Knowing the Way

Audio Player

Eight years ago I had interviews to go into the Church of England. The first interview you have is with someone called the DDO. And the first question my DDO asked me was 'What are your top three attributes of God?' I wasn't really expecting the question, so I thought about it a bit and then said, 'Well I suppose that God is all loving, that God is all powerful, and…' STOP!' he said. Because God can't be all loving AND all powerful can he? He can be one, or the other, but not both. Just look at the world around us, how could God be all loving AND all powerful?

Good question.

"Now then," the messenger says in v.2, "I will tell you the truth." Those three kings were called Cambyses, Gaumata and Darius I. And the fourth king was called Xerxes, (or Ahasuerus in Hebrew) whose wealth and story we can read about in the book of Esther. Then, in 336 B.C., "A mighty king" came, v.3, from the kingdom of Greece. His name was Alexander the Great, who Daniel had also been told about back in chapter 8 and whose kingdom was divided after his death into four. "The King of the South" v.5, was a man called Ptolemy Soter who ruled over Egypt. And, as it says, he had a general called Seleucus, who became stronger than him. Seleucus conquered Babylon and set up a rival empire in the North called the Selucid Empire.  "After some years," v.6, "they will become allies. The daughter of the king of the South will go to the king of the North to make an alliance." Her name was Berenice, daughter of Ptolemy II, and she was given to Antiochus II king of the North.  v6b… "But she…"Berenice, and her servants and her father were killed by Antiochus' other wife, and Berenice's brother, Ptolemy III, "One from her family line," v.7a, took her place. Just as it says, in v.7, he went on to attack the North to avenge his sister and he was victorious. Verse 9 refers to the next Northern King, Seleucus II who made an unsuccessful attack on Egypt in 242 B.C. and, as v.10 tells us, his sons, Seleucus Ceraunus and Antiochus the Great took over from their father. Seleucus Ceranus died in battle but his brother Antiochus continued with a vast army of more than 70,000 men. The king of the South, who was by this time Ptolemy IV, came against him with a much smaller army but defeated him at Raphia in 217 B.C. as it says in v.11. The king of the South killed 17,000 men in that battle, v.12. Shortly afterwards Ptolemy IV died. His son was only 4 years old, and so the king of the North, Antiochus the Great, attacked again and was this time successful, which we read about in v.14-16. Antiochus had a daughter called Cleopatra and he decided that the best was to cement his victory was to give her to the king of the South Ptolemy V as his wife. But the plan backfired when Cleopatra actually fell in love with Ptolemy and became pro-Egyptian, that's v.17. Antiochus the Great then tried to expand his empire through attacking the Mediterranean islands. The Romans warned him not to attack Greece, but in 192 B.C. he chose to ignore them. And so Rome sent one of their generals, Lucius Cornelius Scipio, the "commander who put an end to his insolence," v.18, who defeated Antiochus at the battle of Thermopylae and again at Magnesia.  Antiochus had to retreat and was now under Roman rule. That meant he had to pay taxes, and so did his son Seleucus IV when he became king, which is what is described in v.20. That tax collectors name was Heliodorus who, for various reasons, ended up poisoning Seleucus. Seleucus, therefore, died "not in anger or in battle."

Now all of that, I think you'll agree, is pretty detailed and pretty boring history! It covers a period from about 480 B.C. to 175 B.C. But this vision was given to Daniel in 537 B.C. 200 years before anyone had even heard of Alexander the Great! Do you see? v.2-20 may be boring history, but it's amazing theology.

What God is showing Daniel in this vision is that…

1) The way ahead was planned

Do you remember what we saw last week? Chapter 10 is the introduction to the vision which begins in chapter 11 and ends in chapter 12. And that's exactly what he does. The messenger tells Daniel what is going to happen in the future! And it's not in vague terms or blurry detail, he tells him exactly what will happen. He spells out the next 400 years of human history in the part of the world surrounding Israel.  There are not "if"s or "but"s or "maybe"s! He simply tells Daniel what's going to happen in history as if it's shopping list. As if he's simply reading it out. And that's because he is reading it out!

Look at 10.21, the messenger can tell Daniel history, in advance… He can tell him the truth of exactly what will happen…how?... Because it's all been written down, by God, in the Book of Truth. The message of Daniel 11 is that God has written human history…before it has happened. And this isn't just foreknowledge. God doesn't just know human history because he knows everything and can see into the future.

We're going to look at v.21-35 in detail in a moment, but just take a look at the end of v.27 and the beginning of v.29 and the end of v.35. Time and time again we're told that these things happen "at the appointed time". God is in control.

For the first 6 chapters of Daniel we've seen that God is in control of the present. And since chapter 7 we've seen that God is in control of the future. And nowhere is it more clear than here in chapter 11, The way ahead was planned. Now the question is…why does God choose to reveal this future history to Daniel?

Look again at Daniel 10.1. Daniel receive this vision in the third year of Cyrus. By this point Daniel is an old man. Daniel has lived a long and amazing life. And in the first year of king Cyrus the Jews who'd been taken into exile were sent home to Jerusalem. Daniel has seen God fulfill his promises. He is ready to die in peace. So why, at the very end of his life is Daniel told what the history of the world around Israel will be for the next 400 years?

Well, I think that the answer is that Daniel was given this vision to be the last chapter of his book. For the next 400 years God's people were going to read Daniel's book, just like we are reading it today. And they would read all of the amazing stories just as we have, and see all the amazing ways in which God rescued Daniel and his friends. They were going to read all about how good God is to those who put their trust in him and remain faithful to him. In other words they could read how God is all loving. And then at the end of his book they could read how God is also all powerful. For the next 400 years the people would be living out history just as it was recorded in Daniel 11. Every time a new king came they would see that it had been planned by God.And that was important because…

2)The way ahead was not easy

In v.21 the chapter changes. The first 19 verses covered 355 years of Mediterranean history.The next 15 verses cover just 12 years, and they focus on the rule of just one man,Antiochus Epiphanes.Again these prophetic verses describe perfectly what the king would be like. All the details matched up exactly.  But Antiochus Epiphanes is unlike any of the kings mentioned before. The kings of the North and kings of the South largely ignored The Jews who lived in between them. But not Antiochus Epiphanes. Antiochus Epiphanes hated the Jews, and he hated God, and he made it his ambition to wipe both of them out. The first hint of that is in v.28 and it continues v.29-32 and it gets worse, v.33-35.

At the end of his incredible life, God gives Daniel one last vision. He shows him that he is perfectly in control of all things, that the way ahead was planned. But then he shows him that the way ahead will not be easy for the people of God. They will suffer at the hands of a cruel tyrant. And the question we want to ask, 'Why is THIS God's plan?'

We KNOW that God is all powerful, and we KNOW that God is all loving. So why do the next 400 years for God's people look like this? If God is all powerful then WHY does history look like this? If God is all loving then WHY does Antiochus Epiphanes come to power? Why is he allowed to rule?

And today, when we look at the world around us, and at the suffering and the injustice and the cruelty and the violence and the evil that seem to prosper all around us and flourish in our world, we want to ask WHY? How can God be good and the world look like it does?

No wonder my DDO said that God cannot be both all loving and all powerful. There are times when we want to say the same thing, don't we?

Why does God plan for Antiochus Epiphanes to come to the throne and ravage the people of Israel The passage doesn't tell us. Why does God chose for the world to be like that? The passage doesn't tell us. Why does God allow for it to happen this way? The passage doesn't tell us. Or at least, it doesn't tell us entirely.

But it does tell us three things that I think begin to help us as we struggle for an answer.

1) God is not wicked

Just because evil things happen whilst God is in control it does not mean that God is responsible for them. I think this is one of the hardest things for us to grasp. That whilst God is sovereign, that is to say that he rules over everything and everyone, that we are still responsible for our actions. So when wicked things happen, God is not the source. Look at v.3 And v.16a and v.36a . All the way through this chapter, and throughout the Bible, it maintains that God is in control, but that he is not responsible for evil. We are. God is not wicked.

2) God uses even bad things for our good and his glory

Again this is a hard truth to grasp and doesn't provide a full answer to our questions. But the passage clearly teaches us that God uses bad things ultimately for our good. Look at v.35. Under Antiochus Epiphanes dreadful things were done to the people of God. However God uses those dreadful things to make his people more perfect. God is not wicked, he is not the author of evil, but sometimes he chooses to use suffering and pain and hardship to make us and shape us into the people he wants us to be. People who trust him and love him and find all their delight and comfort only in him. If you are suffering, then God will not waste your suffering. Pray that he would use it to make you more like him. And finally the passage reminds us

3)  It will not always be like this

The suffering and struggles that we face in this life can be hard and severe. But they will not last forever. God is in control, and again and again we see in this chapter that human powers can seem terrifying and powerful, but they don't last. It won't be until next week in chapter 12 that we will see Daniel's vision of Christ's return and eternal life. But let's have a quick look at 12.3. Those same wise ones who were being persecuted in 11.33, now in 12.3 we read.

Daniel 11 doesn't tell us why God allows these things to happen. But through this vision God warned his people that the way ahead would not be easy, and at the same time he gave them reason to hope and reasons to keep trusting in him. And that's important, not just for the people who read the book of Daniel for 400 years after he wrote it.

It's important for us today. Why? Because…

3)The way ahead will get harder before it gets better

In interesting thing happens in v.36-45. On first reading it seems to carry straight on from the section before. 2000 years later it's easy for us to think it's continuing to describe the reign of Anitochus Epiphanes.  But it doesn't.  All of the details in v.2-35 are perfect, every one of them came true. But Antiochus Epiphanes never set himself up as a god, as it says in v.36. And unlike what it says in v.37 he did worship the gods of his fathers. The battles described in v.38-45 don't match up to the records we have of the history of that time. The reason is that this isn't talking about Antiochus Epiphanes anymore. Nor about any king in the past.  This part of the prophesy is talking about the future. About someone who will come. Someone who I think is the same person 2 Thessalonians 2 calls the Man of Lawlessness and who, in the book of 1 John, is called the Antichrist.

The details we have are not clear. But I believe that the Bible teaches us, here in Daniel, and in those other passages I've mentioned, that before Jesus comes again there will be people who come to power who fiercely oppose Christ and his disciples. Verses 36-45 didn't come true at the time of Antiochus Epiphanes. But I think we have every reason t believe that one day in the future they will come true. This is where we fit into Daniel chapter 11.

The way ahead for us will get harder before it gets better. We can and we should expect opposition as Christians until Jesus comes again. But the most important thing to remember, is that one day Jesus will come again. As verse 45 says, those who oppose God will come to an end. The ultimate lesson from Daniel 11 is that God wins!!

When I was 17 a horror film came out called the Blair Witch Project. (I'm sure some of you will remember it.) I had never seen a horror film and I don't think I've seen one since. But everyone was saying that this was the most terrifying film in history, and to be honest my curiosity got the better of me, so I went to see it. I was terrified! And I can remember watching the film, and every time it got scary I would flick my eyes to the side of the screen and remind myself that I was in the cinema, everything was ok!

Daniel's vision in chapter 11 is a warning to Christians that life will be hard. That following God will mean opposition. But it's also a reminder that even in those hard times, God is in control. And it comes at the end of a book which has reminded us again and again that God will not desert us in those times. He will be with us, because he loves us.  When life gets scary, all we need to do is to flick our eyes back to the Bible.  To remind ourselves that God is all powerful and he is all loving. He has planned the way ahead, and it may not be easy at times, but one day it will get better forever.

Back to top