Daniel 11:2-20 – Who are the Kings of the North and South?

Daniel 11 is begins with a general history of the end of the Persian Empire (11:3), the Rise of Alexander the Great (11:3-4) and the complicated maneuvering of the Greek Ptolemaic kings in Egypt  and Greek Seleucid kings in Syria. In this chapter, the Ptolemies and the kings of the south and the Seleucids are the kings of the north.

The history begins with three Persian kings, then a fourth who is far richer than the others (11:2). Assuming Daniel has the vision during the reign of Cyrus, thus the next three Persian kings would be Cambyses, Smerdis, and Hystapes, (Ahasuerus, Artaxerxes and Darius as they are known in the Bible). Xerxes (486-465) has been identified as the fourth king since the time of Jerome’s commentary.  Xerxes was perhaps the wealthiest of the kings of Persian, building the empire with the largest army of the era, 2.6 million men.  He invaded Greece, although was turned back in 480 B.C. The Persian Empire lasted another 150 years before Alexander conquered it, likely in response to the sacking of Athens.

The problem with the “three more, then a fourth” king is Persia had nine kings from Cyrus to Alexander. Some commentators therefore point to this lack of precision as a lack of knowledge of the Persian Empire by a second century author. He does manage to cover 200 years of Persian in a single verse! Another possibility is the vision covers Persian history in the same way it covered world history, in a series of four epochs.

The vision then briefly describes a mighty king, undoubtedly Alexander the Great (11:3-4). Alexander’s kingdom was divided between four generals known as the Diadochi: Ptolemy, Lysimachus, Seleucus, and Cassander. This four-fold division of Alexander’s kingdom is implied in Daniel 7:6 and 8:8.

Antiochus III the Great

Antiochus III the Great

The Kings of the North and South are the subject of the Daniel 11:5-20, culminating in the rise (11:9-16) and fall (11:17-19) of Antiochus III the Great. Antiochus III’s defeat will pave the way for Antiochus IV Epiphanes to take the control of the Seleucid dynasty. He will persecute the Jewish people and lead to the events of the Maccabean revolt.

As Daniel 11:5 implies, the Seleucid Dynasty did in fact get the major share of the Empire, by 281 B.C. Seleucus I Nicator (312-280) controlled territory from the Punjab (NW India) to the Hellespont (Asia Minor).  Seleucus was the Satrap of Babylon in 321 but was supplanted by Antigonus.  He lived in Egypt until Antigonus was defeated and he returned to Babylon in 312.  Seleucus lived like a great eastern king and was said to rival Alexander in his aristocratic behavior.

Ptolemy I Soter (323-285) controlled Egypt, first as a “satrap”, but took the title “king” in 305.  While this was a smaller territory, Egypt was incredibly wealthy.  Eventually this wealth, especially in the form of massive food stores, will attract the attention of Rome. The geography of these two “kings” leaves Palestine as a buffer zone, a key strategic point for both kingdoms.

Antiochus III the Great (241-187) was determined to drive the Ptolemies out of Syria.  He drove south to the city of Dura, recapturing all of the territory lost to the Ptolemies.  He also suppressed rebellions throughout Seleucid controlled territory (Daniel 11:9-10).

Ptolemy IV Philopater (221-203) was a weak and indecisive king and did not act to defend his territory until the Antiochus III was in Egypt (11:11-12).  When he did act, he was relentless. When the two armies met at Raphia in 217 Antiochus III had 62,000 men, 6000 cavalry and 102 elephants; Ptolemy had a nearly equal force of 70,000 men, 5000 cavalry, and 73 elephants (Polybius, Histories, 5.79). Antiochus lost 17,000 men in this battle and Ptolemy annexed Palestine. Ptolemy made peace with Antiochus III which turned out to be a mistake since Antiochus would recover and shift the balance of power in favor of the Seleucid dynasty.

Antiochus III recovered quickly from this defeat and began expanding his empire, campaigning in the east (11:13-16). By 202 B.C. he had built his army to the point that he was ready to attack Egypt. Ptolemy IV and his wife had died, possibly by poison, and left a 4-year-old heir, Ptolemy V Epiphanies (203-181). Antiochus III saw his chance, made an alliance with the King of Macedonia, and attacked Egypt. His army was larger and better prepared than before, and Egypt was struggling through an internal rebellion.

It is at this point in Daniel 11 the Judeans are first mentioned. The angelic guide says “many of your own” will join the king of the North. Indeed, many Jews joined the destruction of the Ptolemy V’s army. Antiochus offered to reduce taxes by a third and grant a tax exemption for three years in exchange for Judean assistance against Ptolemy (this was a false promise – Antiochus could not afford to reduce taxes).

These “violent men” respond to Antiochus in “fulfillment of a vision.” What vision is in mind here?  For many commentators, the vision is Daniel 11 itself. But the text may mean these men responded to a vision at the time that encouraged them to join with Antiochus III against Ptolemy.  The leader of the pro-Seleucid faction was Simon the Just, the high priest, and the rich and powerful Tobias family.  Was “Simon the Just” quite as lawless as Daniel makes him out to be?  This depends on which side of the political conflict you favor. In Sirach 50:1-4 he is listed among the righteous. This is may reflect a prejudice in the writer of Sirach, or as C. L. Seow suggests, a prejudice in the writer of Daniel (Daniel, 174).

Antiochus III now controlled all of Palestine, and placed the Jews under a harsh government, using the region as a staging ground to attack Egypt, stationing much of his army there. There is an increasing focus in the chapter on the land of Palestine in general and specifically Jerusalem.  In verse 16 the “Beautiful Land” refers to Judea and Jerusalem (cf. Ezekiel 20:6, Daniel 8:9)

9 thoughts on “Daniel 11:2-20 – Who are the Kings of the North and South?

  1. You treat the Bible as a history book as opposed to a Prophetic book. Hallmark of apostacy.

  2. some people just see it as history and don’t accept that we are just in the birthing pains of the end times. you only need to look at the world today to see that

  3. Can not be who you think it is because the king of the north & south are part of Endtime- NOW! Daniel 2 describes these kingdoms that were divided under Rome ruled over by their own kings; Israel to the north & Judah the Beast that demanded & got by Rome God’s Messiah Son’s Crucifixion murder- Rome washed it’s hands of the Responsibility.

  4. The divided kingdom Dan2 to the north & south-Dan11- under Rome is not Roman church as it was east west…… It may appear the King of the south-Judah[Matt27;37- Jesus] is beaten at Endtime by the King of the North[Israel -11th king -male P.M- 8th head-of Govt [3 repeat twice] – who is known as ‘the little horn'[son]-the BIBI [baby] son- whose name /number adds to 666 & has Confirmed the Covenant 17th January 2016 -Great Synagogue Rome with the false Prophet Pope Francis- but Michael will arise out of the reunited north ;south kingdom at Endtime to save the Remnant I believe…… Maranatha Shalom….old Messianic Jew……HE LIVES & Speaks

  5. “Assuming Daniel has the vision during the reign of Cyrus…” Is only the first problem in your discourse. You’ve built it on assumption. No good

  6. Mk – Maybe read the sentence this way: “Within the world of the story of Daniel, Daniel has the vision during the reign of Cyrus.” You do not have to assume he was really living then.

  7. Sadly you fail to have Prophecy INSIGHT….please read on
    :I see you are intellectuals & students of the BOOK & find it incredulous you DO NOT understand who the two Beasts of Daniel & Revelation are? They are both plainly before you but you seem winkered off for some reason? Perhaps you can not ‘come as a child?’
    I am just a simple old Messianic Jew who has known exactly what & who they both are since 1996 when the second Beast arose -‘ten kings of a [one] kingdom then another'[Dan7;24] 11th king -2nd Beast – given INSIGHT I believe.
    The 1st Beast is straight forward as we demanded & got from Rome God’s Messiah Son’s crucifixion/ murder HE sent to redeem us. HE has turned HIS Face from us since [WW2 suffering of Judah is proof] & will continue to do so until we repent & accept Our Messiah. This is the Beast that came ‘out of the [Mediterranean] SEA’ in 1947 official 1948 & the Beast that the elect are fooled & follow after believing them to be Israel returned but actually just 1/12th- Judah. Daniel 7 describes the nation of Israel’s[Judah] re-emergance exactly -with INSIGHT which you DO NOT have obviously…..It is also the Daniel 2 feet & ten toes[why ten toes? only ten of old Jacob;s sons took up land establishing the ancient kingdom of Israel] of iron & potters[Jesus’s] clay southern of the divided kingdom [Israel was to the north] from which the stone was cut- Jesus Christ- Yeshu ha Moshiach for me.Certainly was not divided Rome as it did NOT exist at the time.
    The 2nd Beast fulfilled ALL prophecy which is beyond your understanding -but I can reveal it if you are interested- my Rabbi -also an intellectual who I confounded saying to me ‘you are correct why didn;t we realise?’ ,confirmed with his study group long ago- he has since passed on. This antiChrist /man of sin/ son of perdition/2nd Beast WAS 1996 11th king[male prime Minister] & 8th head [as 3 repeat twice – 7th head fatally wounded- Rabin] magnifying himself equal to Jesus -Matt27;37-‘ king of the Jews’ & changing his name to who Jesus is i.e. ‘the right hand son ‘ [Benjamin] & God’s Gift [Netanyahu. Hebrew] adds to 666 as Jesus counts -OLD Gematria & is known as the ‘little horn[son]’ i.e. the BIBI[baby] son who when ascending the throne ‘5 were gone [dead] , one is to come- as President Perez many years , one a sort time to go -Shamir d.2014 …also like a leopard ;born Arabic Palestine…feet like Bear; parents from USSR….speaks like a lion ;roars Hebrew & English . He travelled in a S.E direction from his homeland -‘out of the SEA’ within his mothers womb being born different to ALL before as native born ‘out of the[Holy] land’…….there is much much more you fail to understand sadly ……hoping this helps you to be enlightened as have I by the most remarkable being I have not physically met – just Dreams & visions .
    We are in the Last Week I believe which I think started after the last 7 year cycle you would not have seenfrom the renewing of the Mosaic Covenant Great Synagogue Rome 17th January 2016 by Pope Francis[a false Prophet], concluded 17th January 2023 so I believe 2nd half of Week adding 1260 days will start 30th June 2026 -1290 blessed are they thnat attains the 1335th day-45 days Great Tribulation[neutron bombs that the man of sin brought back to I(srael early 1980’s] . Interestingly the the 666 man returned for his final 42 month Authority 30th December 2022- a western man[fake JEW] so add 42 months -30th June 2026 -removal??
    We shall see?!? whether the servant of Jacob is true or false – time will tell….
    Baruch Hashem in Yeshu ha Moshach ;HE Lives …..Shalom Alekum …..called Israel[Isaiah 46;11- HE tells me?]

  8. I do not build on assumption .This you do thinking Daniel is seeing near future when indeed he writes about END Time NOW! …..Daniel 7 ;24 ten kings of a [one] kingdom then another -11th king[Prime Minister] only applies to Modern Judah [false Israel ] you wonder after as do most sadly – they are[1/12th] the same denying satan driven family of mine & the Lord’s that demanded & got from Rome God’s Messiah Son’s crucifixion Murder who was sent to redeem us ,God has turned HIS Face from since allowing All that has befallen us [especially WW2]…..HE Lives….old Messianic Jew [as the rest need to be to be saved]… Shalom.

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