THE ACTUAL CONTENT OF THE VISION disclosed by the heavenly messenger to Daniel occupies Daniel 11 and the first part of Daniel 12. Although the meaning of many of the details is not easy to sort out, the main lines of thought are reasonably clear.
The Persian Empire is in view in 11:2. The standpoint of the vision, according to 10:1, is the reign of Cyrus. Who are the other four kings? The Persian Empire lasted two more centuries and produced nine kings (not counting usurpers between Cambyses and Darius I). Are the four the most prominent? The ones mentioned in Scripture (Cyrus, Darius, Xerxes [=Ahasuerus], Artaxerxes)? We do not know.
The Greek conqueror (11:3-4) is Alexander the Great, and the four kingdoms into which his empire was broken up have already been mentioned (Daniel 8; see meditation for October 23). The running struggles between the king of the south (the Ptolemies) and the king of the north (the Seleucids) found Jews squeezed between the two. Eventually the north prevailed (11:5-20). The one who sent out the tax collector (11:20) is almost universally recognized to be Seleucus IV, who died in 175 B.C. The “contemptible person” (11:21-39 [or possibly 21-45]) is undoubtedly Antiochus IV Epiphanes, a Seleucid monarch we have met before (October 23).
Readers of this book who love history should read Josephus, I Maccabees and II Maccabees, and contemporary reconstructions of the dramatic events of that period. There is no space here to survey that turbulent history. Yet we must ask why Scripture devotes so much space to it. From certain perspectives, Antiochus IV Epiphanes was not very significant. So why all this attention?
There are at least two reasons. First, at one level Antiochus attempted something new and profoundly evil. The oppression the Jews had suffered up to this point was diverse, but it was not like this. The ancient Egyptians had enslaved them, but did not try to impose their own religion on them. During the period of the judges, the Israelites were constantly running after pagan deities; when the pagans prevailed they imposed taxes and cruel subjugation, but not ideology. With the exception of one brief experiment by Nebuchadnezzar (Dan. 3), Assyria and Babylon did not forcibly impose polytheism. But here is Antiochus IV Epiphanes outlawing Israelite faith, killing those found with any part of Torah in their possession, militarily imposing and coercing a pagan worldview. The people suffer, and God eventually saves them. Second, canonically this brutal period of history becomes a model, a type, of ideological oppression, suffering, and martyrdom against the church. What New Testament passages reflect this?