This chapter deals with events and kingdoms in relation to the East, especially concerning Persia and more extensively the Grecian dynasty—that which arose out of the empire of Alexander the Great. And of these Syria is particularly brought before us because of its relation to Israel, the people which God ever has in view. Chapter 11 also calls us to consider Syria and its history. On the other hand, chapters seven and nine unveil the past and the future of the western power-that of Rome—as seen in the fourth beast (7:19-25) and as we shall see in chapter 9 (vv. 24-27).
The first twenty-two verses of our present chapter are now history, and the accuracy of these prophecies has been fully attested by their historic development. Verses 23-25 speak of things which are still future. In this chapter, for the first time, the second and the third of these world empires are identified by name, of which Babylon was the first and Rome the fourth and last. Here we are told that Medo-Persia was the second and Greece the third. In chapter seven we saw these same two powers under the figures of wild beasts—the Persian as a bear (7:5), and the Grecian as a leopard (7:6).
In our chapter now these same two kingdoms appear to Daniel in another vision, this time under the simile of a ram (v. 3), and a he-goat (v. 5). We are plainly told in verses 20 and 21 who these are, “The ram which thou sawest having two horns are the kings of Media and Persia: And the rough goat is the king of Grecia: and the great horn that is between his eyes is the first king.” (This first king was the well-known Alexander the Great.) We’ll consider this chapter in detail as we proceed.
Daniel saw this vision in Shushan the palace, in the province of Elam, by the river of Ulai. The stage for the dramatic happenings in the book of Esther was set in this palace (Esther 1:2) which was in Persia, for Elam was the same as Persia. Daniel first saw a ram with two horns, the one horn was higher than the other, and the higher came up last (v. 3). The two horns, both high, refer to the fact that there were two rulers at the same time in Medo-Persia, and that the one which came last into power—the Persian—became the most influential of the two. The same fact is suggested in chapter 7 where the bear raised itself up on one side, answering to the thought here that the one ruler was higher than the other (7:5). How amazing this is that Daniel saw and revealed this before this empire ever came into power. He saw it, he tells us, in the first year of Belshazzar. How it rejoices the believer in the Bible to thus see its divine perfection set forth!
In verse 4 we are told that this Medo-Persian empire conquered others in three directions—westward, northward, and southward, which corresponds to the other illustration (7:5) that the bear had three ribs in its mouth, picturing his conquests of three different nations as here stated. Now (vv. 5-7), our attention is called to the next empire—the Grecian. Some 200 years before Alexander the Great appeared on the world’s stage, God, through His servant Daniel, tells us not only about his coming but also, in astounding detail (chap. 11), about those who were to come after him. All glory to our God!
All the world now knows of the dashing campaigns of Alexander, who is seen (v. 5) coming from the west (west of the land of Israel), for he was the commander of the Grecian armies. His tremendous speed, “touched not the ground” (v. 5), answering to the agility of the leopard (7:6) which is also noted for its speed. He conquered Persia and stamped upon its king—Darius Conomanus. In rapid succession he went on to defeat and annex Syria, Phoenicia, Cyprus, Egypt, and Babylonia, as hinted at in our chapter (vv. 5-7). He waxed very great (v. 8), and died in 323 B.C. when only 32 years of age. And now again we are told a detail that only God could know—that after his death his empire was to be broken up into four divisions, under the four “notable horns” (v. 8). These four horns are the same as the four heads (7:6); both refer to Alexander’s successors. These four were Alexander’s prominent generals: Cassander, Lysimachus, Seleucus, and Ptolemy. The four divisions of his empire were Syria, Egypt, Macedonia, and Asia Minor. Of these four countries only two appear from here on in the book of Daniel, namely Syria and Egypt, for the simple reason that these two had definite relationships with Israel, and, as has been said repeatedly before, prophecy has the nation of Israel in view. Syria lies to the north of the land of Palestine and Egypt to the south. The leaders of those lands afterward are continually known as the king of the north and the king of the south.
In chapter 11 we have a long list of kings and their doings, both from Egypt and from Syria, winding up with the last of the Syrian kings that Scripture mentions, the one known as Antiochus Epiphanes, who is described in chapter 11 from verse 21 to verse 35. But in our present chapter (vv. 8-14) all the kings of Syria, from Alexander’s death to the rise of Antiochus Epiphanes in 176 B.C., are completely omitted; all the attention is focused on this same Antiochus Epiphanes, so famous, or rather infamous, in Jewish history. He is the “little horn” of verse 9. In contrast to the “little horn” of chapter 7 (v. 8) who sprang out of the Roman empire, this one comes out of Syria at the end of the Grecian empire, thus they are not the same. The one of our chapter came out of the third empire, the one of chapter 7 out of the fourth. The little horn of chapter 7, as we have seen, is the future powerful ruler called the “beast” in Revelation 13 and 17, while this one has reference to Antiochus Epiphanes of past history, but who in his character illustrates the future “king of the north,” a future political power to the north of the land of Israel, at which we shall look later.
This Syrian ruler was to become powerful toward the pleasant land—the land of Israel (v. 9). He was to persecute the Jewish saints, the “host of heaven” (v. 10). He is the oppressor Antiochus Epiphanes, whose oppression and sacrilege is given in the book of the Maccabees. When he had conquered Jerusalem the daily sacrifice was abolished, and he offered a sow upon the altar and sprinkled its blood in the temple. Some 100,000 pious Jews were massacred by him. This abomination was to last (v. 14) for 2300 days, which is about the time Antiochus ruled. At the end of those 2300 days the sanctuary was cleansed, under the leadership of Judas Maccabaeus, in 165 B.C. Going back from that date to the time when Antiochus interfered with the Jewish worship covers those 2300 days. Verse 12 of our chapter says that because of “transgressions” (that is, Israel’s sin and departure from God) the Lord sent this scourge against His people. The same thing will be true in the future day of Israel’s great tribulation; it also will be God’s judgment on His erring people. This Antiochus is not the Antichrist, but I believe he is meant to portray “the” Antichrist to come. The Antichrist will be a Jew and is delineated for us in chapter 11:21-35. This man of our chapter is a gentile ruler, but I believe he illustrates for us like future happenings. Daniel is given the interpretation of all this (vv. 13-23) which we have already considered. The history of Medo-Persia and Greece is past, but much of it, as we have seen, foretells the things that are to happen when the end comes. Daniel is told about this “time of the end” (v. 17), “the last end of the indignation” (v. 19), “the latter time of their kingdom” (v. 23); hence, the closing verses of this chapter, from verse 23 on, have to do with the “end,” the end of Israel’s history. The “indignation” is a term frequently used in connection with God’s outpoured judgments, as in Isaiah 10:25, or Isaiah 26:20 where we read, “Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee: hide thyself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast.” Here the inference is Israel’s coming hour of tribulation, and it is this that the closing verses of our chapter speak of. During that hour of Israel’s trouble a king of fierce countenance shall stand up; he shall wonderfully destroy many of the Jews (“the holy people” of v. 24). He will stand up against the Prince of princes (the Lord Jesus Christ Himself) but shall be smashed (which we know will take place at Christ’s coming in power and glory in that day when He comes to take vengeance).
Who is this king? First of all we must see that he comes out of the north, out of Syria (vv. 22, 23). He is therefore some mighty ruler who will rise to power over a country or countries to the north of the land of Israel; and since our chapter at its close deals with the future, the reference is to a king of the north in the end time. He will not be known by that title, “the Assyrian,” I suppose, but, since the Assyrian kings of the past were Israel’s enemies, that same assignation is used when speaking of their future enemy—the king of the north. Verses in the prophet Isaiah’s writings will make this abundantly clear. Isaiah 8:7, 8 speaks plainly of the Assyrian as Israel’s scourge in the past, and we know from the Biblical record that God brought the Assyrians upon Israel and they carried them away to their own country (I Chron. 5:26).
There are a number of passages telling of the invasions by the Assyrian in Israel’s future. One very interesting chapter in that regard is Isaiah 10. It is worth while reading it through carefully in this connection, with the king of the north of our chapter. This Assyrian is called “the rod of mine anger, and the staff in their hand is mine indignation: I will send him against an hypocritical nation, and against the people of my wrath” (Isa. 10:5, 6). For how long? Until God’s purpose is accomplished, for we read that “when the Lord hath performed his whole work upon Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, I will punish the fruit of the stout heart of the king of Assyria, and the glory of his high looks” (Isa. 10:12). This agrees with the judgment that falls on the king of the north in chapter 8 of Daniel. That this “king of Assyria” has in view a future mighty king of the north is plainly established when one reads on:
And it shall come to pass in that day, that the remnant of Israel, and such as are escaped of the house of Jacob, shall no more again stay upon him that smote them; but shall stay upon the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, in truth. The remnant shall return, even the remnant of Jacob, unto the mighty God.
For though thy people Israel be as the sand of the sea, yet a remnant of them shall return: the consumption decreed shall overflow with righteousness.
For the Lord God of hosts shall make a consumption, even determined, in the midst of all the land (Isa. 10:20-23).
To prove that all this is still future it is only necessary to turn to Romans 9:27 where the apostle Paul quotes verse 22 above as lying in Israel’s future, in the day of their spiritual restoration to God when Israel, as Isaiah 10:21 says, “shall return ... unto the mighty God.” Since these verses of Isaiah clearly point to Israel’s future restoration and God’s use of the Assyrian at that time, it is inevitable that the Assyrian of Isaiah 10 and the king of the north of our chapter are identical. Later on we might suggest who this king of the north might well be.
Micah 5 also speaks of this future Assyrian. This, too, must be still before us, for he does not arise, as this chapter shows, until long after the birth of Christ which is announced in the second verse of this chapter. Here is Micah’s contribution to this subject:
Now gather thyself in troops, O daughter of troops: he hath laid siege against us: they shall smite the judge of Israel with a rod upon the cheek. But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting. Therefore will he give them up, until the time that she which travail-eth hath brought forth: then the remnant of his brethren shall return unto the children of Israel.
And he shall stand and feed in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God; and they shall abide: for now shall he be great unto the ends of the earth. And this man shall be the peace, when the Assyrian shall come into our land: and when he shall tread in our palaces, then shall we raise against him seven shepherds, and eight principal men. And they shall waste the land of Assyria with the sword, and the land of Nimrod in the entrances thereof: thus shall he deliver us from the Assyrian, when he cometh into our land, and when he treadeth within our borders. And the remnant of Jacob shall be in the midst of many people as a dew from the Lord, as the showers upon the grass, that tarrieth not for man, nor waiteth for the sons of men (Micah 5:1-7).
The whole story of Israel’s sin and blessing is told out here in few words, from the birth of Christ to His glorious reign, and the role of the Assyrian can only be a future one, for nothing like this has taken place since the Cross of Christ. These verses begin with the birth of Christ, speak of His death (smitten upon the cheek), then go on to Israel’s future tribulation (the time of travail, v. 3), Christ’s glorious coming and reign, the destruction of the future king of the north which takes place at Christ’s coming (when He shall be great unto the ends of the earth, v. 4), and, finally, following the judgment of Israel’s enemies at Christ’s coming, their millennial blessedness under His beneficent sway as described so beautifully here in verse 7. Our interest in these verses at present is that they prove that the Assyrian refers to a future power, the future king of the north.
When will this king of the north attack Israel? The answer is “when the transgressors are come to the full” in the latter days (Dan. 8:23). In other words, this will take place when Israel has become apostate in the worship of the beast and the Antichrist (Rev. 13). Then this scourge from the north shall invade the land, as seen later in Daniel 11.
Daniel fainted and was sick certain days (v. 27). No wonder, when he realized that this dark time had to do with his own beloved people. How happy is our lot who rejoice in the blessed hope of being caught up to the glory above at the coming of our Lord Jesus, thus to escape those fearful days yet to transpire upon this earth.