An Exegetical and Theological Study of Daniel 11
with Hermeneutical and Homiletical Implications
by Tom Finley, Ed Morsey
In this issue
- On the Intersection of Faith, Economics and Social Ethics
- Spirit-Intended Applications
- An Exegetical and Theological Study of Daniel 11
- Significance of the Vine Motif in John 15
- Dean's Column
- Alumni Focus
- Campus News
- Faculty Activities
Part 1: Exegesis (Tom Finley)
Daniel 11 poses numerous difficulties for the interpreter. Who was Darius the Mede? Who is “the prince of the covenant” (v. 22)? Is “the king” of verse 36 the same as “the king of the North” of verses 21–35? These and similar questions have intrigued interpreters for centuries.
An even more difficult task confronts anyone who would preach a Sunday morning sermon from a passage like Daniel 11. How to hold people’s attention for a text that is so obscure and laden with ancient history? Last fall the teaching pastor and the pastor of adult ministries at my church began a series of twelve messages on Daniel. I met weekly with Ed Morsey and Mike Sanborn, the two pastors, and with Talbot theology professor Dr. Mark Saucy, to work through Daniel chapter by chapter from the original languages. Pastor Morsey and I then presented a paper for the Evangelical Theological Society that gave a brief synopsis of our work on Daniel 11.
General Interpretive Issues
Three principles of interpretation for the passage became evident. First, abrupt shifts occur when moving from one king or realm to another. Verse 3, for example, skips over some seven kings in moving from Xerxes, the fourth, to “the mighty king” or Alexander the Great. Another abrupt shift occurs with “the king of the North” and “the king of the South” of verse 6. Without prior historical knowledge it may not be obvious that these are not the same kings mentioned in verse 5. Daniel concerns himself here more with the relations between the north and the south than with singling out particular kings.
A second general principle—the entire prophecy concerns world events that happen in relation to Judah. The four Persian kings from Cyrus to Xerxes played a special role in the restoration of the Jews to their land. When Alexander the Great amassed his vast empire, it included Judea. And when Alexander’s empire divided “to the four winds of heaven,” the most important parts for Judea were Syria to the north and Egypt to the south—hence “the king of the North” and “the king of the South.”
The Pattern of Chapter 11
Chapter 11 divides into seven eras that have already passed into human history and an eighth that is still to come.
- The Persian kings—a lust for power and wealth (11:2)
- Alexander the Great—the transitory nature of a world empire (11:3–4)
- The early period of the Seleucids and the Ptolemies—Syria and Egypt as centers from which Judea will be controlled (11:5–6)
- A period of Ptolemaic dominance—a reliance on idols (11:7–12)
- The amassing of great armies—a shift of the control of Judea to the north (11:13–19)
- A period of oppression from the north—a thirst for wealth (11:20)
- The reign of Antiochus Epiphanes—an attack on God’s people and their religion amid political scheming (11:21–35)
- The time of the end—a blasphemous attempt to have it all, the whole world and the realm of God as well (11:36–45)
The Last King of Chapter 11
The last verses, 11:36–45, move beyond Antiochus Epiphanes to a ruler at the end of history. Structural marks in the Hebrew as well as the contents indicate the disjunction. “The king,” rather than “the king of the North” or “the king of the South,” also signals the start of a new section. The details about “the king” in 11:36–45 do not fit well with Antiochus. He didn’t “exalt himself above every god,” neglect the service of his ancestral gods, conquer Egypt, or die in Jerusalem. The gap in time between Antiochus Epiphanes and “the king” of the end times has an analogy in the gaps in time between Xerxes and Alexander and between Alexander and the beginning of the Ptolemies in Egypt.
Part 2: Homiletics (Ed Morsey)
“Lord, this congregation is responding so well to this journey thorough Daniel; but now we’ve come to chapter 11! How in the world can we keep our momentum? Lord, I don’t even like reading this chapter. How can I interest them?”
I thank God for the weekly collaborations sessions with my brothers in academia. For this chapter I needed to ask the tough questions. What is this about? How aligned with history is it? What is the evidence it was written before hand? Why such excruciating detail? Why is Daniel telling us these things? We had good discussion on the “what” questions, but the “whys” were elusive.
One of my principles of sermon preparation is to outline the passage, but I wondered what outlining the eye-glazing-over details of Daniel 11 would achieve. Another idea struck me. Perhaps a picture would help. I began trying to produce a diagram of who did what to whom and when. Finally the message started to become clear.
Successive generations of northern and southern kingdoms were attacking each other, and caught in the middle was tiny Israel. “North” and “south” were from Israel’s viewpoint. Moreover, Israel wasn’t just caught in the crossfire but increasingly caught in the crosshairs. And by the end, she became the singular target. That would certainly be consistent with Satan’s intent and completely consistent with the historical details. Tom had noted that the history correlates uncannily well up to a point. But between verses 36 and 40, the imagery departs from the historical record. At the same time the imagery reminds the reader of similar messages in the visions of chapters 2 and 7.
Is God showing a prototype pattern of history that would in many ways repeat itself until the unique close of the chapter just before the end of the current historical era? And was he revealing to mankind that God’s people would always be caught in the crossfire and often in the crosshairs? Of course! How consistent with that doggedly repeated message of suffering in both Old and New Testaments that also has characterized the history of God’s people to the present day. How relevant to my congregation!
“But, why, God? What is the point? That ancient weather-worn question, “Why do bad things happen to good people, blah, blah, blah?” always emerges, and it must. Peter answers it, and Paul and James, but it’d be nice to see it here too.”
And there it was. According to verses 31-35, the wise would help “many understand” but would suffer greatly. “Some of the wise will fall in order to refine, purge, and purify them until the time of the end.” That refiner’s fire that makes eternal sense out of the suffering is revealed again. Oh, that we could help our people to take it seriously—to let the sufferings of our lives purify our hearts!
We titled the sermon “In the Crossfire.” We built two points on top of three we had established the previous week from chapter 10. Those first three points were “realities” in a sort of “reality therapy” approach.
- God’s power is unfathomable.
- He deeply loves us.
- A spiritual war is raging.
And from chapter 11:
- God’s people struggle in the crossfire,
- But it refines our faith.
My take-home message for the readers of this article is simply this: collaborate. Since our church is very close to Biola University and Talbot seminary, I have regular access to scholars within our church body. At the same time, collaborating on texts with the worship pastor or other young staff members has been a great help in exposing questions (and answers) in passages I would never have seen alone with my commentaries. It’s a joy to learn together!
[For the complete paper, email: emorsey [at] ghfc [dot] org, or tom [dot] finley [at] biola [dot] edu.]