It can be difficult for the reader of Daniel 11 to follow what is happening in the text. I have posted on my website a chart which visually depicts the actions described in the text (download it here). This chart is intended as a supplement to my Interpretive Guide to the Major Prophets (available here).
What this chart depicts is a conflict which begins as a conflict between Gentile kings and kingdoms, but which ends as a great spiritual battle between satanically-energized rulers and the people of God (Israel). Daniel 11:2-5 gives the historical background to the conflict, describing how the Persian Empire (which was ascendant at the time of the vision) would be conquered by a great Greek king (Alexander the Great), and how the Greek Empire would be divided into four parts immediately after the completion of its conquest of the Persian Empire. The text then begins to describe kings from a northern realm (the Seleucids) and kings from a southern realm (the Ptolemies). “North” and “south” are in relation to the land of Israel, which lay directly between these two realms and acted like a buffer zone. At first, Israel is completely in the background of the conflict—it is merely a land bridge which the armies of the two sides crossed in order to fight against each other. The southern kingdom initially held control of the land of Israel, and was relatively lenient in its treatment of the Jews. But Daniel 11:14 indicates that, over time, Israel began to be caught in the crossfire of the Seleucid-Ptolemy conflict.
Israel finally comes into the foreground of the conflict in Daniel 11:16, when the king of the north takes possession of the land. Increasingly, the king of the north begins to attack Israel, and not just the king of the south. In Daniel 11:30-35, the conflict between the king of the south and the king of the north finally becomes a conflict between the king of the north and Israel. The vision then skips ahead to the final consummation of the conflict between Satan’s people and God’s people in the eschaton (Dan 11:36–12:3). Once again, this begins as a conflict between Gentile kings and kingdoms, but becomes a conflict between an eschatological king (the antichrist) and Israel. In the end, this conflict becomes an overtly spiritual battle, with God’s people completely triumphant: the wicked king is destroyed, Michael the archangel defends Israel, and God’s saints are raised from the dead.
While Daniel 11 may seem like a catalogue of arcane details to some, it is these very details that make this chapter extremely problematic for critics of the Bible. Liberal biblical scholarship cannot deny that Daniel 11 accurately describes world history from the time of Xerxes (ca. 480 BC) until the time of Antiochus IV (ca. 165 BC). The critics also acknowledge that it would be absolutely impossible for a human mind to foresee these events hundreds of years in advance. Thus, if it is acknowledged that the book of Daniel was actually written by the prophet Daniel in the sixth century BC, as its first person narratives imply, the book would have to have a divine origin—something which no critic wishes to acknowledge. Theologically liberal scholars therefore postdate the book of Daniel to the time when they think the vision of Daniel 11 ends: 165 BC. However, there is much compelling evidence (besides the book’s self-claim) that the book of Daniel was written much earlier than this. It is for this reason that liberals have identified the book of Daniel as the greatest threat to their anti-supernaturalist worldview, and the book of Daniel has become the greatest battleground between critics and believers. The mind-boggling detail of the prophecy of Daniel 11 demonstrates clearly that the Bible is God’s Word, not man’s word, and the fulfillment of the historical portion of this prophecy reassures us that the eschatological portion of the prophecy will also be precisely fulfilled. The course and outcome of history has already been set, and God’s plan will unfold in the future as it has in the past.