We continue to discuss the historical and prophetic lessons of Daniel’s life and visions. We look at the contribution of The Maccabees and Daniel himself to the larger story of God and His Kingdom. Those who have gone before us help show us how to be a faithful witness, which is the essential call of The Book of Daniel.
The little horn
Now we’re going to go to the little horn of chapter 8. We saw this whole thing about Antiochus IV. Now we see kind of how Antiochus IV got on the scene in the first place. So now Antiochus IV is going to come.
Verse 21. “He, Seleucius IV, will be succeeded by a contemptible person who has not been given the honor of royalty.
This is kind of like the point in time point in the play when the villain comes in and everybody boos. This is the contemptible person. We’re introduced right off the bat. He’s got a black cape and a handlebar mustache and a black top hat. This is the guy who has not been given the honor of royalty. He will invade the kingdom when its people feel secure, and he will seize it through intrigue.
Remember he’s in exile with the Romans. He got taken as a hostage. So when Seleucius IV died in 175 B.C., his younger brother seized the throne. This is the “contemptible person.” This is Antiochus IV.
He wasn’t supposed to be the one that was on the throne. He didn’t have the honor of royalty. That’s supposed to go to Seleucius IV son by the way of royal succession. But his son was being held hostage too. He’s now out of being hostage and so he now seizes power. That’s how he gets to be on the throne.
He will invade the kingdom—is better rendered “he will come to the kingdom,” and this is talking about Syria, not Israel. “Invade the kingdom” is Syria.
He didn’t become king of Syria by means of military invasion. He came when his people are secure or in ease or quietness. The idea may be that Antiochus IV would come at a time of false security or come unawares.
Verse 22. I’m going to skip over to the NIV version because I found the NKVJ version to be incomprehensible in this particular case.
22 and 23. Then an overwhelming army will be swept away before him; both it and a prince of the covenant will be destroyed.
After coming to an agreement with him, he will act deceitfully, and with only a few people he will rise to power.
This is talking about Ptolemy’s army being swept away before Antiochus IV.
Here’s what happened here: 169 B.C., Ptolemy VI launched an attack to regain the territories of Israel—Phoenicia, Palestine—that he had lost to the Syrians. He had an overwhelming army with him, but it was defeated by Antiochus’ forces. Ptolemy was even captured or broken. It says “destroyed,” but basically his power was destroyed. He wasn’t killed. He was held as a hostage by the Seleucid king.
Ptolemy’s called a “prince of the covenant” in this verse because he agreed or made a covenant to become an ally of Antiochus IV if the Syrians would help him regain his throne in Egypt, which had been taken by his younger brother. So if I lose my throne to my younger brother, I go to my enemy to get him to help me take the throne back and then I attack my enemy again.
Don’t you love this?
Antiochus IV was delighted to make such a pact. He felt it would give him a foothold in Egypt. So with Syrian help, Ptolemy regained his throne. And later Ptolemy broke the agreement, allied himself with his brother, Ptolemy VII. The guy that he got Syria on his side to overcome, now he becomes his ally and to dislodge Antiochus’ troops on the border of Egypt.
Verse 24. When the richest provinces feel secure, he will invade them and will achieve what neither his fathers nor his forefathers did. This is Antiochus IV still. He will distribute plunder, loot and wealth among his followers. He will plot the overthrow of fortresses—but only for a time.
So they felt secure. Without warning Antiochus invaded the richest provinces. And the word here is like “the fat ones.”
And plundered their treasures. This includes Egypt, Judea, and other provinces where the Syrian forces were successful. Grandiose plans to conquer the fortresses in Egypt and so forth filled the proud king’s head, but his successes would only last for a brief time, that is the time decreed by God.
Once again, God’s on the throne, he’s got all this scripted out. These people only prosper when God allows them to prosper. And we’ve already seen this in Daniel, right? My servant Cyrus. My shepherd Cyrus. The anointed one, Cyrus, who’s doing my bidding to restore the holy land.
Nebuchadnezzar, he saw, “The only reason you’re here,” Daniel told him, “is because God put you here.” And then God had him go insane. And then he had him restored.
God is in control even though these people are out of control. They’re crazy.
Verse 25. “He, Antiochus IV, shall stir up his power and his courage against the king of the South, Egypt, with a great army. And the king of the South shall be stirred up to battle with a very great and mighty army; but he shall not stand, for they shall devise plans against him.
“They” here—now north and south is pretty clear there. The “they,” then, are his advisors. What happens is, Ptolemy’s counselors sit at his table and give him bad advice and it leads to Ptolemy’s downfall.
I’ll read it with that in mind. Maybe it’ll be clear.
but he shall not stand—meaning Ptolemy—for they shall devise plans against him.
Yes, those who eat of the portion of his delicacies—his advisors—shall destroy him; his army shall be swept away, and many shall fall down slain.
Both these kings’ hearts shall be bent on evil, and they shall speak lies at the same table; but it shall not prosper, for the end will still be at the appointed time.
While returning to his land with great riches, his heart shall be moved against the holy covenant; so he shall do damage and return to his own land.
This is what happened when Ptolemy VI was a prisoner. Ptolemy VII was made king. And this development made Ptolemy VI and Antiochus IV plan how they would regain the Egyptian throne. This is a different telling of the same event we just talked about.
Both kings made promises they had absolutely no intention of keeping which seems to be the pattern all the way through. That’s the “speak lies at the same table.”
And, of course, Antiochus was willing to thwart Ptolemy for his own personal gain, and, in turn, Ptolemy made insincere promises in order to receive aid. And so the figure of “speaking lies at the same table” was significant because in middle eastern culture, that was like the worst kind of lie. It’s just showing how contemptible they are.
But they didn’t prosper.
The holy covenant
Verse 28. Now we finally arrive at the main point of the story. Gabriel is telling us about the holy covenant. So now the Jewish people come in here. The holy covenant.
Antiochus’ first campaign against Egypt was successful. And on his way home, he goes through Palestine. And when he got there, he found a Jewish insurrection in progress.
The Jews, they are always willing accomplices in their own problem. That seems to be the case. Because they’re going to invite Antiochus to help them solve this. And the same thing happened a hundred years later: They invite the Romans in to solve it. And in both cases, the same thing happened: They appointed themselves as the ruler.
This is all now in first and second Maccabees, if you want to read that. It’s an apocryphal book, but I think, generally considered a reliable book.
Antiochus put the rebellion down and massacred 80,000 men, women, and children in doing it. He then looted the temple with the help of the evil high priest, Menelaus. Menelaus is like, “Come on in. It’ll be great. Kill a bunch of people. I’ll be your ally.” So he’s got insiders helping him. And the persecution of the Jews goes to calamitous proportions.
So verse 29. “At the appointed time he—Antiochus IV, Epiphanes—shall return and go toward the south; but it shall not be like the former or the latter.
For ships from Cyprus shall come against him; therefore he shall be grieved—
Here’s what happened: The Syrians, the northern, the Seleucid dynasty, were moving to besiege Alexandria which is a city in Egypt. Had a huge library, maybe up to 40,000 volumes in it.
Remember the Greeks, Aristotle, you know they’re a learned people.
The Roman commander Gaius Popillius Laenas met Antiochus four miles outside the city and handed Antiochus IV a letter from the Roman senate. And the letter ordered him to leave Egypt or face war with Rome.
Antiochus IV, who’s an egomaniac, now gets a letter saying leave, or Rome is going to squash you like a little bug.
Then the Roman commander drew a circle in the sand. He takes a stick and he draws a circle around him, and he says, “You must answer this letter before you leave this circle.”
Do you remember, it’s like, lion, bear, leopard, and then this monster with iron teeth? Well, this is the monster with iron teeth coming on the stage now.
And, of course, Antiochus knows he can’t beat Rome, so he suffers the humiliation of withdrawing, and he’s really unhappy about it.
The abomination of desolations
On the way back home, he goes through Israel again. Verse 30b. —and return in rage against the holy covenant, and does damage. Now he’s really ticked off. He goes back through Israel.
If you’re a bully, and a bigger bully kicks you, what would you do? Well, you find somebody else to kick, right? So he goes through Israel.
“So he shall return and show regard for those who forsake the holy covenant.
And forces shall be mustered by him, and they shall defile the sanctuary fortress; then they shall take away the daily sacrifices, and place there the abomination of desolation.
Here it is. This is the first abomination of desolations. It’s already happened. Another one’s coming. The one Jesus spoke of is the one coming.
What we can know
Is there any way you could read all this and predict, “Oh, I know what’s going to happen.
There’s no way you could predict that. Even now looking back, I’m reeling all this stuff off, and you’re going, I just barely understand what he’s saying. But what we do know is there was an abomination of desolations. We know that.
We’ve got signs we can look for. Trying to understand the events, we don’t need to know that. What we need to know is God’s in control of all the details.
Okay, verse 32. Those who do wickedly against the covenant he shall corrupt with flattery; but the people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits.
This is really cool. This is one of the great things that’s happened in the Bible. Antiochus is humiliated by Rome. He goes back to the holy covenant, and the head of his mercenaries and the chief collector of tribute, Apollonius, pretended to come in peace, but on the Sabbath day, he attacked, massacred a ton of people, plundered the city; but he rewarded the apostate Jews, like the high priest Menelaus, who supported his Hellenistic policies.
Now we have a divide. And we’ve got people who support the invaders and people who don’t, the same as in Roman times, in Jesus’ time, the Herodians were guys who supported compromising with the Romans.
The abomination of desolations
Verse 31. The temple is spoken of here as a fortress, probably because they had made it into a citadel.
And then what he did, the physical thing we know from history that he did, in 167 B.C. is where we are. And this is told first Maccabees. He took an altar or idol statue devoted to Zeus, or Roman’s Jupiter, and erected it in the temple. This was the abomination of desolations.
And on 25th of Kislev, the sacrifices—probably including pigs—were offered on the altar to Zeus. In this manner, the temple was desecrated and rendered empty of Yahweh worshipers.
Antiochus made some fine-sounding promises. It’s flattery. That’s what he was. He was a guy who did intrigue. And the apostate Jews, those who do wickedly against the covenant allied with him.
But even in this dark period, there were some faithful witnesses.
Here we go again. Faithful witnesses who don’t fear death.
And these guys turned out to be the Maccabees. So many in Israel stood firm and resolved in their hearts not to eat unclean food. They choose to die rather than to be defiled by food that had profaned the holy covenant, and they did die. That’s what happened.
Here’s what happened. Antiochus IV, called Epiphanes because he said, you know, I’m the image of God. You know, like epiphany, image. So, I’m the image of God.
The Maccabees, there was a certain priest named Mattathias who lived in a town 17 miles from Jerusalem. The resistance started in the rural areas. (We might see some of that going on in our day.) He refused to forsake his God, and he had five sons, three of whom became known as the Maccabees. Maccabee means hammer. Even though initially only one of his sons, Judas, was called “the hammer,” but it came to denote the whole family.
So they led a victory.
And at first, it was just a handful of people, and everybody else was just like, “Eek! I don’t want to join that! I’ll get killed!” But because of their bravery, a whole bunch of people aided them.
Verse 33, And those of the people who understand shall instruct many;
Here’s the job of believers in difficult times. The ones who understand need to instruct. There are two ways to instruct: tell and show. And the Maccabees did both.
—yet for many days they shall fall by sword and flame, by captivity and plundering.
Now when they fall, they shall be aided with a little help; but many shall join with them by intrigue.
And some of those of understanding shall fall, to refine them, purify them, and make them white, until the time of the end; because it is still for the appointed time.
When difficult times come like this, some people die. And those people that die, why did they die? It refined them. It purified them. It made them white. It made them overcomers. Sound familiar? They won when they did that.
And only a few people begin. But then, many start to come in and a lot of them secretly. They’re secret followers.
Some people are visible leaders. And other people are visible leaders. A lot of other people are just following secretly. And that’s okay! That’s alright. If you do what you’re called to do.
What happened was, the Maccabees, even though it was a tiny, little group of people, they rose up, and they resisted. And Antiochus IV had some other issues that caused him to have to make a decision, and he left, and he left it to the Maccabees. And they won.
So from the 160s all the way to 30 B.C., Israel’s now ruled by this priestly family.
Now you know about their successors. You know a lot about their successors, the Maccabees. They’re called the Pharisees.
When the disciples come to Jesus and say, “Did you know that what you’re saying is upsetting the Pharisees?” The reason they’re saying that is the Pharisees are national heroes. They saved Judaism from extinction. Because Antiochus had made it illegal to circumcise your babies. He’d made it illegal to practice Judaism. Hellenism only was allowed. And people were murdered by Antiochus IV if they didn’t follow his edict. And the Maccabees stood up and said kill us if you want to, we’re not going against God. And miraculously they won. They’re the heroes!
And their successors, the Pharisees, were the heroes.
The Sadducees split off from the Pharisees at some point, and they were, by that time, I don’t think really the heroes of the average person. But the Pharisees continued to be.
And Jesus overcame their tremendous good will by giving them a new brand: hypocrite.
Hypocrite, to us, means someone who says one thing and does another. Hypocrite at the time Jesus borrowed that term meant a Greek actor who holds a mask up in front of his face.
Because in those days, the plays had two people in them. So you have eight characters, you hold up a mask, and he says, “Hey, how are you today?”
And the other guy says, “Oh, I’m fine!”
And then he takes a different mask and says, “Oh I want to…” and they just change their voices, and they have these two masks. Hypocrite.
That’s what Jesus says, “You know what these guys are? They’re like those Greek actors that hold up a mask.” And he flipped it on them.
But until that time, they were the heroes because they had saved Israel. And rightfully so. The defenders of the faith. That’s what they were. Because the Maccabees defended the faith.
Human nature hasn’t changed
Will you remember any of that? I don’t think I will. And I’m sorry to have talked NASCAR (so fast), but I did it! I got it all in.
And what I want you to leave with is this overwhelming sense that the world hasn’t changed very much. Human nature’s the same.
Human nature doesn’t change. People want power. And they want it for themselves. They want it their way. Why? Because they’re of their father the devil. Who said, what? I shall ascend to the most high. He was already the cherub in charge of everything. But that wasn’t good enough. He wanted God’s seat.
Men say I shall ascend to the most high. I want what you have. I’ll do anything to get it. I’ll kill. I’ll murder. Satan’s job description is, what? He’s the accuser, and he’s the father of lies. And he’s a murderer from the beginning. That’s what he does.
Well, here you go. That’s what his administration looks like.
But Jesus is preparing a new administration, isn’t he? A new earth ruled by Jesus who for the suffering of death was crowned with glory and honor, and who has paved the way for many sons to take that throne with him. To him who overcomes I will give to him to sit on the throne with me.
He wants a group of servant-kings. Is there anything serving about these kings? They served their own appetites. They served their own interests. They did not serve others. They didn’t serve their people. They took their people to battle and had them trampled by elephants.
But what Jesus is preparing is servant-kings. People who will take the job he gave them to do, whatever that is, and do it faithfully and not fear death, not fear failure, not fear rejection, not fear anything that the world might heap on them because they’re faithfully doing what God gave them to do.
Lessons from this lesson
And that’s how you counter all this nasty stuff. The Maccabees countered it. Daniel countered it. Revelations speaks to us and says I want every one of you to play your role, be a faithful witness and don’t fear death. And as you see things go crazy out there in the world don’t worry about it. Just play the role God gave you to do. You’re not in charge of outcomes. I’ll take care of outcomes, God says. I just want you to be faithful where I put you and what I gave you to do.
Which neighbor are you supposed to help? The one laying in the road you’re walking down. Right? You work on the things God put in your path.
We don’t have to fix all this stuff. God is going to fix all this stuff. If we’ll do the part God gave us to do as our role in the body, then we’re following in Daniel’s footsteps. We’re following in the Maccabees’ footsteps. We’re following in the footsteps of being an overcomer, a winner, a nikao, one who does what God asks him to do. A faithful witness that doesn’t fear death.