Most of the conservative commentators agree that the eleventh chapter of Daniel represents once of the most complete, and completely fulfilled sections of prophetic scripture. They are also relatively unified as to the historic characters that these verses speak of, at least as far as verse thirty. From that point the commentators begin to differ as the verses begin to speak of events yet future. In this essay I shall attempt to trace those events that are unambiguous and then plot out the interpretation of the closing verses that I consider most credible.
The correlation between these verses and the historical narrative is so close that the best method of showing the equivalence is simply to repeat the verses and then the history underneath. In the following the section in italics is from the King James Version of the Bible and the historic text is taken from Adam Clark and Jamieson-Fausset-Brown.
Dan 11:2 Behold, there shall stand up yet three kings in Persia;
Gabriel had already spoken of Cyrus, who was now reigning; and after him three others should arise. These were:
11:2 and the fourth shall be far richer than they all: and by his strength through his riches he shall stir up all against the realm of Grecia.
This was Xerxes, the son of Darius, of whom Justin says. "He had so great an abundance of riches in his kingdom, that although rivers were dried up by his numerous armies, yet his wealth remained unexhausted."
3 And a mighty king shall stand up, that shall rule with great dominion, and do according to his will.
Alexander the Great invaded Persia 334 B.C., to avenge the wrongs of Greece on Persia for Xerxes' past invasion.
4 And when he shall stand up, his kingdom shall be broken, and shall be divided toward the four winds of heaven;
Alexander's kingdom was divided amongst his four chiefs (all of his relatives have been killed within 15 years of his death).
5 - And the king of the south shall be strong,
This was Ptolemy Lagus, one of his generals, who had the government of Egypt, Libra, &c., which are on the south of Judea. He was strong, for he had added Cyprus, Phoenicia, Caria, &c., to his kingdom of Egypt.
5: and one of his princes; and he shall be strong above him,
Seleucus, at first a satrap of PTOLEMY Lagus, but from 312 B.C. king of the largest empire after that of Alexander (Syria, Babylon, Media, &c.), and called therefore Nicator, that is, "conqueror."
6 - for the king's daughter of the south shall come to the king of the north to make an agreement:
Berenice, daughter of Ptolemy Philadelphus, king of Egypt, was married to Antiochus Theos, king of Syria. These two sovereigns had a bloody war for some years; and they agreed to terminate it by the above marriage, on condition that Antiochus would put away his wife Laodice and her children, which he did; and Berenice having brought an immense fortune to her husband, all things appeared to go on well for a time.
7 But out of a branch of her roots shall one stand up in his estate,which shall come with an army, and shall enter into the fortress of the king of the north.
This was Ptolemy Euergetes, her brother, who, to avenge his sister's death, marched with a great army against Seleucus Callinicus, took some of his best places, indeed all Asia, from Mount Taurus to India.
10 But his sons shall be stirred up, and shall assemble a multitude of great forces: and one shall certainly come, and overflow, and pass through
The two sons of the king of the north, Seleucus Callinicus were, Seleucus Ceraunus and Antiochus the Great. Ceraunus having died, Antiochus alone prosecuted the war with Ptolemy Philopater, Euergetes' son, until he had recovered all the parts of Syria subjugated by Euergetes.
11 And the king of the south shall be moved with choler, and shall come forth and fight with him, even with the king of the north
Ptolemy Philopater, who succeeded his father Euergetes, came forth to Raphia, where Antiochus met him, and a terrible battle was fought between these two kings.
13 For the king of the north shall return, and shall set forth a multitude greater than the former
In about fourteen years Antiochus did return, Philopater being dead, and his son Ptolemy Epiphanes being then a minor. He brought a much larger army and more riches; these he had collected in a late eastern expedition.
14 And in those times there shall many stand up against the king of the south
Philip, king of Macedon, and rebels in Egypt itself, combined with Antiochus against Ptolemy.
17 He shall also set his face to enter with the strength of his whole kingdom, and upright ones with him; thus shall he do: and he shall give him the daughter of women, corrupting her: but she shall not stand on his side, neither be for him.
Antiochus purposed to have marched his army into Egypt; but he thought it best to proceed by fraudulence, and therefore proposed a treaty of marriage between him and his daughter Cleopatra, called here the daughter of women, because of her great beauty and accomplishments. He intended his daughter to be a snare to Ptolemy, and therefore purposed to corrupt her that she might betray her husband. But on the contrary, her husband's interests became dearer to her than her father's; and by her means Ptolemy was put upon his guard against the intentions of Antiochus.
18 After this shall he turn his face unto the isles, and shall take many: but a prince for his own behalf shall cause the reproach offered by him to cease
Lucius Scipio Asiaticus, the Roman general, by routing Antiochus at Magnesia (190 B.C.), caused the reproach, which he offered Rome by inflicting injuries on Rome's allies, to cease.
20 Then shall stand up in his estate a raiser of taxes
Seleucus Philopater succeeded his father Antiochus. He sent his treasurer Heliodorus to seize the money deposited in the temple of Jerusalem, which is here called the glory of the kingdom, see 2Macc 9:23. He was so cramped to pay the annual tax to the Romans, that he was obliged to burden his subjects with continual taxes.
21 - And in his estate shall stand up a vile person, to whom they shall not give the honour of the kingdom: but he shall come in peaceably, and obtain the kingdom by flatteries.
This was Antiochus, surnamed Epiphanes-the Illustrious. They did not give him the honour 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.
22 - also the prince of the covenant.
Ptolemy Philometer, the son of Cleopatra, Antiochus' sister, who was joined in covenant with him.
25 - his courage against the king of the south
The king of the south was Ptolemy Philometer. Subsequently, Ptolemy Physcon (the Gross), or Euergetes II, was made king by the Egyptians, as Ptolemy Philometer was in Antiochus' hands.
27 And both these kings' hearts shall be to do mischief, and they shall speak lies at one table; but it shall not prosper:
That is, Antiochus, and Ptolemy Philometer, who was nephew to the former, and whose interest he now pretended to have much at heart, since the Alexandrians had renounced their allegiance to him, and set his younger brother Euergetes upon the throne. When Antiochus came to Memphis, he and Philometer had frequent conferences at the same table; and at these times they spoke lies to each other, Antiochus professing great friendship to his nephew and concern for his interests, yet in his heart designing to ruin the kingdom by fomenting the discords which already subsisted between the two brothers. On the other hand, Philometer professed much gratitude to his uncle for the interest he took in his affairs, and laid the blame of the war upon his minister Eulaeus; while at the same time he spoke lies, determining as soon as possible to accommodate matters with his brother, and join all their strength against their deceitful uncle.
30 For the ships of Chittim shall come against him
This was a Roman fleet come to prevent the advance of Antiochus.
31 And arms shall stand on his part, and they shall pollute the sanctuary of strength, and shall take away the daily sacrifice, and they shall place the abomination that maketh desolate.
At this point the commentators diverge. Clarke goes with Newton in assigning the remainder of this section to the Romans. JFB (and Gaebelien) keep this with Antiochus although making it clear that he is now featuring as a type of the beast of the earth of Rev 13.
Verse 35 makes a clear reference to the time of the end. Verse 36 introduces the 'wilful king' and we see language that suits an end-time Jewish imposter. This is a reference to the antichrist and in my opinion we should by this point be taking that as the primary application. Clarke relates this to various Roman and Romish persecutions, JFB has switched forward by this point.
38 But in his estate shall he honour the God of forces: and a god whom his fathers knew not
The God of forces is probably the beast of the sea, which is being honored by the Jewish beast of the earth, the antichrist.
40 And at the time of the end shall the king of the south push at him: and the king of the north shall come against him like a whirlwind
Clarke's view of the end-times has led him to viewing these as Arabians and Saracens. JFB avers to a similar thought although couching the language more cautiously. For me it is far simpler to go with Gaebelien and accept that the kings of the North and South of the end times have not been fully identified.
I think I have shown, at some length, that the main text of Daniel 11 has been fulfilled in the minutest detail in past history. From verse 35 we get a prediction of things yet future. Some have mistakenly attempted to loosely tie these events to history. Others have attempted to make accurate predictions about things we have not yet been fully told. Surely the correct course is to give God the glory for what has gone and to look forward in anticipation and awe for what will unfold, and what will be clear, in His good time.