Summary: An angel reveals to Daniel the struggles that are ahead for God’s people in his own time and unto the end of the age.
DANIEL 11 THE TIME OF THE END
We have come to the closing section of the prophecy of Daniel. He had faithfully recorded the visions he had seen and the interpretation of many strange symbols. But now they give way to a straightforward narrative from the lips of the angel who had given him the meaning of the struggle being waged between good and evil, both in heaven and on earth. Symbols and pictures are valuable in God’s communication with us, but nothing can take the place of the direct word from the Lord - and we have it here in the Scriptures. We see first of all:
THE CONFLICT BETWEEN THE KINGS OF THE NORTH AND THE SOUTH
The prophecy begins by recalling the conflict between the Persian empire and the emerging kingdom of Greece, the ram and the goat of chapter 8. It goes on to trace the history of the Grecian empire after it split into the dominant region of Syria and Palestine, referred to by Daniel as "the king of the North", and that of Egypt, "the king of the South". Daniel gives a detailed account of their alliances, intrigues and wars, often invading the land of Israel, referred to as "the Beautiful Land", in the process. It was a difficult time for God’s people.
If we accept the view that these are Daniel’s words, spoken in the sixth century, and not some late addition to the text, what we have here is a fairly detailed account of history before it took place. This has made people wonder, if history is foreknown by God, are human beings free to decide as to their actions? Are we only marionettes automatically controlled to produce a predetermined stage play? But this isn’t the case, because God has given mankind a large measure of freedom of choice. It’s recorded that the king of the South did "as he pleases" (11:16, 36).
The whole story of the Old Testament is that, although God controls history, he does so in such a way as to give free play to human decision and where necessary, opportunity for genuine repentance. He makes room for his own answers to prayers for help and deliverance to those who call upon him. We know that God is working his purposes out, even through the wrath of man. The crucifixion of Jesus is the best example of God’s sovereignty while at the same time leaving room for free human decision and responsibility for action.
The references to "the king of the North" and "the king of the South" are used as general expressions and are not restricted to the first rulers of Syria and Egypt. In fact it stretches over two centuries, giving an account of their repeated conflicts, often subjecting the people of Israel to great hardship. This is especially so at the time of Antiochus Epiphanes, described as "a contemptible person" (21). This "king of the North" came to power by intrigue and treachery, and continued his reign as he began. He had several campaigns against Egypt but failed to win a decisive victory and had to withdraw. It seems he then turned his fury upon the Jews, and in particular, "against the holy covenant" (29, 30).
Antiochus made an alliance with the apostate among the Jews and fiercely persecuted those who dared to keep God’s covenant, desecrating the temple and altar. In arrogant blasphemy he had his statue erected in the temple, and required all his subjects to follow his heathen religion. He went as far as sacrificing a pig, an unclean animal, on the altar of burn offerings. It was this sacrilege which gave rise to the Maccabean uprising. The Jews referred to these acts as “the abomidation that causes the desolation” since it polluted their altar and made sacrifice to Jehovah impossible. Jesus predicted that another similar atrocity would befall the Jews in the near future (Matt 24:15; Mark 13:14) quoting Daniel’s words.
Even in this dark age in the history of Israel when there was no prophetic voice, there was a faithful remnant, "the people who know their God will firmly resist" (32). This minority remained steadfast and refused to renounce their God, even though it resulted in many a martyrdom. History has repeated itself many times over the years, and will do so increasingly as the end of the age draws near. The amazingly detailed prophecies of this chapter, fulfilled in part or whole, reminded the readers down the centuries that the final prophecies would be the outworking of God under his divine control even though they would involve suffering for the people of God.
The writer to the Hebrews refers to unnamed heroes of faith who endured terrible privation and cruelty, of whom "the world was not worthy" (11:38). Tribulation and persecution have always been a divine means of testing reality of faith and of purging away the dross. Trials and difficulties are sometimes permitted by the Lord for the express purpose of proving and purifying a believer’s faith. The Apostle Paul could have chosen an easy life when he was saved on the Damascus road. He could have settled down to a comfortable life as a Christian businessman in Antioch. But he didn’t do that (2 Corinthians 11:23-31). He went out to serve God and endured hardship. He suffered many beatings; he was stoned, suffered shipwreck and faced many dangers in his service for God. He was determined that he would not offer Christ any service that cost him nothing.