Bible Commentary: Daniel 8

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Daniel 8

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The Ram and the He-Goat

After writing in Aramaic since 2:4, Daniel now returns to writing in Hebrew. While he will write two more historical accounts in Aramaic, chapters 5 and 6, those will be included in the early part of his book. Everything that follows 8:1 in arrangement order is in Hebrew, presumably because the intended audience was Jewish.

It is now about 548 B.C. Two years have passed since Daniel's previous vision of the four beasts (see 7:1; 8:1). While Daniel is in a deep sleep with his face to the ground (verse 18), he is transported in vision to the River Ulai, an artificial canal near the Elamite capital of Shushan or Susa (verse 2). This city, which was about 230 miles east of Babylon, would become one of the imperial capitals of the Medo-Persian Empire. Thus it was a fitting place to see the ram representing that empire.

The ram's two horns represented the Median and Persian elements of the kingdom. Indeed, as with the symbol of the tilted bear in chapter 7, we see that one horn of the ram was higher than the other, in both cases representing the dominance of Persia over Media (see 8:20). "Ancient records declare that the king of Persia, when at the head of his army, bore in the place of a crown the head of a ram. The same figure is frequently found on Persian seals" (qtd. in Expositor's Bible Commentary, footnote on verse 3).

The male goat coming from the west to cast down and trample the Persian ram, so swiftly that it is as if he flies above the ground, is the kingdom of Greece—its large horn being its first king (verse 21), that is, the first Greek king to succeed the Persian Empire after overcoming it. This could only refer to Alexander the Great of Macedonia, who carved out his vast Hellenistic Empire in short order. Launching his attack against Persia in 334 B.C., he had essentially subdued it by 332.

According to the first-century Jewish historian Josephus, this prophecy in Daniel factored into Alexander's positive treatment of the Jews—along with other miraculous intervention.

The account states that when Alexander laid siege to Tyre, he sent a letter to the Jewish high priest Jaddua asking that he switch allegiance from the Persian emperor Darius to him and provide him with military support. "But the high priest answered the messengers, that he had given his oath to Darius not to bear arms against him; and he said that he would not transgress this while Darius was in the land of the living. Upon hearing this answer, Alexander was very angry; and though he determined not to leave Tyre, which was just ready to be taken, yet, as soon as he had taken it, he threatened that he would make an expedition against the Jewish high priest, and through him teach all men to whom they must keep their oaths" (Antiquities of the Jews, Book 11, chap. 8, sec. 3).

Alexander later moved down to take the city of Gaza. "When the seven months of the siege of Tyre were over, and the two months of the siege of Gaza.... Alexander...made haste to go up to Jerusalem; and Jaddua the high priest, when he heard that, was in an agony, and under terror, as not knowing how he should meet the Macedonians, since the king was displeased at his foregoing disobedience. He therefore ordained that the people should make supplications, and should join with him in offering sacrifices to God, whom he sought to protect that nation, and to deliver them from the perils that were coming upon them; whereupon God warned him in a dream...that he should take courage, and adorn the city, and open the gates; that the rest should appear in white garments, but that he and the priests should meet the king in the [garments] proper to their order, without the dread of any ill consequences, which the providence of God would prevent. Upon which, when he rose from his sleep, he greatly rejoiced; and declared to all the warning he had received from God. According to which dream he acted entirely, and so waited for the coming of the king" (sec. 4).

What is reported as happening upon Alexander's arrival is stunning. "And when the Phoenicians and the Chaldeans that followed him, thought they should have liberty to plunder the city, and torment the high priest to death, which the king's displeasure fairly promised them, the very reverse of it happened; for Alexander, when he saw the multitude at a distance, in white garments, while the priests stood clothed with fine linen, and the high priest in purple and scarlet clothing, with his mitre on his head, having the golden plate whereon the name of God was engraved, he approached by himself, and adored that name, and first saluted the high priest.... whereupon the kings of Syria and the rest were surprised at what Alexander had done, and supposed him disordered in his mind. However, [his general] Parmenio alone went up to him, and asked him how it came to pass that, when all others adored him, he should adore the high priest of the Jews? To whom he replied, 'I did not adore him, but that God who hath honoured him with his high priesthood; for I saw this very person in a dream, in this very [garment], when I was at Dios in Macedonia, who, when I was considering with myself how I might obtain the dominion of Asia, exhorted me to make no delay, but boldly to pass over the sea thither, for that he would conduct my army, and would give me the dominion over the Persians; whence it is, that having seen no other in that [garment], and now seeing this person in it, and remembering that vision, and the exhortation which I had in my dream, I believe that I bring this army under the divine conduct, and shall therewith conquer Darius, and destroy the power of the Persians, and that all things will succeed according to what is in my own mind.

"And when he had said this to Parmenio, and had given the high priest his right hand, the priests ran along by him, and he came into the city; and when he went up into the temple, he offered sacrifice to God, according to the high priest's direction, and magnificently treated both the high priest and the priests. And when the book of Daniel was showed him, wherein Daniel declared that one of the Greeks should destroy the empire of the Persians, he supposed that himself was the person intended; and as he was then glad, he dismissed the multitude for the present, but the next day he called them to him, and bade them ask what favours they pleased of him; whereupon the high priest desired that they might enjoy the laws of their forefathers, and might pay no tribute on the seventh year. He granted all they desired; and when they entreated him that he would permit the Jews in Babylon and Media to enjoy their own laws also, he willingly promised to do hereafter what they desired" (sec. 5).

These events transpired about 216 years after Daniel received his vision!

Four Notable Horns and Another Little Horn

Continuing in Daniel 8, Alexander was prophesied to be broken when he became strong (verse 8)—and in fact the Hellenistic emperor died at the height of his career, before he was 33 years old.

Four notable horns would replace the broken great horn. This corresponds to the four-winged, four-headed leopard representing the Greek Empire in chapter 7. As was noted in the Beyond Today Bible Commentary, Alexander's kingdom became divided among his generals into four parts, which then continued as distinct kingdoms.

In its note on verse 9, The Nelson Study Bible states: "The little horn here is not the same as the little horn of ch[apter] 7. The former horn comes out of the fourth beast, Rome, whereas this one comes out of Greece. The little horn here refers to Antiochus Epiphanes, the eighth king of the Syrian dynasty [descended from Alexander's general Seleucus] who reigned from 175 to 164 B.C. Thus, this prophecy skips from 301 B.C., the time of the division of Alexander's empire, to 175 B.C., when Antiochus became king." The identification with Antiochus Epiphanes, an evil ruler who persecuted the Jews and sought to corrupt them into idolatry, certainly makes sense. Indeed, a detailed prophecy of the succession of Greek Syrian rulers, especially Antiochus Epiphanes, is given in Daniel 11.

However, there is evidently much more to this prophecy. At least some measure of duality is intended since Gabriel (an angel mentioned for this first time in this chapter) explains that "the vision refers to the time of the end" (verse 17; see also verses 19, 23, 26). First of all, it should be recognized that since the Roman Empire took over from the Greek Syrian kingdom, Rome and powers emerging from it could, in a sense, be said to derive from Alexander's empire—just as Greece and Persia emerged, to some degree, from Babylon. Indeed, the final resurrection of the Roman Empire in Revelation 17-18 is also clearly a resurrection of the Babylonian Empire. The beast of Revelation 13 is a conglomeration of the four beasts of Daniel's image, as the Roman Empire had swallowed up the earlier kingdoms. Therefore, the little horn of Daniel 7 and 8 could be synonymous on some level—or at least parallel (although, while the horn of Daniel 8 could signify Antiochus as well as the Roman civil or religious leader through the ages and at the end time, the little horn of Daniel 7, springing from Rome, could not represent Antiochus except as a precursor to the actual fulfillment).

The Expositor's Bible Commentary offers the "plausible explanation...that the little horn arising from the third kingdom serves as a prototype of the little horn of the fourth kingdom. The crisis destined to confront God's people in the time of the earlier little horn, Antiochus Epiphanes, will bear a strong similarity to the crisis that will befall them in the eschatological or final phase of the fourth kingdom in the last days.... In each case a determined effort will be made by a ruthless dictator to suppress completely the biblical faith and the worship of the one true God" (note on verses 9-10).

"Continuing on with the predicted career of Antiochus (v. 10), we encounter the remarkable statement that he will grow up to 'the host of heaven' and will throw 'some of the starry host down to the earth,' where he will 'trample on them.' The 'host' a term most often used of the armies of angels in the service of God (esp[ecially] in the frequent title... Yahweh of hosts'), or else of the stars in heaven (cf. Jer 33:22). But it is also used of the people of God, who are to become as the stars in number (Gen 12:3; 15:5) and in Exodus 12:41 are spoken of as 'the hosts of Yahweh'...who went out of the land of Egypt.... Now since the Greek tyrant can hardly affect either the angels of heaven or the literal stars in the sky, it is quite evident that the phrase 'the host of the heavens' must refer to those Jewish believers that will join the Maccabees in defending their faith and liberty. It is then implied here that Antiochus will cut down and destroy many of the Jews during the time of tribulation he will bring on them, when he will have 'trampled on them'" (same note). Of course, God's people at the end time—both physical and spiritual Israel, the Church—is probably also intended. And there is likely an additional meaning.

In verse 11, this little horn exalts itself as high as the "Prince of the host"—the "Prince of princes" (verse 25)—God. Besides the megalomania of Antiochus, this verse also appears parallel to the prophecy of the "man of sin" in 2 Thessalonians 2:3, the end-time religious leader "who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God." And in all this, the exaltation as well as the assault on heaven's hosts, we are probably also seeing, in type, a description of the spiritual power behind these human figures—Satan the Devil, who assaulted heaven in an attempt to replace the Almighty and even corrupted and brought to ruin others of God's angels (see Revelation 12:4).

Like Satan, the little horn casts truth—God's word and law (John 17:17; Psalm 119:142; 160)—to the ground. He causes the daily evening and morning sacrifices to cease and brings about the "transgression of desolation" to God's sanctuary (verses 11-13). To what does this refer? On the spiritual level, Satan strives to end the prayers of God's people and bring them to ultimate ruin—and he succeeds in this with some. Yet, on the physical level, the "transgression of desolation" is obviously parallel with the "abomination of desolation" set up by Antiochus Epiphanes as foretold in Daniel 11:31—an idolatrous desecration of the temple in conjunction with the ending of the literal sacrifices. We will see more about this in our reading of Daniel 11. Despite the past fulfillment of this prophecy, Jesus Christ made it clear that Daniel's prophecy of the abomination of desolation was also to be fulfilled in an end-time context as the signal event preceding the Great Tribulation (see Matthew 24:15ff.).

Verse 14 of Daniel 8 states that the sanctuary would be cleansed after 2,300 "evening-mornings," as the word "days" is literally rendered (NKJV margin, compare verse 26). Expositor'snotes: "This apparently precise period of time has been understood by interpreters in two different ways, either as 2,300 twenty-four-hour days (understanding ereb boqer, 'evening morning,' as indicating an entire day from sunset to sunset, like the similar expression in Gen[esis] 1), or else as 1,150 days composed of 1,150 evenings and 1,150 mornings [for a total of 2,300]. In other words, the interval would either be 6 years and 111 days, or else half of that time: 3 years and 55 days. Both views have persuasive advocates, but the preponderance of evidence seems to favor the latter interpretation. The context speaks of the suspension of the tamid ('sacrifice'), a reference to the olat tamid ('continual burnt offering') that was offered regularly each morning and evening (or, as the Hebrews would reckon it, each evening, when the new day began, and each morning). Surely there could have been no other reason for the compound expression ereb boqer than the reference to the two sacrifices that marked each day in temple worship" (noted on verses 13-14).

There were three years from the temple desecration by Antiochus in 168 B.C. until its cleansing and rededication by the Maccabees in 165 (see 1 Maccabees 1:54; 1 Maccabees 4:52-53)—an event now celebrated by the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. Yet since the prophecy is primarily for the end-time, it also seems that there must be a last-days application, either of 1,150 days or perhaps 2,300. Indeed, some have postulated a 2,300-year fulfillment, stretching from ancient times to the future, based on the prophetic day-for-a-year principle, although it is not clear how this could fit (and this appears unlikely with the particular expression evening-morning, which if denoting a day would seem specific to a 24-hour day)

In verse 25, Gabriel told Daniel that the little horn would be broken "without human hand" (see margin). According to the apocryphal book of 2 Maccabees, Antiochus died of painful diseases. And in the end time, the Beast and False Prophet will be destroyed by the divine Jesus Christ.

Daniel was utterly shocked by the vision, finding it far more traumatizing than his previous one as he considered the terrible plight his people would experience in the future. Whereas Gabriel had awakened him from sleep to explain the vision's imagery (verse 18), the prophet now fainted and was sick for days (verse 27). He was able afterward to resume his state duties but remained stunned for some time.