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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 5–20
Verses 5–20

Here are foretold,

I. The rise and power of two great kingdoms out of the remains of Alexander’s conquests, Dan. 11:5. 1. The kingdom of Egypt, which was made considerable by Ptolemaeus Lagus, one of Alexander’s captains, whose successors were, from him, called the Lagidae. He is called the king of the south, that is, Egypt, named here, Dan. 11:8, 42, 43. The countries that at first belonged to Ptolemy are reckoned to be Egypt, Phoenicia, Arabia, Libya, Ethiopia, etc. Theocr. Idyl. 17. 2. The kingdom of Syria, which was set up by Seleucus Nicanor, or the conqueror; he was one of Alexander’s princes, and became stronger than the other, and had the greatest dominion of all, was the most powerful of all Alexander’s successors. It was said that he had no fewer than seven-two kingdoms under him. Both these were strong against Judah (the affairs of which are particularly eyed in this prediction); Ptolemy, soon after he gained Egypt, invaded Judea, and took Jerusalem on a sabbath, pretending a friendly visit. Seleucus also gave disturbance to Judea.

II. The fruitless attempt to unite these two kingdoms as iron and clay in Nebuchadnezzar’s image (Dan. 11:6): “At the end of certain years, about seventy after Alexander’s death, the Lagidae and the Seleucidae shall associate, but not in sincerity. Ptolemy Philadelphus, king of Egypt, shall marry his daughter Berenice to Antiochus Theos, king of Syria,” who had already a wife called Laodice. “Berenice shall come to the king of the north, to make an agreement, but it shall not hold: She shall not retain the power of the arm; neither she nor her posterity shall establish themselves in the kingdom of the north, neither shall Ptolemy her father, nor Antiochus her husband (between whom there was to be a great alliance), stand, nor their arm, but she shall be given up and those that brought her,” all that projected that unhappy marriage between her and Antiochus, which occasioned so much mischief, instead of producing a coalition between the northern and southern crowns, as was hoped. Antiochus divorced Berenice, took his former wife Laodice again, who soon after poisoned him, procured Berenice and her son to be murdered, and set up her own son by Antiochus to be king, who was called Seleucus Callinicus.

III. A war between the two kingdoms, Dan. 11:7, 8. A branch from the same root with Berenice shall stand up in his estate. Ptolemaeus Euergetes, the son and successor of Ptolemaeus Philadelphus, shall come with an army against Seleucus Callinicus, king of Syria, to avenge his sister’s quarrel, and shall prevail; and he shall carry away a rich booty both of persons and goods into Egypt, and shall continue more years than the king of the north. This Ptolemy reigned forty-six years; and Justin says that if his own affairs had not called him home he would, in this war, have made himself master of the whole kingdom of Syria. But (Dan. 11:9) he shall be forced to come into his kingdom and return into his own land, to keep peace there, so that he can no longer carry on the war abroad. Note, It is very common for a treacherous peace to end in a bloody war.

IV. The long and busy reign of Antiochus the Great, king of Syria. Seleucus Callinicus, that king of the north that was overcome (Dan. 11:7) and died miserably, left two sons, Seleucus and Antiochus; these are his sons, the sons of the king of the north, that shall be stirred up, and shall assemble a multitude of great forces, to recover what their father had lost, Dan. 11:10. But Seleucus the elder, being weak, and unable to rule his army, was poisoned by his friends, and reigned only two years; and his brother Antiochus succeeded him, who reigned thirty-seven years, and was called the Great. And therefore the angel, though he speaks of sons at first, goes on with the account of one only, who was but fifteen years old when he began to reign, and he shall certainly come, and overflow, and over-run, and shall be restored at length to what his father lost. 1. The king of the south, in this war, shall at first have very great success. Ptolemaeus Philopater, moved with indignation at the indignities done by Antiochus the Great, shall (though otherwise a slothful prince) come forth, and fight with him, and shall bring a vast army into the field of 70,000 foot, and 5000 horse, and seventy-three elephants. And the other multitude (the army of Antiochus, consisting of 62,000 foot, and 6000 horse, and 102 elephants) shall be given into his hand. Polybius, who lived with Scipio, has given a particular account of this battle of Raphia. Ptolemaeus Philopater, having gained this victory, grew very insolent; his heart was lifted up; then he went into the temple of God at Jerusalem, and, in defiance of the law, entered the most holy place, for which God has a controversy with him, so that, though he shall cast down many myriads, yet he shall not be strengthened by it, so as to secure his interest. For, 2. The king of the north, Antiochus the Great, shall return with a greater army than the former; and, at the end of times (that is, years) he shall come with a mighty army, and great riches, against the king of the south, that is, Ptolemaeus Epiphanes, who succeeded Ptolemaeus Philopater his father, when he was a child, which gave advantage to Antiochus the Great. In this expedition he had some powerful allies (Dan. 11:14): Many shall stand up against the king of the south. Philip of Macedon was confederate with Antiochus against the king of Egypt, and Scopas his general, whom he sent into Syria; Antiochus routed him, destroyed a great part of his army; whereupon the Jews willingly yielded to Antiochus, joined with him, helped him to besiege Ptolemaeus’s garrisons. They the robbers of thy people shall exalt themselves to establish the vision, to help forward the accomplishment of this prophecy; but they shall fall, and shall come to nothing, Dan. 11:14. Hereupon (Dan. 11:15) the king of the north, this same Antiochus Magnus, shall carry on his design against the king of the south another way. (1.) He shall surprise his strong-holds; all that he has got in Syria and Samaria, and the arms of the south, all the power of the king of Egypt, shall not be able to withstand him. See how dubious and variable the turns of the scale of war are; like buying and selling, it is winning and losing; sometimes one side gets the better and sometimes the other; yet neither by chance; it is not, as they call it, the fortune of war, but according to the will and counsel of God, who brings some low and raises others up. (2.) He shall make himself master of the land of Judea (Dan. 11:16): He that comes against him (that is, the king of the north) shall carry all before him and do what he pleases, and he shall stand and get footing in the glorious land; so the land of Israel was, and by his hand it was wasted and consumed, for with the spoil of that good land he victualled his vast army. The land of Judea lay between these two potent kingdoms of Egypt and Syria, so that in all the struggles between them that was sure to suffer, for to it they both bore ill will. Yet some read this, By his hand it shall be perfected; as if it intimated that the land of Judea, being taken under the protection of this Antiochus, shall flourish, and be in better condition than it had been. (3.) He shall still push on his war against the king of Egypt, and set his face to enter with the strength of his whole kingdom, taking advantage of the infancy of Ptolemy Epiphanes, and the upright ones, many of the pious Israelites, siding with him, Dan. 11:17. In prosecution of his design, he shall give him his daughter Cleopatra to wife, designing, as Saul in giving his daughter Cleopatra to David, that she should be a snare to him, and do him a mischief; but she shall not stand on her father’s side, nor be for him, but for her husband, and so that plot failed him. (4.) His war with the Romans is here foretold (Dan. 11:18): He shall turn his face to the isles (Dan. 11:18), the isles of the Gentiles (Gen. 10:5), Greece and Italy. He took many of the isles about the Hellespont-Rhodes, Samos, Delos, etc., which by war or treaty he made himself master of; but a prince, or state (so some), even the Roman senate, or a leader, even the Roman general, shall return his reproach with which he abused the Romans upon himself, or shall make his shame rest on himself, and without his own shame, or any disgrace to himself, shall pay him again. This was fulfilled when the two Scipios were sent with an army against Antiochus. Hannibal was then with him, and advised him to invade Italy and waste it as he had done; but he did not take hid advice; and Scipio joined battle with him, and gave him a total defeat, though Antiochus had 70,000 men and the Romans but 30,000. Thus he caused the reproach offered by him to cease. (5.) His fall. When he was totally routed by the Romans, and was forced to abandon to them all he had in Europe, and had a very heavy tribute exacted from him, he turned to his own land, and, not knowing which way to raise money to pay his tribute, he plundered a temple of Jupiter, which so incensed his own subjects against him that they set upon him, and killed him; so he was overthrown, and fell, and was no more found, Dan. 11:19. (6.) His next successor, Dan. 11:20. There rose up one in his place, a raiser of taxes, a sender forth of the extortioner, or extorter. This character was remarkably answered in Seleucus Philopater, the elder son of Antiochus the Great, who was a great oppressor of his own subjects, and exacted abundance of money from them; and, when he was told he would thereby lose his friends, he said he knew no better friend he had then money. He likewise attempted to rob the temple at Jerusalem, which this seems especially to refer to. But within a few days he shall be destroyed, neither in anger nor in battle, but poisoned by Heliodorus, one of his own servants, when he had reigned but twelve years, and done nothing remarkable.

V. From all this let us learn, 1. That God in his providence sets up one, and pulls down another, as he pleases, advances some from low beginnings and depresses others that were very high. Some have called great men the foot-balls of fortune; or, rather, they are the tools of Providence. 2. This world is full of wars and fightings, which come from men’s lusts, and make it a theatre of sin and misery. 3. All the changes and revolutions of states and kingdoms, and every event, even the most minute and contingent, were plainly and perfectly foreseen by the God of heaven, and to him nothing is new. 4. No word of God shall fall to the ground; but what he has designed, what he has declared, shall infallibly come to pass; and even the sins of men shall be made to serve his purpose, and contribute to the b ringing of his counsels to birth in their season; and yet God is not the author of sin. 5. That, for the right understanding of some parts of scripture, it is necessary that heathen authors be consulted, which give light to the scripture, and show the accomplishment of what is there foretold; we have therefore reason to bless God for the human learning with which many have done great service to divine truths.