History and Prophecy of the Middle East
For most, the fact that Daniel 10 and 11 record nearly 400 years of Middle Eastern conflict is not a big deal. After all, there are thousands of history books, many of which give a much more detailed account of the history than Daniel. But what makes Daniel’s version different is that it was written before the events happened! That’s right. Daniel wrote about 400 years of history before it was history! That makes it fulfilled prophecy. But part of this recorded history is yet to be fulfilled. Daniel said it would happen at the “time of the end.”
In this booklet, we will cover both parts of Daniel’s prophecy: that which has already been fulfilled, and that which will be fulfilled. Once you discover how astonishingly accurate Daniel was in recording events that have since happened, there should be no question that what he said would happen in the near future WILL, in fact, happen. As we study this passage, please read along in your own Bible, and learn this vital Middle East lesson in history and prophecy.
A Great Conflict
Daniel 10:10 through 12:4 is the longest single vision in the Bible. God revealed it to Daniel during the third year of the reign of Cyrus the Great (Daniel 10:1)—around 535 b.c. That date alone makes what Daniel wrote in chapter 11 astonishing.
Daniel 10:1 says the vision given to Daniel “was true, but the time appointed was long.” Moffatt translates this better: “the true revelation of a great conflict.” That’s what this prophecy is about—great conflict. Lange’s Commentary titles this vision of Daniel “great tribulation.” It’s a vision about violence, warfare and bloodshed. And, as we shall see, it all revolves around the Middle East.
Let’s pick up the story in verse 14: “Now I am come to make thee understand what shall befall thy people in the latter days: for yet the vision is for many days.” “Latter days” means the time just prior to the return of Jesus Christ. Even though much of this prophecy was fulfilled centuries ago, the main fulfillment of this passage is during the latter days—the time we are living in now.
Verse 1 of chapter 11 is actually a continuation of the thought in chapter 10. We now come to the specifics of this incredible prophecy.
The End of Persia Prophesied
“And now will I shew thee the truth. Behold, there shall stand up yet three kings in Persia; and the fourth shall be far richer than they all: and by his strength through his riches he shall stir up all against the realm of Grecia” (verse 2). Remember, Daniel received this vision during the third year of Cyrus the Great—the founder of the Medo-Persian Empire. God said there would be four more kings to reign after Cyrus. Actually, there were at least 12 more Persian kings after Cyrus, but there is a reason God only drew attention to the four who followed him.
Cyrus had two sons, Cambyses and Smerdis. After inheriting his father’s throne, Cambyses secretly killed his younger brother. Cambyses ruled from 529 to 522 b.c. His reign was short-lived, because after returning to Persia from an Egyptian expedition in 522, he found one by the name of Gomates who had usurped the throne by impersonating Cambyses’s dead brother! Cambyses was so disheartened he committed suicide.
After discovering the imposter, however, Persian nobles rejected him in favor of Darius i, who ruled from 521 to 484 b.c. This third king who followed Cyrus has been called “the second founder of the Persian Empire” because of his empirical expansion efforts and his popular domestic policies.
Darius’s son, Xerxes, inherited the powerful empire his father had built. He was the strongest and richest of all Persian kings, just like it says in Daniel 11:2: “[A]nd when he has become strong through his riches, he shall stir up all against the kingdom of Greece” (Revised Standard Version).
Let’s now get historical confirmation of these prophesied events from Myers’s classic volume Ancient History: “After crushing the Egyptian revolt and suppressing another uprising in Babylonia, the Great King [Xerxes] was free to devote his attention to the distant Greeks” (page 93). Just as Daniel said! Xerxes stirred up his empire against Greece. But it ended in disaster when his naval fleet, as Myers says, was “cut to pieces.” It was the beginning of the end for the Persian Empire, as Myers notes: “The power and supremacy of the Persian monarchy passed away with the reign of Xerxes. The last 140 years of the existence of the empire was a time of weakness and anarchy, which presents nothing that need claim our attention in this place” (ibid.). Note that! After Cyrus, Myers feels that only four other Persian kings are worth mentioning!
As we continue studying this remarkable prophecy, you will see that there are just too many historical details revealed in advance for this to be mere coincidence. Verse 3: “And a mighty king shall stand up, that shall rule with great dominion, and do according to his will.” Verse 2 said Xerxes began tangling with Greece. And in verse 3, we read that a mighty Grecian king stood to “rule with great dominion.” His name was Alexander the Great. He arrived in 334 b.c. to crush what remained of the Persians. (The Medo-Persian Empire had been in steady decline for over a hundred years, ever since Xerxes made the mistake of attacking Greece.)
Myers notes that once Alexander slew the weak Persian king, he regarded himself not only as conqueror, but as successor to the Persian throne. This is especially interesting considering what God revealed in Daniel 2 about four world-ruling empires that succeed each other up until Jesus Christ returns to Earth to set up His Kingdom. Alexander’s Grecian Empire was the third of these biblically prophesied world powers. (First was the Chaldean Empire, then the Medo-Persian, Alexander’s Greco-Macedonian and finally the Roman Empire.)
Alexander’s Empire Divided
Continuing in Daniel 11, verse 4: “And when he [Alexander] shall stand up, his kingdom shall be broken, and shall be divided toward the four winds of heaven; and not to his posterity, nor according to his dominion which he ruled: for his kingdom shall be plucked up, even for others beside those.” Alexander’s reign was cut short in 323 b.c. by his untimely death at age 32. There was no one strong enough to rule the vast expanse of his territory. Thus, his kingdom was divided into four parts, each ruled by one of Alexander’s generals. Myers describes the fragmented state of the empire after Alexander’s death: “Besides minor states, four monarchies rose out of the the ruins. Their rulers were Cassander, Lysimachus, Seleucus Nicator and Ptolemy, who had each assumed the title of king. The great horn was broken, and instead of it came up four notable ones toward the four winds of heaven” (pages 286–287). Again, note that! In that last sentence, Myers refers to Daniel 8:8! (Study Daniel 8:2–8, 20–22 as a parallel to Daniel 11:4.) Even Myers can’t help but draw attention to Daniel’s amazingly accurate prophecy, written 200 years before Alexander’s empire was divided among his four generals!
Cassander ruled over Greece and Macedonia, and Lysimachus ruled Asia Minor. These two were the weaker of the four generals.
The other two, however, are significant, especially in how they set the stage for two centuries of conflict and struggle in the Middle East. It is these two kingdoms, one north of Jerusalem, the other south, that Daniel 11 primarily focuses on in the next several verses.
Kings of the North and South
Seleucus ended up with Alexander’s far-eastern territory, all the way to India. His western boundary included the region known as Syria today. He ruled the general region of ancient Assyria, and also Babylon. “This kingdom,” according to Myers, “during the two centuries and more of its existence, played an important part in the civil history of the world” (page 290).
Ptolemy captured Egypt, Judea, and part of Syria. This kingdom was perhaps the most important of the four divisions, insofar as its influence upon civilization.
“And the king of the south shall be strong, and one of his princes; and he shall be strong above him, and have dominion; his dominion shall be a great dominion” (Daniel 11:5). This verse more specifically explains how the two strongest empires of the four divisions developed. For a while, after Alexander’s death, Ptolemy (Egypt) was the most powerful (“the king of the south shall be strong”). Seleucus Nicator was originally one of Ptolemy’s generals (or “princes”) in Syria. But while Ptolemy was tied up in war after Alexander’s death, Seleucus gained control in the north, founding the dynasty of Seleucidæ in 312 b.c. And, as verse 5 says, this dynasty actually exceeded the king of the south in power and might. It was the kingdom of Seleucus that then most closely resembled the great empire under Alexander.
Notice the amazing details God provides in verse 6: “And in the end of years they shall join themselves [or ‘associate themselves’] together; for the king’s daughter of the south shall come to the king of the north to make an agreement ….”
After 50 years, this prophecy was fulfilled to the letter. By this time, Antiochus ii (called Theos) ruled the northern kingdom in Syria. His wife’s name was Laodice. Largely because of his wife’s influence, Antiochus ii was persuaded to initiate war with Ptolemy Philadelphus, king of the south, in 260 b.c. The war was terminated in 252 when, as prophesied, the king of the south’s daughter came to the north to “make an agreement.” Antiochus Theos banished his wife Laodice when Philadelphus offered his daughter Bernice. The two married and both kingdoms temporarily joined themselves together. “[B]ut she shall not retain the power of the arm; neither shall he stand, nor his arm …” (verse 6). In other words, though strengthened by that union, neither Antiochus Theos nor Bernice could retain that power.
Continuing this incredible verse: “[B]ut [Bernice] shall be given up, and they that brought her, and he that begat her, and he that strengthened her in these times.” Indeed, after Ptolemy Philadelphus died in 247 b.c., Theos promptly gave up Bernice and retained Laodice as his wife. Still fuming from being banished years earlier, Laodice stayed with Theos long enough to conceive and then promptly murdered her husband, thus securing the throne for her son, Seleucus ii. She then tracked down Bernice and assassinated her as well, squelching the last hope of the Ptolemies to have a descendent on the Seleucidæ throne in the north.
The story continues in Daniel 11: “But then shall arise a scion of her [Bernice’s] own family, in succession to his father, who shall head an army to enter the fortress of the king of the north; he shall take action and master the men of the north” (verse 7, Moffatt). The King James translation says one “out of a branch of her roots” would stand and fight against the king of the north. This branch from her own family was none other than Ptolemy iii, Bernice’s brother. He invaded Syria in 245 b.c. and quickly avenged his sister’s death by murdering Laodice. Verse 7 was precisely accurate in describing Ptolemy’s victorious conquest. He acquired most all of the Syrian realm, from Cilicia to the Tigris, and besieged “the fortress of the king of the north” in Syria.
Verse 8 says Ptolemy iii would carry many captives and spoils back to Egypt, which he did—history confirms more than 2,500 molten images and vessels. God also prophesied that Ptolemy’s reign would continue longer than that of his counterpart in the north, Seleucus ii. God was right again. Ptolemy outlasted him by four years.
“But his [Seleucus’s] sons shall be stirred up, and shall assemble a multitude of great forces: and one shall certainly come, and overflow, and pass through: then shall he return, and be stirred up, even to his fortress” (verse 10). The plot thickens! After Seleucus ii died, what was left of his kingdom was divided between his two sons, Seleucus iii (226–223) and Antiochus iii, called “the Great” (223–187). The prophecy in verse 10 quickly narrows its focus to one of these sons, Antiochus iii, no doubt because the other died three years into his reign. Verse 10 describes the two expeditions Antiochus led against Egypt. The second one, after 27 years, enabled him to re-capture his fortress, Seleucia.
Verses 11–12 prophesied that the young Egyptian king, Ptolemy iv (Philopater), would not wallow in defeat: “In a fit of mad rage the king of the south shall march out to fight the king of the north, who shall raise a large army, but it shall fall into the hands of his foe and be taken prisoner, to the proud joy of the king of the south, who shall rout tens of thousands of them” (Moffatt).
Once again, Egypt gained control of Judea, but only for a short time. Verse 13 foretold another resurgence by the king of the north in this see-saw battle over the Middle East. It says after “certain years” (actually it was 12 years, bringing us to 205 b.c.), Antiochus iii returned with greater riches and a bigger army. Antiochus garnered military support from Philip of Macedonia and others. Jewish historian Josephus says many Jews helped in this fight against Egypt.
Now consider how accurately God foretold of this anti-Egyptian alliance hundreds of years in advance: “And in those times there shall many stand up against the king of the south …” (verse 14). Indeed, Daniel 11 is an astonishing prophecy! The next time someone tries to cast aside the Bible as flawed and uninspired, point them to this prophecy!
The next several verses give more details concerning Antiochus the Great’s conquests. Verse 15 says he would come upon Egypt and “take the most fenced cities,” a probable reference to his capture of Sidon. Verse 16 says “he shall stand in the glorious land, which by his hand shall be consumed.” The “glorious land” refers to the land of Judea. After Antiochus captured Sidon, he defeated Egypt at Mount Panium in 198 b.c. and assumed control of Judea. This fulfilled prophecy is important because it sets the stage for a latter-day prophecy discussed at the end of Daniel 11, which will again revolve around the glorious land.
In verse 17, Daniel wrote, “He shall also set his face to enter with the strength of his whole kingdom ….” Antiochus’s success in Phoenicia, Syria and Judea prompted him to go after the “whole kingdom,” meaning Egypt. Verse 17 continues, “… and he shall give him the daughter of women, corrupting her: but she shall not stand on his side, neither be for him.” After his military venture into Egypt in 198 b.c., Antiochus the Great offered his daughter Cleopatra (not the Egyptian queen of 31 b.c.) to the young Ptolemy, hoping to gain complete possession of Egypt. It didn’t work, as verse 17 verifies. Cleopatra knew she was only being offered as bait. She betrayed her father and gave her full support to her new husband, the king of Egypt.
Antiochus focused his energies elsewhere. “Thereafter he shall turn to the coastlands of the West [off Asia Minor] and capture many of them, but a certain Roman general shall put a stop to his defiant insults and pay him back for them” (verse 18, Moffatt). By this time, the Romans were beginning their ascension to world rule. The young Roman general mentioned in this scripture is Lucius Scipio Asiaticus. He crushed Antiochus’s forces in the Battle of Magnesia in 190 b.c.
Tail between his legs, Antiochus iii returned to his own land (verse 19). He died in 187 b.c.
“Then shall stand up in his estate a raiser of taxes in the glory of the kingdom: but within few days he shall be destroyed, neither in anger, nor in battle” (verse 20). Antiochus was succeeded by his son Seleucus Philopator (187–176). As the scripture notes, he was famous for collecting taxes. He sent a tax collector by the name of Heliodorus throughout Judea, hoping to raise money for the waning empire. The scripture says his reign would be short-lived and that he would die neither in anger nor battle. History confirms that his brief, 11-year reign was cut short by his tax-collector Heliodorus, who poisoned him.
Since Seleucus left no heir, the other son of Antiochus the Great was left to wrest control of the empire from Heliodorus. The other son was called Epiphanes (Antiochus iv).
Thus we reach a critical turn in the Daniel 11 story. Antiochus Epiphanes was responsible for setting up the abomination of desolation. This is significant because of a prophecy concerning an end-time abomination of desolation (Matthew 24:15; Luke 21:20). (There is also a spiritual dimension to this story because it revolved around the temple anciently. Today, in this end time, the Church is that temple; Ephesians 2:21.)
Antiochus Epiphanes was a ruthless dictator who obtained rule through deceitful lies and flatteries. Verse 21 of Daniel 11 said he would “come in peaceably, and obtain the kingdom by flatteries.” Rawlinson gives the historical account of this event in his authoritative Manual of Ancient History: ”Antiochus, assisted by Eumenes, drives out Heliodorus, and obtains the throne, b.c. 176. He astonishes his subjects by an affectation of Roman manners.” Antiochus Epiphanes gained control by pretending to be someone he really wasn’t.
Continue in verse 22: “The opposing forces shall be swept before him and shattered, and so shall God’s high priest” (Moffatt). In this verse, we begin to see how much Antiochus hated the Jews. Rulers before him had typically treated the Jews well. But Epiphanes’s ruthlessness toward the Jews far surpassed that of his fathers (verse 24). Verse 22 says Antiochus would even go so far as to murder the Jewish high priest. History confirms that Onias iii was high priest in Judea at the time, and that Antiochus put him to death in 172 b.c. According to Rawlinson, Jews “were driven to desperation by the mad project of this self-willed monarch.”
In 168 b.c., Antiochus pillaged and desecrated the Jews’ temple in Jerusalem. Greek historian Polybius observed that he “despoiled most sanctuaries.” He also burdened the Jews with unbearable taxes. “Throughout the turbulent changes of its past history,” Werner Keller writes in The Bible as History, ”Israel had been spared none of the horror and ignominy which could befall a nation. But never before, neither under the Assyrians nor under the Babylonians, had it received such a blow as the edict issued by Antiochus Epiphanes by which he hoped to crush and destroy the faith of Israel” (page 331; see also 1 Maccabees 1:44). Much of this struggle between the Jews and the Syrian kingdom is recorded in the book of Maccabees (in the Hebrew Bible).
Verse 23 shows that even though this vile human being only had a few supporters at the outset, he eventually gained a large following through deceit and flatteries.
Verse 24: “He shall enter peaceably even upon the fattest places of the province; and he shall do that which his fathers have not done, nor his fathers’ fathers; he shall scatter among them the prey, and spoil, and riches: yea, and he shall forecast his devices against the strong holds, even for a time.” In this end time, we will witness another force that enters into the Holy Land “peaceably.” But, like Antiochus, the leader of this end-time peace-keeping force will not really want peace.
Verse 25 tells of another great clash between Epiphanes and the king of the south. It was his second successful Egyptian campaign. This clash revolved around Jerusalem. Verse 27 says both kings were mischievous and lied to each other.
On his return from Egypt, Antiochus encountered another Maccabean insurrection. Verse 28 says his heart was against the “holy covenant.” “He shall do exploits” means Antiochus just did as he pleased against the Jews. He massacred them.
In verse 29, God prophesied of a third campaign into Egypt. But this one did not fair well for Antiochus. Verse 30 says the “ships of Chittim” came against him. He was cut off by a Roman fleet from Cyprus. Defeated and dejected, Antiochus returned to the land of Judea and took his frustration out on the Jews. Verse 30 says he again had “indignation against the holy covenant”—God’s people. Then it says he had intelligence with a disloyal contingent of God’s people. In other words, he was plotting deceitfully with people inside the temple.
Verse 31: “And arms shall stand on his part, and they shall pollute the sanctuary of strength, and shall take away the daily sacrifice, and they shall place the abomination that maketh desolate.” Here we find the Bible’s first reference to the abomination of desolation. Consider the scene as Daniel describes it. Moffatt says “armed forces shall be set on foot by” Antiochus. It is talking about an army in Jerusalem. This army is what makes Jerusalem desolate. It desecrates the holy place and takes away the daily sacrifice (see also Daniel 8:11, 24). This happened in 167 b.c. Tradition says that Antiochus built a statue of Jupiter Olympus in the holy of holies—the holiest place inside the temple. He tried to stamp out the Jewish religion altogether.
“And such as do wickedly against the covenant shall he corrupt by flatteries: but the people that do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits [or take action]” (Daniel 11:32). Most of the Jews were deceived by flatteries. But there were a few who did make a stand and take action. A few Maccabees acted on what they knew to be right. These few instructed the many, as it says in verse 33. Some of those faithful few even lost their lives for doing what was right.
Throughout history, it has always been the few who have stood up and done what was right. There were just a few during Christ’s day. Many of them were martyred. Jesus was crucified.
Verses 34–35: “Now when they shall fall, they shall be holpen with a little help: but many shall cleave to them with flatteries. And some of them of understanding shall fall, to try them, and to purge, and to make them white, even to the time of the end: because it is yet for a time appointed.” This prophecy describes the present condition within God’s Church today. But it also describes the history of God’s Church in general. God says many of understanding have fallen to deceitful lies and flatteries. When that happens, their only “help” comes from the faithful few who take a stand.
The New King of the North
We now come to a critical transition in Daniel 11. “And the king shall do according to his will; and he shall exalt himself, and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak marvellous things against the God of gods, and shall prosper till the indignation be accomplished: for that that is determined shall be done” (verse 36).
As we have already noted, when Antiochus went down to Egypt for the third time, his forces were resisted by Roman ships. Antiochus’s Syrian kingdom was on its last leg. By 65 b.c., it was swallowed up by the Roman Empire. The region became a Roman province.
Now here is the key point. Because the Roman emperor now controlled Judea, references to the king of the north from this point forward in Daniel 11 refer to the Roman Empire, not Antiochus. Verse 36 is an apt description of Roman emperors who have historically done according to their own will, even exalting themselves above God.
Elsewhere in Daniel (chapters 2 and 7), God prophesied of four world-ruling empires that would succeed each other right up to the coming of the Messiah at the end of this age. The Roman Empire was the fourth and final empire to rule before the coming of the Messiah.
Verses 37–38 continue to describe this new line of Roman rulers in the region called the “king of the north.” Historically, Roman emperors have set themselves up to rule in God’s stead.
Verse 39: “Thus shall he do in the most strong holds with a strange god, whom he shall acknowledge and increase with glory: and he shall cause them to rule over many, and shall divide the land for gain.” These rulers of the king of the north do practice a religion, but, as verse 39 says, it’s the religion of a strange god.
Prophecy Shifts to End Time
Now we see how this amazing prophecy in Daniel 11 will affect everyone on Earth. Verse 40: “And at the time of the end shall the king of the south push at him: and the king of the north shall come against him like a whirlwind, with chariots, and with horsemen, and with many ships; and he shall enter into the countries, and shall overflow and pass over.” Moffatt begins verse 40 by saying, “When the end arrives.” At this point, the prophecy jumps way ahead to the time we are living in now. It brings us right up to date with today’s news.
God says that when the end arrives, the king of the south will push at the king of the north—or the Roman Empire, which, for the last 1,500 years, has resided in the heart of Europe. The word “push” in verse 40 means to strike or to wage war against. It denotes violence. Both sides will be motivated by radical religion. Centuries of recorded history prove that when it comes to religion in the Middle East, it often means war.
And who is this king of the south which pushes so violently? Anciently, it was south of Jerusalem in Egypt. In this end time, it will comprise a conglomerate of nations much larger and more powerful than ancient Egypt. Much of this force will be south of Jerusalem, but not all of it. Certainly, though, we know it will be south of the resurrected Roman Empire.
The nations around the Holy Land, for the most part, are Islamic. It is this great power, fast becoming a force to be reckoned with, which is the king of the south. Most notable among the rising tide of radical Islam is Iran, which, since the end of the Iran-Iraq War in 1988, has accumulated massive military might. It is considered the world’s number-one sponsor of terrorism. And with the support of many other Islamic nations, like Iraq, Algeria, Egypt and Libya, Iran will be able to deliver a formidable “push” against the king of the north.
But, as the next verse reveals, it will be no match for the whirlwind response of the European force. We can see this force now developing, but the sheer might of its power will not be unveiled until this moment. Verse 41 says many nations “shall be overthrown”—more than just Egypt (as in ancient times), although verse 42 shows that this nation will certainly be one of them. God says Egypt will not escape the whirlwind—neither will the rest of the king of the south. The Edomites, the Moabites and the children of Ammon—the modern-day region of Jordan—will be spared.
Then the king of the north enters into the glorious land—or Jerusalem. The Hebrew word for “enter” indicates a peaceful entry. But, like Antiochus Epiphanes, the king will deceive with flatteries, and what will be revealed is another abomination of desolation. This king of the north will eventually conquer all the end-time nations of Israel. (For more on this subject, request your free copy of The United States and Britain in Prophecy.)
Verse 44: “But tidings out of the east and out of the north shall trouble him: therefore he shall go forth with great fury to destroy, and utterly to make away many.” Tidings to the east (the Orient) and the north (Russia) will worry the king of the north. Other scriptural passages discuss this communist army that challenges the king of the north for supremacy.
Verse 45 shows that the king of the north will establish its headquarters in Jerusalem—in the “glorious holy mountain.”
Now continue in Daniel 12:1. Remember, this is all one vision. Notice what these events lead to: “And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book.” This time of trouble leads to God protecting His people in a place of safety.
Soon thereafter, the Messiah will descend on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem—that holy mountain—and put a stop to the violence and bloodshed. The saints will rule with the Messiah and help to establish God’s government over all the Earth (Daniel 2:44; 7:13–14, 18, 27)
This vision, recorded from Daniel 10:10 through 12:4, begins with the kingdoms of Syria and Egypt that developed soon after the death of Alexander the Great 2,300 years ago. But it concludes with the resurrection of the saints and the return of Messiah and the eventual peace and happiness He will bring to this world. What a vision!
Now here is the point: Most of that vision, as we have already noted, was fulfilled to a tee centuries after the book of Daniel was recorded. Now what does that mean to you? Doesn’t it mean that the remaining, unfulfilled details of this vision are sure, and they will happen? Of course they will.
A European superpower is fast becoming the world’s greatest power. The rise of Islam is there for all to see. These two powers will clash. The abomination of desolation will be set up in Jerusalem one last time. And just as surely as those events will unfold, the Messiah will arrive on this Earth in power and glory, as dozens of scriptures confirm!
The question is not whether or not those events will occur. The question is, What are you doing to prepare for it?