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Daniel 8: Vision of Ram, Goat, and Little Horn

Chapter 8 - Introduction

Two years have passed since the previous chapter, but the handwriting on the wall has not taken place yet. The first half of the chapter is interpreted by the second half. With the Bible's own interpretation in mind, we can then read the commentary for historical notes on how this was or will be fulfilled after the time of Daniel.

Chapter 8 - Text and Commentary.

The Sacred text is BrRon's version.

{8:1} In the third year of king Belshazzar's reign, I, Daniel, had a vision, after that first one which appeared to me.

DATE: 551 BC

{8:2} In a vision I saw that I was at the palace in Susa in the province of Elam, and in the vision I was by the river Ulai.

Perhaps Daniel actually was in Susa on a diplomatic mission, or he had been there previously and recognized it.

{8:3} Then I looked up, and saw before the river a ram with two horns: and the two horns were long. One horn was longer than the other and it grew up last.

The ram is Medo-Persia, with the Persians as the larger and later horn.

{8:4} I saw the ram pushing toward the west, and the north, and the south. No animal could stand before him, and none could rescue from his hand. He did as he wanted, and became great.

Medo-Persia did have great success in the north (Caspians), west (modern Turkey), and south (Egypt), although Xerxes was stopped (at the time of Esther) when he tried to conquer Greece.

{8:5} As I was considering, suddenly a goat with a large horn between his eyes came from the west, crossing the whole earth without touching the ground.

The goat is the Macedonian Empire, which conquered all of Greece and then the world. The large horn was Alexander the Great, who conquered the known world in a remarkably short period of time. The goat running without seeming to touch the ground is a picture of the great speed of his travel. (see 8:21)

{8:6} He came to the two-horned ram which I had seen standing by the river, and ran into him in the fury of his power.

Again, the two-horned ram represents the Medo-Persian Empire.

{8:7 I saw him attach the ram with rage, and strike the ram and break his two horns. The ram could not stand before him, and the goat knocked him down and stomped on him. But no one could deliver the ram out of his hand.

Alexander the Great conquered the Medo-Persian Empire, represented by the Silver which was lower than the Bronze on the statue in the vision of Chapter 2.

{8:8} The goat grew, and when he was strong, the big horn was broken off. In its place grew four prominent horns toward the four winds of heaven.

After conquering the world, Alexander the Great died at a young age, and four kingdoms were formed by his generals. They were basically West (mainland Greece and Macedonia), East (Old Babylon), South (Egypt), and Central North (Modern Turkey, Palestine, and northern Euphrates).

{8:9} From one of them arose a little horn, which grew exceeding great toward the south, the east, and toward the pleasant land.

From the central kingdom came Antiochus the 4th, named Epiphanes. He fought the eastern and southern kingdoms, and when frustrated in Egypt (by the rising Romans) he returned through Palestine and vented his rage on Jerusalem (168 BC). Palestine is called the 'pleasant land' (KJV) or 'beautiful land' (NIV).

{8:10} It grew and reached the host of heaven; and it threw down some of the starry host to the ground, and stamped upon them.

See 8:24 where the holy people are mentioned. Taking the host of heaven and the starry host as an allusion to 'God's people' fits the historical descriptions of a great persecution of the Jews by Antiochus. This is an application of the grammatical-historical method of interpretation, which allows for the use of figures of speech where they make sense. A very literal interpretation would imply either angels or heavenly bodies (stars, planets, meteors) would be thrown from the skies to the earth.

{8:11} It even presented itself as great as the Prince of the host, and it took away the daily sacrifice and brought low the place of his sanctuary.

Antiochus IV erected a statue of Zeus in the temple (perhaps it had a likeness of Antoichus) and sacrificed a pig on the altar. By doing this, he was presenting himself as great as the Lord Himself (the Prince or true ruler of Israel). The desecration continued for three years, during a Jewish revolt under the leadership of the Maccabees. The final Jewish victory and rededication of the temple, 165 BC on the 25th of Chislev (December), is celebrated by Hanukkah.

(8:12 Because of sin, the host and the daily sacrifice was given to it. It threw the truth to the ground, and it prospered.

I take this host as the starry and heavenly host of 8:10.

{8:13} Then I heard a holy one speaking, and another holy one asked him, "How long will the vision last concerning the daily sacrifice and the desolation caused by sin, allowing both the sanctuary and the host to be trodden under foot?

The KJV translates 'Saints', the NIV 'Holy Ones'. The Hebrew is "Achad Kodesh", or literaly "one holy". The Hebrew and the NIV leave the interpretation open as to whether the holy one is an angel (my preference) or a man, but the KJV implies a man (angels are not referred to as saints).

{8:14} And he said to me, "For two thousand and three hundred days, then the sanctuary will be cleansed."

Possibly 1150 evening sacrifices and 1150 morning sacrifices, or three years and 55 days. This would be 2300 daily sacrifices (1150 days) rather than 2300 days. This was the actual length of time between Antiochus desecrating the temple until the Jewish victory and rededication.

{8:15} While I, I Daniel, was trying to understand the vision I had seen, someone stood before me one having the appearance of a man.

{8:16} I heard a man's voice from the middle of the Ulai calling, "Gabriel, help this man to understand the vision."

We know from other parts of Daniel that Gabriel is an angel. He has the appearance of a man. The voice from the Ulai was probably angelic, but 'sounded' like a normal man's voice. It was an understandable voice, rather than a thunder or sound.

{8:17} Then he came near me, I was afraid, and fell upon my face. But he said, "Understand, son of man, that the vision concerns a later time."

I translate the Hebrew words within the context of the following verses explaining the kingdom of Greece together in translating "a later time". The NIV and KJV both state, "time of the end", which might be a preferred translation except for the context. Most evangelicals take the words "time of the end" in a technical sense of the "end time events", which is not implied in this passage. The later time would be the kingdom following the one (on the statue of Chapter 2) which Daniel was living in (Medo-Persian). If follow the KJV and NIV with the words "end time", they refer to the time of the end of the Medo-Persian Empire (when the goat with a large horn appears), not to the End of the World.

{8:18} While he was speaking with me, I was in a deep sleep on my face toward the ground: but he touched me, and set me upright.

{8:19} He said, "Pay attention, I will make you understand what shall be in the last end of the indignation: which shall happen at the time appointed.

{8:20} The ram which you saw with two horns represents the kings of Media and Persia.

{8:21} The rough goat is the king of Grecia: and the big horn that is between his eyes is the first king.

{8:22} After that was broken, and four grew in its place, so four kingdoms will arise out of the nation, but not in his power.

None of the four kingdoms resulting from the split of the Macedonian Empire was as powerful as Alexander's.

{8:23} And in the latter time of their kingdom, when the sin are come to the full, a king of fierce countenance, and dark understanding, shall stand up.

{8:24} And his power will be great, but not by his own power: and he shall destroy wonderfully, and shall prosper, and practise, and shall destroy the mighty and the holy people.

{8:25} And through his policy also he shall cause craft to prosper in his hand; and he will grow vain, and in peace will destroy many: he will stand up against the Prince of princes; and will be broken but not by a human hand.

Antiochus Epihanes set Zeus in the temple of the LORD, forbade Jewish worship, and declared the death penalty for possession of Hebrew Scriptures. He intended to force Greek language, culture, and religion on his entire kingdom. Tensions between hellenists (Sadducces), nationalists (Zealots) and fundamentalists (Pharisees) would still be active in the time of Jesus. Antiochus died of a sudden illness, not by human hands.

When a prophecy is completely and literally fulfilled, such as this one, there in no necessity to look for second or future fulfillments unless specified in the Scriptures. One can draw parallels between Antiochus and the coming Antichrist, just as one can draw parallels between Antiochus and Adolph Hitler. While useful, they are NOT clear teachings of scripture. Chapter 11, which will blend the historical (to us) narrative of Antiochus with a later dicatator who has not yet appeared will justify comparisons in that chapter. But this verse clearly states that the time of the "king of fierce countenance" is at the end of the time of the divided Grecian empire, before the time of Rome, a time now past.

{8:26} This vision of the evening and the morning is true, but seal up the vision, because the time of its fulfillment is distant.

Daniel wrote Chapters 8-12 in Hebrew, which neither Babylonian, Mede, Persian or Greek could read. Chapters 2-7 were written in Aramaic, the common language of Babylon. This may indicate that beginning with the vision of this chapter, the intended audience is Israel rather than the Babylonians.

{8:27} I, Daniel, fainted, and was sick for a number of days. After I recovered, I returned to do the king's business, but I was astonished at the vision which none could understand.

Although we understand the fulfillment, because we look back at history for the fulfillment, neither Daniel nor the other wise men understood with our clarity. Daniel did have the interpretation, the last half of the chapter interpreting the first, but did not understand it clearly.

Chapter 8 - Summary

Giving more detail than the previous visions, this vision shows Medo-Persia conquering until a rapid goat conquers him. The rapid rise of Alexander the Great was unprecedented in history. After his early death, the empire broke into four kingdoms headed by his generals. From one of these, Antiochus Epiphanes would arise (the little horn). Frustrated by attempts to conquer Egypt (stopped by the rising Roman powers), he vented his rage on Jerusalem. The description here and in chapter 11 so accurately depicts the events of 168-165 BC that 'liberal' scholars cannot believe that these chapters were written before that time. A crucial time in Jewish history, the eventual victory of the Jews and rededication of the temple is celebrated each year as Hanukkah. These events contributed to the hope for a military and nationalistic messiah in the century before Jesus.

Chapter 8 - Questions

Unless otherwise stated, the Bible text is from the World English Bible, and is in the public domain.
BrRon's Bible Commentary (C)Copyright 2010 by Ronald Miller, All Rights Reserved