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The rulers of Babylon, Persia, and Greece all came to recognize the sovereignty of God (Jesus Christ), but all of them then fell back into their own pride, ruling as if they owned their own thrones. Nebuchadnezzar's impressive declaration in Daniel 4:34 was eclipsed years later by Belshazzar, who toasted false gods using the vessels of the temple (Dan. 5:1-4).
Likewise, we see the same degeneration among the Persian kings. While Darius the Mede declared Persia to be subservient to the God of Daniel (6:26, 27), later kings cared less and less about his decree and ignored the sovereignty of God. Finally, Darius III was defeated by Alexander the Great, who was building the Greek Empire.
Alexander, too, started out well, for when he came to Jerusalem, he bowed before the Name of YHVH. He was known to be a very popular conqueror, if such a thing were possible. We read of him,
"It should be noted that Alexander was a very sympathetic, understanding, and kind administrator. He was a benevolent ruler, and most of the conquered peoples regarded him very highly. He not only won their territory, he also won their hearts!"
Nonetheless, toward the end, he made himself into a god and forsook his previous good sense.
"One of the ironies of history, however, is that even though Alexander succeeded in spreading Hellenism to the nations he conquered, yet he himself, toward the end of his life, became converted to the oriental culture. He began dressing like the Persian kings before him, he took on their customs, and he even began to act cruelly toward those who opposed him. In the city of Persepolis, for example, he killed all the men of the city and enslaved the women. Then, he and his soldiers fought with one another over possession of the plunder.
"The year before his death, his own soldiers became so disgusted with his behavior (he was even ordering that he be worshipped as a god) that they revolted against his leadership. This revolt was quickly put down, but it was evidence that Alexander's abuse of his power was beginning to create turmoil." ( http://www.zianet.com/maxey/Inter2.htm )
Daniel 8:8 prophesied of Alexander,
8 Then the male goat magnified himself exceedingly. But as soon as he was mighty, the large horn was broken; and in its place there came up four conspicuous horns toward the four winds of heaven.
From the same internet source given above, we read,
"Alexander died in his palace in Babylon in 323 B.C. The cause of death was said to be a fever, but rumors abounded that he may have been poisoned, or that he may even have taken his own life."
The Grecian Empire of Alexander broke into four parts at the death of Alexander (323 B.C.), for the kingdom was divided between his four generals.
1. Ptolemy took Egypt, Palestine, Arabia, and Peterea.
2. Seleucus was given Syria, Babylonia, and central Asia, but was soon forced out by Antigonus. Seleucus then fled to Egypt to help Ptolemy until 312 when he was able to regain his original territory.
3. Cassander took Macedonia and Greece.
4. Lysimachus took Thrace and Bythinia.
These four generals were the "four conspicuous horns" of Daniel 8:8. They fought among themselves, of course, and finally three of them joined forces and drove Antigonus from Syria in 312 B.C. Seleucus then regained the territory that had been usurped by Antigonus, while Ptolemy took Palestine.
A new calendar was then devised in 312 B.C. that was known as the Seleucid Calendar. If anyone studies the history of these times from Josephus and others, they find events dated according to the Seleucid Calendar, which is dated from 312 B.C.
Bible prophecy concerns itself only with two of the four generals: Ptolemy of Egypt and Seleucus of Syria. These are the nations which fought over Palestine, each controlling Jerusalem at different times. Daniel 11 is mostly a prophecy about these conflicts, speaking of the "king of the north" (Syria) and the "king of the south" (Egypt).
For the next century Palestine was ruled by the Ptolemy dynasty of Egypt (323-198 B.C.). Under Ptolemy II (285-246 B.C.), the Hebrew Scriptures began to be translated into Greek. This translation became known as the Septuagint (often written as LXX, because it was translated by 70 elders.) As more and more Judeans moved to Egypt and other places, their children learned Greek and soon could hardly speak Hebrew. The Septuagint filled the need and allowed the Hellenized Greeks to read the Scriptures.
In 223 B.C., Antiochus III ("The Great") came to the throne in Syria. In 198 B.C. he defeated the Egyptian army at the Battle of Panion and took control of Palestine. About this time, Hannibal, the enemy of Rome, found refuge with Antiochus, whereupon Rome declared war on Syria. Syria was defeated in 190 and was forced to pay an enormous penalty each year, which put a huge tax burden upon the people, including the Judeans in Palestine.
Three years later, in 187, Antiochus died and was succeeded by Seleucus IV. Under his reign, two factions appeared among the Judeans over the issues of paying taxes. The first believed that it was immoral to pay taxes to the Syrian (pagan) government; the second faction consisted of the more Helenized Jews, who believed the opposite.
Seleucus IV was murdered in 175 B.C. by the son of his predecessor, who then took the throne as Antiochus IV. This king came to be known as Antiochus Epiphanes. The Helenized faction among the Jews had offered a large sum of money to the previous king in exchange for the high priesthood in Jerusalem. Seleucus had ignored them, but Antiochus took them up on their offer. Thus, the high priest, Onias, was forcibly replaced by Jason.
Three years later, another man, Menelaus, offered Antiochus even more money, so Jason was exiled and replaced by Menelaus by official decree. Many pious Jews were infuriated that the high priesthood could be purchased by the highest bidder and formed a movement called Hasidim ("the pious ones").
In 169 Antiochus invaded Egypt, and a rumor spread that he had been killed. Jason returned from exile and overthrew Menelaus, again replacing him as high priest in Jerusalem. However, the rumor proved false, and when Antiochus arrived in Jerusalem, he removed Jason and reinstated Menelaus. Antiochus then entered the temple and stole much of the temple treasure.
The next year (168) Antiochus again attempted to invade Egypt, but he was stopped by the Romans. On his humiliating return, he took out his frustration upon Jerusalem, tearing down the city walls, slaughtering many Jews, destroying Scriptures, and bringing prostitutes into the temple, where he and his soldiers violated the temple with sex acts. He also decreed that everyone should worship the Greek gods, prescribed the death penalty for performing circumcision or for observing the Sabbath or any of the feast days.
The final indignity came on Dec. 25, 168 B.C., when Antiochus looted the temple and erected an altar to the Greek god, Zeus. He also sacrificed a pig on the altar of God to defile it. This set the stage for the Maccabean Revolt.
To be continued.