But the thing about which I am thinking right now is what the sports world teaches about promises and contracts. The best pro-athletes often think that it is their right, if not their duty, to break the contracts that they sign. Some ball player agrees to a five year deal at the unthinkable salary of a million dollars a year – which really means $150,000 or $175,000 a month for six or eight months “work.” But then this player has a really good year, and he decides that he is better than another player who is being given twice as much money. So this man refuses to play again until he gets twice as much money as that other player and four times as much as he agreed to last year. We aren’t surprised at the greed of the athlete – which is sad and condemnable, but what is worse is that the team almost always agrees to permit him to break all the promises, contracts and covenants which they had together. And in the process they make new contracts which aren’t worth the paper on which they are written. You could say – that athlete “despised,” or had “indignation against,” his original, unholy covenant.
God’s angel, probably Gabriel, is in the process of giving to Daniel the future history of Antiochus Epiphanes. He says, “that man will be going back and forth in war with this own sister who will be queen of Egypt, and with her son Ptolemy.” At times Antiochus will be victorious and easy to live with, but at other times, he will come home empty. He’ll be so angry, that when he comes through the door he’ll be ready to kick the cat – so to speak. On one occasion, after Antiochus defeats Ptolemy, the people of Alexandria, Egypt, will make another son of Cleopatra the new king. And when the Syrian king can’t take that city, he will return home with a great deal of Egyptian spoil, but as angry as a hornet because he couldn’t complete his objective. And thus, when he passes through Israel, he will unleash an unprecedented holocaust upon the Jews. He will slaughter tens of thousands of men and captivate tens of thousands of women and children. He will put a stop the morning and evening sacrifices, and he will pollute the temple of the Lord.
The terminology that the angel uses is quite significant. “His heart shall be against the holy covenant.” He shall have “indignation against the holy covenant.” This morning I want to address what this means in the context of Antiochus Epiphanes, but then I want to consider it on a broader scale.
I find it disconcerting that most of the expert comments on Antiochus’ “indignation against the holy covenant,” say that this means that he poured out his wrath and contempt upon the defenseless people of Jerusalem. While I don’t question that is what he did, I disagree when they say this is the meaning of the statement. The “holy covenant” was not Israel, it was the agreement that the holy God made with Israel. And the context clearly demonstrates that. Antiochus will decide to reward those Jews who become Grecian like himself – the Hellenistic Jews. You could say, he will reward those who profess to be saints of God, but who live like the world. Verse 32 puts it this way – “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.” The people who know the Lord, as they should, refuse to become corrupted by the world – to become Greeks. They instinctively know what the Apostle John will eventually tell us – “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” And those who do become Hellenists – worldlings – do “wickedly AGAINST the covenant.” The covenant is the agreement – the league – between God and His elect nation – or His elect people. The covenant is not the people themselves.
Now, as I have often said, the Bible describes several different covenants. Forgetting about agreements that men make with men, and nations make between themselves, this time we are talking about an “HOLY covenant.” Cutting through all the addenda, corollaries, appendixes and explanations, that basic covenant started with Abraham in Genesis 17. God said, “I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.” In Deuteronomy, the Lord gave to Israel a number of things which were designed to set them apart from everyone else in the world, including the Egyptians, the Romans and the Greeks. There were rules about what they could eat and could not eat. There were commands about the right and wrong way to mourn the loss of a loved one. There were rules about worship, about clothing, about hair-cuts, about tattoos, about many things. And the purpose of these rules was quite clear…. Deuteronomy 14:2 – “For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God, and the LORD hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself, above all the nations that are upon the earth.” Other verses in Deuteronomy say essentially the same thing – “For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God: the LORD thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth.” “And the LORD hath avouched thee this day to be his peculiar people, as he hath promised thee, and that thou shouldest keep all his commandments. And to make thee high above all nations which he hath made, in praise, and in name, and in honour; and that thou mayest be an holy people unto the LORD thy God, as he hath spoken.” “The LORD shall establish thee an holy people unto himself, as he hath sworn unto thee….”
I believe that this was the “holy covenant” to which Gabriel refers in this chapter. It is not dissimilar to the covenant that God has made to choose and to save specific people today. Throughout the centuries, the Lord has graciously chosen to reach down, draw people out of the filth of their sins, and to save them. That is what he did with Abraham and the people of Israel, and He does the same thing with individuals. God’s graciousness towards Israel is “the holy covenant” to which Gabriel refers.
The Hebrew word translated “indignation” helps us to understand what was going on within this man’s heart. Unlike “covenant” this is not a common word – it is used only a dozen times. In more than three-quarters of those places it is translated “indignation,” “abhor,” “abominable” and “angry.” In its only other translation, it is rendered “to defy.” The idea behind the word is that Antiochus hated and wished to oppose God’s covenant with Israel. He defied it, and tried his best to thwart the holy covenant, by trying to exterminate the only party in that covenant that he could touch.
This is the crux of the matter, and it illustrates what a lot of people feel, even though they don’t have the same diabolical and political power as Antiochus Epiphanes. The average man thinks of himself, and treats himself, as if he is god. He says, “Despite Jehovah’s command against eating the fruit of this tree, I’m going to eat it any way.” Sometimes, he may foolishly think that he has good reason, but far more often it is just rebellion. He says, “I don’t think that I like God’s definition of sin; I think that I’ll write a new dictionary – a new Bible.” He says, “God’s plan for delivering me from the punishment of my sins and weaknesses doesn’t suit me.” And most particularly, he hates – he abhors – he thinks it abominable that God should elect one nation over another nation, or one person and not another person. Generally it boils down to the age-old problem of pride. I cannot possibly be as bad as God makes me out to be. And I am certainly better than that person over there whom God has chosen to elect and call to himself.
Just like so much of the modern religious world, Antiochus was trying to eliminate the words “elect” and “chosen” from the pages of the Bible and from the decrees of the Lord. He was indignant, not only against the people of the covenant, whom he could touch and kill, he was indignant the covenant which God made with those people, defying and trying to destroy that as well. Granted, he was probably not directly aware of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and he had probably never read Genesis 17, but that is really beside the point. He hated the evidence of the covenant which was seen in some of the people of Judah.
And here is where the rubber meets the road. It is one thing to be hated for believing that there is a covenant between God and us. It is one thing to be despised for believing in sovereign election and salvation by free grace. But it is another thing for people to be indignant towards us because we display the evidence of that covenant. I am not saying that we are a part of the same holy covenant which Antiochus so hated. But the children of God are a part of a similar kind of covenant – a covenant of salvation by God’s grace. And we are told that there should be a parallel kind of distinction between us and the rest of the world.
Titus 2 – “The grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” I Peter 2 – “Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.” Why don’t the Antiochuses of today’s world hate us the same way that Antiocus Epiphanes hated Israel? Isn’t it because we don’t outwardly wear the signs of the covenant?
Coupled to his anger, something which helped to intensify his anger, was his pride. Like everyone else, he felt that he deserved more than he was getting. His brother, Seleucius had been the darling of their father, while he had been enslaved in Rome. And his sister, Cleopatra, although used as a pawn for his father’s benefit, had made something of herself, and actually had stood-up to them all. This Antiochus, out of his own weakness and pride, envied all three of them. Coupled to this pride in and against his family, there was the fact that he was a Greek, while those residents of Jerusalem were the despised worshipers of Jehovah.
Why did he express his hatred this way? Part of it was his ignorance. He was ignorant of the history of the holy covenant. He was unaware that it originated in Jehovah, not the people of Israel themselves. Israel was no more noble, large in number, hard-working, or more honorable than anyone else. In fact they were among the least of all the peoples of the earth. It was the Lord, in His sovereignty and grace, who chose to call and save them as a nation. And Antiochus, the Lord was also gracious toward men who were actually much greater and more powerful than yourself – people like Nebuchadnezzar, the greatest king of Babylon. You shouldn’t pout and whine about not being a part of God’s covenant. Rather you should humble yourself, repent of your sin and cast yourself upon the mercy of God. Who knows, you may in fact be a part of the Lord’s covenant of salvation, but you’ll never know it if you refuse to repent and trust Him.
Why did Antiochus proceed in this rampage against the “holy covenant?” Coupled to his ignorance, was his foolish stupidity. Your temper tantrum is ultimately not going to hurt or thwart that covenant – it is eternal. That covenant is from the hand and heart of the omnipotent God. There is nothing that you can do against it, so your best response to it is to completely surrender to its Creator.
There is no need to quarrel with the Lord about His covenant and with whom He makes it. Our quarreling isn’t going to change anything. And the proof of whether or not we are included in that covenant is in our humble relationship to God and our obedience to His command.
One of the definitive statements in regard to this subject is to be found in Isaiah 45. It involves a foreign king, who was not unlike Antiochus, and yet the Lord was gracious towards him. Please listen – “Thus saith the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him …. I will go before thee, and make the crooked places straight: I will break in pieces the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron…. For Jacob my servant’s sake, and Israel mine elect, I have even called thee by thy name: I have surnamed thee, though thou hast not known me. I am the LORD, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me: That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside me. I am the LORD, and there is none else… Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker! Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth. Shall the clay say to him that fashioneth it, What makest thou? or thy work, He hath no hands? Woe unto him that saith unto his father, What begettest thou? or to the woman, What hast thou brought forth?” There is no point in quarrelling with the Lord about His covenant and with whom He makes it.
Now, let me close with one more point –
Ultimately, this Antiochus was brought to the ground – he was brought to his grave. Daniel 8 describes this same man – “Out of one of ( the horns) came forth a little horn, which waxed exceeding great, toward the south, and toward the east, and toward the pleasant land. And it waxed great, even to the host of heaven; and it cast down some of the host and of the stars to the ground, and stamped upon them. Yea, he magnified himself even to the prince of the host, and by him the daily sacrifice was taken away, and the place of his sanctuary was cast down. And an host was given him against the daily sacrifice by reason of transgression, and it cast down the truth to the ground…” … “and by peace shall destroy many: he shall also stand up against the Prince of princes; but he shall be broken without hand.”
Daniel 7 also describes this Antiochus – “I considered the horns, and, behold, there came up among them another little horn, before whom there were three of the first horns plucked up by the roots: and, behold, in this horn were eyes like the eyes of man, and a mouth speaking great things. I beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool: his throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels as burning fire. A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him: thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened. I beheld then because of the voice of the great words which the horn spake: I beheld even till the beast was slain, and his body destroyed, and given to the burning flame.”
To summarize my point once again – The holy covenant which the Lord has made with some – will stand the test of time and all the attacks of the Lord’s enemies. Indignation against that covenant is much more than a waste of time – it is a disaster of eternal proportions. The thing that we must do is bow before that Covenant-Maker, the Lord God of Heaven and Earth. We must acknowledge that it is His right to make whatever covenants He chooses. And at the same time we must yearn to be a recipient of the Lord’s grace and a part of the covenant. Antiochus’ first response to the Lord should have been – “God be merciful to me a sinner.”
That should be our plea as well.