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Daniel 11: The rise of the third beast

Aug 20, 2015

The angel’s information about the second beast (Persia) was very brief. It appears that his main message was to inform Daniel of the third beast (Greece). As we have seen, the wealthy and powerful King Xerxes of Persia attacked Greece and aroused the Greeks. As a result, Daniel 11:3 says,

3 And a mighty [gibbowr] king will arise, and he will rule with great authority and do as he pleases [ratsown].

The “mighty king” here is Alexander the Great, who conquered Persia 150 years after being aroused by King Xerxes. The word “mighty” is from the Hebrew word gibbowr, “mighty warrior, champion,” whose root is gabar, “to have strength, to prevail.”

The NASB translates ratsown to say that he will “do as he pleases.” The Septuagint uses the term thelema, “according to his will.” The implication is that Alexander conquered according to his own will, rather than by seeking God’s will. Nonetheless, on a deeper level, the Greek empire was part of the divine judgment upon Judah and was raised up by the will of God.

God gave him the strength to conquer the world, though he did not understand the biblical concept of the Dominion Mandate. It is characteristic of beast nations that they readily grasp the authority given to them by God, but do not understand the responsibility before God that this entails. Their misuse of authority, then, is the legal reason for their downfall. As “beasts,” they are oblivious of the divine court, and so they break their contract with God by ruling as sovereigns rather than as stewards.

Alexander’s Kingdom Broken

In the case of Alexander, we find his power broken in his prime of life on account of his acting “according to his will.” So Daniel 11:4 continues,

4 But as soon as he has arisen, his kingdom will be broken up and parceled out toward the four points of the compass, though not to his own descendants, nor according to his authority, which he wielded; for his sovereignty will be uprooted and given to others besides them.

Here we see confirmation of that which was written about Greece in Daniel 8:8, where Greece was pictured as a strong, angry male goat coming against the ram of Persia. The goat had a prominent horn—Alexander himself. We read that “the male goat magnified himself exceedingly,” inspired by the spiritual Prince of Greece (Kenodoxia, “Vainglory”). The power of Prince Kenodoxia was to inspire the kings of Greece to think of themselves more highly than they ought to think, to magnify themselves as gods, and to do according to their own will.

Daniel 8:8 gives us the result:

8 … But as soon as he was mighty, the large horn was broken; and in its place there came up four conspicuous horns toward the four winds of heaven.

This is similar to Daniel 11:4, which tells us that his kingdom “will be broken up and parceled out toward the four points of the compass.” Alexander died in Babylon in 323 B.C., and his kingdom was parceled out to four of his generals. Alexander’s wife, Roxane, was pregnant, and Perdiccas, the Imperial Regent at the time, suggested to the others that they should keep the empire united until he (Alexander IV) would be old enough to rule the kingdom. However, the generals wanted to rule the empire themselves, and so they agreed to divide the empire into four parts. So the kingdom was parceled out to the four generals and “not to his own descendants” (Daniel 11:4).

The angelic message to Daniel immediately shifts from Alexander to the separate kingdoms formed by the four generals. More importantly, the angel focuses upon the two kingdoms that fought for control of Judea that lay between them. These kingdoms became known as Syria and Egypt, and their rulers were known prophetically as “the king of the north” and “the king of the south.”

This “compass” terminology is rooted in the earlier statement that Alexander’s empire was to be divided “toward the four points of the compass” (Daniel 11:4) and “toward the four winds of heaven” (Daniel 8:8). Prophetically speaking, Judea was the point of the compass. The prophetic “south” means south of Judea. The prophetic “north” means north of Judea.

The angel focuses upon these two points of the compass, and the other points (east and west) fade from the prophetic picture.

Ptolemy Soter: The King of the South

Daniel 11:5 begins by focusing upon the king of the south (Egypt).

5 Then the king of the south will grow strong, along with one of his princes who will gain ascendancy over him and obtain dominion; his domain will be a great dominion indeed.

After Alexander’s death in 323, the empire was divided among four generals who were to rule as satraps. But they fought each other as rivals, each desiring to gain more territory and power. In 306 these satraps all took the title of king.

Ptolemy Soter, one of Alexander’s most trusted generals, was one of his seven bodyguards. He had been a childhood friend of Alexander.

Ptolemy became king in Egypt and also controlled Libya, Cyrenaciea, Arabia, Palestine, and a few islands in the Mediterranean Sea. This southern dynasty fought many wars against the Seleucid dynasty of Syria to the north of Judea. Seleucus was the Alexander’s general who took control of Syria, and his dynasty is known prophetically as “the king of the north.”

Ptolemy Soter secured his power base in Egypt. Perdiccas, whom Alexander had named as his successor, was the Imperial Regent, but was unable to hold the empire together. He came to Egypt in 321 B.C. to subdue Ptolemy, but after losing key battles, Perdiccas was assassinated by his subordinates. Perdiccas’ army then defected to Ptolemy. They offered him the empire itself, but Ptolemy declined. He preferred to maintain a more defensible power base in Egypt.

Technically, during this time, Egypt was a satrap (province) under Alexander IV, the young son of Alexander the Great. Thirteen-year-old Alexander was in Macedonia when (in 310) he was murdered by Cassander, the satrap of the west (Greece, Macedonia). At that point, Ptolemy became a fully-independent king. Ptolemy and Antigonus (Syria) fought many battles during these years, but in the end Antigonus won control of Syria, and Ptolemy was forced to retreat south.

In 306 the four satraps of the Grecian empire declared themselves “kings,” and Alexander’s empire formally ended.

The King’s Daughter, Bernice

Daniel 11:6 says,

6 And after some years they will form an alliance, and the daughter of the king of the South will come to the king of the North to carry out a peaceful arrangement. But she will not retain her position of power, nor will he remain with his power, but she will be given up, along with those who brought her in, and the one who sired her, as well as he who supported her in those times.

The grandson of Seleucus I of Syria was Antiochus II “Theos” (god), who reigned from 261-246. This Antiochus received the title “god” after recapturing the city of Miletus and overthrowing its tyrant. The people were grateful to him and gave him the title Theos.

He made war with Ptolemy II “Philadelphus” of Egypt. This Ptolemy had divorced his wife, Arsinoe I (the daughter of Lysimachus), and had married his sister by the same name, Arsinoe II. For this, he was given the title Philadelphus, “lover of brother/sister.”

However, a rebellion in Anatolia (the eastern part of Syria) forced Antiochus to make peace with Ptolemy in 250. To cement the peace, he agreed to divorce his wife, Laodice, who had strong family connections in Anatolia, and to replace her with Ptolemy’s daughter, Bernice. Laodice then went to live in Ephesus.

Bernice was “the daughter of the king of the South” (Daniel 11:6) who married Antiochus II, the Syrian king. A large dowry went with Bernice, and it was understood that their children would be heirs to the Syrian throne. However, Bernice’s father (Ptolemy) died soon afterward (January 28, 246 B.C.).

In July of that year, Antiochus left his capital (Antioch) and rejoined his former wife, Laodice, naming her son (Seleucus Kallinikos) as his successor. However, it appears that Laodice still bore a grudge, and she soon poisoned him in Ephesus. After Antiochus' death, she arranged the murder of Bernice and her son as they were returning to Egypt later that summer. This murder, in turn, caused Bernice’s brother (now King Ptolemy III of Egypt) to declare war on Syria in what historians call the Third Syrian War, or the Laodicean War.

Daniel 11:6 says of Bernice that in spite of her marriage to the king of the north, “she will not retain her position of power.” The Septuagint reads, “she shall not retain power of arm; neither shall his seed stand.” So history tells us that both Bernice and her son by Antiochus were murdered, as the angel had prophesied.


This is part 61 of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Daniel." To view all parts, click the link below.

Studies in the Book of Daniel


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