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Daniel 11: Antiochus and Seleucus

Aug 25, 2015

The terminology used in Daniel 11:15, 16 to describe the Syrian invasion of Egypt—and especially Judea—reveals a (counterfeit) parallel to Joshua’s invasion of Canaan. Joshua had led Israel in the successful invasion of Canaan, the Promised Land. But now we find the king of the north invading “the Beautiful Land” against the “choicest troops” of Egypt.

The Beautiful Land refers to Judea itself. The Hebrew word tsebiy means “glory, splendor, or beautiful.” It is translated “beautiful” in four places in the book of Daniel: 8:9; 11:16; 11:41, and 11:45. In Daniel 11:45 it describes “the beautiful Holy Mountain,” which is a reference to Jerusalem or Mount Zion. The other three references use the term “the Beautiful Land” to describe Judea itself and is the prophetic equivalent of The Promised Land. It was supposed to be the glorious place where the glory of God dwelt.

In Daniel 11:15 we read that in this war “the forces of the South will not stand their ground, nor even their choicest troops.” The KJV reads, “his chosen people.” The Septuagint says the same. The Concordant Version agrees. No doubt this refers to the elite troops of Egypt, but the terminology suggests a prophetic reversal. Because the land was under Egyptian rule at the time, it was as if The Promised Land was being defended in vain by counterfeit “chosen people.”

Metaphorically speaking, Egypt represents the world, its fleshly ways, and bondage to the flesh. The Promised Land at that time, which should have manifested the glory of God, was instead being ruled by the flesh. Certain “violent” Judeans, who were religious but carnally minded, thought that they could change their situation and “fulfill the vision” of the Kingdom by supporting the Syrians in this war.

Their efforts were doomed to failure, as the angel tells us. They ought not to look to the Syrians for help. Both Syria and Egypt were inspired by the Prince of Greece called Vainglory. Both nations were Greek. To be ruled by Syria rather than Egypt would change nothing in the long run.

In fact, this was soon to be proven by the actions of Antiochus Epiphanes (“God Manifest”) when he attempted to impose his own vainglory upon Jerusalem and the temple. Whereas the Egyptian king had desecrated the temple by entering the holy place, the Syrian king attempted to turn it into a temple devoted to Zeus.

The main lesson here is to take heed to the instruction in Isaiah 30 and 31, where we are to depend upon God for our defense, rather than the “horses of Egypt.” Isaiah 31:1 says,

1 Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, and rely on horses, and trust in chariots because they are many, and in horsemen because they are very strong, but they do not look to the Holy One of Israel, nor seek the Lord!

The same principle should have told the “violent” ones of Judea not to rely upon the horses of Syria. As Isaiah 31:3 says, “Now the Egyptians [and Syrians] are men, and not God, and their horses are flesh and not spirit.”

Daniel 11:17 continues,

17 And he [the king of Syria] will set his face to come with the power of his whole kingdom, bringing with him a proposal of peace which he will put into effect; he will also give him the daughter of women to ruin it. But she will not take a stand for him or be on his side.

This prophecy is a summary of events that actually took place. When the Syrian king had conquered much Egyptian territory by 196 B.C., the Romans negotiated peace between them. Antiochus agreed to make peace with Ptolemy and to give his daughter, Cleopatra, to be married to Ptolemy. Her dowry was to be the tax revenue from the conquered lands of Judea, Phoenicia, and Coelesyria. The marriage took place in 193 in Raphia (the site of the important battle in 217). Ptolemy was about twelve; Cleopatra was ten or eleven.

The angel said in Daniel 11:17 that Antiochus’ real motive behind this marriage proposal would not be to secure the peace, but “to ruin it.” This plan backfired on Antiochus, because, as the angel put it, “she will not take a stand for him or be on his side.” History shows that Cleopatra sided with her husband Ptolemy, thereby foiling the schemes of her father.

As I have already shown, war again broke out in 192, and this time the Romans took a more active role in defeating Syria on behalf of Egypt. The Treaty of Apamea was signed in 188, and Antiochus was killed the following year (187).

Meanwhile, in Egypt, the young king and his queen appear to have been happily married. Cleopatra the Syrian, as she was called, was given full honors according to Egyptian practice. In 187 she was appointed vizier, a high-ranking political advisor. When her husband died in 180, she ruled on behalf of her young son, Ptolemy VI (“Philometor”), who was just two years old. She was Cleopatra I, the first queen to rule Egypt as sole ruler. Her son came to be known as Ptolemy Philometor, “Fond of his Mother.”

Just before the death of Ptolemy VI, he had begun making preparations for war against Syria. His death, however, put an end to those plans, because Cleopatra refused to declare war on her brother, Seleucus IV, who then ruled Syria. So in the end, the Treaty of Apamea held longer than either side had intended, due first to Cleopatra’s refusal to undermine her husband, and later her refusal to declare war on her brother. In the years to come, many of the queens of Egypt were named after her.

Roman Intervention

The angelic message includes prophecy about Rome’s intervention which prevented Antiochus from taking territory from Egypt. Daniel 11:18, 19 says,

18 Then he [Antiochus] will turn his face to the coastlands and capture many. But a commander will put a stop to his scorn [cherpah, “reproach, rebuke, taunt, shame”] against him; moreover, he will repay him for his scorn. 19 So he will turn his face toward the fortresses of his own land, but he will stumble and fall and be found no more.

As we have already shown, Antiochus began to take coastal territory and cities controlled by Egypt. He did indeed “capture many,” thereby taunting Rome which had defense treaties with many of the Greek cities. Rome then sent a “commander” named Scipio, who defeated Antiochus at Magnesia and prevented him from retaining those territories.

The angel does not distinguish between the war from 200-196, ending with the first peace agreement that was sealed by the marriage between Ptolemy and Cleopatra, and the second war from 192-188, ending with the Treaty of Apamea. The latter treaty forced Antiochus to pay Rome for their war expenses. So the angel prophesied, “he will repay him for his scorn.”

Daniel 11:19 tells us that after Antiochus’ plans were foiled by the Roman army, he would turn his attention to fortifying his own territory. The angel says, “he will turn his face toward the fortresses of his own land.” To pay for the war, in 187 Antiochus tried to plunder the temple of Jupiter (or Bel) at Elymais, Persia, but was killed. Elymais is the grecianized form of Elam, which often appears in Scripture.

This ends the prophecies regarding Antiochus III. Daniel 11:20 begins a section describing his son, Seleucus IV, who ruled from 187-175.

Seleucus IV, The Raiser of Taxes

Daniel 11:20 says,

20 Then in his place one will arise who will send an oppressor [nagas, “taskmaster, taxman”] through the Jewel [heder, “ornament, splendor, glory”] of his kingdom; yet within a few days he will be shattered, though neither in anger nor in battle.

This prophesies that the son of Antiochus would raise taxes in Judea. Jerusalem is here called “the Jewel of his kingdom.” The passage should be understood to mean, “one who shall cause the tax collector to pass through Jerusalem, the glory of the kingdom.”

Seleucus sent Heliodorus to plunder the temple in Jerusalem. However, God struck him down at the temple, and his life was spared only after the high priest, Onias, made sacrifices for him and prayed for his life. The story is written in the third chapter of 2 Maccabees,

1 Now when the holy city was inhabited with all peace, and the laws were kept very well, because of the godliness of Onias the high priest, and his hatred of wickedness, 2 it came to pass that even the kings themselves did honour the place, and magnify the temple with their best gifts; 3 insomuch that Seleucus king of Asia of his own revenues bare all the costs belonging to the service of the sacrifices. 4 But one Simon of the tribe of Benjamin, who was made governor of the temple, fell out with the high priest about disorder in the city. 5 And when he could not overcome Onias, he got him to Apollonius the son of Thraseas, who was then governor of Celosyria and Phenice, 6 and he told him that the treasury in Jerusalem was full of infinite sums of money, so that the multitude of their riches, which did not pertain to the account of the sacrifices, was innumerable, and that it was possible to bring all into the king’s hand. 7 Now when Apollonius came to the king and had shown him of the money whereof he was told, the king chose out Heliodorus his treasurer, and sent him with a commandment to bring him the foresaid money…

Heliodorus then went to Jerusalem, and Onias told him that the temple contained 400 talents of silver and two hundred talents of gold. This was for the relief of widows and orphans, but much of it was actually owned by “Hircanus, son of Tobias, a man of great dignity, and not as that wicked Simon had misinformed” (Maccabees 3:11).

13 But Heliodorus, because of the king’s commandment given him, said that in any wise it must be brought into the king’s treasury. 14 So at the day which he appointed he entered in to order this matter; wherefore there was no small agony throughout the whole city…. 22 They then called upon the Almighty Lord to keep the things committed of trust safe and sure for those that had committed them. 23 Nevertheless, Heliodorus executed that which was decreed. 24 Now as he was there present himself with his guard about the treasury, the Lord of spirits, and the Prince of all power, caused a great apparition, so that all that presumed to come in with him were astonished at the power of God, and fainted, and were sore afraid. 25 For there appeared unto them an horse with a terrible rider upon him, and adorned with a very fair covering, and he ran fiercely, and smote at Heliodorus with his forefeet, and it seemed that he that sat upon the horse had complete harness of gold. 26 Moreover, two other young men appeared before him, notable in strength, excellent in beauty, and comely in apparel, who stood by him on either side, and scourged him continually, and gave him many sore stripes. 27 And Heliodorus fell suddenly unto the ground, and was compassed with great darkness; but they that were with him took him up and put him into a litter….

31 Then straightway certain of Heliodorus’ friends prayed Onias, that he would call upon the most High to grant him his life, who lay ready to give up the ghost. 32 So the high priest, suspecting lest the king should misconceive that some treachery had been done to Heliodorus by the Jews, offered a sacrifice for the health of the man. 33 Now as the high priest was making an atonement, the same young man in the same clothing appeared and stood beside Heliodorus, saying, “Give Onias the high priest great thanks, inasmuch as for his sake the Lord hath granted thee life; 34 and seeing that thou hast been scourged from heaven, declare unto all men the mighty power of God.” And when they had spoken these words, they appeared no more.

Heliodorus then returned to give his report to Seleucus. He suggested that if the king had any enemies, he should send them to confiscate the treasure in the temple, where they might be divinely scourged even as he was. Heliodorus soon assassinated the king by poison and took the throne. However, Seleucus’ brother, Antiochus, overthrew Heliodorus, murdered Seleucus’ young son, and took the throne for himself.

In the next verses of Daniel 11, the angel gives revelation of the reign of Antiochus IV, who called himself Epiphanes.


This is part 64 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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