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"The Future Looking Back"


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This week we move into the longest prophecy in the book of Daniel.  It encompasses 45 verses of sacred Scripture and is intensely detailed.  Up to this point, we have generally seen two basic types of prophecies in Daniel.  First, there are those like the ones seen in chapter two that predict future historical events on a broad scale.  One great world power will rule for centuries, to be finally replaced by another great world ruler.  Second, there are those prophecies that have contained much detail, but they typically predict events within a comparatively short period of history. For instance, in chapter eight we read in verse eight, “Then the goat became exceedingly great, but when he was strong, the great horn was broken, and instead of it there came up four conspicuous horns toward the four winds of heaven.  As we saw, that was a prophecy looking forward about 230 years to the time of Alexander the Great, whose army in only three short years defeated every major rival in the East and Middle East.  However, he died–his “horn was broken” at age 33 and was replaced by four of his generals who divided his kingdom four ways.  In that sense, his kingdom was scattered “toward the four winds of heaven.” 

When we come to chapter 11, that pattern changes.  In verses 2-20 the prophecies predict future events from the time of Daniel to about 365 years in the future.  In chapter 11, we have a significant amount of time predicted AND as we’ll see, some fairly detailed prophecies. This prophecy has as its main focus the two major world powers that would have the most influence over the Jews during that period.  Remember, chapter ten tells us that this prophecy was given in response to Daniel’s cry for understanding about what would happen to the Jews in the future.  The two powers that would politically and militarily control the Jews for about the next 400 years were first, the Syrians, who were ruled by men descended from Seleucus, one of four of Alexander’s succeeding generals.  The second power ruling over the Jews was the Egyptians, who were led by men descended from Ptolemy, another of Alexander’s four generals.  The Syrians, or those who came from Seleucus’ line in this prophecy are called the “kings of the north,” while the Egyptian kings descended from Ptolemy are referred to as “the kings of the south.”  When we read this text, it will be helpful to remember that—the kings of the north are Seleucid or Antiochus by name and are from Syria.  The kings of the south are Ptolemies men from Egypt.

The second half of the chapter 11 concentrates in even more detail, predicting future events surrounding just one king of the north.  Much of the second half of the chapter prophesies the future reign of Antiochus Epiphanes.  As you may recall from chapter eight, this evil man is one of the greatest enemies of the Jews in history.  His specific activities are prophesied in the second half of this chapter which, Lord willing, we will examine next week.  Let me just interject here, if you haven’t picked up on this already—part of today’s message will be a bit on the technical side.  You will need to work hard to keep focused because of the technical nature of the information, both within the prophetic story line of chapter 11 and also with respect to how we should view this kind of Biblical prophecy. If you will hang in there with this, there will be a great encouragement for you. 

Within these 19 verses that make up the first section of chapter 11, God prophesies no less than 13 different regime changes within these two kingdoms.  As we will see—he also prophecies much of the personal intrigue and soap opera-like details that play out in the personal lives of those involved.  One factor that makes this prophecy so powerful in our time is that there is very good historical data covering this period of history from multiple sources.  The events prophesied here have been well documented historically, including many of the personal elements that lay behind the political developments.  That means we have a very good historical record to compare with the events foretold in these prophecies.  We can hold them up side by side to one another. 

As you would expect from a prophecy originating with an absolutely sovereign God, this prophecy in Daniel 11 and historical events it predicts match up in a manner that can be described only as miraculous. This kind of prophetic accuracy is only consistent with texts like Isaiah 46:9-10.  There God says of himself, “…I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done.” As we read it, it will become clear that we will not be able to look at every detail of this prophecy.  That would strain the attention span of even the most ardent history buff.  Other scholars have painstakingly researched the events predicted in this chapter.  When John Calvin did this, he needed 40 pages to spell out all the specific historical events that actually happened in fulfillment of this prophecy.  If you want that, the website where you can read Calvin’s reconstruction is at the conclusion of the manuscript.  Just from what little we will cover this morning, it will become evident to you that the historical events line up with the prophecy with a divinely inspired level of specificity and precision.

In fact, the correlation between the prophecy and the future historical events are so precise that theologically liberal scholars (who do not in any traditional sense believe the Bible is inspired by God) have had to scramble to try to explain this.  Their position is that the book of Daniel was actually written AFTER these events took place.  In their minds, these are not genuine, predictive prophecies inspired by God.  The events mentioned in this chapter are merely a record of what had already taken place.  According to liberal scholarship, the writer is not looking forward to the future, but backward to the past.  They claim the date Daniel was written was 165 BC, about four hundred years later than the traditionally held date.  Although their anti-supernatural worldview forces them to that position, there is great evidence to reject that view, which had not been widely advanced before the liberals came along near the end of the 19th century.  First, the strongest argument put forth by the liberal scholars for a late date for Daniel is--there are three Greek words in Daniel. (The ESV has over 11,000 words in its English translation of Daniel.)  These words are the names of three musical instruments and their presence in Daniel, according to liberal scholars, is proof that the book could not have been written in the sixth century as the traditional view holds. 

There are numerous problems with that so called “evidence,” but here are a few.  First, those three words have been found in Greek writings by people like Pythagorus at the same period of history as Daniel. It’s not as if these Greek words were non-existent in Daniel’s time.  Second, there would have been many opportunities in the ancient world for transfer of some words from one language to another, especially specialized words like those for musical instruments.  We know that Greek mercenaries and slaves frequently were relocated to the Middle East and they would have brought their vocabulary with them.  They would have influenced the Hebrew language just as words from other cultures influence our English language. 

Third, the two portions of the book of Daniel that are written in the Aramaic language is of a style used only BEFORE the time period when the liberals claim Daniel was written.  Finally, if Daniel was written in 165 instead of the sixth century BC, as has been traditionally held, that means the author of Daniel knowingly perpetrated a fraud.  Whatever the literary conventions of the time were, according to a Biblical worldview, it is simply a gross fraud to write a chapter like Daniel 11, that clearly represents itself as a prophecy of the future, when in reality, it’s not a prophecy at all; it’s simply a retelling of past events.  The evidence for a later date for Daniel has been strongly refuted.  Ultimately, the reason the liberal scholars claim that Daniel was written after these historical events took place is because their “God” can’t or won’t predict the future.  Their allegedly enlightened, anti-supernatural bias forces them to look for reasons why Daniel could not have been written when it so clearly was, in the sixth century before Christ.  The reason I bring this up is because when you bring up the miraculous nature of Biblical prophecy to some people, they will tell you that predictive Old Testament prophecy is disputed.  The death of Elvis Presley is also disputed, but that doesn’t mean he is still among the living. 

Now let’s read verses 2-20.  To underscore the miraculous nature of this prophecy and to help you follow the complex prophetic predictions, I will insert into the reading of the Biblical text, some of the well-documented, historical details that actually fulfilled this prophecy.  The inspired, inerrant word of God, as the angel reports it to Daniel says, 2"And now I will show you the truth. Behold, three more kings shall arise in Persia, [Cyrus-560, Cambyses 530, Smerdis—522] and a fourth shall be far richer than all of them. [Xerxes I, 486—the Hebrew words used here point to the fact that this king will not necessarily be in direct succession with the other ones.] And when he has become strong through his riches, he shall stir up all against the kingdom of Greece.  3Then a mighty king shall arise [Alexander the Great 336], who shall rule with great dominion and do as he wills.  4And as soon as he has arisen, his kingdom shall be broken and divided toward the four winds of  heaven but not to his posterity, nor according to the authority with which he ruled, for his kingdom shall be plucked up and go to others besides these. [These four kingdoms were eventually controlled by Egypt under the Ptolemies, Syria under the Seleucids, Greece and Macedonia, Thrace and Asia Minor] 5"Then the king of the south [Ptolemy I, Soter, 322] shall be strong, but one of his princes [Ptolemy II, Philadelphus, 285] shall be stronger than he and shall rule, and his authority shall be a great authority.  [His realm was the largest in this part of the world in this era of ancient history.  That’s why historians call him “Ptolemy the Great”].

6After some years they shall make an alliance, and the daughter of the king of the south [Berenice] shall come to the king of the north [Antiochus II, Theos, 261] to make an agreement. (Timeline update:  these people lived over 200 years after the prophecy was delivered to Daniel.)  But she shall not retain the strength of her arm, and he and his arm shall not endure, but she shall be given up, and her attendants, he who fathered her, and he who supported her in those times.  [The marriage between Berenice and Antiochus was political and was evidently volatile. In order for the marriage to occur, Antiochus had to divorce his first wife, Laodice, thus disinheriting his sons by her.  His second wife, Berenice and he had a son together, but Antiochus later reconciled with Laodice.  Laodice, the proverbial woman scorned, reportedly poisoned him and then had his son with Berenice murdered along with Berenice herself and several of her Egyptian attendants.  At the same time, Berenice’s father died in an unrelated sequence of event.  All of that fulfills the prophecy in verse six.]  7"And from a branch from her [Berenice’s] roots one shall arise in his place. [Berenice’s brother, Ptolemy III Eurergetes, 246] He shall come against the army and enter the fortress of the king of the north, [Seleucus II—Calinicunus, 246 of Syria] and he shall deal with them and shall prevail.  8He shall also carry off to Egypt their gods with their metal images and their precious vessels of silver and gold, and for some years he shall refrain from attacking the king of the north.

 9Then the latter [Seleucus II, Calincunus, 246] shall come into the realm of the king of the south but shall return to his own land [a failed invasion of Egypt recorded by historians and attempted in 242]. 10"His sons [Seleucus III, Soter 226>>Antiochus III, 223] shall wage war and assemble a multitude of great forces, which shall keep coming and overflow and pass through, and again shall carry the war as far as his fortress.  11Then the king of the south, [Ptolemy IV, Philopator, 221] moved with rage, shall come out and fight with the king of the north [Antiochus III].  (Timeline update:  these people lived over 300 years after Daniel was given the prophecy.) And he [Ptolemy IV] shall raise a great multitude, but it shall be given into his hand.  12And when the multitude is taken away, his heart shall be exalted, and he shall cast down tens of thousands, but he shall not prevail.  13For the king of the north [Antiochus III] shall again raise a multitude, greater than the first. And after some years he shall come on with a great army and abundant supplies.

14In those times many shall rise against the king of the south, [Ptolemy V, 203] and the violent among your own people [the Jews] shall lift themselves up in order to fulfill the vision, but they shall fail. [a failed Jewish revolt] 15Then the king of the north [Antiochus III] shall come and throw up siegeworks and take a well-fortified city [this is the siege of Sidon]. And the forces of the south shall not stand, or even his best troops, for there shall be no strength to stand.  16But he [Antiochus III] who comes against him shall do as he wills, and none shall stand before him. And he shall stand in the glorious land, [Antiochus III by this time had control of all of Palestine, including Israel] with destruction in his hand.  17He shall set his face to come with the strength of his whole kingdom, and he shall bring terms of an agreement and perform them [marriage alliance with Ptolemy V]. He shall give him the daughter of women [Cleopatra—not the one played by Elizabeth Taylor—that was six Cleopatras later] to destroy the kingdom, but it shall not stand or be to his advantage.  [Cleopatra was planted within Egypt by her father to disrupt Egypt from within, but she actually liked being married to Ptolemy and liked living in Egypt and refused to betray her husband.]

18Afterward he [Antiochus] shall turn his face to the coastlands and shall capture many of them, but a commander shall put an end to his insolence. Indeed, he shall turn his insolence back upon him.  [Historians tells us this was a Roman Commander named Lucius Scipio who defeated Antiochus at the epic battle of Thermopylae in 191 and loosely depicted in the movie “300”]19Then he shall turn his face back toward the fortresses of his own land, but he shall stumble and fall, and shall not be found. [Antiochus III was assassinated in Syria in 187] 20"Then shall arise in his place [Seleucus IV] one who shall send an exactor of tribute for the glory of the kingdom. [his financial minister, Heliodorus, who emptied the treasury of the temple in Jerusalem]  But within a few days he shall be broken, neither in anger nor in battle [Seleucus IV was assassinated in 175 by men hired by Heliodorus].”  That takes us about 365 years from when the prophecy was first delivered by the angel to Daniel.

Now, let’s all take a deep breath.  Do you now understand why we are not trying to cover all 45 verses today?  The point of application has to do with the nature of this text.  Because this prophecy is so detailed, it’s easy to forget that all of these specific details are actually predictions about the future.  Think about this manifold variety of events prophesied stretching out over 350 years.  There are successive political dynasties, transitions of power and the specific nature of these transitions—political alliances that will be formed and the details of those alliances—internal political and personal betrayals are predicted.  Failed political and military strategies are forecast with pinpoint accuracy three centuries in advance. 

If that fails to impress us, think about what you would predict would happen in this region of the world in the next 350 years (if the Lord should tarry) with this kind of specificity.  What would you predict?  Think about this too.  In the next few weeks we will be subjected to the perennial end-of-the-year predictions published each year in December by so called psychics whose predictions are published in magazines shamelessly located in the check out lane of your grocery store.  If even one of their specific predictions for just the next 12 months should happen to come true, the amazing paranormal powers of the psychics would be heralded. 

Let’s ask it this way: what are the odds of predicting with this level of specificity and being right on all counts?  Let me help us get a handle on this by pointing to another set of fulfilled prophecies.  There are about 50 Old Testament prophecies that predict very specific details surrounding the first advent of Jesus Christ.  These are things like: he would be born of a virgin, from the tribe of Judah, from the house of David, in the town of Bethlehem, anointed by the Spirit, preceded by a special messenger, would perform miracles, cleanse the temple, would be rejected by his own people, die a humiliating death that included precise details like being pierced in his hands, feet and side, he would rise from the dead and ascend into heaven.  All those details are specifically prophesied about Jesus in the Old Testament. (By the way, the liberal scholars cannot explain this away by claiming the Old Testament was written after Jesus lived on earth.) When you add up all the specific Old Testament prophecies about Christ, the probability of them coming true merely by chance has been computed by mathematicians to be 1 in ten to the 157th power.  If your math is a bit rusty, that means you put a one over a ten and follow the ten with 157 zeros.  That’s the likelihood that all the Old Testament prophecies made about Jesus would come true by chance.

Given the number of specific prophecies that are in Daniel 11 and given the fact that these needed to happen in a specific and detailed, unbroken historical sequence, the odds that this prophecy in Daniel chapter 11 could have been fulfilled by luck or chance are doubtless much longer than the Old Testament prophecies concerning Jesus.  Perhaps now you can better appreciate the fact that the first words out of the angels mouth in verse two are, “And now I will show you the truth.  These events prophesied truly came to pass.  The point of application is simply—The Bible is divinely inspired by God and can therefore be trusted at all points.   We can trust this book implicitly.  We can trust it in the prophecies that have yet to be fulfilled.  We can trust Acts 1:11, “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven."  We can believe Romans 6:5, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”  We can believe Philippians 1:6, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”  He will finish the saving, sanctifying work he has begun in us. We can rest assured of the truth of Romans 8:18, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

We can take First John 3:2 to the bank.  “Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we will be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”   The promise of Matthew 29 should impact our bank accounts and our holdings in this world. 29And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.”  As a believer with an eternal perspective, if you are accumulating the things of this world, then you are an unwise and very short-sighted investor because you will never receive a hundredfold return on anything you invest in in this world. This is a 10,000 percent increase on your investment.  Do we believe that?  Are we living like we believe that?  The Holy Spirit who inspired these and hundreds of other extravagant promises is the same Spirit who oversaw the miraculous prophecies of Daniel chapter 11. The same Spirit wrote, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”  The same Spirit wrote in Hebrews 11:6, “And without faith it is impossible to please him for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

Do we believe the Bible?  We have seen dozens of reasons to place our trust in his word from Daniel chapter 11. As you marvel at the odds of God being right with such mind-numbing specificity and consistency in the area of predictive prophecy, don’t forget that this area of Biblical revelation is not unique in its truthfulness.  God is absolutely faithful to keep ALL that he promises.  May God give us the grace to apply our confidence in the word of God to all areas of our lives for his glory and our joy.



Page last modified on 12/9/2007

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