Herod the Great
The Seventy Weeks and the Great Tribulation
[Bracketed material are comments to the narrative by the contributor]
"And the king shall do according to his will; and he shall exalt himself, and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak marvellous things against the God of gods and shall prosper until the indignation be accomplished" (Dan 11:36).
Here we reach that part of the prophecy in regard to which there is the greatest difference of opinion among expositors; and yet, if we be not greatly mistaken (as to which our readers must judge) it is an easy matter, in the light of history, both sacred and profane, to identify that "king" whose character and doings are set forth in such striking words in our prophecy. Because, however, of the disagreement referred to, it behooves us, at this point, to exercise special diligence and care in examining and applying the proofs; and we ask the reader, on his part, to give close attention to the exposition of these verses; for one's understanding of the word of prophecy as a whole will depend very largely upon the view he may take of them.
We will first point out some of the current explanations of this part of the prophetic narrative of Daniel 11.
According to one view (that presented by Smith's Bible Dictionary and other reputable authorities such as Taylor) this portion of the prophecy (Dan 11:36 to end) has still to do with Antiochus Epiphanes, and that tyrant is "the king" of verse 36. That view of the passage is necessitated by the general scheme of interpretation adopted in the work referred to, which makes the first coming of Christ and the Kingdom He then established, to be the "stone," which strikes the great image of Gentile dominion upon its feet (Dan 2:34,35). Now, inasmuch as it is a matter of Bible fact, as well as of familiar history, that Christ did not come into destructive collision with the Roman empire, but rather strengthened it, this scheme of interpretation is compelled to ignore the Roman empire, and to make up the four world-powers by counting Media as one and Persia as another. This makes Greece the fourth, instead of the third, and compels the idea that the entire 11th chapter has to do with the Greek era.
But this whole scheme is shattered by contact with the undisputed facts. For first, Scripture declares plainly that Media and Persia formed one kingdom, not two. Even during the short time that "Darius the Mede" (11:1) was on the throne it speaks expressly of "the laws of the Medes and Persians" (5:26; 6:8), which shows that, from the very first, the two constituted one government. The Scripture also says plainly, "The ram which thou sawest, having two horns, are the kings of Media and Persia, and the rough goat is the king of Grecia" (Dan 8:20,21). The meaning of this is unmistakable. It shows that the two "horns" (or powers) were united to form one kingdom; and that it was this united kingdom (and not that of Persia alone) which was overthrown by Alexander the Great.
"Marching back into Asia, Alexander met the vast army of Darius and was dismayed by their multitudes. His soldiers comforted him: 'Be of good cheer, Sire; do not fear the great number of the enemy, for they will not be able to stand the very smell of goat that clings to us.'" (The Story of Civilization, Book II, The Life of Greece, Will Durant)]
Secondly, it was the power of Rome, not that of Christ's Kingdom, which brought the Greek dominion to an end. This happened at the battle of Actium, a quarter of a century before Christ was born. Therefore, the view stated above must be dismissed as directly contrary to the plainest facts. It may be added, moreover, that there are certain definite statements made concerning this "king" which cannot possibly be made to apply to Antiochus, as for instance that he should "prosper until the indignation be accomplished." We therefore concur with the large number of expositors who hold that this part of the prophecy cannot be taken as applying to Antiochus Epiphanes.
The "Break" Theory
According to another view (one that is widely held at the present day) there is a complete break in the prophecy at the end of verse 34 (or as some say at the end of verse 35) all the rest of the chapter being assigned to the days of antichrist, which were then in the far distant future. The supposition, however, that an abrupt break occurs at this point, and an unmentioned interval of many years, where the text has the form of a continuous historical narrative, is a very radical one; and it certainly ought not to be accepted without convincing proof. The strongest magnifying glass would fail to reveal the slightest indication of any such "break," but on the contrary every item of the subject-matter of verses 34, 35, and 36 is connected with the one which precedes it by the conjunction "and." On the other hand we find strong reasons for the view that the prophecy is just what it appears to be, namely, an outline, in continuous historical form, of the main events of "the latter days," that is to say, the second term of Jewish national existence. The view we hold requires that the last three of the four prophetic world-powers should come into view within the period of this chapter. At the time it begins the Babylonian empire was already a thing of the past. Hence the continuance of the prophecy should bring us successively to the eras of Persia, Greece, and Rome. That it conducts us to the era of Persia and then to that of Greece is agreed to by all. Why then imagine that, when we come to the Roman era, which is far the most important of all, the prophecy (without giving the faintest intimation of such a thing) takes a sudden leap of many centuries into the future? The only reason why that strange idea has been entertained by any is that they have not known of any historical personage who answers to what is stated in these verses. Yet there is such a personage, and he stands forth very conspicuously in both Bible history and secular history, as we shall now proceed to show. But first we ask our readers to bear in mind that the presumption is strongly against there being any "break" in the prophecy, as is assumed by those who hold the theory we are now considering. This presumption stands upon the following grounds:--
First. The form in which the prophecy is given, that of a straightforward narrative, in continuous historical order, omitting no happening of any importance, precludes the idea of there being any break, such as is supposed.
Second. The prophecy has expressly for its subject the events of "the latter days" of Jewish history, and the text itself shows this to be the designation of the second term of national life for Israel, which began under Cyrus. This forbids the cutting off of the last (and most important) part of the prophecy and the application of it to a remote age.
Third. After verses 36-39, which speak of the character and doings of "the king," we find the words, "And at the time of the end shall the king of the south push at (or with) him; and the king of the north shall come," etc. (v 40). This and succeeding verses (where mention is made of Edom, Moab, and the children of Ammon--people which have not long ago ceased to exist) afford clear proof that the prophecy is still occupied with the era of the wars between Syria and Egypt, which continued till the battle of Actium, BC 30.
Fourth. Finally a conclusive reason for the view we are now presenting is found in the words of the angel recorded in chapter 12:7. It will be observed that the prophecy continues without interruption to verse 4 of chapter 12, where it reaches its end. But then Daniel asked a question concerning "the end of these wonders" which the angel had been foretelling. To this question the angel gives a reply which makes it perfectly certain that the prophecy extends to the dispersion of the Jews at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus, and no further. For he said, "And when He (God) shall have accomplished to scatter the power of the holy people, all these things shall be finished." We do not see how it can be contended, in the face of these clear words, that the prophecy has to do with events subsequent to the scattering of the national power of the Jewish people; and it is not open to dispute that that took place in AD 70. We shall refer to this at greater length later on.
We have seen that verses 32-35 have to do (as is generally agreed) with the Asmoneans or Maccabees, verse 35 telling what was to befall them to the time of the end. What, therefore, we would be led to expect next is a reference to that order of things in Israel which followed immediately after the era of the Asmonean princes. And that is exactly what we do find. For there is no need (and no ground) either for the attempt to make the next succeeding verses apply to Antiochus Epiphanes, or to make a sudden and gigantic leap into the far distant future, in order to find a person whose career might conceivably answer to this part of the prophecy. For history, both sacred and profane, sets before us a most notable character, one who appears upon the scene and occupies the center of the stage in Israel just at "the end" of the Asmonean era, and one who answers to every item of the prophetic description. We have reference to that strange, despotic, ungovernable and unspeakably cruel personage, whom the evangelists designate emphatically as--
"HEROD THE KING"
--that remarkable character who was a usurper upon the throne of David when Christ, the true King, was born. The proof which enables us to identify "the king" of Daniel 11:36-39 with Herod the Great and his dynasty, is so convincing that we feel warranted in saying that the prophecy could not possibly mean anyone else.
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.
The words, "the king," should suffice, in the light of the context, without further description, to identify Herod to those who thoughtfully read their Bibles; for Herod alone is called by that title in the Gospels, and he alone had the rank and authority of "king" in Israel in the days after the captivity, "the latter days." The text does not speak of a king, but of the king, the emphatic Hebrew article being used. This is in marked contrast with the terms of v. 40, where the original speaks of "a king of the north," and "a king of the south."
A glance at the context is enough to show that "the king" of v. 36 cannot mean either of the kings of v. 27. Moreover, these are never spoken of as "the king," but always, both before and after v. 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. The "man of sin," described in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-10, is supposed by some to be "the king" of Daniel 11:36. But he is not called a king, nor described as having kingly rank, but rather as one claiming divine worship in the temple of God, and backing up his pretensions by means of miracles and lying wonders. The "king" of Daniel 11:36 is a very different personage, and achieves his ends in a very different way, as will be clearly seen by all who diligently compare the two passages.
What has caused able commentators to go astray at this point, and in some instances to seek far field 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.
Moreover, and to this we would specially invite attention, it is said of this king that "he shall prosper until the indignation be accomplished" (or until wrath be completed), in fulfillment of which is the fact that the dynasty of Herod retained, through all the political upheavals of the times, its favor with Rome, and flourished in authority in Palestine, until the destruction of Jerusalem, which is the "wrath," or "indignation," or "tribulation," to which these prophecies of Daniel so frequently refer as "the end" of Jewish nationality. For it was "Herod the king" who sought to compass the death of Christ soon after His birth, and whose successors of his own family put to death John the Baptist (this was done by Herod Antipas) and James the brother of John (by Herod Agrippa I, who also imprisoned Peter, intending to deliver him to the Jews) and finally sent Paul in chains to Rome (which was done by Herod Agrippa II, the last of the dynasty, the man who is best known to the world as he who was "almost persuaded").
"According to His Will"
The first thing said of this king is that he should "do according to his will." This is usually taken to mean that he would be of an exceptionally self-willed disposition, one of the sort who act without restraint, and without regard to the rights or the feelings of others. This may indeed be in part the meaning of the words; but much more than this is implied. Self-willed people are so very numerous that, if that were all that were meant, the words could not serve for purposes of identification. But not many are so placed, and have such power in their hands that they are able to "do," that is, to achieve or accomplish what they "will" or plan to do; and this is what is meant. For the expression is used in this same prophecy of two other notable personages. The first of these is Alexander the Great, of whom it is said that he "shall rule with great dominion, and do according to his will" (v. 3). The other (v. 16) has been identified as Antiochus the Great. Of him also it is said, "he shall do according to his own will": and history shows that this monarch, too, was very successful, during the first part of his reign, in carrying out his various designs.
This is what distinguished Herod the Great in a remarkable degree. For history records nothing of this nature more notable than Herod's success in rising up from a lowly origin to the rank and authority of king, in securing for himself despotic power and retaining it through all the political changes of the times, and in the way he used that power for the accomplishment of all his designs, however stupendous in magnitude (as the rebuilding of the temple) or atrocious in character (as condemning to death his own wife and children). For Herod contrived to secure the favor and confidence, first of Julius Caesar, then of Mark Antony, and then of Octavius Caesar, though he had assisted Antony and Cleopatra against him. All things considered, there is nothing more wonderful in the career of Herod than his extraordinary success in doing "according to his will."
But, taking the expression in the other sense, we may say that it would be difficult to find in history one who so ruthlessly executed the designs of his own tyrannical and cruel heart, even upon those of his own flesh and blood, as Herod the king. His murder of his best-loved wife, the beautiful Mariamne, who was a princess of the Asmonean family, is, in its special circumstances, without parallel in history. He put to death also three of his own sons (two of them by this favorite wife) because he suspected them of aspiring to his throne; and similar deeds of willfulness characterized his entire reign. Josephus gives many instances of this (see for example Ant. XII 9, 4).
Exalting and Magnifying Himself
Further it is said of this king that "he shall exalt himself and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak marvelous things against the God of gods." These words are descriptive of Herod. The words "above every god" may be taken to mean every ruler and authority in Israel, just as "God of gods" means the Supreme Authority above all authorities. Herod did successfully aspire to the lordship over every authority in the land, whether priests or rulers. He assumed to appoint whom he would to the office of high priest. He put his own brother-in-law, Aristobulus, Mariamne's brother, in that office, and shortly after had him murdered (Ant. XV 3, 5).
Herod also uttered great things against the God of gods. This, we believe, refers specially (though not exclusively) to his decree for the slaughter of the babes of Bethlehem, the express purpose of which was to get rid of Immanuel, God come in the flesh to be the Ruler of His people, and to be "Prince of the kings of the earth" (Rev 1:5). Herod's way of making himself secure upon the throne was to put to death every suspected rival. For Herod, in common with the Jewish teachers in his day (and with some teachers in our own day who ought to know better) mistakenly supposed that the Christ of God was coming at that time to occupy the earthly throne upon which Herod was then seated. We shall have occasion to refer again to this prominent act in the career of Herod.
The Desire of Women
Verse 37 reads: "Neither shall he regard the God of his fathers, nor the desire of women, nor regard any god; for he shall magnify himself above all."
These words call for special comment. The first clause manifestly could not apply to any heathen king like Antiochus. For whether or not a heathen king should change his national gods is a matter of no importance whatever. But with a king of Israel it is a matter of supreme importance. Now Herod, though supposedly of Idumean (i.e. Edomite) origin, was virtually a Jew; for all the remaining Idumeans, who had come into Judea several centuries previous, had been amalgamated with the Jews. In addressing the people Herod habitually used the expression "our fathers" (Ant. Bk. XV Ch. 11, Sec. 1). So fully was Herod regarded as a Jew, that the Herodians even held him to be the Messiah. Therefore, in introducing the worship of Caesar, Herod conspicuously failed to "regard the God of his fathers." Moreover, in this connection, it should not be forgotten that Esau was Jacob's twin brother, and hence that the God of the fathers of the Edomites was the same as the God of the fathers of the Jews.
The words, "nor the desire of women," are very significant. There can scarcely be any doubt that they refer to Christ, and that Daniel would so understand them. For, of course, the "women" must be understood to be women of Israel; and the ardent "desire" of every one of them was that she might be the mother of Christ. The same word is found in Haggai 2:7: "And the Desire of all nations shall come." Evidently then it is Christ who is referred to as "the desire of women"; and if so, then we have a striking fulfillment of these words in Herod's attempt to murder the infant Messiah. For the record given in Matthew 2:1-16 makes it quite clear that Herod's deliberate purpose was to put to death the promised Messiah of Israel. It was for the accomplishment of that purpose that he inquired of the chief priests and scribes as to where Christ should be born. The slaughter of the babes of Bethlehem was an act of atrocity almost without parallel in history. It was, moreover, an event that had been foretold by Jeremiah in the words, "A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping, Rachel weeping for her children," etc. (Jer 31:51, quoted in Matt 2:17,18). Each one of those murdered infants was "the desire" of his own mother; and thus Herod fulfilled Daniel 11:37 in another sense.
The God of Forces
Verse 38 reads: "And in his estate," or for his establishment, "shall he honour the god of forces," or god of fortresses; "and (or even) a god whom his fathers knew not shall he honour, with gold and silver, and precious (or costly) stones, and with pleasant (or valuable) things."
Herod's career affords a most striking fulfillment of this verse. The expression, "god of forces, or fortresses," is so unusual that it furnishes a most satisfactory means of identification; for it applies to the Caesars as to none others in history, seeing that the Roman emperors claimed for themselves divine honors, and that it was by "forces," or "fortifications," that they extended and maintained their power, and enforced the worship they demanded. This honor Herod paid to them, and after the most extravagant fashion; and he did it, of course, in order to make himself secure, that is to say, "for his own establishment," as the text of v. 38 may be rendered. This honor paid by Herod, first to Julius Caesar, then to Antony, and then to Antony's conqueror, Augustus, was one of the most conspicuous features of Herod's policy. Josephus records how he sent delegations to Rome, and also to Antony and Cleopatra in Egypt, bearing the most costly presents; also how he converted the ancient Strato's Tower into a magnificent seaport, and named it Caesarea, in honor of Caesar, and how later he rebuilt Samaria, and renamed it Sebaste (Sebastos being the equivalent of Augustus). He built many other fortified cities and named them in honor of Caesar.
The same subject is continued in verse 39, which reads: "Thus shall he do in the most strongholds with a strange god whom he shall acknowledge and increase with glory; and he shall cause them to rule over many, and shall divide the land for gain," or "parcel out the land for hire."
Here we have a reference to one of the most prominent acts of Herod's long reign, namely, his rebuilding of the temple, and his making the temple area a stronghold for Caesar. He made the temple the most famous building in the world for its dimensions, its magnificence, and particularly for the size of the stones whereof it was built, to which the disciples specially directed the Lord's attention (Mark 13:1), and which Josephus says were 25 cubits long, 12 broad, and 8 thick (Ant. XV II, 3). But, in rebuilding it, Herod took care to convert it into a fortress for his own purposes, this being the "most stronghold" of the land. As a part of this plan he constructed on the north side of the temple, and overlooking it, a strong citadel which he named the Tower of Antonia, after Mark Antony. Josephus says:
Further this historian says that the fortified places
It was from the stairs leading to this famous Tower, up which the apostle Paul was being taken by the soldiers to save him from the violence of the people, that he stilled them by a gesture of his hand, and gained their attention by addressing them in the Hebrew tongue (Acts 21:34-40).
Again Josephus says of Herod that,
In connection with the prediction of what this king would do in the chief strongholds "with a strange god," mention should be made of the many images, statues of Caesar, which Herod set up to be worshipped in various fortified places. He even went so far in his sacrilege as to place a huge golden eagle (the adored emblem of imperial Rome) at the very gate of the temple, thus giving rise to a tumult and insurrection among the people. In this way did he, in his estate (office), "honour the god of forces" (Caesar) whose statues he everywhere introduced as objects of worship. He fulfilled with literal exactness the words, "Thus shall he do in the most strongholds," (which expression would apply to the citadel of the temple, where he erected the Tower of Antonia) "with a strange god, whom he shall acknowledge, and increase with glory" (Dan 11:39). The last clause finds a striking fulfillment in Herod's extravagant pains to glorify Caesar, which, as we have shown, went beyond all bounds.
The words "dividing the land for gain" (or parcelling it out for hire) were fulfilled in the practice adopted by Herod of parcelling out among persons favorable to himself, the land adjacent to places which it was important for him to control in case of emergency. Josephus speak of this (Ant. XV 8,5).
We thus find that every item foretold of "the king" was completely fulfilled in the career of Herod, and that the record of this fulfilment has come down to us in an authentic contemporary history, which is on all hands acknowledged to be trustworthy in an unusually high degree.
Other predictions concerning this "king" are given in verses 44, 45. These also were fulfilled with literal exactness, as will be shown when we come to the exposition of those verses.
The Time of the End
In order to avoid confusion it is needful to observe that "the time of the end" may mean one period in one place, and a very different period in another. The meaning is controlled, and is also revealed, by the context. But this is quite frequently overlooked; and we have observed that even careful writers on prophecy have a disposition to take the words "the time of the end" as meaning the end of the gospel-dispensation, even when the passage in which they occur does not relate to the present dispensation at all.
Particularly should it be noted that in the Book of Daniel there are two distinct sets of prophecies. The first set, found in chapters II, VII and VIII, relate to the great Gentile world-powers, and the prophecies of chapters II and VII carry us on to the end of the times of the Gentiles (chapter VIII gives details of the Greek empire, thus filling in the outline given in the vision of chapter VII). But the second series (chapters IX-XII inclusive) have to do with the history of Daniel's own people and his holy city. Hence the expression "time of the end," where it occurs in these later prophecies, means the last stage of the national existence of Daniel's people, that is to say, the era of the Herods.
The period of Jewish history occupied by Herod and his dynasty was therefore "the time of the end" in the sense required by the context; so we have a strong confirmation of the view we have been presenting in the fact that, just at this point in the prophecy, there is given us an outline of those great events (which occurred during the reign of Herod) whereby political supremacy in the world was given to the Caesars, and all was made ready for the coming of the Redeemer. This outline is found in Daniel 11:40-43, and brings us to the subjugation of Egypt (the last of the great independent monarchies to fall under the spreading power of Rome) with the Libyans and Ethiopians. The records of history correspond so exactly to the predictions of this prophecy (as we shall presently point out) that there can be no question at all as to its fulfilment.
In reading this chapter it is to be remembered that the prophecy is not primarily concerned with Syria, Egypt, Rome or any other alien power, but that it refers to them only insofar as they come in contact with, and affect the destinies of, the Jews.
Hence these verses (40-43) have a parenthetical character. They read as follows:
The events foretold in this part of the prophecy took place "at the time of the end"; that is to say they were coincident with the last era of Jewish history, the era of the Herods. At that time a king of the south (Cleopatra, the last to occupy the throne of Egypt, aided by Mark Antony) made a push with Herod, who was in league with them, against Syria, which had meanwhile become a Roman province. This was the beginning of the great Actian war.
As to the manner in which that war began, we have a very clear account in Plutarch's "Life of Mark Antony," by which it appears that the fulfilment of the prophecy was marvellously exact, not only as regards the manner in which the war began, but also in respect to the sides on which the different parties were at first engaged in it, in regard also to the outcome, to the peculiar arms--"chariots and horsemen and many ships"--by means of which the victories of Augustus were achieved, and finally, in regard also to the rapidity of his conquest, which was effected within the space of a single year.
"Daniel's Last Vision"
Our papers on the eleventh chapter of Daniel, in which we identified Herod as "the king" of verse 36, and showed that verses 40-43 were fulfilled in the events whereby Egypt fell under the all-conquering arms of Augustus Caesar, were completed ready for the printer in the early part of 1922. Prior to August of that year we were not aware that anyone had previously pointed out that the predictions concerning "the king" were fulfilled by Herod, or that the fulfilment of the last verses of the chapter was to be found in the stirring and world-changing events of his reign.
But in August of 1922 there came into our hands in a strange way (which seemed providential) an old book, now long out of print, in which, to our great surprise and gratification, we found our conclusions as to the above matters set forth, and supported by proofs more ample than we ourselves had collected. The book was written by James Farquharson, and was printed in Aberdeen, Scotland, in 1838. It bears the following quaint and lengthy title: Daniel's Last Vision and Prophecy, respecting which Commentators have greatly differed from each other, showing its Fulfilment in events recorded in authentic history.
In our comments, which here follow, on verses 40-43, we are indebted to this volume for the quotations from Plutarch's "Life of Mark Antony," which set the fulfilment of those verses in such a clear light.
Plutarch's Description of the Actian War
The first move in the Actian war was made by Antony (at the urgency of Cleopatra), in which he was assisted by Herod. Says Plutarch:
Antony advanced to Athens, with constantly increasing forces, Augustus being wholly unprepared to meet him; for says the historian:
Thus a king of the south was the first to make a push in this war, and he pushed with Herod. As showing the accuracy of the prophecy it should be noted that, as Plutarch records, the Senate of Rome declared war with Cleopatra alone, ignoring Antony, so that it was strictly between a king of the north, and a king of the south.
Mr. Farquharson points out that the predictions of the prophet were strictly fulfilled also in respect to the character of the forces engaged in the war. For, notwithstanding that each side assembled large numbers of infantry, and notwithstanding that such are the arms usually relied upon to decide a war, yet in this case the infantry were not engaged at all, the issue being decided (as the prophecy indicates) by chariots and horsemen, and many ships.
A strange feature of the affair is that, although Antony's footmen outnumbered those of Augustus, and although his generals urged him to bring the matter to an issue in a land battle, nevertheless (to quote again from Plutarch)--
This brought on the great naval fight of Actium, which ended in a complete victory of Augustus; and thus did a king of the north come upon a king of the south, with the effect of a whirlwind, with many ships. A more literal and exact fulfilment of prophecy could not be found.
But that is not all. For Plutarch records that, after the disaster at Actium, Antony's infantry deserted him, so that the infantry were not engaged during the entire war.
"The Countries and the Glorious Land"
The course pursed by Augustus after his triumph over Antony and Cleopatra follows most literally the predictions of the prophecy. For he entered into the countries, and overflowed, and passed over them, possessing himself of regions of Africa, Upper Cilicia, Paphlagonia, Thrace, Pontus, Galatia, and other provinces from Illyria to Armenia. Moreover "he entered also into the glorious land," that is to say the land of Judea, which has already been designated (see v. 16 of this chapter) "the glorious land." For Augustus chose to invade Egypt by way of Palestine, at which time Herod (who had already with great prudence and foresight made his submission to Augustus, and with such skilful diplomacy that it was accepted), rendered him much assistance. Josephus says:
Edom, Moab and Ammon
The reference in verse 41 to the countries of Edom, Moab and Ammon should be enough, without anything further, to show that we must seek the fulfilment of this part of the prophecy in Bible times. Those names had a geographical significance to Daniel, and to others of his day, who would understand by them the mingled peoples of the lands adjacent to Judea on the east and south. Now it is recorded in history that those countries did escape, in a remarkable manner, out of the hand of Augustus, in strong contrast with what the next verse says concerning Egypt, "And the land of Egypt shall not escape" (v. 42).
Augustus sent an expedition into the countries referred to under Aelius Gallus, in which he was joined by five hundred of Herod's guards (Josephus, Ant. XV 9, 3). Dean Prideaux, the well-known commentator, refers to this expedition and its failure, citing Pliny, Strabo, and Dio Cassius. The Universal History, in a note added to their account of the expedition, says: "The bad success that attended Aelius in this expedition deterred both him and others from any further attempts on that country" (Ancient Universal History, Vol. XIII, p. 498).
The Treasures of Egypt
The prophecy makes special reference to the vast treasures of Egypt, saying: "But he shall have power over the treasures of gold and of silver, and over all the precious things of Egypt" (v. 43).
Here again are words which make it perfectly clear that the fulfilment of this prophecy must be sought in the days of Egypt's greatness and wealth, and is not to be found in the squalid and poverty-stricken Egypt of later times, which, according to the sure word of prophecy, was to become "the basest of the kingdoms," and not to exalt itself any more (Eze 29:15).
But in the days of Herod and Mark Antony the treasures of Egypt were of fabulous value; and here again history furnishes us with such a marvellous fulfilment of this item of the prophecy that we can but think the records have been providentially cared for. Speaking of Cleopatra's vast and famous treasures of gold, silver and precious stones, and other rare and costly objects, Farquharson says that "the history of the fate of her treasures is very singular, and is worthy of a more detailed reference to it."
So he shows how this great treasure had been accumulated during the centuries of the Macedonian rulers of Egypt (the Ptolemies), being drawn from the great grain trade of the country, and from the very lucrative commerce of Alexandria "through which passed the gems, pearls, spices, and other rich produce and merchandise of India, which from earliest ages have been in high request in the western part of the world."
Continuing his account Farquharson says:
That design was abandoned; but--
The Libyans and Ethiopians
The prophecy also says concerning this victorious king, "and the Libyans and Ethiopians shall be at his steps" (v. 43). Commenting on these words Farquharson says:
And this author proceeds to show the conquest of the countries named in the prophecy, by Cornelius Balbus, which was considered so great an achievement that Balbus, though not a native Roman, was, contrary to all precedent, allowed a triumph. Thus, while Augustus did not himself subdue those countries, they were "at his steps," as the prophecy says, at the time he left Africa and returned to Rome.
Thus ancient history, which has been preserved to our day, shows to us a series of events of the highest importance in shaping the course of human affairs, which events correspond with marvellous exactitude, and in just the right sequence, to the several details of the prophecy, the entire series having taken place at precisely the era we should look for them to occur, if we take the prophecy to be what it appears to be, namely, a continuous prophetic narrative. If then this be not a fulfilment, there is nothing that can be with certainty recognized as a fulfilment of inspired prophecy.
Tidings from East and North
We come now to the last two verses of chapter 11, which read thus:
It is not at first glance apparent who is the antecedent of the pronoun "he" in these verses. But upon close attention to the text it will be seen that we have here a return to the main subject of this part of the prophecy, "the king" of verse 36, the course of the prophecy having been diverted in verses 40-43 to the subject of the conquests of Augustus Caesar. Very often, in reading the Hebrew prophets, we have to look a considerable distance backwards to find the antecedent of a pronoun. As an instance of this, Farquharson cites Bishop Horsley as saying, in commenting upon Isaiah 18, "To those to whom the prophetic style in the original is not familiar, but to those only, I think, it will appear strange that a pronoun should refer to an antecedent at so great a distance." And Farquharson adds: "And the correctness of this view of the whole passage is confirmed by the literal manner in which the predictions in this 44th verse, and in the remaining verse of the chapter, were fulfilled by Herod."
Indeed we do not see how any fulfilment could be more complete and literal than that which is given us in Matthew's Gospel of the words "But tidings out of the east shall trouble him." For it is written that "When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of Herod the king, behold there came wise men FROM THE EAST to Jerusalem, saying, Where is He that is born king of the Jews? for we have seen His star IN THE EAST, and are come to worship Him. When Herod heard these things he was TROUBLED, and all Jerusalem with him" (Matt 2:1-3). So here we have the exact thing prophesied, namely, "tidings out of the east" which "troubled him."
Nothing was so well calculated to "trouble" Herod as reports that some one was aspiring to his throne. In this case it is among the most familiar of all facts that Herod, being set at nought by the wise men, from whom he sought to learn the identity of the new-born babe, "was EXCEEDING WROTH, and SENT FORTH, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under" (Matt 2:16). Thus we have almost verbal agreement with the words of the prophecy, "he shall GO FORTH, with GREAT FURY, to destroy and utterly to make away MANY."
At about the same time, that is, in the last years of Herod's life, "tidings out of the north" also came to "trouble" that self-tormenting monarch. For Antipater, his oldest son (a despicable character), then at Rome (which had now become the center of what is indefinitely called in this prophecy "the north") conspired to have letters written to his father giving information that two other of his sons, whom he purposed to make his successors, had calumniated their father to Caesar. This caused Herod again to break forth with intense "fury" against his own sons, and their supposed abettors, as related by Josephus at great length (Ant. XVII 4-7; Wars 1:30-33).
In regard to these extraordinary events, Farquharson quotes a passage (which we give below) from the Universal Ancient History, saying he does so the more readily because the authors of the passage had no thought at all of recording a fulfilment of prophecy. They say:
Herod's "great fury" (to use the words of the prophecy) was not confined to the babes of Bethlehem, and to members of his own family. For, says Josephus, "it was also during paroxysms of fury, that, nearly about the same time, he burned alive Matthias and forty young men with him, who had pulled down the golden image of the Roman eagle, which he had placed over the gate of the temple" (Ant. XVII 7). Furthermore Josephus relates the following characteristic action of Herod:
Therefore, in order to insure that the nation should be plunged into mourning, he left an order that, immediately upon his own death, all those leaders of the Jews, whom he had confined in the hippodrome, should be slain. That order, however, was not carried out.
His Palace and His End
We have already pointed out that Herod placed his royal dwelling-places "in the glorious holy mountain," he having two palaces in Jerusalem, one in the temple area, and the other in the upper city. So they were "between the seas," that is, the Mediterranean and the Dead Seas.
The last word of the prophecy concerning him is: "Yet he shall come to his end, and none shall help him." As to this we cannot do better than to quote Farquharson's comment:
Thus he came to his end, and none helped him. He died a prey to horrible diseases, and to horrible remorse, just five days after he had ordered the execution of his oldest son.
We have deemed the matter of sufficient importance to give to the explanation of this part of the chapter (verses 36 to 45) a minute and detailed examination. For we are convinced that the theory of a "break" after verse 34 (or 35), involving the transference bodily of all the rest of the prophecy (including the part contained in chapter 12) to a future day, deranges all that part of the prophetic Word which it is important for us to "understand" at the present time. Conversely, our belief is that, with this important passage correctly settled, other things, which have been involved in the general obscurity occasioned by the "break" theory, will be cleared up. Indeed we shall not have to go very far to find practical proof of this.
And now that we have reviewed the evidences which point to Herod the Great as the "king" foretold in this passage, our wonder is that any careful students of prophecy could have missed so plain a mark. For the passage foretells that, at a definite point in Jewish history, namely, just at the close of the Asmonean era, there should arise (what had not been in Israel for nearly five hundred years) a "king"; and the character and doings of this king (which are of a most unusual sort) are predicted in strong and clear words. In perfect agreement with this, as fully recorded in the Bible and in profane history, is the fact that, precisely at the point indicated, there did arise one who became "king" over Daniel's people, which king had precisely the character, and did precisely the things which the prophecy had foretold of him.
Let it be noted that at verse 35 we reach the end of the Asmonean era, as nearly all commentators have clearly perceived. But the history of the renewed Jewish nation did not end there, and neither does the prophecy end there. What was next? In the history of the Jewish people the next and last stage was occupied by a king, whose character was one of the most detestable, and whose doings were among the most atrocious, of any that have been recorded in the annals of the human race, he being, moreover, the only "king" over the Jewish nation in all this long period of more than 500 yeras. In perfect agreement with this we find that the next section of the prophecy, which also is the last, is occupied with a description of the character and doings of one who is simply designated as "the king." Furthermore, upon comparing the records of history with the detailed statements of the prophecy, we find an answer in each and every particular. We would not know where to look for a more complete and literal fulfilment of prophecy.
Again we would point out that, considering the nature and purpose of this prophecy, as divinely announced in chapter 10:14, and as manifested in verses 1 to 35 of chapter 11, it is simply impossible that "Herod the king" should not have a place, and a prominent place, in it. And even so in fact we find him there, just at the right place, and described with such detail and accuracy as to make it an easier matter to identify him, when we have the facts of history before us, than to identify any of the other notable characters to whom the prophecy refers.
It would seem that, in regard to this exceedingly plain matter, some sound and able teachers have been misled through having accepted the idea of a "break" in the preceding prophecy of the Seventy Weeks, to which (as we have pointed out) that of chapter 11 and 12 is a supplement. That made it easy to surmise a similar "break" in chapter 11 when they came to a personage whom, through their not having in mind the records of sacred and profane history, they failed to identify. We are confident, however, that no unbiased persons, after considering what we have presented above, will doubt that "the king" whose portrait is given in this passage is Herod the Great.