A Really, Really Long Vision ExplainedBy Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
The angel Gabriel continues his narrative:
“When Darius the Mede became king and wanted to oppress the Jews, I stood up for Michael, the guardian angel of Israel, and aided in their defense. Now I will reveal the truth to you, Daniel. Three more kings will rule Persia and the fourth will exceed them all and antagonize Greece. A king will arise and be so mighty that he can do whatever he likes. After the apex of his rule, his kingdom will be divided and he will have no dynasty. None of the subsequent kingdoms will rival his.” (This part of the prophecy refers to Alexander the Great.)
The prophecy continues as follows:
The king of the southern kingdom (presumably Ptolemy, in Egypt) will increase in power and conquer. His will be a great power. After a time, he will join with his rival and his daughter will go to the king of the northern land (for simplicity’s sake, Greece). She will not stop the fighting, but the king of the north won’t live much longer after that. She and her entourage will be handed over to the enemy. A member of her family (remember, she was from the south) will rise to the throne and capture the cities of the north. They will bring the wealth of the north to Egypt. After that, he will be safe from the king of the north for years. The north will try to make inroads, but they will always be beaten back. The heirs of the king of the north will consolidate their forces, invade and return, continuing to make trouble. By this point, the king of the south will have had enough. He will raise a great army to fight the north and he will overpower them. The south will celebrate their victory, though the north would return again.
The king of the north will gather an even greater army and invade. Many other nations will join the north in this campaign against the south. Some people will pretend to be prophets and will relate “visions” that they didn’t really have, but they will meet their downfall. (The Rambam applies this verse to a certain well-known person who was widely accepted as the Messiah, but who met his fate at the hands of the authorities. See Hilchos Melachim 11:4.) The north will conquer a strong city of the south and beat them down. The king of the north will go to the south, able to do whatever he wishes, with none to oppose him. He will go to the land that everyone wants (Israel) with the ability to destroy it and its inhabitants, if not the motivation to do so. He willl face the land of the south, who will forge a treaty with him. A marriage will be arranged, with the intention to infiltrate the south, but the plan will fall apart.
The king of the north will turn his attention toward conquering the islands in the sea, but an officer of the nation being victimized will stop the attacks. The king of the north will be shamed by this defeat. He will return to governing his native land, where he will meet his end.
The king of the north will be succeeded by another, whose strength will be in taxation. After a few years, he will die through assassination. He will be replaced by a detestable person who is not the rightful heir to the throne, but who will smoothly acquire it. His opponents will be swept away, including the south, with whom he had a treaty. He will use his alliance with the south deceitfully and will cultivate a group like a small nation. He will move into the south and accomplish what his predecessors couldn’t. He will infiltrate by paying off insiders, then he will be able to conquer the fortresses of the south. The king of the south will be unable to ward off the attacks. He will be betrayed by his subordinates and his forces will be overwhelmed.
The kings of the north and the south will try to forge an alliance, but they will prove untrustworthy and the effort will fail and the time allotted for the rule of the north is running out. The detestable pretender to the throne will go home with great wealth and with plans against Israel.
When the time comes, the king of the north will return to the south, but it won’t be as successful as the first and last campaigns. This time, legions of Kittim (presumably the Romans) will come in ships and drive him off. In his defeat, the king of the north will pass through Israel and take it out on them. He will return to Jerusalem with an ideological campaign. (At this point, we are presumably talking about the Antiochus of the Chanukah story.)
Forces (presumably Roman) will be sent to conquer Jerusalem. They will desecrate the Temple and disrupt the daily sacrifices. Corrupted people will be swayed, but the faithful will stand firm. The wise will enlighten the masses and they will endure generations of oppression – but endure they will! Over the centuries, people will err when trying to calculate the Messianic era prematurely.
This angel now discusses the arrogant king of chapter 8, the Roman emperor. (Remember, the angel is clarifying Daniel’s various visions here.) The angel explains that the king will do whatever he wants, including making himself a “god” and attributing to G-d things that He wouldn’t do (such as incarnating Himself as a human). Such doctrines will successfully be spread until G-d puts a stop to them. This emperor won’t understand G-d or the “gods” of his ancestors, nor will he understand Israel (compared here to a beautiful woman). Even his understanding of the concept of monotheism will be flawed. But he will honor G-d alongside other “gods” and build impressive churches to them. This king will honor those subordinates who please him and they will tax the masses; this hierarchy will control large amounts of land.
And, in the end times, the king of the south will once again battle the king of the north. The king of the north will roll his forces forth, overrunning numerous lands. He will also enter Israel. Many lands will be destroyed, but Edom, Moab and the people on the southern border of Ammon will be saved. The king of the north will conquer the southern lands and Egypt will not be spared. The northern king will acquire the wealth of Egypt and their neighbors. However, tidings from the east and the north will cause the king to set out on another mission. He will make his stately tent between the seas and Jerusalem. There, he will meet his end and no one will help him.
The commentators name a number of prominent characters as fulfilling the various roles in this vision, including Seleucus, Cleopatra, and Constantine. Most of the names, however, would not be familiar to someone lacking a background in Greek and Roman history. Suffice it to say that the majority of this prophecy can be seen clearly in ancient military history.