religion. Verses thirty and thirty-one tell about him “taking action against the holy covenant” and rewarding the Jews who forsook the Jewish covenant and their worship of God. Look at the following verses.
Daniel 11:30-31 30 For ships of Kittim shall come against him, and he shall be afraid and withdraw, and shall turn back and be enraged and take action against the holy covenant. He shall turn back and pay attention to those who forsake the holy covenant. 31 Forces from him shall appear and profane the temple and fortress, and shall take away the regular burnt offering. And they shall set up the abomination that makes desolate.
Antiochus insisted that the Jews refrain from Jewish religious laws, such as their diet, circumcision, Sabbaths, and feasts. He burned copies of the scriptures, ended sacrifice at the temple in Jerusalem, and deliberately defiled the Temple by sacrificing a pig on the altar. He even set up an idol to Zeus in the Temple. When the Jewish people refused to submit to Antiochus’ demands, he then punished them severely. Antiochus ordered a massacre where eighty thousand men, women, and children, including infants, were killed, and many others were sold into slavery. This reign of terror began with the assassination of the high priest and continued until Antiochus’ death. This was not only an attack on God’s people, but it was also an attack on God Himself. It was indeed a dark time for the Jewish people. What could they do? What hope did they have?
The People of God Will Remain Strong
Sometimes bad things are so bad that it may seem tempting to just give in to the demands of evil than to endure hardship and remain faithful. The Jewish people faced that choice over and over again throughout their history. Look at the following verses.
Daniel 11:32-33 32 He shall seduce with flattery those who violate the covenant, but the people who know their God shall stand firm and take action. 33 And the wise among the people shall make many understand, though for some days they shall stumble by sword and flame, by captivity and plunder.
Some people will be seduced by evil men and will break covenant with God. But the faithful people of God will stand firm. They will not turn from God. Some faithful Jews, those “who know their God”, chose to stand strong and die rather than go against God. Many did die for their stand. Some also took action by organizing a revolt, probably referring to those who led the Maccabean Revolt and who rededicated the Temple. This is the event that the Jewish holiday Hanukkah celebrates. The wise among the people who shall make many understand likely refers to those who truly feared God and who encouraged others to fight and even die rather than sin against God. That is the faith we should have. We should encourage others, those who may be on the edge of defeat, on the cusp of hopelessness, to remain strong. We must not give up or give in.
God Has Appointed a Time for All Things
Several times in this vision, we are reminded that God is sovereign of the events in history. God is not surprised by anything, even terrible things that happen. In fact, He has appointed the times for things to begin and to end. Look at the following verse.
Daniel 11:29 At the time appointed he shall return and come into the south, but it shall not be this time as it was before.
This verse probably refers to when Antiochus IV invaded Egypt again, but met a humiliating defeat. The Roman Empire had joined forces with the southern Egyptian kingdom, and Antiochus was no match for them. God had ordained defeat. Then again, we are reminded of the time of the Maccabean Revolt when the Jewish people defeated Antiochus’ hold and took back the Temple. Look at the following verses.
Daniel 11:34–35 34 When they stumble, they shall receive a little help. And many shall join themselves to them with flattery, 35 and some of the wise shall stumble, so that they may be refined, purified, and made white, until the time of the end, for it still awaits the appointed time.
Some of the wise shall stumble likely describes the faithful followers who died in this persecution. Through this persecution the Jewish people would be refined and purified. Similarly, history has shown that the Church has flourished under times of persecution, which may be what Daniel is referring to with “until the time of the end”. But, this could refer to the end of Antiochus’ persecution. God appointed a time for his reign of terror to end, which was with his death. This should remind us of the main theme throughout the book of Daniel. God is sovereign over everything, even history. He has appointed a time for kingdoms to rise and to fall. God has ordained what will happened. Evil may exist for a time. Evil men may rule for a time, but their reign is going to end. God has appointed their time as well as a time for this corrupt world to end and a new glorious one to begin.
In closing, God’s Word is incredible! The vision in Daniel chapter eleven is remarkably detailed even though it was received hundreds of years before the events happened. It may raise the question for us today, “How does this vision of historical events in the past help us today?” I think Paul’s words toward the end of Romans may help us.
Romans 15:4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
One thing we can say is that we can trust God’s Word. God gave Daniel this vision long before the events actually happened, and they were remarkably accurate. Of course, it is not remarkable that God can do it. When God says something, you can take it to the bank. It will happen. This applies to all of the promises God has given us. Has He not said that He will not leave us or forsake us? Has He not said that we are more than conquerors through Christ Who saves us? Has He not said that there is no condemnation for those in Christ? Has He not said that He is preparing a place for us and where He is, we will be with Him one day? So, let these words encourage you. Let them give you hope and assurance. Let them reaffirm your trust in our sovereign God, and your trust in His Word. This is good news. Thanks be to God. Amen!
This sermon was delivered at Good Hope Baptist Church in Wake Forest, NC. More information about Good Hope may be found at the following site: www.GoodHopeBC.org.