“And such as do wickedly against the covenant shall he corrupt by flatteries: but the people that do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits.” — Daniel 11:32
Our focus verse alludes to a specific event that likely occurred during the rule of Antiochus IV Epiphanes. However, the second part of the verse is also a spiritual principle that countless individuals have proved true. Since the time of Daniel, many men and women who “knew their God” have remained strong even when facing immense challenges — and their “exploits” during those difficult times prove it. Martin and Gracia Burnham are among that group.
For seventeen years, Martin and Gracia served God as missionaries in the Philippines. However, in the early morning hours of May 27, 2001, as the couple was away from their home celebrating their eighteenth wedding anniversary, three men holding M16s charged into their hotel room yelling, “Go, go, go!” The couple, along with eighteen other hotel guests and staff, were taken hostage by members of Abu Sayyaf, a Muslim terrorist group with ties to al-Qaeda.
The Burnhams were thrust into life on the run in the steamy jungles of the southern Philippine islands, where they endured near starvation, constant exhaustion, death threats, and frequent gun battles. For months, Martin and Gracia suffered from sleep deprivation, dysentery, and the stings of tropical insects as their captors attempted to obtain money for their release. They were forced to wade through chest-deep water, trek long hours through difficult terrain, and endure pressure to convert to Islam. What possible “exploits” could the two of them do in such circumstances?
The account of their 376 days in captivity gives the answer — in fact, multiple answers. In little ways, day after day, they were faithful in the midst of the most difficult of situations.
Martin, who was handcuffed to a tree on most nights, would look his armed captors in the face as they snapped on his restraints and say, “Thank you very much.” Then he would wish them goodnight, because he had purposed that he would remain joyous even during this most trying time of his life. Martin and Gracia shared with their captors the food that eventually made it through to them from fellow missionaries, even though they themselves were starving. Gracia washed the bedding of a sick terrorist, and sang Gospel songs to encourage herself and their fellow captives. Martin quoted Bible verses frequently, including Psalm 100 just hours before his death, because he desired to “serve God with gladness.” (He was killed during a shoot-out between the kidnappers and Filipino troops who were attempting to rescue them.) Gracia forgave their captors and later reached out to those who could be located; four of them ultimately turned to God.
Most historians agree that our focus verse looked ahead to the time when Antiochus IV Epiphanes turned on Jerusalem. At that time, some of the Jewish people forsook their covenant with God and embraced Greek culture and customs. Those who knew their God, however, were “strong” and did exploits in the face of incredible pressure and opposition.
This verse is more than just a prediction of future events; it also offers great encouragement for our day. The word translated strong in this verse means “to fasten upon” in order to fortify. It tells us that when we face challenging circumstances, we can cling to God with the assurance that He will strengthen, uphold, and encourage us. And while our exploits for Him may never make the headlines, in small ways and large, we will be enabled to live in a godly manner that proves our connection to Him.
This section of Daniel’s vision begins to focus on the “vile person” (verse 21) who would persecute the Jews and become known to generations as the epitome of evil. Antiochus IV Epiphanes is widely regarded as fitting Daniel’s description. He ruled the region around Jerusalem from 175 to 164 B.C.
Regarding verse 21, Adam Clarke comments, “They did not give him the honor of the kingdom: he was at Athens, on his way from Rome, when his father died; and Heliodorus had declared himself king, as had several others. But Antiochus came in peaceably, for he obtained the kingdom by flatteries. He flattered Eumenes, king of Pergamus, and Attalus his brother, and got their assistance. He flattered the Romans, and sent ambassadors to court their favor, and pay them the arrears of the tribute. He flattered the Syrians, and gained their concurrence; and as he flattered the Syrians, so they flattered him, giving him the epithet of Epiphanes — the Illustrious.” 1 But that he was what the prophet here calls him, a vile person, is fully evident. According to Jewish historian Josephus, he “pillaged the whole city [Jerusalem], some of the inhabitants he slew, and some he carried captive . . . He also burnt down the finest buildings . . . He also compelled them to forsake the worship which they paid their own God, and to adore those whom he took to be gods . . . And if there were any sacred book, or the law found, it was destroyed: and those with whom they were found miserably perished also.” 2 This portrays an individual who arose to power through political machinations and diplomacy, rather than by military prowess.
Verses 25-29 parallel Antiochus’ expedition against Ptolemy in Egypt, where the Egyptian army was defeated. Intrigue followed as army leaders on both sides displayed behaviors similar to those that had propelled Antiochus to power. Upon entering Egypt a second time (verse 29), Antiochus was not nearly as successful militarily; the threat of intervention by the Roman senate prompted him to capitulate and pull back his army.
“Chittim,” in verse 30, referred to people from the west, especially the sea-faring west. This somewhat generic term has had slightly different meanings depending upon the era, but could apply to Greeks, Romans, inhabitants of Mediterranean islands, or points farther west. History records that Antiochus, upon being intimidated into withdrawal by the Romans, returned to Israel and vented his anger upon Israel. He violated agreements made with Jewish leaders and began radically changing their traditional worship of the Lord, saying they must conform to Grecian worship. Regarding the Temple and sacrifices, Josephus wrote of him, “He left the temple bare . . . he forbad them to offer those daily sacrifices . . . And when the King had built an idol altar unto God’s altar, he slew swine upon it.”3
III. The prophetic history of the Jews
C. The vision of Israel’s future (the history of Israel in the 70 weeks, cf. 10:14)
2. The revelation of the sixty-nine weeks
b. The rule of Greece
(4) The description of Antiochus (11:21-35)
(a) The rise of Antiochus (11:21-24)
(b) The invasion of Egypt (11:25-30)
(c) The persecution of the Jews (11:31-35)
In difficult and trying times in life, we can lean upon God for strength. As we do, He will enable us to live in a way that proves our commitment to Him.
1. Adam Clarke, The Holy Bible with a Commentary and Critical Notes, p. 611.
2. Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, trans. William Whiston (Newcastle: L. Dinsdale, 1784) XII.5.4, https://www.gutenberg.org/files/2848/2848-h/2848-h.html#link122HCH0005.