Thursday, March 24, 2011

Daniel 11 - The Vision of the Kings of the North and the South

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.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Daniel 10 - Prepared for the Final Vision

10:1 – The Time and General Content of the Vision.  The third year of Cyrus king of Persia would place this vision in approximately 536-535BC.  This would also suggest that the recently begun work on rebuilding the Temple of the LORD by the returning exiles under the supervision of Ezra had been stopped temporarily by Samaritan opposition (Ezra 4:5, 24).  Why would Daniel suddenly at this point refer to himself as “Belteshazzar” and in the third person?  This would seem to tie in the contents of the first chapter with the contents of the last vision (chapters 10-12) by referring to King Cyrus (Dan.1:21; although this refers to his first year) and to Daniel’s Babylonian name (Dan.1:7).  Why should the “message” be affirmed as “true” (Heb. ĕmet)?  Is this not always the case of messages from the LORD?  This serves to mark the vision apart as truly a vision given concerning the future and accurately speaking to matters that will occur.  It also suggests that what will occur has already been written in the “Book of Truth” (Heb. kətāb ĕmet in Dan.10:21).  There is considered to be some ambiguity about a “great war” (Heb. sābā’ gādōl) that is referred to here as is noted by the NIV footnote that reads “true and burdensome”, but the former seems the most likely in light of the conflicts that ensue in the following in the vision of the future.  The vision concerns a message of peace, rest and blessedness it also concerns the great conflicts leading to the final conflict of the ages.
10:2-4 – Fasting by the Tigris.  Daniel was apparently so perturbed in his spirit before even receiving this vision likely because of the setbacks of the Temple project in Jerusalem that he gave himself to fasting and did so outside of Babylon itself.  That he gave up eating “choice food” and then speaks of “meat and wine” means that he had taken these up again some time after his initial training upon arriving at Babylon and proving his faithfulness to the LORD at that time.  In other words, he did not consider such things to be a rule or law for all time, but only something that called for the obedience of that appointed time to demonstrate faithfulness.  The date of his fasting is important to note because if he had been fasting for three weeks and does not end it until the twenty-fourth day of the first month that means that he fasted for right through the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Passover) that was to occur every year from the 15th of Nissan, sometimes also called Abib (the first month of the year), to the 21st which was required to be observed.  Granted that he would not make the journey back to Jerusalem, still, why would Daniel intentionally not observe one of the three Feasts that were required by the LORD (Exo.12:2; 23:15; 34:18; Deut.16:1)?  Why should Daniel give himself to fasting at all since he was well into his eighties by this time?  It is a little strange that he calls the Tigris river the “great river” since that is the normal name of the Euphrates, but it is not completely out of the question that he should have done so.  This would place him anywhere within 20 miles to a couple hundred miles of Babylon depending on where exactly along the Tigris he was.  It would seem the most likely that he was somewhere fairly nearby Babylon.
10:5-9 – The Appearance of a Man.  The description that Daniel gives of the one he sees and describes as a “man dressed in linen” suggests one who is perhaps prepared for a priestly sort of ministry (cf. Exo.28:42; Lev.6:10; 16:4), but this is also the sort of clothing of the angelic-like “men” that Ezekiel describes (Eze.9:2-3, 11; 10:2, 6-7).  He wore a golden belt and his body and face glowed.  His eyes were “like flaming torches” and arms and legs “burnished bronze” with a mighty voice of a great crowd.  This description fits very closely with that of Ezekiel 1:26-28 and Revelation 1:12-16 and this individual is so imposing that he may in fact be a theophany (that is, the appearing of God Himself) with later messengers giving the explanations to the revelation (Dan.10:10-14) in much the manner that John in the Revelation would later receive.  Why was Daniel the only one who could see the vision of this “man”?  Obviously there was something tangible about the whole experience because those who were with him became terrified and ran to hide.  Even Daniel described himself as overwhelmed by the vision.
10:10-14 – Affirmation of Daniel.  It may be that the one who touched him and speaks in verses 10-14 is not the same as the one in verses 5-6 because if the first one was in fact a theophany then there would have been no need for the help of another (Michael) and he would not have come to only explain.  Further, the Hebrew does not designate that there was only one individual there and seems to suggest as in previous visionary visits that there may have been more than one present (cf. Dan.8:13).  Daniel is made to tremble on his hands and knees by the touch of this messenger who affirms him as “highly esteemed”.  This touch accompanied by the command to consider what he would be instructed and to stand was sufficient to bring him to his feet even though he was still in a trembling state.  Though Daniel was “highly esteemed” by the LORD this not only did not exclude him from suffering but seems to have necessitated it at some level, just as it did for Mary the mother of Jesus (cf. Luke 1:30; 2:35) and Jesus himself who was the beloved of the Father.  As it was for Daniel, so for us, it should never be taken for-granted that understanding comes natural without applying ourselves to intentionally seek to understand and humble ourselves before God. 
The messenger assures Daniel that he came in response to the prayers of Daniel, but was held back by the “prince of the Persian kingdom” for twenty one days apparently the whole time Daniel was praying.  However, he was assisted by “Michael” who is here called “one of the chief princes,” who enabled him to be released from the struggle and bring the message to Daniel.  Michael is mentioned here and Daniel 12:1, Jude 9 and Revelation 12:7.  In each account, he is one who engages in conflict and particularly in Daniel 12:1 defends the people of Israel.  He is called an “archangel” or “chief (first) angel” in Jude 9 and as such is the only one named in the Protestant canon of Scripture.  It is unclear just who the “prince of the Persians” and the “king (lit. ‘kings’) of Persia” are, but the likeliest explanation at least for the former is some sort of wicked spiritual power.  The latter may be a reference to the actual king (or kings) of Persia or to some other form of these spiritual powers. 
Certainly there is nothing clear here concerning a structure of authorities by which one can (or should) build a highly structured doctrine of spiritual powers and authorities beyond this very basic teaching that there are actual spiritual beings and realities at work throughout the kingdoms of this world.  We cannot (nor should not) simply assume that the kingdoms of this world are all that there is because this is all we may be used to through our own experiences (cf. Eph.6:10-18).  There are other references to some sort of gods of the nations that may represent some reality behind them (even when a prophet like Isaiah will confess that they are really “nothing”; cf. Isa.46:2; Jer.46:25; 49:3; see also Deut.32:8 in the LXX and Qumran; Ps.96:4).  Since it is not revealed in Scripture how these conflicts among these “princes” actually took place…it would be mere conjecture to make suppositions about how this was and is carried out.  The message that was so necessary for him to bring to Daniel was a message about the future and not even about the present.  This was something which Daniel seemed more concerned about.  What might this say about our present struggles and reality?
10:15-11:1 – The Strengthening of Daniel.  Once again Daniel was overwhelmed and bowed over and once again was touched, but this time on the lips.  Why would he be touched on the lips?  To affirm the message he was being given and his ability to speak it and to allow him to confess his own sense of helplessness and humility.  Again he was touched and this time given strength and reaffirmed concerning the LORD’s estimation of him.  In what sense does the word of the LORD to Daniel to “Peace!  Be strong now!  Be strong.” become the strengthening of Daniel joined to the touch?  The message and the touch are not simply passive work, but active and empowering in the life of Daniel as in us.  Why would the messenger return to the fight against the “prince of Persia”?  The engagement will be taken up until the “prince of Greece” would come.  We can only surmise that this would entail a further conflict among the “princes”, but this refers to a time in our own history that would not happen until about 331BC with the rise of the Greeks under Alexander (or perhaps slightly sooner). 
Before he left he assured Daniel that what he would share with him was already written down in the “Book of Truth” which is apparently a way of referring to what has been determined to be by the LORD.  He notes that only Michael supports him against the princes of Persia and Greece.  The messenger had taken his stand with Michael two years before against the “prince of Persia” and it would appear that this was to protect “Darius” (though this is less than certain).  Why should these struggles among beings that are not human require long term conflict when the LORD could easily resolve them?  For the same reason that this world could quickly be redeemed and all wickedness be dealt with in a moment without the conflict of the righteous struggling against sin and principalities and powers until the last Day.  The reason is that it all works for the ultimate glory of God as demonstrated in the cross, resurrection and coming again of the Lord Jesus Christ who will judge the living and the dead.  It is that in the end, he might be demonstrated to be supreme over all (Col.1:15-20).