KINGS OF THE NORTH AND SOUTH
The long prophecy found in Daniel chapters 10 to 12 is one of the most complicated prophecies we are given in Scripture. What is obvious to most readers is that the entire period from Daniel's time until the second coming of Christ is covered here. What is much harder to discern is the point where the prophecy moves from the past into the present.
The text at various times uses the titles "king of the north" and "king of the south". Many modern commentators, including the Churches of God, say that there will be a yet future appearance of these powers. Others say that these roles have long since been fulfilled.
What is the correct interpretation?
Those who see a future fulfilment of the roles of the Kings of the North and South try to identify rising powers in Europe and in the Islamic world, even nominating specific countries that they think will be the final players in this prophecy.
In earlier times however, very credible explanations have been proposed which claim that the times of these "kings" have long since passed.
Let me quote author and lawyer Philip Mauro (1859-1952) on this subject:
"Daniel 11 makes difficult reading for those who are unacquainted with the history of the times to which the prophecy recorded therein relates. The latter part of the chapter has proved difficult also for expositors, among whom there is a wide difference of opinion as to the persons and events referred to. Down to the end of verse 30 there is practical agreement among expositors as to the meaning of the prophecy, and the events by which its several predictions were fulfilled. We are not aware of any sound and competent teacher who does not see, in verses 1–30, the main outlines of Persian history, the rise of Alexander of Macedon, the division of his empire between his four generals, the incessant wars between the Seleucids (kings of Syria, “the north”) and the Ptolemies (kings of Egypt, “the south”), and the career of Antiochus Epiphanes that odious persecutor of the Jews, spoken of as the “vile person” (verse 21).
"But there has been a disagreement as to the application of verses 31–35, and as to who is meant by “the people that do know their God,” who “understand” and “instruct many.” Some of the older commentators, as Bishop Newton (Thomas Newton), leap over some centuries at this point, and locate the fulfillment in the times of the gospel, making “the people who do know their God,” etc. to be the apostles and preachers of our era. But this is quite inadmissible, according to the plain terms of the prophecy itself, as we shall point out. And indeed the great body of competent expositors finds the fulfillment of these verses (31–35) in the doings of that remarkable family of Asmoneans (Hasmoneans), generally called the Maccabees, who arose for the deliverance of the Jews in the reign of Antiochus, and who faithfully served their people as rulers and priests for 130 years." ("The Seventy Weeks and the Great Tribulation", 1944, p118-119).
And from minister and author James Farquharson (1781-1843) regarding verse 36 where a personage called "the king" is introduced:
"The 36th verse, and those following it in the eleventh chapter, form very literal predictions of the character, and deeds, and events of the reign of a king, who succeeded, not any Syrian king, but the Maccabees, and their descendants the Asmoneans.
"Herod was the king of Daniel's people; and he was the only king after Daniel's time, who held, to the end of his life, the sovereign power over all that people, independently of, and separate from, the priestly authority.
"He is styled emphatically, by the Evangelist Matthew, "Herod the king"; and, by Luke, "Herod the king of Judea"." ("Daniel's Last Vision and Prophecy", 1838, p97 and 99).
Mauro also identifies "the king" in Dan 11:36 as King Herod:
"It would be strange indeed if, in an outline which gives prominence to Xerxes, Alexander, the Seleucids, the Ptolemies, Antiochus Epiphanes, and the Maccabees, there were no mention of that remarkable personage who exerted upon Jewish affairs and destinies an influence greater than they all, and who sat upon the throne of Israel when Christ was born.
"A glance at the context is enough to show that “the king” of verse 36 cannot mean either of the kings of verse 27. Moreover, these are never spoken of as “the king,” but always, both before and after verse 36, as “the king of the north,” or “the king of the south,” as the case may be. Nor does the Scripture speak of any “king” who is to arise at the time of the end of this present age, and who answers at all to the description of the prophecy.
"What has caused able commentators to go astray at this point, and in some instances to seek far afield for the interpretation of this passage, is the fact that they were unable to find anyone among the successors of Antiochus who answers at all to the description of “the king.” But they have overlooked two things which, had they heeded them, would have kept them from being so misled. Those things are, first, that the prophecy has not for its subject the kingdoms of Syria or Egypt, but the people of Israel, and hence the expression, “the king,” without other qualification, would mean one who was king over Daniel’s people; and second, that the verses immediately preceding (31–35) relate wholly to the affairs of the Jews under the Asmonean princes, and hence the terms of the prophecy itself lead us to look at this point for the beginning of a new order of things in Israel. And that is just what history certifies to us; for, precisely at this juncture of affairs, the Asmonean dynasty was brought to an end by violence and bloodshed, and it was replaced by that of a “king,” who answers perfectly to the description of the last part of the prophecy." ("The Seventy Weeks and the Great Tribulation", 1944, p140-141).
In making comments on the text below, I will for the most part allow myself to be guided through Daniel 11:30 until 12:3 by the very able explanations of Mauro and Farquharson, but from there on I will divert to my own explanation to cover the time up until the point where it is foretold to Daniel that he shall "stand in thy lot at the end of the days" (Dan 12:13).
In Daniel 11:21, Antiochus Epiphanes is introduced as "a vile person". He was at that moment in history the "king of the north", i.e. in charge of the Seleucid Empire, located to the north of Israel, with Israel being part of that empire's realm. The Seleucid Empire was the fifth head of the "beast" powers described in Daniel 7, i.e. the fifth major independent power to conquer Jerusalem, after Babylon, Persia, Greece and the Ptolemaic Kingdom.
In Daniel 11:25, Antiochus is described as succesfully attacking the Ptolomaic "king of the South", headquartered in Egypt, and returning afterward to his own land, but not before setting "his heart against the holy covenant" as stated in verse 28.
This is elaborated on in I Macc 1:21-24, where it is related in detail how Antiochus in 169BC "arrogantly entered the sanctuary and took the golden altar, the lampstand for the light, and all its utensils. He took also the table for the bread of the Presence, the cups for drink offerings, the bowls, the golden censers, the curtain, the crowns, and the gold decoration on the front of the temple; he stripped it all off. He took the silver and the gold, and the costly vessels; he took also the hidden treasures which he found. Taking them all, he departed to his own land".
Daniel 11:29 states that Antiochus once again attacked the king of the South, but this time the victory did not go to Antiochus.
11:30 For the ships of Chittim (the Romans) shall come against him (thwart his conquest of Egypt): therefore he shall be grieved, and return (turn back), and have indignation against the holy covenant: so shall he do; he shall even return (to Jerusalem, but this time sending one of his generals, see below), and have intelligence with (take the side of) them that forsake the holy covenant (regarding this time period, I Macc 1:11-15 says:
"In those days went there out of Israel wicked men, who persuaded many, saying: Let us go and make a covenant with the heathen, that are round about us; for since we departed from them we have had much sorrow. So this device pleased them well. Then certain of the people were so forward herein, that they went to the king (Antiochus), who gave them licence to do after the ordinances of the heathen. Whereupon they built a place of exercise at Jerusalem, according to the customs of the heathen. And made themselves uncircumcised, and forsook the holy covenant, and joined themselves to the heathen, and were sold to do mischief".
This forsaking of the worship of the true God on the part of many led them into direct conflict with those Jews who wished to continue in the traditional religion of their fathers. Those who were in favour of "Hellenisation", i.e. adopting the customs, worship, lifestyle of Greek culture, were aided, violently, by their Greek Seleucid occupiers).
31 And arms (armed forces) shall stand on his (Antiochus IV's) part, and they shall pollute the sanctuary of strength, and shall take away the daily sacrifice, and they shall place the abomination that maketh desolate. (Two years after Antiochus IV's first assault on Jerusalem, he sent a general by the name of Apollonius with a force of 22000 men who inflicted great violence upon Jerusalem, forbidding, upon penalty of death, the practice of the true religion, and instead brutally enforcing the practice of Greek religion, defiling the Temple in the process. II Macc 5:24-27, 6:1-6).
32 And such as do wickedly against the covenant shall he corrupt by flatteries (those who obeyed the Seleucid conquerors and adopted Greek culture and religion were richly rewarded): but the people that do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits. (The books of the Maccabees speak at length of the exploits of Mattathias and his sons, in particular Judas Maccabeus, and those who rallied around them. These refused to abandon the true religion and waged war against the Seleucids and apostate Jews for years).
33 And they that understand among the people (initially those mentioned above) shall instruct many: yet they shall fall by the sword, and by flame, by captivity, and by spoil, many days. (When Antiochus himself had captured Jerusalem, two years before he sent Apollonius, some 40 thousand Jews were killed and about as many taken captive, as recorded in II Macc 5:14. The ongoing punishments meted out by the Seleucids were fierce, as seen for instance in the account of the seven brothers and their mother who were viciously put to death for refusing to eat pork, as recorded in II Macc 7. See also II Macc 6:7-10 which details the murder of the mothers who circumcised their baby boys in defiance of the instructions of the Seleucid occupiers. The time period of this oppression was from approximately 169BC until about 142BC, as can be derived from I Macc 1:10, 1:20 and 13:41).
34 Now when they shall fall, they shall be holpen with a little help (though the Jews did "fall", they in turn were helped (to victory) by the hand of just a few, i.e. a relatively small band of resistance fighters (I Macc 3:10-26). In I Macc 3:18-19 Judas Maccabeus remarks just before one of his victories over the Seleucids that "with the God of heaven it is all one, to deliver with a great multitude, or a small company, for the victory of battle stands not in the multitude of a host, but strength comes from heaven"): but many (Seleucid leaders) shall cleave to them (seek to appease the Jews) with flatteries (offers of various types - see for instance I Macc 10).
35 And some of them of understanding shall fall (many died in the wars between the Seleucids and believing Jews, but also in the subsequent civil wars between the Sadducees and Pharisees), to try them, and to purge, and to make them white, even to the time of the end (of the Hasmonean period): because it is yet for a time appointed (the appointed time of the end of the Seleucid/Hasmonean era and the commencement of Roman rule, i.e. the sixth head of the "beast" powers).
36 And the king (Herod the Great, the first king of Judea appointed by Rome, in 37BC) shall do according to his will (eliminate all opposition to his will, including from his own family); and he shall exalt himself (at the expense of all others. Josephus says in Ant. 17.8.1 that Herod "was of great barbarity towards all men equally"), and magnify himself above every god (every false god), and shall speak marvellous things against the God of gods (the true God. When God was born of flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, Herod, with the full intent of murdering Him, lied to the wise men, saying "Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him bring me word, that I too may come and worship him"), and shall prosper (applying to both Herod and his descendants, who continued to reign and oppress the people of God, as seen in the killing of John the Baptist and the apostle James, the brother of John) till the indignation be accomplished (the destruction of the Jewish nation that rejected Christ): for that that is determined (in the 70 Week Prophecy of Daniel 9) shall be done.
37 Neither shall he regard the god of his fathers (Herod was Idumean by birth. John Hyrcanus, the Hasmonean leader and high priest in Jerusalem from 134BC-104BC had forced the Idumeans to be circumcised and convert to Judaism during his reign (Josephus, Ant. 13.9.1). This shows that the Idumeans were not originally worshippers of the true God. Josephus refers to Herod as a "half-Jew" in Ant 14.15.2. The original god of the Idumeans was Qos or Qaus), nor the desire of women (children are the desire of women. Amongst many others, Herod murdered a number of his own children and also killed the infants in and around Bethlehem shortly after the time of Christ's birth), nor regard any god: for he shall magnify himself above all (Herod was a total egomaniac).
38 But in his estate (instead) shall he honour the god of forces ("fortresses", as also found in verses 7, 10, 19 and 39): and (in the process) a god whom his fathers knew not (the true God) shall he honour with gold, and silver, and with precious stones, and pleasant things (by magnificently enlarging and beautifying the Jerusalem Temple, exactly in time for Christ's first coming).
39 Thus (likewise) shall he do in the most strong holds (build many fortresses, such as at Masada, Herodium, Jericho, Machaerus, Caesarea, as well as at Jerusalem) with (for) a strange god (Herod the Great usually dedicated his building works to Caesar Augustus, who was worshipped as a god), whom he shall acknowledge and increase with glory (Herod was infatuated with power, i.e. the emperor's power, and as an extension of that, his own power. His grandiose building endeavours were meant to display that power): and he shall cause them to rule over many (Herod maintained Rome's rule from his fortresses), and shall divide the land for gain (In Ant. 15.8.5 Josephus states that Herod, in rebuilding the city of Samaria, "contrived to bring there many of those who had been assisting him in his wars" (retired soldiers) and that "he parted the adjoining country, which was excellent, among the inhabitants of Samaria" and that this was all "for his own security, and a monument of his magnificence").
40 And at the time of the end (of the era of the Ptolemaic Kingdom and the Seleucid Empire, when Rome became firmly established as the sixth head of the "beast", being in full control of the land of Israel as well as its adjacent countries) shall the king of the south (the Ptolemaic Kingdom, based in Egypt) push at him (at the new king of the North, i.e. Rome (which had conquered the Seleucid Empire), by instigating the famous naval battle known as the Battle of Actium in 31BC): and the king of the north (Roman forces led by Octavian, who shortly after this war became the first Roman emperor, calling himself Caesar Augustus) shall come against him (against the Ptolemaic Kingdom led by Cleopatra VII allied with Marc Antony) like a whirlwind, with chariots, and with horsemen, and with many ships; and he shall enter into the countries, and shall overflow and pass over.
41 He shall enter also into the glorious land (the following year, 30BC, Octavian attacked Egypt by way of Israel. Cleopatra and Marc Antony had fled back to Egypt after their defeat the previous year), and many countries shall be overthrown: but these shall escape out of his hand, even Edom, and Moab, and the chief of the children of Ammon (a Roman expedition into these countries at that time failed).
42 He (Octavian) shall stretch forth his hand also upon the countries (the whole region): and the land of Egypt shall not escape.
43 But (And) he shall have power over the treasures of gold and of silver, and over all the precious things of Egypt (how could this prophecy be about a time still in the future, when Egypt today ranks among the poorer and, as Scripture foretells, "the basest of countries" (Eze 29:15) and is certainly not known for its wealth? However, at the time of fulfilment, Egypt was still fabulously wealthy): and the Libyans and the Ethiopians shall be at his steps (the Roman Empire swallowed up the Ptolemaic Kingdom and its surrounding territories).
44 But (switching back to Judea and Herod, whose hold on power in Judea was now uncontested due to Octavian's victory over the Ptolemaic Kingdom) tidings out of the east and out of the north shall trouble him (trouble Herod, aligned with Octavian who by this time had become Emperor Caesar Augustus. Matt 2:1-12 says that Herod "was troubled" by the wise men who came "from the East", and who would have arrived in Jerusalem travelling from the North, announcing the birth of Christ, the "king of the Jews"): therefore he shall go forth with great fury to destroy, and utterly to make away many (murder the infants in Bethlehem in his attempt to kill Christ).
45 And he shall plant the tabernacles of his palace between the seas (the Mediterranean and the Dead Sea) in the glorious holy mountain (Jerusalem - Ps 48:1. Herod had a personal palace in Jerusalem); yet he shall come to his end, and none shall help him (help him successfully. Herod was struck with dreadful ailments in his latter years, which led to a slow and very painful death. Many physicians tried in vain to help him. Josephus records Herod's sufferings at length, as well as his violent, murderous nature which remained till the very end).
12:1 And at that time (the first coming of Christ, as announced to Herod by the wise men) shall Michael stand up
(quoted from Mauro p166-167: "Michael is not mentioned by name in the Gospels or Acts. But (this) was a time of manifest angelic activity; and we may be sure that Michael had a leading part in the events which were connected with the coming of Christ into the world. Moreover, we read that “the angel of the Lord” appeared several times to Joseph, Mary's husband; that “the angel of the Lord” came to the shepherds on Bethlehem’s plain, announcing the birth of the Savior; that “the angel of the Lord” opened the prison doors, setting the apostles free (Acts 5:9), and again released Peter from the prison, into which he had been cast by Herod Agrippa I (Acts 12:7); that the same “angel of the Lord” smote that king upon his throne when, upon a great public occasion, he gave not glory to God (Acts 12:23); and the same angel came to Paul at the time of the great shipwreck with God’s message of deliverance (Acts 27:23). If this “angel of the Lord” was Michael, then we have many instances of his “standing up,” in behalf of the people of God “at that time”),
the great prince (Jude 9 calls Michael an archangel) which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble (the 67-70AD Jewish-Roman war and destruction of the Jewish nation), such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and (but) at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book (In Dan 9:24, "thy people" are Daniel's physical countrymen, as the fulfilment of that prophecy bears out. Here, however, the clause "every one that shall be found written in the book" is added to "thy people". The conclusion must be that this is referring to Daniel's converted countrymen, who fled Judea before the fall of the nation, having been forewarned by Christ in His Olivet prophecy. The physical Jews also survived as a people, but with great loss of life).
2 And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake (this is talking about the gospel being preached from Christ's time onward and a spiritual awakening taking place in individuals as a result of God's spirit working with them.
Says Mauro, p109, "Isaiah describes the people of Israel as being under the influence of “the spirit of deep sleep” (Isaiah 29:10). Paul paraphrases another word of Isaiah (Isaiah 60:1) as having the meaning, “Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light” (Ephesians 5:14). And the Lord Himself declared that the era of this spiritual awakening had come, when He said, “The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live” (John 5:25). In both these last two passages the reference is to those who were spiritually dead, as all would agree"),
some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt (some will "endure until the end" (Matt 24:13) of their lives, while others will not. At Christ's return this distinction will be made apparent).
3 And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever (This is where we see the prophecy carry down into our time. The preaching of the gospel, leading to those who are spiritually dead coming to an awakening, is still occurring today, but the time of shining "as the stars for ever and ever" will not begin until the resurrection at Christ's return. This is the same time, mentioned in verse 13, when Daniel shall be resurrected).
4 But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end (a full understanding cannot be obtained until all aspects of these prophecies have been fulfilled at Christ's return): (however) many shall run to and fro (the gospel was to go out to the world, initially through the apostles, spreading understanding of God's word, including Daniel's prophecies, all over the globe), and knowledge shall be increased (Christ added the greatest wealth of knowledge we have at His first coming, and inspired the writings of the New Testament. In Rev 5-11 Christ unsealed the sealed prophecies of Daniel, greatly elaborating on them. As a result, it was made possible for understanding of these prophecies to increase over time, by people all over the world, as the successive foretold events came to pass).
5 Then I Daniel looked, and, behold, there stood other two, the one on this side of the bank of the river, and the other on that side of the bank of the river.
6 And one said to the man clothed in linen, which was upon the waters of the river, How long shall it be to the end of these wonders? (How long until all the prophecies given to Daniel are fulfilled?).
7 And I heard the man clothed in linen, which was upon the waters of the river, when he held up his right hand and his left hand unto heaven, and sware by him that liveth for ever that it shall be for a time, times, and an half (1260 inclusive years, from 691 until 1950, see verse 11); and when he shall have accomplished to scatter the power of the holy people, all these things shall be finished (the RSV reads: "when the shattering of the power of the holy people comes to an end all these things would be accomplished"). (The Jews regained their power after WW2, specifically in 1950 when, firstly, they re-established their government in Jerusalem, and secondly, later that year, issued the "Law of Return", allowing all Jews in the world to return to the Holy Land. These were two enormous milestones in the history of the Jewish people).
8 And I heard, but I understood not: then said I, O my Lord, what shall be the end (the outcome) of these things?
9 And he said, Go thy way, Daniel: for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end (the time of their total fulfilment, in the 20th and 21st century, when the last major elements of the prophecy come to pass).
10 Many shall be purified (through the centuries of the Christian era until the time of Christ's return), and made white, and tried; but the wicked shall do wickedly: and none of the wicked shall understand; but the wise shall understand.
11 And from the time that the daily sacrifice shall be taken away, and the abomination that maketh desolate set up, there shall be a thousand two hundred and ninety days (1290 inclusive years. The beginning of this prophecy was fulfilled when non-Muslims (i.e. Jews) were banned from praying (i.e. from offering their spiritual daily sacrifice) on the Temple Mount at the time that it was turned into an Islamic place of worship in the late 7th century, when the Dome of the Rock was constructed in the place where the Temple had stood. Non-Muslims are still banned from praying on the Temple Mount, which is why we see the Jews praying at the Wailing Wall instead. In 1950, 1260 inclusive years since the 691AD construction of the Dome of the Rock, Jewish government was restored to the approximately 90% of Jerusalem (Rev 11:13) that the Jews captured in the War of Independence. In the 1967 Six Day War, the Jews captured the remaining 10% of the city. In 1980, 1290 inclusive years since the construction of the Dome of the Rock, the Jews officially annexed the last 10% of Jerusalem, by passing the Jerusalem Law which, among other things, declares that "Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel". Therefore, the 1260 and 1290 years relate to the restoration of Jewish sovereignty over Jerusalem, at the conclusion of the "times of the Gentiles" - Lk 21:24).
12 Blessed is he that waiteth, and cometh to the thousand three hundred and five and thirty days (meaning 1335 inclusive years since the building of the Dome of the Rock, which is the year that begins in March/April 2025. It is however possible that when this year commences, Christ might have already returned in the 1334th year.
13 But go thou thy way till the end (till the end of your life): for thou shalt rest (in the grave), and stand in thy lot (in your allotted place in God's Kingdom, having been raised in the first resurrection) at the end of the days (at the time when the 1335 year period is fulfilled, and Christ has begun to reign from Jerusalem).
In conclusion I would like to add these comments:
The reason this prophecy of Daniel speaks at length about "the king of the South" and "the king of the North" is because of the place that these two Jerusalem ruling powers fill in Daniel's earlier prophecies. The king of the South, i.e. the Ptolemaic kingdom, was the fourth head of the seven "Beast" powers of Daniel 7, and the Seleucid Empire was the fifth head. Rome succeeded them as the sixth head to rule over Jerusalem.
In regard to this establishment of Roman rule, the Wikipedia article "Battle of Actium" states "Octavian's victory at Actium gave him sole, uncontested control of "Mare Nostrum" ("Our Sea", i.e., the Roman Mediterranean) and he became "Augustus Caesar" and the "first citizen" of Rome. The victory, consolidating his power over every Roman institution, marked Rome's transition from republic to empire. Egypt's surrender after Cleopatra's death marked the demise of both the Hellenistic Period and the Ptolemaic Kingdom, turning it into a Roman province."
Please see the "HOME" page chart for the time periods that these Gentile powers trampled down Jerusalem. Also, "DANIEL 2 - INTERPRETATION ERRORS" will be helpful with this.
God's hand in history, especially where it pertains to the affairs of His people, His Holy Land and His Holy City, is clearly discernible. At major turning points in Israel's history, we see that big personalities are raised up to bring about His purposes. Pharaoh Rameses, Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus and Adolf Hitler all fall into this category. Herod the Great was also raised up for a good reason, namely to prepare Judea, in a physical way, for Christ's first coming. Therefore, the fact that Roman power over Israel and its surrounding regions was consolidated during the early years of Herod's reign should not surprise us. This created the stability required to make the nation ready. The magnificent remodelling of the Jerusalem Temple at this precise juncture in time was also undoubtedly by pure design on God's part. Herod became king of Judea in 37BC; Roman rule in the entire region became absolute in 31-30BC; Octavian became the first Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus, in 27BC and Herod the Great began his Temple work in about 20BC. Christ was born (I believe) in 5BC.
Crucial to understanding Biblical prophecies like the one above, is that the words "end" and "time of the end" mean different things in different places in Scripture. Their meaning must be derived from the context of where they are found. They may be referring to the end of a particular era, the end of a particular prophecy, the end of a ruling dynasty, the end of the life of a particular individual etc.
Unfortunately, whenever modern day expositors see the word "end" in Scripture, they almost always think it's talking about the time just prior to Christ's return.
Please see the page "FULFILLED PROPHECIES" for a list of similar unfortunate mistakes.
Here are PDF versions of the two books quoted in this article:
James Farquharson, "Daniel's Last Vision and Prophecy", 1838
Philip Mauro, "The Seventy Weeks and the Great Tribulation", 1944