Daniel 11B The Bitter Prince

Questions: Why do so many people hate the Jews? How have they managed to survive for so many millennia? Is religion worth defending? Even fighting over? Are we prepared for the end? Should we?

“Read More” to pursue answers from the Prophet Daniel.

Lord, make me a Fountain of your Love.
Draw me into your Presence, and fill me with your Holy Spirit
That I might know you as my Father, and manifest the image of Christ
In this world, and the world to come. Amen.

Daniel 11:20-45

Then shall stand up in his estate a raiser of taxes [in] the glory of the kingdom: but within few days he shall be destroyed, neither in anger, nor in battle.

This presumably refers to Seleucus IV Philopator, who ruled for a dozen years and was mostly known for being in debt to Rome — as well as being assassinated by his own minister, Heliodorus. He was succeeded by his brother, the much-reviled Antiochus IV Epiphanes.

And in his estate shall stand up a vile person, to whom they shall not give the honour of the kingdom: but he shall come in peaceably, and obtain the kingdom by flatteries. And with the arms of a flood shall they be overflown from before him, and shall be broken; yea, also the prince of the covenant.

Again, I’m no historian, but I would interpret this as referring to his rise to power over the bodies of his relatives (including an infant prince).

And after the league [made] with him he shall work deceitfully: for he shall come up, and shall become strong with a small people. He shall enter peaceably even upon the fattest places of the province; and he shall do [that] which his fathers have not done, nor his fathers’ fathers; he shall scatter among them the prey, and spoil, and riches: [yea], and he shall forecast his devices against the strong holds, even for a time. And he shall stir up his power and his courage against the king of the south with a great army; and the king of the south shall be stirred up to battle with a very great and mighty army; but he shall not stand: for they shall forecast devices against him. Yea, they that feed of the portion of his meat shall destroy him, and his army shall overflow: and many shall fall down slain.

Again, I’m guessing here, but this sounds like his first invasion of Egypt, and the deal he makes with Ptolemy Euergetes.

And both these kings’ hearts [shall be] to do mischief, and they shall speak lies at one table; but it shall not prosper: for yet the end [shall be] at the time appointed. Then shall he return into his land with great riches; and his heart [shall be] against the holy covenant; and he shall do [exploits], and return to his own land.

When that deal goes sour, he tries a second invasion, but this time is thwarted by Rome:

At the time appointed he shall return, and come toward the south; but it shall not be as the former, or as the latter. For the ships of Chittim shall come against him: therefore he shall be grieved, and return, and have indignation against the holy covenant: so shall he do; he shall even return, and have intelligence with them that forsake the holy covenant.

Now, it would seem like the “holy covenant” ought to refer to the treaty with Rome, but somehow he ends up ticked off at the Jews:

And arms shall stand on his part, and they shall pollute the sanctuary of strength, and shall take away the daily [sacrifice], and they shall place the abomination that maketh desolate.

The obvious correlate for the “abomination” is the unclean pig he sacrificed on the altar, leading to a heroic rebellion by the faithful:

And such as do wickedly against the covenant shall he corrupt by flatteries: but the people that do know their God shall be strong, and do [exploits]. And they that understand among the people shall instruct many: yet they shall fall by the sword, and by flame, by captivity, and by spoil, [many] days.

Albeit with mixed results:

Now when they shall fall, they shall be holpen with a little help: but many shall cleave to them with flatteries. And [some] of them of understanding shall fall, to try them, and to purge, and to make [them] white, [even] to the time of the end: because [it is] yet for a time appointed.

My understanding is that this corresponds with events described in the apocryphal (or, more precisely, deutero-canonical) Books of the Maccabees, that took place in the centuries after Malachi but before Christ (and which, incidentally, gave birth to Hanukkah).

Again, I’m neither historian nor scholar enough to make sense of all these accounts, but a few things really jump out at me.

One is that the Jewish people — though but a tiny minority among the Graeco-Roman empire — somehow inspire such hatred. The other is that, amazingly, their Maccabean leaders manage to defeat him, earning a century of independence. Even today, it is astonishing how many hopes and fears for global peace come back to that small stretch of land where Jesus walked.

Of course, Antiochus didn’t think of himself as a minor villain in a millenia-old battle, but as a mighty, self-made king:

And the king shall do according to his will; and he shall exalt himself, and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak marvellous things against the God of gods, and shall prosper till the indignation be accomplished: for that that is determined shall be done. Neither shall he regard the God of his fathers, nor the desire of women, nor regard any god: for he shall magnify himself above all. But in his estate shall he honour the God of forces: and a god whom his fathers knew not shall he honour with gold, and silver, and with precious stones, and pleasant things. Thus shall he do in the most strong holds with a strange god, whom he shall acknowledge [and] increase with glory: and he shall cause them to rule over many, and shall divide the land for gain.

Again, I don’t know what exactly this refers to, but he seems either a religious innovator or a shameless opportunist, worshipping whatever god enables him to achieve his goal. Apparently with some success:

And at the time of the end shall the king of the south push at him: and the king of the north shall come against him like a whirlwind, with chariots, and with horsemen, and with many ships; and he shall enter into the countries, and shall overflow and pass over. He shall enter also into the glorious land, and many [countries] shall be overthrown: but these shall escape out of his hand, [even] Edom, and Moab, and the chief of the children of Ammon. He shall stretch forth his hand also upon the countries: and the land of Egypt shall not escape. But he shall have power over the treasures of gold and of silver, and over all the precious things of Egypt: and the Libyans and the Ethiopians [shall be] at his steps.

Ouch. But don’t despair, for his end — and the end of the Seleucid dynasty

But tidings out of the east and out of the north shall trouble him: therefore he shall go forth with great fury to destroy, and utterly to make away many. And he shall plant the tabernacles of his palace between the seas in the glorious holy mountain; yet he shall come to his end, and none shall help him

The east presumably refers to the rising Parthian empire, site of his final battles and the eventual conqueror of the Seleucid’s eastern provinces. The terror of the Middle East is no more, and hardly anyone besides historians has even heard of the Seleucids; yet Israel is not merely the world’s biggest political hot potato, but a celebrated economic engine. It seems the angel Gabriel understood more about global politics than Daniel could’ve imagined!

At the same time, I realize some commentators view this passage in Daniel as (also?) referring to the anti-Christ and the end times. Which doesn’t really seem necessary at this point, but that may just be because I don’t understand my history. Perhaps it will make more sense when we hear what happens next chapter…


God, it is amazing how you have maintained the continuity and integrity of Jewish culture over thousands of years, despite the most violent and bitter opposition. Father, fulfill your plan! Keep the promise you made to Abraham’s descendants, that they may yet know you and see your hand of deliverance and healing. I ask this in Jesus name, Amen.

About the Title:

Today’s title is an indirect tribute de Saint-Exupery‘s marvelous book.