In Daniel 8 the prophet wrote about the conflict between Persia and Greece, and the aftermath of that conflict and its ramifications for the Jews. Daniel warned about a “little horn” who would turn toward the “glorious land” and make war against God’s people (8:9-14, 23-25). In Daniel 11 we receive expanded details about this period.
As we learned in Daniel 8, Alexander’s empire was divided among his four generals (the Diadochoi). From the standpoint of the Jews, the most important of these generals and their successors were Ptolemy in Egypt and Seleucus in Syria. Israel was caught in between these power centers as the kings of the south (the Ptolemies) and the kings of the north (the Seleucids) struggled for dominance.
I. Persia and Greece (11:2-4)
A. The kings of Persia (11:2).
1. Daniel says “three more kings shall arise in Persia” (11:2a). If he is speaking in strict chronological order, then the next three kings of Persia are Cambyses (530-522 B.C.), Smerdis (522 B.C.), and Darius I Hystaspes (522-486 B.C.).
2. “And a fourth will be far richer than all of them” (11:2b). The fourth king of Persia would be Xerxes (486-465 B.C.). This wealth of Xerxes is recorded for us in Esther 1:3-4, where he is called Ahasuerus.
3. It could be that Daniel is not speaking of three immediate successors, but is looking ahead to the future, just before the fall of Persia.
B. The kings of Greece (11:3-4).
1. The “mighty king” in 11:3 is undoubtedly Alexander the Great (the goat of Daniel 8).
2. Just as the horn of the goat in 8:8 became four horns, the kingdom of the mighty king in 11:4 is broken and divided “toward the four winds of heaven.” This refers to the Diadiochoi, Alexander’s successors.
II. The Struggle Between the Ptolemies and Seleucids (11:5-20)
1. This section of Daniel 11 recounts in fine detail the power struggle between the Ptolemies in the south (Egypt) and the Seleucids in the north (Syria).
2. Approaches to this prophecy:
a) Because the detail is so specific and so accurate, many scholars assume that this was written after the fact, and it history rather than prophecy. This is because they do not believe predictive prophecy is possible.
b) Those who believe in the inspiration of Scripture have no problem in principle with predictive prophecy. However, the degree of specificity is unparalleled in Scripture.
c) One suggestion is that since there would be no prophets between the testaments that God gave His people unusually specific information to fill that gap.
B. Alliance between south and north (11:5-6).
1. The king of the south (11:5a) was Ptolemy I Soter, a general who served under Alexander. He was given authority over Egypt in 323 B.C. and proclaimed king of Egypt in 304.
2. The prince who was stronger (11:5b) was a general named Seleucus Nicator.
a) He was given a governoship over Babylon until he was threatened by another general, Antigonus.
b) Seleucus helped Ptolemy defeat Antigonus at Gaza in 312 B.C., and returned to Babylon where he greatly increased in power.
c) This is usually considered the beginning of the Seleucid dynasty.
d) Conflict between the two dynasties was inevitable, and the First Syrian War was fought from 274-271 BC, when Ptolemy II faced Antiochus I, the Seleucid king who was trying to expand his empire's holdings in Syria. It was a major victory for the Ptolemies and initiated nearly a century of dominance.
3. South and North made an alliance that failed (11:6).
a) “After some years.” Daniel jumps ahead to the end of the Second Syrian War (260-253 BC). In the treaty to end the war, Ptolemy Philadelphus gave his daughter Berenice in marriage to Antiochus Theos of Syria, upon condition that he should put away his wife, Laodice.
b) But, as foretold in the prophecy, this alliance did not last; for Philadelphus died soon after, and then Antiochus put away Berenice, and took back his former wife, who subsequently murdered him and Berenice.
c) She then made her son, Seleucus Callinicus king.
C. The dominance of the Ptolemies (11:7-13).
1. A “branch from her roots,” the brother of Berenice - Ptolemy III Euergetes undertook to avenge her death by an invasion of Syria, in which he was successful (11:7-9). This was the Third Syrian War (246-241 BC).
a) Euergetes did indeed “prevail,” occupying Babylon itself.
b) According to one tradition he even brought back various Egyptian idols which the Persians had carried off centuries earlier (11:8).
c) Callinicus wanted to retaliate but failed to do so (11:9).
2. Attack and counterattack (11:10-12).
a) However, Seleucus II has three sons who ruled and continued the wars with the Ptolemies (vs. 10). Antiochus III would rise up and attack the king of the South. This was the Fourth Syrian War (219-217 BC). He was renamed Antiochus the Great because of his military successes, attacking even into Egypt (vs. 10).
b) In verse 11 we read that in response to these events, the king of the South (Egypt), Ptolemy IV Philopator, launched a counterattack with an immense army. Ptolemy won a great victory at Raphia in Palestine (June 22, 217 BC). Antiochus lost 17,000 soldiers. Because of this victory, Ptolemy’s heart was filled with pride (vs. 12).
D. The dominance of the Seleucids (11:13-20).
1. At the death of Ptolemy IV some years later, Antiochus III invaded the Ptolemaic lands. This was the Fifth Syrian War (202-195 BC). The fortress of Gaza fell to Antiochus (vs. 13).
2. In verse 14 we read that the Jews (“the violent among your own people) would aid Antiochus III in these battles leading to victory, but it would lead to their own undoing.
3. With this victory, Antiochus gained control of “the glorious land,” Israel (11:15-16).
4. The Syrians forced terms of peace (an alliance) upon the Egyptians. To seal the agreement, Antiochus gave his daughter, Cleopatra I, to Ptolemy V as a wife (11:17). But this did not work because Cleopatra loved her husband and supported the Ptolemaic cause.
5. Antiochus III turned his attention to the coasts of Asia Minor (vs. 18), which triggered alarm in Rome. The Roman Senate sent Lucius Cornelius Scipio to stop Antiochus’ attacks on their dominion in 191 B.C. at Thermopylae and Magnesium. The Romans forced Antiochus to surrender territory, much of his military force, twenty hostages, and pay a heavy tax to Rome.
6. After this humiliating defeat, Antiochus III returned to his home country where he was killed by an angry mob (vs. 19).
7. At his death, Seleucus IV Philopator succeeded to the throne. In an effort to collect money to pay the Romans, he sent his minister Heliodorus to Jerusalem to seize the temple treasury. On his return, Heliodorus assassinated Seleucus, and seized the throne for himself. (vs. 20).