11:2-4 – Persians and Greeks. Why should there be note of telling “the truth”? It appears to emphasize that because what follows is given as prophecy of kings and kingdoms that are yet to come, even though some of these things may seem incomprehensible they are yet “the truth” and therefore to be believed. The four kings to appear may refer to those who immediately follow Cyrus: Cambyses (530-522BC), Smerdis (522BC), Darius I Hystaspes (522-486BC) with Xerxes I (486-465BC), or Ahasuerus (Ezra 4:6; Esther 1:1), as the final one who was “richer than all the others” and attacked Greece provoking the hatred of Greece for many years to come. The revelation does not follow everything in detail, which is never to be expected of Scripture, but leaves gaps. The “mighty king” of Greece refers to Alexander the Great (336-323BC) who died suddenly with both of his sons, Alexander IV and Herakles, being murdered within a few short years after his death. His empire was thus divided up among his generals who fought for control of their respective regions and to dominate one another.
11:5-20 – The Kings of the South and North. The “king of the South” (vs.5) was Ptolemy I Soter (323-285BC) of Egypt and “one of his commanders” refers to Seleucus I Nicator (312-280BC) who was made satrap of Babylonia. However, another general of Alexander by the name Antigonus seized Babylon and Seleucus was forced to flee to Egypt in 316BC. In 312BC, Antigonus was defeated and Seleucus re-instated, though he managed to separate himself from Ptolemy I and establish a kingdom (Syria) far greater than Egypt. Conflict broke out between the two kingdoms (Egypt and Syria) and a treaty was able to be brokered between Ptolemy II Philadelphus (285-246BC) when he gave his daughter, Berenice, in marriage to the grandson of Seleucus I, Antiochus II Theos (261-246BC). As part of the treaty, Antiochus II was to put aside his marriage to his wife, Laodice, but when the treaty went bad, Antiochus II took back Laodice who in turn murdered him and Berenice and their son so as to secure the throne for herself and her own son, Seleucus II Callinicus (246-226BC). As an aside, according to tradition, it was Ptolemy II who ordered the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures in Alexandria that were called the “Septuagint”.
Berenice’s brother, Ptolemy III Euergetes (246-221BC), succeeded her father and sought revenge against Syria. He was very successful in his campaigns against them and managed to restore many of the territories to Egypt, to return idols that had been captured many years earlier, and to make Syria a province for a time. However, he made peace with Seleucus II after winning in 240BC in order to try to conquer territories of the Mediterranean. Two sons of Seleucus II, Seleucus III Ceraunus (226-223BC) and Antiochus III (223-187BC) both took up the former wars of their father against Egypt. The “large army” (vs.11) likely refers to the conflict at Raphia in Palestine where Ptolemy IV Philopator (221-203BC) had a decisive victory in 217BC with his 70000 infantry, 5000 cavalry and 73 elephants against Antiochus III’s 62000 infantry, 6000 cavalry and 102 elephants (Polybius Histories 5.79). The Syrians came back with a vengeance because Egypt did not press their victory and so the Ptolemies never dominated again. In 202BC, Antiochus III invaded the territories of the Ptolemies (following the death of Ptolemy IV in 203BC) and captured the important fortress at Gaza from Ptolemy V Epiphanes (203-181BC) in 201BC.
Daniel 11:14 refers to those of Israel who would join in the conflict against the king of the South and calls the “violent men” (lit. “sons of violence”). This likely refers to Jewish rebels who aided Antiochus III against Ptolemy V (Jos. Ant.12.3.3). Even though he was eventually defeated, the Egyptian general Scopas punished the rulers of Jerusalem and Judah who had participated in the rebellion (Polybius Histories 16.39.1). Scopas was captured holed up in Sidon in 198BC by Antiochus III who then gained control of Palestine and Phoenicia. Antiochus III gave his daughter, Cleopatra I, to Ptolemy V as a wife in order to try to gain control of Egypt, but she sided with the Ptolemies against Syria. Antiochus III then began a conquest of much of the Mediterranean but was defeated in 191BC at Thermopylae by the Roman Lucius Cornelius Scipio. This forced Antiochus III to flee back into Asia Minor, where he was again defeated, and this time at the Battle of Magnesia near Smyrna in 190BC. Antiochus III was forced to surrender much of his territory and this son Antiochus IV as well as make a heavy tribute of 1000 talents to Rome in 188BC. He returned home in defeat and was killed by an angry mob in 187BC (Dan.11:19). His “successor,” Seleucus IV Philopator, was thus left with a heavy debt to collect and sent the collector Heliodorus to do so. However, Heliodorus managed to poison Seleucus IV and tried to take the kingdom in 175BC. Thus Seleucus did not die “in anger or in battle” (Dan.11:20).
11:21-35 – The “Contemptible” King of the North. Antiochus IV Ephiphanes (175-163BC) took the throne of Syria upon returning from Rome and another of his brothers, Demetrius I Soter, who was rightful heir to the throne, was held there instead. He put Heliodorus, his father’s murderer, to death and assumed his rule. In 169BC, Ptolemy VI Philometor (181-146BC) attacked Syria in hopes of regaining Palestine and Phoenicia but failed and was himself captured. At this time he deposed Onias III as High Priest in Israel and finally had him murdered in 172BC. He then entered a “covenant” with Antiochus IV in order to retake the throne of Egypt from his brother Ptolemy VII Euergetes II which was successful enough to take Memphis, but not Alexandria. However, Ptolemy VI broke his covenant with Antiochus IV to try to do away with the Syrian influence in Egypt at Pelusium by reuniting with his brother. Antiochus IV returned home and found Palestine in revolt so he slaughtered 80000 and looted the Temple with the help of the priest Menelaus (2 Macc.5:12-21). In 168BC, Antiochus IV attempted to reinvade Egypt but failed when he was met by the Roman commander Gaius Popilius Laenas who it is reported drew a circle in the sand around Antiochus and told him to consider carefully before stepping out of the circle whether he was willing to face the legions of Rome if he continued in his invasion of Egypt (Polybius Histories 29.27; Livy 45). In his anger at not being able to wage war against Egypt he sent his commander Apollonius in 167BC to Israel to collect tribute as a ruse and on the Sabbath he attacked and killed many, rewarding the wicked High Priest Menelaus (1 Macc.1; 2 Macc.4-6). On Chislev 167BC, the altar of the Temple was desecrated by setting up some sort of image (?) to Olympian Zeus on it and ten days later sacrificing a swine on it (1 Macc.1:54, 59). Many remained faithful to the LORD, but they paid with their lives for this (1 Macc.1:62-63). The sons of the priest, Mattathias, led a revolt beginning in 165BC against Antiochus and his generals and successfully restored the Temple. They were called the “Maccabees” in particular after the son Judas called “maccabeus” (meaning “hammer”) who died in battle on Mount Azotas in 160BC (1 Macc.9:3, 15-18). Antiochus IV died in Persia in 163BC according to several reports: “insane” (which plays off the name many gave him of “Epimanes” meaning “insane” in place of “Ephiphanes” meaning “glorious”; Polybius 31.9; 1 Macc.6:16; 2 Macc.9:1-29).
According to John Walvoord’s count there are 135 prophetic statements made in these first thirty-five verses of Daniel eleven and all of them have demonstrated an amazing accuracy (Walvoord 269). This has bearing on the significance of the prophetic messages which remain in the rest of the book concerning another king that is similar to Antiochus IV in his vehement opposition to the LORD’s people and proper worship, but this king will do much that Antiochus never did.
Several notable features throughout this eleventh chapter are the repeated mentions of things being done for “a time” which serves to emphasize that all of the kingdoms of this world have their limitations. The LORD alone will rule forever and His kingdom alone is without end. All other kingdoms have only a set time or “appointed time”. They rise and fall; they are replaced by others who also rise and fall, but they all eventually meet their end despite the ongoing struggle. Another thing to note in this chapter is the entrance of the fourth beast that was mentioned in Daniel 2 and 7 (?) that speaks of the Romans who were not even on the horizon in the days of Daniel’s writing. This pointed ahead to the last kingdom that would rule before the end and thus to the establishment of God’s kingdom.