The Message about a Great War
The final three chapters of Daniel comprise the record of one vision. As the vision in chapter 2 was about the rock cut out of a mountain (NIV, 2:45), and the vision in chapter 8 was about the 2,300 evenings and mornings (NIV, 8:26), Daniel 10:1 (NIV) alerts us to the focus of this vision, that of “a great war.”1
The wording of 10:1,12 just might indicate that Daniel had already received, but not recorded, a symbolic vision. If that were the case, then chapters 10-12 are about the explanation.
How would you feel?
Daniel’s reaction to both the messenger and the message is understandable. The extended, detailed message was one thing for this old man in his late eighties (536/535 B.C.). The appearance of the messenger was another. He subsequently mourned, eating neither tasty food nor meat, drinking no wine, and using no lotions for three weeks.2
“Time” (September 24, 1965) carried an essay entitled “On War as a Permanent Condition.” Is it any wonder that this prophecy, which covers events only from around 530 B.C. to the end of time, subscribes to the very same position? Until the end there is no end to this ongoing conflict.
Daniel is told that the vision would be fulfilled in a time yet to come (NIV) and that it dealt with what his people would face “in the latter days (KJV).”
The expression, “the latter days” (and the like) is frequently used in Biblical prophecy, pointing to the final part of whatever period of history the prophet has in view.
Jacob used the term “last days” in reference to the ultimate fortune of each of the twelve tribes in the land of Canaan (Genesis 49:1).
Balaam applied the term to the first advent of Christ (Numbers 24:14).
Moses used it in a general sense of the distant future, when Israel would suffer tribulation (Deuteronomy 4:30).
In the New Testament, the expression applies to the period of time since the cross (Hebrews 1:1).
Daniel has to be encouraged to consider this vision and its explanation. When strengthened, he agrees. “Speak, my lord, since you have given me strength (10:20).”
The latter part of chapter 11, in particular, contains allusions to a variety of incidents, on the details of which one should not dogmatize, not yet, anyway. It was James White, husband of Ellen G. White, who wrote, wisely (I think),
In exposition of unfulfilled prophecy, where the history is not written, the student should put forth his proposition with not too much positiveness, lest he find himself straying in the field of fancy (“Review and Herald” November 29, 1877).3
The individual who appeared to Daniel in answer to his concerns and prayers was very much like the risen Lord who appeared to John on Patmos (Revelation 1). Did this being conduct the whole conversation with Daniel in chapter 10? In verse 13 one speaks of “Michael.” If the speaker is in fact the Lord, then one has to conclude that “Michael” is someone other than the Lord. Some see a solution to the “problem” by declaring that the person who speaks to Daniel in verses 10-14 could well be another individual, even Gabriel who had appeared to Daniel in chapter 8:16.4
Anyway, behind the scenes, God’s heavenly agents are at work, interacting with human beings in the great controversy between good and evil, the conflict in which the covenant people are caught (10:13, 20-21).
The Message (Daniel 11, 12)
“Now then, I tell you the truth,” he is told. “Three more kings [after Cyrus] will appear in Persia.”
We know that these were Cambyses (530-532), False Smerdis (522) and Darius I (522-486). The fourth, and richer, was Xerxes (486-465), the “Ahasuerus” of the Book of Esther. The mighty king “who will rule with great power and do as he pleases” was Alexander the Great (336–323 BC). It was Cassander, Lysimachus, Seleucus and Ptolemy to whom his kingdom was “parceled out toward the four winds of heaven.”
Successors to Seleucus and Ptolemy, are introduced in verses 5 and 6 as “the king of the North” and “the king of the South.” Why? From the geographical standpoint of Palestine, the Seleucids, ruling Syria, were north, and the Ptolemies, ruling Egypt, were south.5
Verses 5-20 contain a litany of particulars of an ongoing conflict between the Ptolemies and the Seleucids which would embroil the covenant people. Bible commentators, with some differences of opinion, have written much on how this forecast was fulfilled.6 The angel tells of matters which, in and of themselves, do not buoy the Christian in his spiritual journey but, rather, tend to disappoint. Here are greed, pride, revenge, empire building, deception, treaty violations, scheming, lying, power struggles, the accumulation of wealth, not necessarily in that order. Who enjoys such things? This is the stuff that generates war. And as long as these tendencies are fostered by human beings, ongoing conflicts are inevitable.7 These are the ways of the Gentiles, ways in which God’s people, whether under the old covenant or the new, should never walk.8
From verse 28 a tragedy begins to unfold. The king of the North, at this juncture Antiochus IV Epiphanes, (introduced in verse 21) now takes a great interest in God’s people, not for the purpose of learning from them but with the express purpose of destroying their religion. Opposed by Rome in his objectives for Egypt, Antiochus IV turned his attention on Jerusalem and Judea.
With flattery he succeeded in corrupting not a few, a matter to which history testifies.9 The fact that Hellenism persisted in Judea after the Maccabean victory, to the days of Jesus, is testimony to both its attractions and his influence. However, Daniel was assured that some would be “wise.”
These instructors of many would not escape persecution; they would “fall by the sword or be burned or captured or plundered.” They would even be joined by the insincere. These “wise” would find their experience contributing to their refinement and purification.
In verse 40 the kings of the North and South are mentioned as such for the first time since verses 14 and 15 (KJV).10 However, prior to that, some commentators see the introduction of another power in the words “he that cometh against him (KJV)” (NIV: “the invader”) of verse 16. Could this be Rome? This could be reasonable, given the references to a tax collector (Caesar Augustus?), a contemptible person (Tiberius?), a prince of the covenant (Christ’s crucifixion?), the abomination that causes desolation (the destruction of the temple?).11
At the same time there are commentators who see the information throughout verses 21-35 applying to the King of the North.12
The NIV Bible Commentary reads, “Verses 36-39 contain some features that hardly apply to Antiochus IV, though most of the details could apply to him as well as to his latter-day antitype, ‘the Beast.’ All of chapter 11 to this point contains strikingly accurate predictions of the whole sweep of events from the reign of Cyrus (during which Daniel brought his career to a close) to the unsuccessful effort of Antiochus Epiphanes to stamp out the Jewish faith.” It is equally as hard to apply these verses to Rome, the other “contender” for the role of protagonist.
Regarding the final verses 40-45 this commentary reads, “It is utterly hopeless to try to tie the details of [these verses] into the known career of Antiochus Epiphanes.” Therefore, readers who might indulge in prophetic speculation over these verses should not forget the words of James White, quoted earlier. But, because this final paragraph points to something that is yet to happen, either just prior to the final events described in chapter 12 or concurrent with them, consider this written by Hans K. LaRondelle, a point with which we will be faced in our study of the Revelation.
The Biblical focus of prophecy is never on Israel as a people or a nation, as such, but on Israel as the believing, worshiping, covenant people, as the messianic community.
Further, in Christ’s applications of the divine promises to Israel,
The removal of the old ethnic restrictions among the new-covenant people entails the removal of the old geographic Middle East center for Christ’s Church. Wherever Christ is, there is the holy space.13
By accepting this thesis we now view 11:40-45 from a worldwide perspective. The antagonists are engaged in an end-time conflict with each other. The “Beautiful Land” now refers to the Church, wherever her people are in this world. Edom, Moab, Ammon, represent old enemies who, in days to come, are her allies. The King of the North, still the avowed desecrator of things belonging to God, and now the obvious anti-Christ, gains control of riches in distant lands, “Egypt, Libya and Nubia.”14 But “tidings” disturb this king so much that he engages in what appears to be a final struggle to survive. His final stand, depicted in geographical terms as “between the seas at the beautiful holy mountain,” isolates the covenant people. Then his end comes, with no one coming to his rescue. How?
After the jostling for power by these two kings and their armies, the king for whom all of God’s people are looking will “arise” or “stand.” He is none other than Michael, the great prince who protects your people, intervening when all seems lost.
Then follow good news and bad news. Trouble like you’ve never seen before. Deliverance, but only for those who are registered in “the book” [of Life].15 Eternal life for the “wise.”
The words of 12:4, (KJV: “many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased”) far from being a prophecy of advances in science, technology and transport, which are irrelevant in this context, foretell a renewed interest in Daniel’s record. Its sealing refers to its preservation. When all has come to pass, its students will say, “So that’s what was intended!”16
Then cometh the end
The age-old question of the day was raised again. “How long?” “How long shall it be to the end of these wonders (KJV, NASB, NRSV)?” “How long will it be before these astonishing things are fulfilled (NIV)?” The answer, “It will be for a time, times and half a time. When the power of the holy people has been finally broken, all these things will be completed.” The Hebrew term used here translated “time” is “mo`ed” a word that focuses on the annual festivals, solemn assemblies and appointed times. This implies then a definite period, at the end of which the power of God’s people will be shattered (not scattered). Indeed a time of trouble for God’s people. Attempts to convert this period into a longer period, e.g., on the basis of a year for each day within each “mo`ed,” have been far from satisfactory. This period, and that referred to in verses 11 and 12, are more likely to be about the duration of the final crisis of about 3 ½ years.17
Because in these last days the performance of the Jewish daily sacrifice (the continual burnt offering) is not important except as a matter of history, the reference in 12:11 to its abolition and substitution with “the abomination that causes desolation” would have to apply to the pollution of the Church “by a form of worship which will [be] execrable in the sight of God.”18 Between the abolition of the one and the establishment of the other will be 1,290 days. However, a blessing awaits the person who endures another 45 days. Between that future event and the resurrection there will be, at the most, 1,335 days. Daniel was then told that he would rest and, at the end of those days, rise to stand in his allotted place.
We first met him when he was a captive of Nebuchadnezzar and trained to stand before that king. His loyalty to the King of kings will be rewarded with a place in His presence.
If the last chapters teach us anything they certainly tell us that there is a God in heaven who is prepared to allow the rulers and nations of this world to “do their thing.” Then He will step in. One day He will take the final step in the establishment of His own kingdom. Although current events may seem as complex as those outlined in chapters 10-12, God appeals to us to be patient. If we are, we will, one day, with Daniel, rise to receive our allotted inheritance.
1. NIV. (The JB, NRSV and NASB read “conflict.”) The KJV of this verse reads, “the time appointed [Heb. saba`] was long.” SDABC comments, “Inasmuch as the [Hebrew] word [saba`] everywhere else apparently has to do with an army, or warfare, or hard service, and inasmuch as in these three passages [Job 7:1; 14:4; Daniel 10:1] the same ideas of warfare, or hard service, make excellent sense, these definitions probably ought to be retained here. The present text seems to emphasize an intensity of struggle rather than an extended period of time. The passage may [then] be translated, “even a great warfare” (RV), or “it was a great conflict” (RSV).”
2. Gaebelein, Frank E. (ed.) The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 7 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1985), 122.
3. Quoted in SDABC on Daniel 11:45.
4. Ford, Desmond, Daniel (Nashville, TN: Southern Publishing Association, 1978), 249.
5. Daniel 11:8 confirms this.
6. See, for example, Ford, Desmond, op. cit., Gaebelein, Frank E., op. cit., Nichol, Francis D., The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1978).
7. James 4:1-4
8. Read Ephesians 4 and 5!
9. See our comments on Daniel 8.
10. The NIV employs the term “King of the North” in verse 28, but it should be noted that the king of the North is the object/target of an invader mentioned in verse 16. In that case, it is this invader who is the subject of certain pronouns in verses 17ff. For that reason, this invader is understood by some commentators to be Rome.
11. See Christ’s forecast in Matthew 24:15 and Luke 21:20. The term “abomination of desolation (KJV)” applies to the installation of idolatry by an idolatrous invader.
According to F. F. Bruce, Roman soldiers, while the temple was still burning, set up their legionary standards in the sacred precincts, offered sacrifices, and acclaimed Titus as imperator. This “was the supreme insult to the God of Israel.” Quoted in La Rondelle, Hans K., The Israel of God in Prophecy (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 1983), 200.
12. For details regarding this view see Gaebelein, Frank E., op. cit.
13. La Rondelle, op. cit., 142, 209.
14. Ford, op. cit., 276.
15. Philippians 4:3; Revelation 3:5;13:8;17:8; 20:12, 15; 21:27; 22:19.
16. John 14:29.
17. See Ford, op. cit., 283.
© 2010, Angus McPhee