Gaius Popillius Laenas served as one of two consuls of the Roman Republic. He was sent to prevent war between Antiochus IV and the Ptolemaic Egyptian king. On being confronted with the Roman demands that he abort his attack on Alexandria is supposed to have drawn a circle around the king in the sand with his cane.
Under Judas Maccabeus the Jewish general Antiochus Epiphanes IV was defeated. According to the Talmud the Temple was purified (Antiochus had committed abomination of desolation when he offered a pig on the altar and when he set up an image of Zeus in the Temple) and the wicks of the menorah miraculously burned for eight days even though there was only enough oil for one days lighting.
The exceedingly wicked and contemptible king Antiochus Epiphanes has already been mentioned in Daniel, appearing first as “another horn” in the vision of the ram and goat of Daniel 8. In that vision he was identified as a ruler in the succession of Greek rulers going back to Alexander. Now this wicked ruler appears again, and many details about his career are prophesied.
In Daniel 11 Antiochus Epiphanes would advance his career by deceit and intrigue. Moreover, they speak of easy victories in these years. The rulers of Egypt had become lax and corrupt, and there were occasions when the king of Egypt did not even attempt to resist Antiochus as he marched through the land. He let him come, and he let him go. Later invasions had a very different outcome, however. On one of these, Antiochus was opposed by the ships and army of the expanding Roman Empire, and he was forced to turn back from Egypt greatly humiliated.
It is an interesting story. Antiochus was on his way to invade Egypt again, no doubt expecting the easy victories he had enjoyed earlier. But he was intercepted by the Roman fleet under the command of Popilius Laenas. Popilius was a stern man who demanded that the Greek general return to Palestine. Antiochus said that he would consult his advisors. The Roman knew what Antiochus had in mind. Antiochus wanted time to raise a larger army to repulse the Romans. Instead of granting him time, Popilius with characteristic Roman determination drew a circle in the sand around Antiochus and ordered him to summon his counselors and deliberate on the spot. If he stepped out of that circle without first having agreed to return to Palestine, the Roman officer said he would declare war. Opposed by such determination, Antiochus backed down and went home. But he was furious, as the text in Daniel says he would be.
What is the natural course of human nature when a person is humiliated, as Antiochus was, or forced to back down in a situation over which he or she has no real control? The answer is that generally the person takes his anger out on someone else. This is what Antiochus Epiphanes did. He had been humiliated in front of his army. He could not proceed against Egypt. So he turned against the people of his own territory and poured out his fury there. He led 20,000 men against Jerusalem and abolished the temple worship. Worse, by offering swine’s flesh upon it, he desecrated the great altar upon which the daily offerings were made to God. This is “the abomination that causes desolation.” As a result of these acts, Antiochus became a symbol of everything the Jewish people most despised and hated, and a widespread, successful rebellion led by Judas Maccabaeus was the result.
That is the history of the past events prophesied in this chapter. And if this is the case – if these prophecies were made when the book claims they were made and if they came true as history shows they came true – then a number of important conclusions follow.
First, if the prophecies of this and other biblical books are made in the name of the Bible’s God, then this God and not another is the true God. The only way in which these detailed events can be prophesied and then be made to come true is if the true God, the God of the Bible, stands behind them and determines their outcome. No other god can do this, and it proves that this God and not another should be followed.
Second, the fulfillment of prophecies shows that the Bible in which they are recorded is God’s book. There are other evidences for the Bible being the Word of God, of course. They are important and sufficient evidences by themselves. But fulfilled prophecy alone, especially detailed prophecy like that in this chapter, validates the Bible as not merely a human document but as God’s unique revelation.
Third, the fulfillment of prophecy shows that the God who disclosed these events and then brought them to pass is also able to keep and will keep his promises to his people. When we get in difficult circumstances, our faith sometimes wavers and we wonder whether God is up to our dilemma. We should be encouraged by prophecy to know that nothing is too hard for God. Nothing can ever rise up to thwart his plans. No detail is too small to merit his attention. So if we find Jesus saying, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age,” we can know that He will indeed be with us and that we need not fear circumstances. God is not afraid to make promises to His people because He knows that He can and will keep them. If there were nothing else in this chapter to ponder and take to heart, that alone would be a reason for studying it closely.
But we still have the final section of this chapter in Daniel chapter 12 that go with it. These are difficult, as every scholar or commentator acknowledges, and there are many views. Do they relate to history or to events that have not yet occurred? Are they literal or symbolic? The answers to these questions result in quite different approaches, and since there have been great minds arrayed on all sides, it is wise to proceed carefully and with humility.
The fact that there are divergent interpretations is the best evidence for concluding that the events referred to are still future. Instead of looking to history to see what happened and then matching those events to the prophecy, we need to study the prophecy itself and see what it seems to be saying about what is yet to come.