Contemptible King

Daniel received his final vision in the “third year of Cyrus,” and it expands on the earlier vision of the “Ram and the Goat.” Beginning with the division of the Greek kingdom, the angel traces the coming conflicts between two of the subsequent realms that culminate in the rise of the “contemptible” king and his war on God’s people.

Chapter 11 of Daniel begins with a recap of the historical developments presented earlier in the interpretation of the vision of the “ram and the goat.” The kings of Persia “stirred up the realm of Greece,” and from the latter, a “mighty king” appeared and “did according to his will.” After his demise, his kingdom was divided “towards the four winds of heaven, but not to his posterity” - (Daniel 8:21-25, 11:1-4).

Dark Man Window - Photo by Noah Silliman on Unsplash
[Photo by Noah Silliman on Unsplash]

In the vision of the “
ram and the goat,” the former represented the “Medes and Persians,” and the latter the kingdom of Greece. The goat’s “great horn” symbolizes the first great king of Greece, undoubtedly Alexander the Great - (Daniel 8:8).

After Alexander’s death, “four kingdoms stood up out of the nation, but not with his power.” From one came the “king of fierce countenance” who sought to “destroy the mighty ones and the holy people.” He despoiled the “sanctuary,” stopped the daily burnt offering, and installed the “transgression that desolates” – (Danial 8:1-27).

As great and swift as Alexander’s conquests were, his empire did not long survive his death. When it was divided, the four subsequent realms were “lesser kingdoms,” and not one was ruled by any of his offspring (“but not to his posterity”).

Alexander died in 323 B.C., causing a struggle for succession among his generals. In the end, his empire was divided among four of them, two of whom played significant roles in the history of Judea – Ptolemy I in Egypt (“king of the south”), and Seleucus I in Syria and Mesopotamia - (“king of the north”).

The first half of chapter 11 deals briefly with the conflicts between the “king of the south” and the “king of the north” over several generations, ending with the assassination of Seleucus IV Philopator in 175 B.C., the king of the Seleucid empire. Through subterfuge, his younger brother, Antiochus IV, seized the throne – (Daniel 11:5-20).

Antiochus is described as a “contemptible man.” The word is derived from a Hebrew root with the sense “despise, disdain, revile” (bâzâh). Most likely, it refers to his usurpation of the throne since he was not the legitimate heir (“and they have not given unto him the honor of the kingdom”) – (Daniel 11:21).

Seleucus IV had two legal heirs, his eldest son, Demetrius I, and his younger son who was also named Antiochus. Both were underage. Antiochus IV exploited the situation and seized the throne for himself. This is represented in symbolic language in the vision of the “little horn” before whom “three horns” are removed - Seleucus IV and his two sons (“I considered the horns, and behold, there came up among them a little horn, before whom three of the first horns were plucked up by the roots - Daniel 7:8).

Antiochus waged intermittent wars against the Ptolemaic kingdom in Egypt. When he was at the point of conquering Egypt, a delegation from the Roman senate intervened and ordered him to cease his attack or face the wrath of Rome (“For ships of Kittim will come against him; therefore, he will be grieved and return” – Daniel 11:30).


Next, Antiochus vented his rage at this setback by attacking the city of Jerusalem, and that marked the commencement of his suppression of the Jewish religion:

  • (Daniel 11:30-31) – “And he will return, and have indignation against the holy covenant, and will do his pleasure…and have regard to them that forsake the holy covenant. And forces will stand on his part, and they will profane the sanctuary, even the fortress, and remove the daily burnt-offering, and they will set up the abomination that makes desolate.

Here again, we find references to the profanation of the “sanctuary,” the cessation of the daily burnt offerings, and the setting up of the “abomination that desolates,” events predicted in the visions of the “Ram and Goat” and in the “seventy weeks” prophecy - (Daniel 8:11-13, 9:26-27).

The verbal parallels are detailed and consistent. The same events are in view in all three visions. The “little horn” before whom three horns are removed, the “king of fierce countenance” and the “contemptible man,” are one and the same person.

Most likely, the “abomination that desolates” refers to the altar to Zeus Olympias installed on the orders of Antiochus IV in the Jerusalem “sanctuary,” and on which, reportedly, “unclean” animals were sacrificed to honor the Syrian deity. Another link to the earlier visions is the reference to the “indignation” and its “determined” end - (Daniel 8:19, 9:27, 11:30, 11:36).

The same historical figure is portrayed in several visions, a pagan ruler who suppresses the Jewish religion. The man known from history who fits these several descriptions is Antiochus IV (reigned 175-164 B.C.).

His concentrated attacks against the Jews occurred between 168 and 164 B.C., a little over three years. This is the period described in Daniel as the “time, times, and part of a time,” the “two-thousand three-hundred evenings-mornings” (i.e., 1,150 days), and the second half of the “seventieth week.”

Besides outright persecution, his efforts included attempts to corrupt the Jewish leadership into adopting Hellenistic customs and religious practices (“The Leader who comes corrupts the people”; “And such as do wickedly against the covenant will he corrupt by flatteries”). The attack on the “holy covenant” and the “saints” is described variously in each of the visions - (Daniel 7:21, 8:23-24).


The description of the king who “exalts himself above every god and speaks marvelous things against the God of gods” refers to his profanation of the Temple. “Speaking marvelous things” recalls the description of the “little horn with the mouth speaking great things,” as well as the “king of fierce countenance” who “corrupts marvelously.”

The story in chapter 11 ends with the demise of the “king of the north” told enigmatically and briefly, “And he will plant the tents of his palace between the sea and the glorious holy mountain; yet he will come to his end, and none will help him” – (Daniel 11:45). Previously, the end of this wicked ruler was told in similar terms:

  • (Daniel 7:26) – “But the judgment will be set, and they will take away his dominion, to consume and to destroy it unto the end.”
  • (Daniel 8:25) – “He will also stand up against the prince of princes, but he will be broken without hand” - (Also see Daniel 9:27).

This downfall of Antiochus echoes the conclusion of Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of a “great image” with the “golden head” that represented four kingdoms (“He will be broken without hand.” “He will come to his end, and none will help him”) - (Daniel 2:44-45).

In his discourse on the Mount of Olives, Christ’s reference to the “Abomination of Desolation” is derived from the eleventh chapter of Daniel. Likewise, the attempt by Antiochus to “exalt himself against the God of gods,” thereby corrupting the “holy people,” becomes the model for Paul’s “man of lawlessness” and the final “apostasy” that will precede the arrival” of Jesus to gather his elect – (Matthew 24:15, Thessalonians 2:1-10).

And the downfall of Antiochus is echoed in Paul’s description of the destruction of the “lawless one” at the “arrival of Jesus” (“he will be broken without hand”) - (2 Thessalonians 2:8).

The visions in Daniel tell the story of the agelong struggle between the “kingdom of God” and the kingdom of the present fallen age, especially the World Empire. The actual battles are waged against the “saints” as malevolent political powers attempt to corrupt the people of God and destroy them.

Many of the “saints” do succumb to temptation and apostatize, but many others prevail despite persecution. In the end, “judgment will be made” for those overcoming saints who will inherit the kingdom.

In Daniel, the main protagonist who fights for the “saints” is the one “like a son of man,” also called the “prince of princes” and the “prince of the host.” He is a surrogate for the people of God, for an attack on the “saints” is the same as an attack against him.

Events climax with the appearance of the main antagonist, the malevolent ruler who seeks to “corrupt” the people of God and destroy the nation and religion of Israel, the “little horn,” the “king of fierce countenance,” the “leader” who corrupts the people, and the “contemptible person” (“Such as do wickedly against the covenant will he pervert by flatteries; but the people that know their God shall be strong”).

Thus, the “little horn” that wages “war against the saints” and “sets up the abomination that desolates” provides the historical basis for the New Testament teaching on the “abomination of desolation” and the final end-time figure known as the “man of lawlessness,” and very likely, also, as the “Beast from the sea” and the “Antichrist.”