Pay Attention to Daniel's Prophecy

Jason Barker

As was shown in the previous issue of The Watchman Expositor,1 the Watchtower Society has a long history of failed prophecies based on their uniquely flawed interpretation of the Bible. The Society is releasing at its 1999 "God's Prophetic Word" District Conventions a new book that reinforces the label of "false prophet" that Christians have long applied to the organization.

Pay Attention to Daniel's Prophecy! is, like the earlier book Revelation: Its Grand Climax at Hand,2 a "commentary" that applies the Society's eschatological (i.e., "end times") doctrines to the Bible. One of the most intriguing sections of Pay Attention... is the analysis of the King of the North and the King of the South from Daniel 11. The changes that the Watchtower Society has made in its teachings regarding the identities of these kings is yet another example of the unreliability of Watchtower prophecy. The remainder of this article will examine the current Watchtower explication of Daniel 11,3 noting how and when this explication supports and differs from past Society teachings.

Ancient Perspective - Daniel 11:5-26

Daniel 11:2 mentions four kings who will appear in Persia. The Society defines the four kings as Cyrus the Great, Cambyses II, and Darius I (Hystaspes), and Xerxes I.4 While most Watchtower publications agree with this chronology,5 the 1946 book "Equipped for Every Good Work" contradicts this teaching (along with all the other teachings in the remainder of this article) by claiming that Daniel 6, 9-12 were all fulfilled during the reigns of Darius the Mede and Cyrus the Great (539-35 BCE).6

The Society has consistently taught that the "mighty king" in Daniel 11:3 is Alexander the Great.7 More significant, however, is the relevance of identifying the kings in Daniel 11:5-19. Whereas Pay Attention... lists these kings in detail, Charles Taze Russell, however, wrote, "It is tedious and unnecessary to trace this history in its many details of conflicts between Alexander's generals and their successors."8 It is important only to note that, regarding the identities of the "King of the North" and the "King of the South" in Daniel 11:5-19, the "King of the North" refers to the Seleucid rulers of Greece and the Near East, while the "King of the South" refers to the Ptolemaic dynasty of Egypt.9

Pay Attention... claims that, in Daniel 11:20-26, the identities of the kings changes dramatically. In keeping with earlier Watchtower teachings, the "King of the North" becomes the Roman empire.10 While there is no "King of the South" mentioned in Daniel 11:20-24, the Society claims that the "King of the South" in verses 25-26 is Queen Zenobia of Palmyra (Syria).11 Interestingly, the 1942 book The New World contradicts this interpretation of the "King of the South" by claiming that the King, from the period of the Ptolemies until World War II, was the nation of Egypt.12

Modern Perspective - Daniel 11:26-45

The inconsistencies in Watchtower teaching become far more frequent and significant as the Society examines the second half of Daniel 11.

The Society has consistently taught that verse 26 refers to the replacement of the Roman empire by ecclesiastical governments.13 Its interpretation of verse 27, however, has changed. While the Society currently claims that verse 27 is linked in a block of verses 27-30 and refers to the German world empire as the "King of the North" and the British world empire as the "King of the South,"14 Charles Taze Russell claimed that verses 27-28 referred to the conflict between secular and ecclesiastical governments.15

As stated above, the Society currently teaches that verses 29-30 refer to the Germanic and British (and later Anglo-American) empires. Russell, however, taught that these verses are parenthetical and simply foretell what will occur in verses 40-4516 (see the examination below).

The Society has understood the "King of the North" in verses 30-31 to be, since World War II, the Axis powers.17 Prior to World War II, however, verse 31 was a restatement of papal primacy prior to the Napoleonic wars.18 In fact, the belief that Daniel 11:30-31 refers to a Roman Catholic conspiracy remained a prominent part of Watchtower theology well past World War II, which the Society claimed was initiated by the Nazis in order to restore the "Holy Roman Empire."19

The Society's understanding of verses 32-39 has changed dramatically over the years. The current position is that the "King of the North" in these verses refer to the former Communist Bloc.20 Past interpretations, however, fluctuated dramatically. Russell claimed that verses 32-35 referred to the Papacy, with the reference to "little help" prophesying the Protestant Reformation that has been unsuccessful in correcting the "errors and abominations" of Catholicism.21 Verses 36-45, interestingly, prophesied the Napoleonic wars.22

The Watchtower Society during World War II dramatically abandoned part of Russell's understanding. While continuing to see the "King of the North" in verses 32-35 as the Roman Catholic Church,23 the Society began to interpret verses 36-39 as referring to the "totalitarian-religious" League of Nations.24 Following World War II, however, the Society became unsure whether the "King of the North" in these passages was the Nazi regime or the Communist Bloc.25

While the Watchtower claimed as recently as 1993 that the "King of the North" in verses 40-43 is the former Communist Bloc,26 the Society currently acknowledges that it does not know the identity of the "King of the North"27 (the "King of the South" remains the Anglo-American world power). Paying Attention to Daniel's Prophecy! concludes:

With the disbanding of the Soviet Union in December 1991, the king of the north suffered a serious setback. Who will be this king when Daniel 11:44-45 is fulfilled? Will he be identified with one of the countries that were part of the former Soviet Union? Or will he change identity completely, as he has done a number of times before?.Only time will provide answers to these questions.28

Despite yet again referring to the former Soviet Union, the Society states, "We are wise not to speculate."29


The Psalmist sings to God, "Thy word is true from the beginning."30 Because God never changes,31 Christians are wisely advised, "Fear thou the LORD and the king: and meddle not with them that are given to change: For their calamity shall rise suddenly; and who knoweth the ruin of them both?"32 The Watchtower Society shows time and again that their doctrines are changeable and unreliable, and therefore are not worthy of trust.

1 See Jason Barker, "Talking 'Bout My Generation," [Online]. URL
2 Revelation: Its Grand Climax at Hand (Brooklyn, NY: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, 1988).
3 Readers who obtain a copy of the book can find on page 284 a table summarizing the Watchtower's current teachings.
4 Pay Attention to Daniel's Prophecy! (Brooklyn, NY: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, 1999), p. 212-13.
5 See Your Will Be Done on Earth (Brooklyn, NY: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, 1958), p. 224.
6 "Equipped for Every Good Work" (Brooklyn, NY: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, 1946), p. 228.
7 See Pay Attention to Daniel's Prophecy! p. 214; Thy Kingdom Come, Studies in the Scriptures, Series III (Allegheny, Pa: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, 1908), p. 26.
8 Thy Kingdom Come, pp. 27-28.
9 Pay Attention to Daniel's Prophecy!, pp. 216-28.10 Ibid., pp. 231-44; see also "Your Will Be Done on Earth", pp. 248-60.
11 Ibid., pp. 240-41, 252-55; see also "Your Will Be Done on Earth", pp. 257-59.
12 The New World (Brooklyn, NY: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, 1942), p. 323.
13 See Pay Attention to Daniel's Prophecy! pp. 242-44; "Your Will Be Done on Earth", pp. 260-62.
14 Ibid., p. 246.
15 Thy Kingdom Come, pp. 34-35.
16 Ibid., p. 35.
17 See Pay Attention to Daniel's Prophecy! pp. 265-67; The New World, p. 324.
18 Thy Kingdom Come, pp. 35-37.
19 "Your Will Be Done on Earth", pp. 274-75.
20 Pay Attention to Daniel's Prophecy! pp. 269-80; see also "The Final Victory of Michael, the Great Prince," The Watchtower, November 1 (1993), p. 19.
21 Thy Kingdom Come, pp. 37-39.
22 Ibid., pp. 39-48.23 The New World, pp. 330-34.
24 Ibid., p. 337.
25 "Your Will Be Done on Earth", pp. 283, 290. It appears that the Society in this book divides the identity of the King according to the fall of the Third Reich, although Hitler and the Nazis are still referenced in the present tense even when discussing Soviet activities in the 1950s. See pp. 290-91.
26 "The Final Victory of Michael, the Great Prince," pp. 19-21. It should be noted that, even though the article consistently links the "King of the North" with the former Soviet states, the Society concludes that "we cannot say" who currently constitutes the "King of the North." See p. 21.
27 Pay Attention to Daniel's Prophecy, pp. 281, 284.
28 Ibid., p. 281.
29 Ibid.
30 Psalm 119:160.
31 Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8.
32 Proverbs 24:21-22.

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