DANIEL CHAPTER 11: A Real Life Game of Thrones

We’re continuing our series on Daniel chapter 11—a real life version of the television series “The Game of Thrones.” In our last post, we learned about Antiochus Epiphanes, a vile king that tried to force the Jewish people to give up their faith and culture and adopt Greek culture. He was cruel in his efforts to Hellenize Jerusalem and the Jewish people.

In this post, we will learn more about how Antiochus Epiphanes interfered with the Jewish people and their culture. The Jewish people were being torn apart due to cultural differences, but it was turned into a nightmare because of the interference of Antiochus Epiphanes. Also, you’ll learn about a famous event involving Antiochus that was a great humiliation to him. Out of this event came an oft-spoken saying, “He drew a line in the sand and dared his enemy to cross it.” Unfortunately, a humiliated Antiochus would take out his wrath on the Jewish people. Keep reading to learn more.

 DANIEL CHAPTER 11: A Real Life Game of Thrones

Sixth in a Six-Part Series
By Karen Thompson

In the last post, our story ended with Antiochus Epiphanes being the first Seleucid king that ever succeeded in finally penetrating Egypt! Antiochus captured his nephew, the Ptolemaic king of Egypt. They began negotiations with each other on how they could each get what they wanted if they worked together. The whole scenario was like a plot straight out of “The Game of Thrones.” Both Antiochus and Ptolemy VI only pretended to go along with each other’s plans. When Antiochus felt he had Ptolemy VI fooled, he left Egypt and went back home. But both uncle and nephew were telling each other lies. As soon as Antiochus left, Ptolemy VI contacted Rome to help him get his throne back. Rome intervened and helped Ptolemy VI get his throne back.

Verse 28: Antiochus Moves Against Jerusalem

Dan. 11:28 Then shall [the vile conqueror from the North] return into his land with much booty; and his heart and purpose shall be set against [God’s] holy covenant [with His people], and he shall accomplish [his malicious intention] and return to his own land [Syria]. (Amp.)

After Antiochus won his victory in Egypt, he stopped in Jerusalem on his way back. His war with Egypt had been financed by the large bribes that Menelaus had paid him. Menelaus paid his bribes to Antiochus by raiding the Jewish temple treasury until it was nearly empty. When Antiochus arrived at Jerusalem, Menelaus gave him the bad news that he could not pay the remainder of the bribe.

Angry, Antiochus summoned Menelaus to Antioch in 169 BC. Menelaus knew he was in trouble, so he robbed the temple of everything valuable taking gold vessels to bring to Antiochus in hopes of appeasing him. While he was gone, he asked his brother Lysimachus to raid the temple a second time. But Antiochus was satisfied with what Menelaus had brought him. So satisfied that while Menelaus was in Antioch, the High Priest Onias III was murdered!

When Menelaus came back from his time with Antiochus, he had with him an edict from the king that would go into effect in two years: 167 BC. The edict was for the purpose of speeding up by force the Hellenization of Jerusalem. In two years, circumcision would be outlawed. Sacrifices to Hellenistic deities would be mandatory. Antiochus would be worshiped as the god Zeus. All Jewish worship on the Sabbath would be forbidden. Also forbidden would be the observance of religious Jewish holidays. A statue of Zeus was to be installed in the temple, along with temple prostitution, and pork was to become part of the new Jewish diet.

Scholars do not believe that Antiochus was the author of this decree. They believe it was written by Menelaus who asked Antiochus to enforce it. The reason they don’t think Antiochus authored the edict is because he didn’t know Jewish traditions well enough to know that sacrificing a pig on the altar would be forbidden. The Greeks sacrificed goats exclusively. Only Menelaus would know that it would be heresy to offer a pig on the altar or to eat pork. The culture war between the secular and religious Jews was at a near breaking point. The religious Jews were outraged, feeling helpless against what was happening.

So prophecy was fulfilled when Antiochus returned “to his land with great riches,” after his victory in Egypt. “His heart” was “moved against the holy covenant” because he learned that Menelaus couldn’t afford to pay the rest of his bribe to Antiochus. So the king issued an edict forbidding the Jews to practice their religion, “and he shall accomplish [his malicious intention].”

Verses 29–31: Antiochus Is Humiliated by Roman Commander

Dan. 11:29 At the time appointed he shall return, and come toward the south; but it shall not be as the former, or as the latter. 30 For the ships of Chittim shall come against him: therefore he shall be grieved, and return, and have indignation against the holy covenant: so shall he do; he shall even return, and have intelligence with them that forsake the holy covenant.

At this time, Egypt was vulnerable as there was constant conflict between Ptolemy VI and his brother, Ptolemy VII. It was during this time of conflict that Antiochus invaded Egypt in 168 BC for a second time. And it’s at this point in chapter 11 that we find another very famous incident in history that is the origin story of a very well-known saying.

Antiochus attempted a second attack on Egypt, but he was thwarted by the Roman commander Gaius Popillius Laenas. Two ancient historians record this incident. When Antiochus was on his way to the city of Alexander, he was met by the Roman commander Gaius Popillius Laenas. The Roman historian Livy says Antiochus gave the commander a friendly greeting and held out his hand to Gaius. But Gaius did not return the greeting. It’s at this point that the ancient Greek historian Polybius commented that he didn’t think it proper to make a “conventional sign of friendship before he knew if the intentions of him who was greeting him was friendly or hostile.”

Popillius ignored Antiochus’ extended hand. Instead, he handed a copy of the ultimatum made by the Roman senate to Antiochus that he was to leave Egypt immediately. Stunned by the demand, Antiochus managed only to say he would call a council and take it into consideration. Then Gaius, in an arrogant and offensive manner, took his walking stick and drew a circle in the sand around Antiochus and said he needed his answer to the senate’s demand before he exited the circle. (This is the event that is the origin story of the well-known saying, “He drew a line in the sand and dared his enemy to cross it.”) Refusing to leave Egypt would have meant war with Rome. He had no choice. Antiochus replied he would do what the Roman senate requested. It was deeply humiliating! And Antiochus took the humiliation badly.

Meanwhile back in Jerusalem, there was a rumor that Antiochus was killed in battle. All of Jerusalem rejoiced. Jason got together 1,000 supporters and stormed Jerusalem and overthrew Menelaus and took back his position as high priest. Menelaus fled to Egypt. When Antiochus heard what had happened, he wasted no time to set things right. Still fresh from his humiliation from Gaius, the Jews would suffer a severe retaliation. Right away, he reinstalled Menelaus in the temple.

Antiochus’ attack on Jerusalem is recorded in the book of 2nd Maccabees chapter five in the Apocrypha. Verses 11–16 tell us that Antiochus thought that the Jewish people were in revolt, and he came out of Egypt “in a furious mind.” He told his soldiers to not spare anyone in Jerusalem. They killed everyone—young and old, men, women, and children. After three days of killing, forty thousand were slain and “no fewer sold than slain.” Antiochus wasn’t yet satisfied. He then entered the temple; Menelaus guided him to where all the valuables were. He took the holy vessels in the temple, plus verse 21 says he confiscated 1,800 talents.

In this way prophecy was fulfilled: “At the appointed time” Antiochus returned and attacked the south, or Egypt. “But it shall not be like the former or the latter,” meaning he won’t have success like he did on his last campaign in Egypt. “For ships from Cyprus [carrying Gaius Popillius Laenas] shall come against him. Therefore he shall be grieved,” because of the public humiliation he experienced and “return in rage against the holy covenant, and do damage.”

Verses 30b–35: Antiochus Enforces His Edict on Jerusalem

Dan. 11:30b …Then, in retreat, he will take furious action against the holy covenant, again showing favor to those who abandon the holy covenant. 31 Armed forces will come at his order and profane the sanctuary and fortress. They will abolish the daily burnt offering and set up the abomination that causes desolation. 32 Those who act wickedly against the covenant he will corrupt with his blandishments, but the people who know their God will stand firm and prevail. 33 Those among the people who have discernment will cause the rest of the people to understand what is happening; nevertheless, for a while they will fall victim to sword, fire, exile and pillage. 34 When they stumble, they will receive a little help, although many who join them will be insincere. 35 Even some of those with discernment will stumble, so that some of them will be refined, purified and cleansed for an end yet to come at the designated time. (CJB)

Verse 30 says, “…he will take furious action against the holy covenant….” After the furious attack against the Jewish people, Antiochus built a garrison called Acra in the old city of David west of the temple and turned it into a stronghold in which his men could take over the city of Jerusalem. They tore down Jerusalem’s walls making the city insecure and dependent upon Acra for security.

Then they announced that the edict the king had made two years earlier was now in effect. Jerusalem was to be stripped of its Jewish heritage and identity and become a Greek city exclusively. To that end, Jewish worship and culture was to be completely obliterated. They were forbidden to enter into the temple for worship. They could not worship their God, pray to their God, or sacrifice to their God. They were forbidden to observe their Sabbaths or festivals. They could no longer circumcise their sons. They were forbidden to have possession of the Holy Scriptures.

To ensure that none of the Jews could worship their God or observe His sabbaths and ordinances, everything that was Judaic was destroyed and replaced with paganism. The temple was dedicated to the Greek god Zeus and his image was installed in the temple. The altar was defiled by the deliberate sacrifice of a pig on the sacred altar. A mixture of boiled pig’s flesh and its blood was poured throughout the temple. Thus the prophecy was fulfulled: “Armed forces will come at his order and profane the sanctuary and fortress. They will abolish the daily burnt offering and set up the abomination that causes desolation” (v. 31), the abomination being the statue of Zeus in the temple.

In 170 BC, Antiochus made a law requiring all citizens to present themselves four times a year to pay respect to him as the senior god of the Seleucids. The day that was chosen for them to pay this homage was the sabbath day. The sabbath was a day of prayer for the Jews, so they did not want to leave their homes. Antiochus installed in the temple a statue of the Greek god Zeus (Roman god Jupiter) erected in the holy of holies.

Jerusalem was the main focus of this forced religious reconstruction, but all the other cities of Judah were expected to follow suit. Not only were they forced to forsake their worship and culture, they were commanded to adopt Greek gods and Greek culture. (1 Macc. 1:44) Every month, the king sent his officers into the cities of Judah to inspect whether his new decrees were being upheld and to punish those who disobeyed. (1 Macc. 1:58)

Those who were found in possession of the Holy Scriptures were put to death. Mothers that had their sons circumcised were thrown from a tall building with their children tied around their necks. (1 Macc. 1:61) The people were further horrified at the treatment of an elderly and respected scribe named Eleazar who was whipped to death for refusing to eat pig’s flesh. (2 Macc. 6:18–24) A mother and her seven sons were tortured to death for refusing to eat the flesh of swine. (2 Macc. 7)

Sadly, the once holy city of Jerusalem was transformed into a foreign city. It became a habitation of strangers, and the citizens that were born in Jerusalem fled the city. The sanctuary was “laid waste” and it became like a “wilderness.” (1 Macc. 1:38–39) Yet not all those that were born in Jerusalem fled the city. There were some Israelites that consented to this new religion and sacrificed to idols and profaned the sabbath. (1 Macc. 1:43)

In this way was prophecy fulfilled: “Those [apostate Jews] who act wickedly against the covenant, he [Antiochus] will corrupt with his blandishments [gifts and bribes], but the people who know their God [the God-fearing Jews] will stand firm and prevail” (v. 32).

One of those that fled Jerusalem was a righteous god-fearing priest by the name of Mattathias. He and his five sons fled to the city of Modin where he was from originally. It was Mattathias and his sons that initiated and led the Jewish revolt (known as the Maccabean Revolt) against the tyranny of Antiochus Epiphanes, which eventually led to their freedom from Greek rule. (1 and 2 Macc.) In this way, prophecy was fulfilled when it says, “Those among the people who have discernment will cause the rest of the people to understand what is happening; nevertheless, for a while they will fall victim to sword, fire, exile and pillage. When they stumble, they will receive a little help, although many who join them will be insincere. Even some of those with discernment will stumble, so that some of them will be refined, purified and cleansed for an end yet to come at the designated time” (vv. 33–35).

This concludes our study of the first 35 verses of Daniel chapter 11—a real life vision of “The Game of Thrones.” The last nine verses of chapter 11 have to do with the future end time Antichrist figure. We’ll get to that, but first I think it’s important to study the Maccabean Revolt. When Antiochus Epiphanes tried to force the Jewish people to abandon their faith and culture and embrace Grecian culture and gods, the response of the Jewish people was the Maccabean Revolt. Your heart will be stirred when you hear how the Jewish people fought with all their heart in order to keep their identity as a people. And when you hear about how mightily they fought back the enemy, it will be obvious to you that God was fighting with them.

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