“Abomination of Desolation”

What we are seeing in the second half of Daniel deals with a particular era in Jewish history – they predict the end of this era and thus anticipate a new era of gentile and Jewish blessing.

We have seen that the little horn arises from the Roman Empire. Daniel describes the Roman Empire as existing in ten related kingdoms, represented by the ten toes of Nebuchadnezzar’s statue or the ten horns of the fourth beast of Daniel 7. The little horn of chapter 8 rises from the kingdom of Greece. He does not replace the other rulers. He merely arises from them in due course. His destructive energies are directed against the Jewish people and their sanctuary.

There can be little doubt that this is a prophecy of the career of the Greek king Antiochus IV Epiphanes who was one of the greatest enemies of the Jewish people in all history.

Antiochus IV was the eighth king of the Seleucid dynasty, which was itself one of the four powers into which the Greek Empire was divided after the death of Alexander. Daniel describes him as being a “transgressor [wicked]” and “bold faced [a master of intrigue],” and this is exactly what he was. He began by usurping the throne from his nephew, the son of his older brother Seleucis IV, and immediately after that he launched a campaign of ruthless conquest in the Near East. In 170/169 b.c. he invaded Egypt. In Jerusalem he tried to impose religious and cultural uniformity by suppressing Jewish worship. Already in 175 b.c., at the beginning of his reign, he had expelled the godly high priest Onias III and had replaced him with Onias’s hellenizing younger brother Jason. He put an end to the daily sacrifices at the temple, forbade the circumcision of Jewish infants, and made it a crime to possess a copy of the Jewish Scriptures.

All this came to a head in December 168 b.c. when Antiochus seized Jerusalem by treachery. He had been turned back from Alexandria by the Roman commander Popilius Laenas and now took out his frustration in a bitter and repressive campaign against Jews. He sent his general Apollonius into the city with 20,000 troops and there erected an idol of Zeus in the temple area. He desecrated the altar by offering swine upon it. This was the greatest affront to faithful Judaism that could possibly be imagined, and the idol became known to the Jews as “the abomination of desolation” and later served as a type of that future abomination to be caused by the Antichrist in the last days (Matthew 24:15).

Daniel says that this little horn would “consider himself superior,” and this was certainly true of Antiochus. His name comes from the inscription he had minted on coins of the time that bore his image: THEOS EPIPHANES (“God made manifest”). During the reign of this man pious Jews experienced a time of unparalleled suffering.

A puzzle in this vision is the time element of 2,300 evenings and mornings that Daniel introduces in verse 14. Here an angel or holy one is speaking, and he says, “It will take 2,300 evenings and mornings; then the sanctuary will be reconsecrated.” This defines the duration of the time of persecution.

Generally this has been interpreted in one of two ways. Either it is seen as referring to 2,300 twenty-four-hour days, or it is seen as referring to 1,150 days and 1,150 evenings, which reduces the time to half (three years and 55 days). I do not need to present the evidence of both sides of this division, but I refer to Gleason Archer who feels that the preponderance of evidence “favor[s] the latter interpretation.” The argument is not so much linguistic here as historical. The temple was reconsecrated by Judas Maccabaeus on December 14, 164 b.c., and it appears that Antiochus IV Epiphanes began his repression of Jewish worship about three years, rather than six years, earlier. (It is hard to be precise because we do not know the specific acts of desecration that may have been involved.)

There is one additional detail that is also worth noting. Daniel predicts the end of Antiochus, but not by human hands, saying, “He shall be broken – but by no human hand” (v.25). That is not what might naturally be expected. We might expect that his successor, Judas Maccabaeus, should have unseated and killed him. But in fact, Antiochus died suddenly of natural (Daniel would say “divine”) causes, either from a fall or from a terminal physical attack. So his end was as Daniel said.

At the conclusion of this chapter Daniel describes his reaction to the vision and the explanation given by the angel Gabriel, saying, “I, Daniel, was overcome and lay sick for several days. Then I rose up and went about the king’s business. I was appalled by the vision and did not understand it.” When Daniel says that the vision was beyond understanding, we are not to think that he was unable to understand what it foretold would happen, particularly since Gabriel explains it clearly in the second half of the chapter. His confession of failure to understand the vision must refer to his failure to understand why the devastation, destruction, and persecution of his people, which the vision foretold, should be necessary. It is the reason he was appalled. He was appalled in the same way any of us would be if God should give us a vision of some future period of great suffering.

But all this is past, of course – at least if our interpretation is correct. We can see how this affected Daniel. What does it have to do with us? This brings us back to the problems with the second half of Daniel.

Next time I will suggest two ways we should be affected.