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"Tried and True"

 MESSAGE FOR DECEMBER 16, 2007 FROM DANIEL 11:21-35

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          This week, we return to Daniel chapter 11.  You’ll recall if you were here last week that this chapter is the longest prophecy in Daniel.  These 45 verses of divine revelation prophetically predict a specific and detailed chain of historic events from the time it was delivered to Daniel to about 350 years into the future.  As we learned from chapter ten, the reason these particular future events were prophesied was because they would have serious impact on the future of Israel from 539 BC to about 165 B.C.  During that future time period, two kingdoms would alternatively have political and military control over Israel, one of which was Syria, which this chapter refers to as the “northern kingdom.”  The other regional power that at times held sway over the Jews during this period of history were the Egyptians, designated as the “southern kingdom” in this prophecy.   Last week, we studied the first half of the chapter that predicts the events that will occur from the time of Daniel to about 175 BC.  The second half we will be treating this morning predicts events within a much more condensed time period.  The prophecies here foretell events within the reign of just one king during the final ten-year period of this prophecy.  That is much different than the first half of the chapter that specifically predicts no less than 13 different regimes within these northern and southern kingdoms. 

          Last week, we highlighted the miraculous accuracy of these prophetic predictions by citing the well documented secular historical record attesting to their intense level of truthfulness.  The fact that these detailed prophecies each came to pass as predicted is titanic proof of their divine origin.  The Bible stands absolutely alone in terms of its utterly supernatural quality.  That truth implies that all the promises and truth of God in this book, not just these predictive prophecies, are supernaturally inspired by God and ring with the distinct and clarion sound of absolute truth.  As countless saints have done in the past, so too can we entrust our lives, our welfare, our material and spiritual provision to the utter trustworthiness of God as he reveals himself in this book.

          Like last week, I want to read this text filled with very specific prophecies, inserting some of the historical events that we now know fulfilled these prophecies.  Some of this is necessary to help us understand the context for the major point of the text.  The central truth in the chapter concerns God’s relationship to this brutal, blasphemous king and even more importantly, his people who this king so aggressively persecutes.  So, let’s look at Daniel 11 beginning with verse 21. To provide a context, the prophecy has dealt in the last few verses with the King of Syria, Antiochus III, who is now gone.  The word of God says, “21In his place shall arise a contemptible person to whom royal majesty has not been given. He shall come in without warning and obtain the kingdom by flatteries.  [This contemptible person is Antiochus Epiphanes or Antiochus IV, king of Syria.  We saw him in Daniel chapter eight as the “little horn” who Daniel prophesied will temporarily put a stop temple to worship in Jerusalem.  In this chapter, his satanic personal qualities and hatred for God are outlined in much greater detail.  He is the “contemptible” or “despicable person” who, as this prophecy foretells, did not come to power through a legitimate transfer of power.  The Syrian throne belonged by birth to this man’s nephew, Demetrius I, who was unable to assume authority because, at the time when he was to have taken the throne; he was being held hostage in Rome.  Antiochus Epiphanes was set up by the royal family temporarily as a regent.  He had no real power of his own, but he was given the delegated power of his royal nephew.  Antiochus however, shortly seized power for himself through slick and manipulative scheming.  He went around to the leading politicians in Syria—the powerbrokers, and charmed them, promising them great political and financial rewards if they would support his move to become the king. 

          Antiochus was an intensely shrewd, deceitful, scheming, man who, reminiscent of contemporary members of the mafia, made a number of these “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” kind of deals with those he wanted to control.  The Syrian officials were corrupt and agreed to this arrangement, so Antiochus became the king, usurping his nephew’s throne in about 175.  Not so mysteriously, about five years later, not long after Antiochus’ nephew Demetrius was released from his captivity in Rome, he murdered.  Again we see the dead-on accuracy of this prophecy as we are introduced to this Antiochus who as we will see was a very clever and utterly ruthless man.]  Verses 22-26 tell of his early military victories. 

          “22Armies shall be utterly swept away before him and broken, even the prince of the covenant.”  23And from the time that an alliance is made with him he shall act deceitfully and he shall become strong with a small people.  24Without warning he shall come into the richest parts of the province, and he shall do what neither his fathers nor his fathers' fathers have done, scattering among them plunder, spoil, and goods. He shall devise plans against strongholds, but only for a time.  25And he shall stir up his power and his heart against the king of the south [Egypt’s king, Ptolemy VI] with a great army. And the king of the south shall wage war with an exceedingly great and mighty army, but he shall not stand, for plots shall be devised against him.  26Even those who eat his food shall break him. His army shall be swept away, and many shall fall down slain. [This speaks of Antiochus Epiphanes’ successes in battle against Egypt and the complicated alliances he formed with Egypt that were all based on deception and which eventually enabled him to occupy large parts of Egypt.  But also, for the first time, we see Antiochus’ interaction with God’s people the Jews. In verse 22 he refers to the “covenant prince” who God predicts Antiochus will sweep away along with other rulers.  The “covenant prince” was a term used for the Jewish High Priest.  Secular historians and the apocryphal books of the Maccabees give us insight into how this prophecy was fulfilled. Because the Jews were a conquered nation and had no king, the High Priest was the recognized political power within of Israel. 

At the time of Antiochus Epiphanes, the High Priest was a man named Onias.  But Onias was pro-Egypt and had no sympathy for the Antiochus and the Syrians.  Onias’ brother Jason exploited his brother’s loyalties to Egypt and offered Antiochus a bribe to come in to Jerusalem and depose Onias as High Priest and put him in that position in his place.  That was obviously in violation of the Mosaic Law concerning the Jewish priesthood.  Antiochus took the bribe and installed Jason as High Priest.  However, a short time later in 172 BC a Jew named Menelaus, who was not a member of the priestly line, but a member of a rival family, offered Antiochus a bigger bribe to install him as the Jewish High Priest.  Antiochus, who disdained Jewish law had no problem with that, and greedy, self-serving usurper that he was, he installed Menelaus as High Priest. Onias, the original High Priest discovered that Menelaus had gone into the temple and stolen some golden vessels from it in order to pay off his bribe to Antiochus and he raised a protest against him.  Menelaus responded by murdering this former High Priest.  The Jewish population was enraged by this and sent representatives to Antiochus to complain about it.  This prompted Menelaus to give yet another bribe to Antiochus to keep him in power and this contemptible king gladly accepted.  For good measure, the king also murdered the representatives sent from Jerusalem.]

What that tells us is not only that Antiochus was a powerful force for evil among the Jews during this time, but also that the Jews were far from blameless themselves.  They were corrupt at the highest levels.  This 400-year time period between the Old and New Testaments—with some notable exceptions we’ll see later—was not exactly a time of deep spiritual renewal for Israel.  Now, back to the Biblical text where we left off with verse 27.  “27And as for the two kings, their hearts shall be bent on doing evil. They shall speak lies at the same table, but to no avail, for the end is yet to be at the time appointed.  The “two kings” spoken of here are Antiochus and the Egyptian king Ptolemy VI who he had installed as his puppet king over Egypt.”  28And he [Antiochus] shall return to his land with great wealth, but his heart shall be set against the holy covenant. And he shall work his will and return to his own land. 29"At the time appointed he shall return and come into the south, but it shall not be this time as it was before.  30For ships of Kittim shall come against him, and he shall be afraid and withdraw, and shall turn back and be enraged and take action against the holy covenant.”

[This alliance between Antiochus and his Egyptian puppet king did not last long and Egypt eventually appealed to Rome for help, whose power was on the ascendancy.  This time, with Rome’s help Egypt stopped Antiochus’ advance and to put him in his place, they publicly humiliated him in front of his troops.  At this same time back in Jerusalem, Jason, the second High Priest who had earlier bribed Antiochus, was throwing Jerusalem into upheaval by organizing Jews who were sympathetic to him to revolt against Menelaus, this extorting, murdering “High Priest.” Jason massacred many Jews and imprisoned Antiochus’ man, Menelaus. Antiochus, who was already enraged from his humiliation at the hands of the Romans, didn’t like this trouble in Jerusalem and vented his wrath on the Jews, which are referred to in the prophecy as “the holy covenant.”]  We see the results of his anger as we continue with his response foretold in the second half of verse 30. 

He [Antiochus] shall turn back and pay attention to those who forsake the holy covenant.”  31Forces from him shall appear and profane the temple and fortress, and shall take away the regular burnt offering. And they shall set up the abomination that makes desolate.” [We know from historical accounts that at this point the infuriated Antiochus sent his commanding general, Apollonius who with his army marched into Jerusalem and put 80,000 women and children to the sword and released Menelaus.  He set up a pagan altar to Zeus in the city and halted the regular temple sacrifices prescribed in the Law of Moses.  We know at least much of this was done with the cooperation of Menelaus.  The king also banned circumcision and set up altars all over the land and sacrificed pigs on them, including the altar in the temple—the “abomination that makes desolate” of verse 31.  Again, we see the supernatural accuracy of this prophecy.  The historical accounts of these events precisely match this prophetic word given more than 350 years earlier.] 

Verse 32 is speaking of the Jews and says, “32He shall seduce with flattery those who violate the covenant, but the people who know their God shall stand firm and take action.  33And the wise among the people shall make many understand, though for some days they shall stumble by sword and flame, by captivity and plunder.  34When they stumble, they shall receive a little help. And many shall join themselves to them with flattery,” [These verses testify to the great division within the Jewish people during this time between the Old and New Testaments. Many Jews, bribed by the king were more than willing to sell out their faith and go along with these lawless, blasphemous practices instituted by people who had killed 80,000 of their fellow Jews.  Others, who the prophecy refers to as “people who know their God” and “the wise” “shall stand firm and take action.”  The “wise” used the law of God to educate their fellow Jews and also lived as examples in their opposition to those who had defiled the sacred places. We know these Jews who knew God and who were loyal to the law were heavily persecuted for their steadfastness, but ultimately through their courage and convictions, they managed to win many others over to their side. 

The group most clearly identified in the Apocrypha as being loyal and which this prophecy doubtless predicts is the family of a man named Mattathias.  He was the founder of a group known as the Maccabees.  The Maccabees were a valiant Jewish liberation movement who for about the next 100 years threw off foreign rule from Israel.  Beginning in 168 BC, this initial family engaged in guerilla warfare tactics and staged several revolts against not only the Syrians who ruled them, but they also fought against their fellow Jews who had turned against God.  Gleason Archer claims God used their resistance against Antiochus and other foreign invaders, as well as their apostate fellow Jews, to help preserve Judaism as a faith until Jesus was born.  Verse 35 foretells the spiritual significance this resistance would have on the faithful Jews.  “35and some of the wise shall stumble, so that they may be refined, purified, and made white, until the time of the end, for it still awaits the appointed time.” [The stumbling of the “wise” speaks not of a spiritual stumbling, but of one, or perhaps several of the great setbacks this courageous group had at certain points in their opposition.  Ultimately, God used the grueling difficulty of the task not to defeat them, but to strengthen and purify their commitment to him and to the law.]

That is as much as we will get to this morning.  Although we could again spend significant time highlighting the miraculous accuracy of this prophecy, this morning our main thrust lies in a different area.  Here are two points of application.  First God’s plans for history include the emergence of many satanically inspired, anti-Christ figures who will appear and persecute God’s people.  The text we read clearly indicates that Antiochus Epiphanes was not simply an ambitious ruler who quite randomly picked on the Jews.  It’s helpful for us to know that coins minted during this time add to his title “Epiphanes,” the Greek word, “theos.”  That means he referred to himself as “God manifest.”  So fantastic were his delusions about himself that his enemies referred to him as Antiochus "Epinames," which translated means “Antiochus the “madman.”  His actions clearly point to satanic inspiration as he repeatedly sought to blaspheme God and defile his people, his temple and his law.  His wickedness was so pronounced that some wrongly believe other prophecies in Daniel about him to refer to the end-time antichrist--that final, most deceitful wicked world ruler to whom all other wicked, satanically inspired rulers point.  In first John, the apostle warns us of many such satanic figures who will arise during these last days before Jesus will return.  He says in 2:18, “ Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour.”   Antiochus Epiphanes is a type of the final antichrist who will be even more shrewd, ruthless and deceptive and who will violently oppose and persecute God’s people.

          We must not think that these evil characters that appear on the stage of human history are some sort of accident—as if they slipped by when God wasn’t looking.  This story teaches us that Antiochus was not an aberration of God’s plan—he WAS God’s plan.  That raises a question we have asked before.  That is—how can a God who hates evil intentionally permit evil into his plans for history?  The answer is found in several places in the Scripture, and it comes down to the fact that God has two wills.  First, is what theologians call his will of decree—those things that he has decreed will happen and which in fact WILL unalterably happen. That would include the events in this prophecy.  Second is his will of command—that is, his holy desire for goodness and obedience expressed through his law.  We find God expressing both wills in Scripture.  The most important example of how those two wills function together is seen in the cross of Christ.

          Clearly the Jewish leaders were committing the ultimate violation of God’s will of command in their efforts to have Jesus crucified.  They were guilty of deceit, envy, murder and a host of other sins that God expressly forbid and they perpetrated all these sins against the only perfect man in this story—the God man, the divine Son of God.  Jesus, speaking of his betrayal, said of Judas in Luke 22:22 “woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!”  That’s a curse formula—Jesus condemns Judas to damnation because of his uniquely evil sin.  Pontius Pilate was in gross sin against God when he caved into the political pressure of the Jews and sentenced Christ to be crucified when he knew he was an innocent man.  The process that put Jesus on the cross was in countless ways in violation of God’s will of command.  But we also know that the crucifixion of Jesus fulfilled God’s most magnificent plan, promised all the way back in Genesis chapter three.

          Peter, in his great sermon at Pentecost in Acts chapter two tells his hearers in verse 23, “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.”  God not only foreknew Jesus would be crucified, but he had a definite plan set forth for this.  This is God’s will of decree concerning the death of Jesus.  Back to Judas and his role, the entire quotation of Luke 22:22 is, “For the Son of man goes as it has been determined [or, “decreed”], but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!”  There in one verse you have both God’s will of decree—the Son of man goes as it has been determined and his will of command is implied in the curse he places on Judas for sinning against him in his betrayal. 

          One question we can ask in response to this dynamic as we see it played out in Daniel 11 is, “why?”  Why does God have these two wills?  There are several answers to that question but one is simply—how will we know the wisdom and mercy and patience of God unless he allows into his plan things that he hates?  Without sin and evil in this world, how would we know those glorious attributes of God that are manifested only in response to evil?  As I was reminded in a Desiring God blog this week, the great Puritan divine Jonathan Edwards explains this dynamic this way, “…it is necessary, that God's awful majesty, his authority and dreadful greatness, justice, and holiness, should be manifested. But this could not be, unless sin and punishment had been decreed; so that the shining forth of God's glory would be very imperfect, both because these parts of divine glory would not shine forth as the others do, and also the glory of his goodness, love, and holiness would be faint without them; nay, they could scarcely shine forth at all. If it were not right that God should decree and permit and punish sin, there could be no manifestation of God's holiness in hatred of sin, or in showing any preference… of godliness…. There would be no manifestation of God's grace or true goodness, if there was no sin to be pardoned, no misery to be saved from. …his goodness would not be so much prized and admired, and the sense of it not so great.”[Jonathan Edwards' Dissertation Concerning the Divine Decrees in General and Election in Particular.]  The blackness of sin highlights the blazing light of God’s glory in the same way that black velvet highlights the radiance of diamonds.

          In the case of these Jews who were so persecuted, how would we see the supremacy of the worth of God manifest if these Jews had not been willing to die for him?  They showed in their valiant opposition to the evils of Antiochus the precious worth of God, his law, his covenant, his temple.  They were willing to suffer and die for him and in so doing, powerfully proclaimed the excellency of his Name.  Finally, what better way for the Jews who did not know God—who were not wise to stop being deceived about where their hearts had been all along, than for them to see the superficial commitment they had to God.  The minute Antiochus comes along with a promise of political or financial gain, they go after it.  God uses times of persecution and suffering to show us whether we truly know him and love him, or whether we are just going along for the blessings we receive from him.

          A second point of application is: God is in complete control of all world events, including those that are especially vile.  The author bends over backwards to make this point in this chapter.  We see this stated explicitly at least four times.  In verse 24 in relation to Antiochus’ initial military advances, he says, “He shall devise plans against strongholds, but only for a time.”  One commentator says that this is “the first of a series of reminders that a (divinely decreed) limit is set to his career.”  Antiochus and every world leader in history, past or present is on God’s intensely short leash.  God sets the parameters for every move, every advance, every development of history.  In verse 29, after he has returned to Syria for a short time, it says, “At the time appointed he shall return and come into the south…”  When did Antiochus resume his campaign against Egypt—at God’s appointed time!  Antiochus and every tyrant are running on God’s schedule, not their own—as much as they might argue to the contrary.  We see the same phrase, “appointed time” in verses 27 and 35. The author’s repetition of this underscores its importance to him. He doesn’t want anyone reading this chapter to get the idea that anyone other than God is running the show.

           Where are we in relation to these truths found in Daniel 11?  When the Osama Bin Laden’s—or, pick your favorite tyrant—comes onto the scene, do we remind ourselves that these people, though incredibly wicked, are in fact part of God’s plan for history?  That means we can trust him—we don’t have to be afraid—we don’t have to hate or grow frustrated.  We can trust instead and when everyone around us looks at these evil people and goes nuts, we can take courage from the truth that these monsters are ultimately God’s monsters.  That doesn’t mean he in any way condones what they do, but he does permit it for his larger purposes as we have seen so many times before in Daniel. 

Second, when you suffer persecution or trials for the name of Christ, do you whine and complain about it?  Or do you respond as the apostles did in Acts chapter five after they had been beaten for preaching Christ, “…rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name?”  Finally, are we receiving the comfort we should from knowing the truth that though this world seems to be in a state of perpetual chaos, God is at the helm of this ship and it is right on his schedule—his plans for history are sailing along.  Though he permits sin and evil for his glory, he marks off its limits so that it will not destroy his saint, but will instead purify us.  This is what James admonishes in chapter one of his letter.  “Count if all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”  May God give us the grace to trust him and find our joy in him in a world filled with darkness and difficulties.

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