The Despicable Man – Daniel 11:21-35

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Pastor Scott L. Harris

Grace Bible Church, NY

January 8, 2012

The Despicable Man

Daniel 11:21-35


This morning we return to our study of Daniel and the prophecies in chapter 11. In our last study we examined Daniel 11:1-20 which predicted what would occur in the remainder of the Persian empire and in the coming Greek empire with a concentration on the conflicts that would occur between the Seleucids and Ptolemies. That was all in the distant future when the angel told Daniel about what “is described in the writing of truth” (Daniel 10:21). That is all past history for us. Such fulfilled prophecy is one of our strongest proofs of God’s intervention into the affairs of man as I have pointed out previously from passages such as Isaiah 41, 44 and 46. Only God can say what will occur in the future with 100% accuracy. Liberal scholars reject the idea that there is such a God so they reject the fact that these prophecies were made centuries before hand. They discount the prophecy or even flatly deny it saying it was written much later as history.

Fulfilled prophecies are proof that our God is sovereign, and the greater the detail in the prophecy the stronger the proof. Daniel 11 is one of the most extensive sections of detailed fulfilled prophecy that occurs in one passage in all of the Bible. While the details are not as interesting to those who do not know history and may even be boring to those who do not like the study of history, every Christian should gain at least a basic knowledge of them for their precise fulfillment is confirmation that our God is in control. His character and attributes remain the same, so fulfilled prophecies are also the proof that He still has the future in His hands and will fulfill everyone one of His promises. We take great comfort and encouragement in God’s sovereignty.

Cautions Concerning God’s Sovereignty

However, there are those that have wrong reactions to God’s sovereignty so let me give you some cautions here before we get to our study of Daniel 11:21-35 this morning.

Some use God’s sovereignty as a means to absolve their own guilt. In effect, they blame God for their own evil. While we may not understand how God’s sovereign will interacts with human will, the scriptures are clear that: 1) God is absolutely holy and so is not the author of evil (Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8: Habakkuk 1:13). 2) God does not tempt anyone to evil (James 1:13). 3) Man alone is responsible for his evil choices and will be held accountable for them (James 1:14; Revelation 20:12-13). Those that think they can escape God’s judgment by claiming He is responsible for evil fail in both their understanding of God and even basic reasoning. God does not have any obligation in even the remotest sense to meet man’s standards. God has the power and authority to judge man according to His own standards. Whatever philosophies or standards of morality any man has come up with for himself are irrelevant to God.

Another wrong reaction to God’s sovereignty is to become fatalistic. Some reason that since God’s decrees are already set, then the future will be what it will be and there is nothing they can do to change it. They then make the fatalistic conclusion they do not need to put forth the effort and try. There are three fatal flaws in such reasoning and action or inaction as the case may be. First, while we do know from Daniel 10:21 and Psalm 139:16 that the book of truth is inscribed beforehand, we do not know the level of detail contained in it. It wrong to be dogmatic about anything beyond what the Scriptures themselves say. We do not know what effect our actions or failure to act has upon the future.

Second, and much more important, fatalism in all forms is contrary to God’s commandments. Man is obligated to obey all of God’s commands which removes from him the option of passivity. For example, Jesus commanded us to make disciples of all nations by going, baptizing and teaching them to obey His commandments. This requires man to think, choose and act in the effort to carry out the commands. Modern missions began with William Carey overcoming the Christian fatalism of his time. He began by praying for the nation of India which then prompted him to go there personally to do something. Even the idea of going was strongly resisted by many within the church because they had emphasized God’s sovereignty to the point of fatalism. At one meeting he was even told to sit down because if God wanted to save the heathen, He would do so without him. Carey did not listen to such bad advice and did go with the support of others and was used of God to open the door of missions to India. We must actively pursue fulfilling God’s commands to us and that does not leave room for fatalism.

Third, prayer itself is contrary to fatalism. Prayer is for God’s will to be done and includes petitioning Him for such things as daily bread, forgiveness and deliverance from evil. Those petitions do not allow for fatalistic pacifism. Pray for your daily bread, but you are also obligated to go out and find work for 2 Thessalonians 3:10 plainly states that “if anyone will not work, neither let him eat.” We ask God to forgive us, but 1 John 1:9 tells us that we are to confess those sins. We pray to the Lord to deliver us from evil, but we are also to use the way of escape He gives us (1 Corinthians 10:13) which may include “flee from these things” (1 Timothy 6:11). In James 5 we are given the example of Elijah and then told specifically in verse 17 that “the effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.” Moses’ prayer of intercession for the people and God’s response to it are another example of such a prayer.

Daniel trusted God’s sovereignty, but he was not fatalistic in the least even after being given such detailed prophecies of the future. God’s sovereignty should bring us comfort and security, but it should never push into any kind of fatalism.


In our previous study of Daniel 11 we found that the angel told Daniel what would occur in the future according to what was described in the writing of truth (Daniel 10:21). The focus is the nations that have a direct effect on Israel We examined the first 20 verses which covers the period from 535 B.C. when Daniel received the revelation to the death of Seleucus IV Philopator in 174 B.C. This chapter started out covering large amounts of time quickly. Verses 1 & 2 cover the last two centuries of the Medo-Persian empire and verse 3 & 4 cover the rise Alexander the Great and the division of his empire following his death. Verses 5-9 then cover 84 years of conflict between the Seleucid dynasty operating out of Syria and the Ptolemaic dynasty centered in Egypt. Since Israel was in between them, their wars with each other always had a direct effect on the Jewish nation. The pace slows down considerably in verses 11-19 which only covers the 30 years of the reign of Antiochus II the Great and his various wars. Verse 21 refers to the 13 year reign of Seleucus IV Philopator (father-loving) who dies by poisoning in 174 B.C. This gives Antiochus IV Epiphanes the opportunity to usurp the Seleuced throne and the next 14 verses only deal with 10 years or so that he had a direct effect on Israel.(See: History Foretold)

We will examine verses 21-35 as we did the first 20 verses a few weeks ago by reading the passage and then looking at their fulfillment in history.

The Despicable Man – Daniel 11:21

We are introduced to this man in verse 21. “And in his place a despicable person will arise, on whom the honor of kingship has not been conferred, but he will come in a time of tranquility and seize the kingdom by intrigue.”

Despicable, vile or contemptible are all good words to translate the Hebrew description of Antiochus IV. He was a man to be despised and disdained because he was vile and worthless in character. He was described as one who liked to lounge like “a mere idler about the streets of Antioch” engaging in “trifling conversations with the lowest of people and mingle in the society of foreigners and men of the vilest character.” “He was not ashamed to go in the dissipated circles of the young; to drink and carouse with them; and to assist their merriment by singing songs and playing on his flute.”

He gave himself the title of Antiochus Theos Epiphanes, which means Antiochus the Visible God or “God Manifest,” for he thought of himself as the manifestation of Zeus or Jupiter. The people used a word play and called him Antiochus Epimanes which means Antiochus the Madman. He was an evil man showing all the evidence of being empowered and directed by Satan. He is the “small horn” we met briefly in Daniel 8

As this verse states, he seized the kingdom by intrigue and not because the honor of kingship was conferred upon him. He was an usurper. Antiochus was in Athens at the time his older brother, Seleucus IV was murdered by poisoning. The throne rightly belonged to Seleucus’ young son, Demetrius, who was being held hostage in Rome. His brother, also named Antiochus, was just a baby in Syria.

Antiochus Epiphanes returned to Syria as the supposed protector of the family throne in blocking Heliodorus’ bid to gain the throne and as guardian of his nephews. He did accomplish the former, but it was not enough for him to be regent on his nephew’s behalf, he wanted the throne for himself. Young Antiochus was murdered by a fellow named Andronicus whom Antiochus IV then had executed, though the whole plot may have been his own from the start. He then gained the support of the king of Pergamum and had himself crowned king as Antiochus IV while the rightful heir, Demetrius, was still in Rome. He had come in peace and then seized the throne by intrigue.

Military Victories – Daniel 11:22

“And the overflowing forces will be flooded away before him and shattered, and also the prince of the covenant.”

This refers to several military victories by Antiochus. The first was against the forces of Heliodorus who had made a bid for the throne after the death of Seleucus. Heliodorus was probably the man behind that murder. Antiochus was assisted by the king of Pergamum and this solidified his control of Syria.

The area south of Syria (Coele-Syria) had been promised as a dowry to Ptolemy V and Cleopatra but had never been given. After the death of Cleopatra, the guardians of her son, Ptolemy VI Philometor (“mother-loving” 181-145 BC) demanded the territory, but Antiochus refused to acknowledge his father’s promise so Egypt began to mobilize. When Antiochus heard of it, he marched south with his army in 170 B.C. defeating the Egyptian army at a place now known as Ras Baron on the coast about half way between Gaza and the Nile Delta.

The prince of the covenant refers to either Onias, who was the High Priest in Jerusalem and the de facto head of the Jewish state at that time, or to Ptolemy VI Philometor, the son of Ptolemy the V and Cleopatra who had married under a covenant by their respective fathers to bring peace between Egypt and Syria. Antiochus had Onias murdered in 172 B.C. in order to establish his brother, Jason, in his place because Jason wanted to establish Greek culture in Judea. Ptolemy Philometor was out fought and out maneuvered by Antiochus as the next couple of verses describe. It is easy to understand that Onias was shattered since he was murdered, but Ptolemy was also shattered in the sense he lost territory and power.

Victory by Deception – Daniel 11:23-24

“And after an alliance is made with him he will practice deception, and he will go up and gain power with a small [force of] people. 24 “In a time of tranquility he will enter the richest [parts] of the realm, and he will accomplish what his fathers never did, nor his ancestors; he will distribute plunder, booty, and possessions among them, and he will devise his schemes against strongholds, but [only] for a time.”

Wars are expensive in both manpower and treasure and Antiochus did not want spend those fighting battles if he could gain the same ends through a treaty. Like his father, Antiochus was concerned about rising Roman power and influence so he made a treaty with Ptolemy Philometor. In the end, Antiochus used this to put Ptolemy off guard so that he was able to seize a large section of what had been Egyptian territory with a small force. While feigning friendship he was conquering town after town. By the time Ptolemy realized what was happening it was too late. The major fortresses were captured except Alexandria. None of his fathers had been able to conquer as much even with large forces. Then out of the booty he gave out lavish rewards to win friends, buy influence and secure support from his subjects (1 Maccabees 3:30). He did well, but only for a time for Roman threatened him and told him to leave Egypt, which he did.

Victory by Treachery – Daniel 11:25-26

25 “And he will stir up his strength and courage against the king of the South with a large army; so the king of the South will mobilize an extremely large and mighty army for war; but he will not stand, for schemes will be devised against him. 26 “And those who eat his choice food will destroy him, and his army will overflow, but many will fall down slain.”

During the course of his reign, Antiochus invaded Egypt four different times. In this invasion Ptolemy Philometor had mustered a very large army, but he lost in a series of battles mostly due to the treachery of his advisors – “those who eat his choice food.” The result was that many Egyptian soldiers were slain and Ptolemy Philometor was captured and his younger brother, Ptolemy Euergetes (“beneficent” also known as Physcon = “pot-belly”), was made king.

Two Liars – Daniel 11:27

“As for both kings, their hearts will be [intent] on evil, and they will speak lies [to each other] at the same table; but it will not succeed, for the end is still [to come] at the appointed time.”

Ptolemy Philometor is the prisoner of Antiochus Epiphanes, but both still have designs on overthrowing Ptolemy Euergetes and regain Egypt for themselves, so they lie to each other as they try to carry out their schemes. Antiochus pretends to befriend Philometor in the effort to restore his throne against his brother. Philometor pretends to believe him. They fail to conquer Alexandria, but Philometor is crowned king in Memphis. Antiochus leaves for Syria and Philometor ends up forming a co-regency with his brother.

First Defilement of the Temple – Daniel 11:28

“Then he will return to his land with much plunder; but his heart will be [set] against the holy covenant, and he will take action and [then] return to his [own] land.”

When Antiochus left for Syria he took much Egyptian wealth with him. On his way back he took action against Israel for rebellious actions. Antiochus had removed Jason from being the High Priest and had installed a man named Menelaus who had offered him a greater amount of tribute money (2 Maccabees 4:3-27). The Jews had heard a rumor that Antiochus was dead and held a celebration and Jason raised a force to overthrow Menelaus. Mene
laus withstood the attack, and when Antiochus arrived he took action to punish those who had taken part or supported the rebellion. He slaughtered up to 80,000 and sold another 40,000 into slavery. He looted the Temple of its vessels of gold and silver, stole about 1800 talents of gold, then defiled the Temple by sacrificing a pig on the altar, boiling some of its flesh and sprinkling the whole temple with some of its broth (1 Maccabees 1:21-28; 2 Maccabees 5:15-21). He then returned to Syria.

Second Defilement of the Temple – Daniel 11:29-31

29 “At the appointed time he will return and come into the South, but this last time it will not turn out the way it did before. 30 “For ships of Kittim will come against him; therefore he will be disheartened, and will return and become enraged at the holy covenant and take action; so he will come back and show regard for those who forsake the holy covenant. 31 “And forces from him will arise, desecrate the sanctuary fortress, and do away with the regular sacrifice. And they will set up the abomination of desolation.”

After the Ptolemy brothers had formed a co-regency with their sister, Cleopatra II, also included, Antiochus felt betrayed and determined to attack again which he did in 168 B.C. laying siege to Alexandria. Egypt had made an alliance with Rome, and Roman counsel Gaius Popillius Laenas met with Antiochus and demanded he leave Egypt. Antiochus said he would discuss the demand with his counsel upon which it is reported that Laenas drew a circle in the sand around the king and said he would have to give an answer before he left the circle of whether he would leave or fight Rome. Antiochus left, but with great rage which he took out on Israel upon his return.

Antiochus Epiphanes thought of himself as a manifestation of the Greek God, Zeus. He was very serious about the establishment of Greek culture the nations under his control and decreed that everyone had to worship the Greek deities. He gave favor to Menelaus and the apostates who followed him in the Hellenization of Israel while punishing those held fast to Judaism. 1 & 2 Maccabees describes this period in some detail as does the historian Josephus.

Antiochus sent an Athenian philosopher to Jerusalem to supervise and carry out the edict along with his General, Apollonius, and Syrian troops to enforce it. They stopped the regular Temple sacrifices and replaced them with sacrifices of pigs to Greek gods. Syrian soldiers and harlots performed licentious heathen rites in the Temple courts. Jews were forced to take part in the drunken orgies in honor of Bacchus, the god of wine. Those Jews that tried to observe the Mosaic rituals of sacrifice, circumcision, the Sabbath or a feast day were subject to execution. Finally a pagan altar was erected over the altar of God, which probably included an idol, and the Temple was rededicated to Zeus. This was the abomination of desolation. It only got worse for the people.

The Purging of the People – Daniel 11:32-35

32 “And by smooth [words] he will turn to godlessness those who act wickedly toward the covenant, but the people who know their God will display strength and take action. 33 “And those who have insight among the people will give understanding to the many; yet they will fall by sword and by flame, by captivity and by plunder, for [many] days. 34 “Now when they fall they will be granted a little help, and many will join with them in hypocrisy. 35 “And some of those who have insight will fall, in order to refine, purge, and make them pure, until the end time; because [it is] still [to come] at the appointed time.”

Many Jews had submitted themselves to Antiochus’ decrees out of fear for their lives, and many more become apostate due to the enticements he offered to those who would embrace Greek idolatry. The licentious nature of Greek culture was attractive to those who wanted freedom to sin and Antiochus’ favor and flattery made it that much more attractive.

At the same time, there were also many that remained true to God despite the hardships and threat of death. The persecution caused a cleansing of the people that separated those who truly loved God from those who were apostate of heart. One family that remained true was Mattathias Maccabeus and his five sons. He was a priest that refused to offer pagan sacrifices. His family fled to the hills and led a revolt. Others encouraged by his example joined him, but it was a long war and they suffered much. Many died by the sword, others were burned alive in their homes or were cast into heated brass cauldrons. Several of Maccabeus’ sons were killed too. The number involved in their revolt fluctuated as death reduced their numbers while new people would join. Some of those who joined were hypocritical since their motivation was to be on the winning side in order to escape persecution or gain plunder for themselves and not because they were actually faithful to God.

Antiochus drops out of the picture after verse 34 because he has no further effect on Israel. Historically, in the third year of the revolt, the Maccabees led by the son, Judah, were able to force the Syrians out Jerusalem. They were now free to resume worship of the Lord in the Temple. 1 Maccabees and Josephus both refer to an eight day festival held to rededicate the Temple. This became the yearly festival known as Hanukkah which means “to dedicate.”

The revelation given to Daniel by the angel does not include this conclusion but rather leaves the story open ended pointing to a future time in verse 35. There would continue to be persecution of the Jews to “refine, purge, and make them pure, until the end time; because it is still to come at the appointed time.” That has certainly occurred throughout history to the present. Certainly there are many descendants of Israel that assimilated into other cultures to the point they are even unaware of their blood line, and yet there are still many Jewish people that remain distinct though it continues to put them at risk of persecution.


There are three important conclusions from the study of Daniel 11. First, as has been pointed out previously, the fulfillment of detailed prophecy gives proof that God is sovereign.

Second, God has not laid aside His chosen people. He still has a future plan for them though they are still under a period of indignation in which they will be refined, purged and made pure. We will see this in more detail in the next couple of weeks as we examine the prophecies about what is still to come.

Third, God uses persecution to benefit His people. Though we naturally desire to live peaceful lives in prosperity, God has a greater purpose for us and that is that we become like Christ in living holy lives before Him. As I mentioned in last week’s sermon, that is a purpose of salvation and we should desire and work hard to change and be what He wants us to be. As James 1:2-4 and Romans 5:3-8 point out, God uses the troubles and trials of life, which can include persecution, to push us into becoming mature. It also separates out from us those who are false. The apostle Peter wrote his first epistle to prepare believers for persecution and so it is a very relevant book for those who live where persecution is rising or are already suffering. I don’t know what the immediate future holds for anyone here or for this nation. I do know from 2 Timothy 3:12 that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” We do not need to fear it for our God is sovereign and will work out His plan for us in the midst of whatever comes for our good and His glory even as He has consistently and faithfully done in the past for those who have gone before us. His promises for our future are sure. He will be faithful to complete the good work He has begun in us (Philippians 1:6), and all those who have placed their faith in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ have eternal life.

See Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews Book XII; 1 & 2 Maccabees; Charles Pfiefer in Between the Testaments, John Walvoord in Daniel – The Key to Prophetic Revelation, pp. 252-269; Renald Showers in The Most High God; Charles Feinberg in A Commentary on Daniel The Kingdom of the Lord.


Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down the scripture references and look them up later 2) Count how many times Antiochus is mentioned 3) Discuss with your parents how God can use evil men to accomplish His purposes


Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. How does fulfilled prophecy prove God’s sovereignty? Can man use God’s sovereignty to absolve their own evil? Why or why not? How do God’s commands and prayer preclude God’s sovereignty from being a basis for any kind of fatalism? What is the context of Daniel 11? What is the source of the revelation? Who is the despicable man in Daniel 11:21 and why was he despicable? How die he gain power? What were his early military victories? How did he use deceit to conquer much of Egypt? Why did Ptolemy’s larger army lose? What drove Antiochus out of Egypt? What did he do on his return through Israel? What ended his last campaign in Egypt? How die he treat Hellenized Jews? Godly Jews? How did he desecrate the Temple? What ended Antiochus’ power in Jerusalem? When will the persecution of Jews cease? Is God finished with the Jews? Why or why not? How does God use persecution to accomplish good? How should Christians respond to persecution?

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