The Kings of the North and of the South | Daniel 11:2-12:3

“And now I will show you the truth. Behold, three more kings shall arise in Persia, and a fourth shall be far richer than all of them. And when he has become strong through his riches, he shall stir up all against the kingdom of Greece. Then a mighty king shall arise, who shall rule with great dominion and do as he wills. 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.

“Then the king of the south shall be strong, but one of his princes shall be stronger than he and shall rule, and his authority shall be a great authority. 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.

“And from a branch from her roots one shall arise in his place. He shall come against the army and enter the fortress of the king of the north, and he shall deal with them and shall prevail. He shall also carry off to Egypt their gods with their metal images and their precious vessels of silver and gold, and for some years he shall refrain from attacking the king of the north. Then the latter shall come into the realm of the king of the south but shall return to his own land.

“His sons shall wage war and assemble a multitude of great forces, which shall keep coming and overflow and pass through, and again shall carry the war as far as his fortress. 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. 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. 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.

“In those times many shall rise against the king of the south, and the violent among your own people shall lift themselves up in order to fulfill the vision, but they shall fail. Then the king of the north shall come and throw up siegeworks and take a well-fortified city. And the forces of the south shall not stand, or even his best troops, for there shall be no strength to stand. But he who comes against him shall do as he wills, and none shall stand before him. And he shall stand in the glorious land, with destruction in his hand. He shall set his face to come with the strength of his whole kingdom, and he shall bring terms of an agreement and perform them. He shall give him the daughter of women to destroy the kingdom, but it shall not stand or be to his advantage. Afterward he shall turn his face to the coastlands and shall capture many of them, but a commander shall put an end to his insolence. Indeed, he shall turn his insolence back upon him. Then he shall turn his face back toward the fortresses of his own land, but he shall stumble and fall, and shall not be found.

“Then shall arise in his place one who shall send an exactor of tribute for the glory of the kingdom. But within a few days he shall be broken, neither in anger nor in battle. 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. Armies shall be utterly swept away before him and broken, even the prince of the covenant. And from the time that an alliance is made with him he shall act deceitfully, and he shall become strong with a small people. Without warning he shall come into the richest parts of the province, and he shall do what neither his fathers nor his fathers’ fathers have done, scattering among them plunder, spoil, and goods. He shall devise plans against strongholds, but only for a time. And he shall stir up his power and his heart against the king of the south with a great army. And the king of the south shall wage war with an exceedingly great and mighty army, but he shall not stand, for plots shall be devised against him. Even those who eat his food shall break him. His army shall be swept away, and many shall fall down slain. And as for the two kings, their hearts shall be bent on doing evil. They shall speak lies at the same table, but to no avail, for the end is yet to be at the time appointed. And he shall return to his land with great wealth, but his heart shall be set against the holy covenant. And he shall work his will and return to his own land.

“At the time appointed he shall return and come into the south, but it shall not be this time as it was before. 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. 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. He shall seduce with flattery those who violate the covenant, but the people who know their God shall stand firm and take action. 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. When they stumble, they shall receive a little help. And many shall join themselves to them with flattery, 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.

“And the king shall do as he wills. He shall exalt himself and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak astonishing things against the God of gods. He shall prosper till the indignation is accomplished; for what is decreed shall be done. He shall pay no attention to the gods of his fathers, or to the one beloved by women. He shall not pay attention to any other god, for he shall magnify himself above all. He shall honor the god of fortresses instead of these. A god whom his fathers did not know he shall honor with gold and silver, with precious stones and costly gifts. He shall deal with the strongest fortresses with the help of a foreign god. Those who acknowledge him he shall load with honor. He shall make them rulers over many and shall divide the land for a price.

“At the time of the end, the king of the south shall attack him, but the king of the north shall rush upon him like a whirlwind, with chariots and horsemen, and with many ships. And he shall come into countries and shall overflow and pass through. He shall come into the glorious land. And tens of thousands shall fall, but these shall be delivered out of his hand: Edom and Moab and the main part of the Ammonites. He shall stretch out his hand against the countries, and the land of Egypt shall not escape. He shall become ruler of the treasures of gold and of silver, and all the precious things of Egypt, and the Libyans and the Cushites shall follow in his train. But news from the east and the north shall alarm him, and he shall go out with great fury to destroy and devote many to destruction. And he shall pitch his palatial tents between the sea and the glorious holy mountain. Yet he shall come to his end, with none to help him.

“At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.

Daniel 11:2-12:3 ESV

If Daniel 9’s Seventy Weeks (or Seventy Sevens) was the most difficult to interpret passage in the book, this chapter, particularly verses 36-45, that passage’s clear rival. Yet while the specifics those final verses remain somewhat unknown, I believe that this chapter’s difficulty derives from the sheer overwhelming nature of it all. It is the largest chapter in the book, and the lack of names makes the ping-pong match between the kings of the north and south quite difficult to follow. So, as we prepare our hearts to approach this challenging text, may the prayer with which John Calvin concluded his sixty-second lecture on the book of Daniel be ours as well:

Grant, Almighty God, as in these days the affairs of the world are in a state of disturbance, and as wherever we turn our eyes we see nothing but horrible confusion: Grant, I pray, that we may be attentive to thy teaching. May we never wander after our own imaginations, never be drawn aside by any cares, and never turn aside from our stated course. May we remain fixed in they word, always seeking thee and always relying on thy providence. May we never hesitate concerning our safety, as thou hast undertaken to be the guardian of our salvation, but ever call upon thee in the name of thine only-begotten Son. Amen.[1]

A PARTICULAR HISTORY // VERSES 2-45

Like chapter 8’s account of the rise and fall of Alexander the Great and the kingdoms that followed, this chapter has come under severe attack by modern, secular scholars because they believe that its incredibly precise description of history must have been written after-the-fact rather than as true prophecy. We should hold the same ground here as we did in chapter 8. The future is already history to the One who began time and will still be ruling and reigning whenever it has ceased.

As much benefit as would be in walking through this entire chapter to pinpoint the historical events that occurred after the time of Daniel, such a study would be more beneficial as a lecture (much like Calvin delivered) rather than as a sermon. Therefore, I will not lead us into the deep intricacies of this chapter; instead, we will maintain a larger scope of the chapter, breaking its content into four main sections before moving into how this portion of Scripture benefits God’s people throughout time. Nevertheless, I would suggest that you personally look into the historical details for your own benefit.

The first section of the chapter occurs in verses 2-4, which largely recount the events prophesied in chapter 8 about the Persia and Alexander the Great. This time it begins, however, by adding that three more kings shall arise in Persia and a fourth shall be far richer than all of them (v. 2). The three kings that followed Cyrus were Cambyses II, Bardiya, and Darius (not Darius the Mede but rather the Darius who was king during Haggai’s year of prophesying). The fourth king that followed was Xerxes, who is also called Ahasuerus (see the book of Esther). As the text foretold, Xerxes ruled the Persian Empire at the height of its wealth and power, and he launched a massive assault on the Greek city-states, of which the most famous battle was at Thermopylae where the 300 Spartans were defeated after their long final stand. After Xerxes’ death, the Persian Empire continued to rule for about 135 more years until Alexander the Great conquered them. Then, following Alexander’s death, his empire splintered into four lesser kingdoms led by four of his generals.

The second section runs from verses 5-20. These verses cover many generations of conflict between the kingdoms of the Seleucids and the Ptolemies. Seleucus and Ptolemy were two of Alexander’s four successors who carved kingdoms for themselves out of Alexander’s fragmented empire. Seleucus ruled over Syria, Babylon, and Persia, while Ptolemy became the Pharoah of Egypt. These two kingdoms, the Seleucids in the north and the Ptolemies in the south, were rivals, and, as the text shows, they fought continuously against one another yet neither triumphed fully over the other. Sandwiched between the kings of the north and the kings of the south was the land of Judea, which made these battles and wars of great interest to the Jews.

The third section is found in verses 21-35, and it narrows its focus upon largely upon one particular king of the north, a contemptible person to whom royal majesty has not been given. He shall come in without warning and obtain the kingdom by flatteries (v. 21). This is Antiochus IV, of whom chapter 8 described. Indeed, history shows that he was never supposed to ascend to the throne but did so through deceit. While he did not conquer Egypt, he did come closer than any of his predecessors (v. 24).

Verse 29 predicts his second attempt to conquer Egypt, yet he was turned away by an ambassador of Rome who came to warn that an attack on Egypt would be viewed as a declaration of war against the Republic of Rome, which was quickly becoming the global juggernaut. The ambassador drew a circle in the sand around Antiochus IV and told him to choose his course of action before he left the circle. The Seleucid king withdrew his armies. Humiliated and enraged, he marched up to Jerusalem and committed the atrocities that we discussed in our study of chapter 8.

The fourth section of covers verses 36-45, and it is not quite as straight forward. The two main interpretations for are that 1) it continues to refer to Antiochus IV or 2) it refers to another king who will act similarly to Antiochus IV. The second is by far the most common, with many holding that this king is a yet-to-come Antichrist. Arguments for this interpretation typically revolve around the fact that Antiochus IV did not mount a third attack on Egypt as these verses seem to suggest, nor did he die in Jerusalem as verse 45. However, Mitchell Chase argues that this final section is not a continuation of Antiochus IV’s saga but a retelling that focuses on slightly different details. He also points out that verse 45 does not claim that Antiochus IV die between the sea and the glorious holy mountain. For a quite different interpretation, Calvin makes a well-argued case for the Roman Empire as whole being the king in these verses.

While I am inclined to agree with Chase that Antiochus IV is still being described, this is another passage that we must ultimately hold with an open hand, since no one can definitively say which interpretation is the correct one. But if the particulars of what is being described are unclear, what are we meant to learn from this chapter? How are we to benefit from it?

A PERPETUAL HISTORY

While chapter 11 is, at least largely, describing a particular moment in history, it is simultaneously preparing us for the perpetual ebbs and flows of history. The details here match the kingdom feud between the Seleucids and the Ptolemies, yet the pattern fits countless kingdoms throughout history. And the same is true of Antiochus IV as a tyrannical antichrist. As the Gray Havens very fittingly sing, “It’s a worn-out tragedy, and though history won’t repeat, we’re still livin’ in the rhyme.”[2]

Like chapter 7 taught us, the kingdoms of the earth will always be beastly in their attempt to seize and maintain power, and they will continue to produce “little horns,” antichrists of whom Antiochus IV was only one iteration. Nero, Domitian, Mohammad, Hitler, and many others have taken that unholy mantle, making themselves the purposeful enemy of Christ and His people, and only the Lord’s return will prevent more from arising. Thus, even though this chapter’s events did not take place during the lifetime of Daniel and took place more than 2000 years ago from us, the message is a perennial one for the church, for it will often be tormented and even, seemingly, conquered. We should, therefore, ask how this prophecy prepares us for whatever tribulation might lay before us, and there are several lessons for us to learn well.

First, as fits with the overall message of Daniel, the foretelling of future events in this chapter shows that no evil that befalls God’s people is outside of God’s sovereign control. This is good news. R. C. Sproul was fond of saying that he would lose sleep at night if even one maverick molecule existed in the universe. We should too. We should have tremendous confidence from knowing that nothing happens apart from God’s sovereign plan. For those who living through the events being foretold, their temptation would be to believe that God had abandoned them, yet this prophecy stood for 400 years prior, proclaiming that even such suffering was under the LORD’s control. In this way, God grants His people a snapshot of His divine perspective of history, enabling us to have a view above the storm clouds of our present day

Second, we should take care not to throw our lot in with the kingdoms of this world. In verse 14, a Jewish rebellion against their Egyptian rulers was attempted and was squashed. Many of those Jews hoped that being under Seleucid rule would be better for them. Of course, Antiochus IV proved that notion wholly incorrect. In reality, hope was found in neither kingdom because the neither the Ptolemies nor the Seleucids were better than the other in the end.

Third, when persecution comes, apostasy soon follows. Verse 32 warned of Antiochus IV seducing with flattery those who violate the covenant. These were the Jews who submitted to the tyrant’s edicts, ceasing to obey God’s law out of fear of death. But such a reaction was nothing new. Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were likely not the only Jews before Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image, but they were the only three standing in defiance against the king’s idolatrous command. Likewise, each time Rome heated up their assault upon the church, there were always so who fell under the pressure and confessed Caesar as lord. While tragic, such apostacies should not surprise us, for under the crucible’s fire a truer glimpse of those who belong to the church is seen. Indeed, 1 John 2:19 wrote about the coming of the antichrist (and the presence of many antichrists) and said of those who fell away from Christ:

They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.

Those who fall away from the faith, sadly, prove that they were never truly of the faith to begin with, since God will ensure that all of His people persevere until the end of their race. Therefore, this should quicken us to pray that, if we are brought by the LORD under such a test, His Spirit will give us the grace to be faithful, even unto death.

Which brings us to the fourth lesson to learn here, the people who know their God shall stand firm and take action (v. 32). They shall stand firm in obedience to the LORD, knowing that it could bring their death, which is exactly what happened to many Jews who defied Antiochus IV by continuing to observe the Sabbath or circumcise their children. And did the early Christians by maintaining that Jesus is Lord rather than Caesar. At such times, the people of God are called to put their faith to the test by holding onto truths more valuable than their own lives. As martyrs like William Tyndale, who was burned at the stake for translating the Bible into English, knew, actions of obedience to God are worth facing the sword and flame… captivity and plunder (v. 33). Just as the wise Jews of the 2nd Century BC reminded others of this truth, encouraging their brothers and sisters to endure steadfastly until the end, we should seek such wisdom presently. During such tribulations even some of the wise shall stumble, but not to their destruction but so that they may be refined, purified, and made white, until the time of the end (v. 35). If even the wise will falter during such times, how much should we long for God’s wisdom now?

At present, in the U.S., there is no physical assault upon the church; however, already the LORD has brought the winnowing fork to His people by allowing the winds of culture to blow against His Word rather than with it. And many churches have already been seduced by the flattery of having good public relations into forsaking biblical reality. According to the cultural morality, God’s Word and those who believe it are now homophobic, transphobic, Islamophobic, and much more, but those who are wise will understand that fearing our unchanging LORD is of greater worth than fearing the ever-shifting tides of culture. None can say whether this will lead to outright persecution or not; however, we are promised tribulation and should wisely prepare accordingly.

HOPE AT THE END OF HISTORY // VERSES 1-3

One question remains for us now: what kind of hope will enable God’s people to endure such trials? Verses 1-3 of chapter 12 point us toward that hope:

At that time shall arise Michael, the great prince who has charge of your people. And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.

In the midst of times of trouble, God delivers His people, even through supernatural means such as archangels. Yet our great hope does not arrive in this life at all but in the resurrection that is to come. Verses 2-3 are some of the most explicit mentions of the final resurrection in the whole Old Testament (although it is alluded to even in passages like Ecclesiastes 12:14), and it affirms a dual resurrection. Both the godly and the wicked shall be raised from the dead, the godly to everlasting life and the wicked to everlasting contempt. Regardless of the particulars of each historical moment, all people at all times are moving toward that great day. Indeed, the Jews who were martyred under Antiochus IV are still awaiting their vindication, even as Antiochus IV is awaiting his ultimate sentence. The same is true with the Christian martyrs under Nero and of Nero himself. Revelation 20:11-15 describes John’s vision of that coming judgment:

Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

Both Daniel and Revelation mention those written in the book as being saved from the torments that are to come, entering eternal joy with the LORD instead. This book of life is the list of God’s saints, His beloved and chosen people, the ones that He redeemed from their sin at the cost of His only begotten Son. Christ alone has sealed for us this hope of resurrection. Indeed, Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 15 that our resurrection from the dead into eternal life is rooted in Christ’s resurrection from the dead on our behalf:

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

1 Corinthians 15:20-26

Christ’s resurrection was the firstfruit of the resurrection that is still to come. Until that day, He is presently ruling and reigning over His people, expanding His church against every authority and power until He will one day sweep away for good at His triumphant return. This is our steadfast hope, the hope that sustains in the midst of suffering and tribulation. As Samuel Rutherford rightly noted, “One year’s time of heaven shall swallow up all sorrows, even beyond all comparison… O, blessed is the soul whose hope hath a face looking straight out to that day.”[3]

Yet the approach of this day should also give us a great sobriety, for as Duguid notes:

Many of our friends and neighbors go through life with no thought for the final resurrection and the day when they will stand before God o give an account for their lives. Who else is going to share that news with them? Who is in a better position to speak to them of the power and sovereignty of a holy God, the seriousness of the last judgment, and their need to live their lives in the light of eternity? How much of our conversation is “wise,” when measured in those terms, and how much of it is prattling foolishness, taken up with mere trivialities?[4]

Paul gave a similar word of warning, saying,

What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with the beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame. 

1 Corinthians 15:32-34

“Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” is the philosophy of the world around us, a world obsessed with “mere trivialities,” with comforts and entertainments that will not endure the wrath to come. Such a lifestyle, however, is the secular raging against the encroaching eternity that they deny. They live this way because they have no knowledge of God. We who know our God should not give way to such a drunken stupor, for we know that the end of all things is at hand. Only the wise, those who are in Christ and fear God, will stand firm both during the tribulations of this life and, most importantly, before the judgment seat of the Almighty. This hope of both present and future redemption and deliverance is our “sure and steadfast anchor of the soul” in Christ Jesus our Lord (Hebrews 6:19). Let us hold fast to our mighty Savior who is Himself the resurrection and the life.


[1] John Calvin, Commentaries Vol XIII, 343.

[2] From the song, “High Enough.”

[3] Samuel Rutherford, The Loveliness of Christ, 28, 31.

[4] Iain Duguid, Daniel, 207.

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