Prophetic Symbols and Powers
What is the message of Daniel 11:40-45?
This is a difficult apocalyptic prophecy. I can provide only one possible way of interpreting it. And in doing so I will make only two suggestions: First, most of the language and imagery used in the passage is similar to the narrative of the exodus from Egypt. Second, “the king of the North” in Daniel behaves in ways that are similar to what, in Revelation, is described as mystical Babylon.
1.Exodus and the King of the North: Here are some of the most important parallels between the exodus story and the king of the north. The phrase “land of Egypt” (Dan. 11:42) is used in Exodus more than in any other book of the Bible (see, for example, Ex. 5-12). The hand of God was against Egypt (Ex. 3:20); now the hand of the king is against Egypt (Dan. 11:42). During the exodus God went down to Egypt; now the king goes down to Egypt (Ex. 3:10-12; Dan. 11:42). Edom, Moab, and Ammon were nations that the Israelites were not to attack during the exodus (Ex. 15:15; Deut. 2:1-9); the king of the north will not conquer them (Dan. 11:41). Both the Lord and the king defeat Egypt (Ex. 14:29-31). While during the exodus the Israelites took gold and silver from the Egyptians (Ex. 12:35, 36), the king does it now (Dan. 11:43). The Israelites left Egypt and went to the holy mountain to serve the Lord (Ex. 3:12; 19:20-23). The king will leave Egypt and go to the holy mountain (Dan. 11:45). The Israelites went to Canaan in a war of extermination (Deut. 7:2); the king of the north will go to the holy mountain to exterminate many (Dan. 11:44). These parallels, and some others, suggest that the king of the north is attempting to take the place of God in human history. He imitates God’s acts of salvation and the work of God’s people, but in reality he fights against them. At the end no one comes to help him, and he is defeated by the Lord.
2.Revelation and the King of the North: The parallels between the activities of the king and Babylon are significant. I will mention only a few. We concluded that the king takes upon himself the role of God. In Revelation the unholy trinity formed by the dragon, the beast from the sea, and the beast from the land constitute Babylon and attempt to usurp the role of God on earth (Rev. 12-14). Babylon, like the king of the north, unifies the kings of the earth in order to try to exterminate God’s people (Rev. 16:13, 14; 17:13, 17). Some are not “conquered” by the king because they listen to the call to come out of Babylon (Rev. 18:4), and may be represented in Revelation by Edom, Moab, Ammon. In the war of extermination God’s people find refuge on Mount Zion, the holy mountain in the Old Testament (Rev. 14:1). Babylon goes against them (Rev. 16:16). The attack fails because God delivers His people. The Babylonian coalition is fragmented (verses 18-21), and, like the king of the north, no one can help it.
3. Symbolism of the King of the South: The geographical language of Daniel designates universal spiritual powers at work through human agencies. Daniel refers to the king of the south as Egypt, a predominantly negative biblical symbol. It is a land whose king has no respect for the Lord and openly challenges Him (Ex. 5:2). It stands for human pride. While the king of the north is interested in occupying the place of God, usurping His role, the king of the south simply does not care. It could easily represent people for whom the biblical God is unimportant. Today this symbolism could apply to non-Christian societies, and to places where secularism and atheism prevail. The king of the north will overcome them when the wound inflicted on the beast from the sea is healed (Rev. 13:3). But what appears to be good will turn out to be what it really is: an attempt to usurp God’s power on earth.
The prophecy of Daniel 11:40-45 is further developed in Revelation under the symbol of Babylon. This should encourage us, because in both cases God and His people are victorious.
Angel Manuel Rodríguez has served the church as a pastor, professor, and theologian. He is now retired, living in Texas.