THE THIRD VISION: THE RAM AND THE GOAT (CHAPTER 8)
As I wrote in the last article, each succeeding vision in Daniel adds layers of understanding on the preceding pattern. In this vision only two of the metals of Nebuchadnezzar’s statue (chapter 2) are considered. But considerable detail is added.
The vision is in the third year of Belshazzar’s reign, about 551 BC, or about 12 years before the “handwriting on the wall” of chapter 5 announced the overthrow of Babylonia by the Medes and the Persians. ESV Study Bible mentions that this vision would be about the time that Cyrus of Persia conquered the Medes. Thus, the vision would have relevance for the immediate time in history as well as for later Jewish history.
I shall refer to the two halves of the vision in parallel. The vision proper is given in verses 8:3-14, and the interpretation (which really is a vision also) is given in verses 8:15-26.
Daniel first sees a ram with two horns, one larger than the other. The ram is powerful and cannot be resisted as it charges in all directions (8:3-4). This is interpreted to represent the Medes and the Persians (8:20). No further explanation is given. We can infer that the larger horn indicates that Persia would be the dominate kingdom in this alliance. The power of the ram would indicate the tremendous success of this empire, which ruled the Middle East for about 200 years, starting in 539 (or 538) BC.
The next part of the vision is of a goat with one large horn. It charged the ram and broke off its two horns (“horn” is often used to represent strength) (8:5-7). This goat is interpreted to represent Greece and “its first king” (8:21). This is the empire of Alexander the Great. Although he is often referred to as Greek, he was from Macedonia, son of Philip of Macedon. He conquered much of the Middle East, including the Persian Empire.
The vision depicts the great horn of the goat being broken off and four horns growing up in its place (8:8). This is interpreted to be the four successors (the Diadochi) to Alexander, who divided his empire, and, of course, would never reach his power (8:22). The two empires/kingdoms that were relevant to the Holy Land were the Seleucids, which generally ruled in the area of Syria, and the Ptolemies, which generally ruled in the area of Egypt. Palestine was caught between these two competing powers.
The vision now focuses on one particular leader, who is referred to as a “little horn” (verse 8:9). He is called a “king of bold face” in 8:23. The material in 8:9-14 and 8:23-26 is devoted to this person. In this case the material in the vision is as full and informative as the material in the interpretation. From 8:23, we learn that the horn is a ruler. Because he comes out of the horns representing the successors to Alexander, this person best fits with Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Interpretation of the details that follow is consistent with events during his reign. In 8:9-14, we learn of his activities, with some additional material in 8:23-26, as follows:
· The ruler expands his power toward the south and east and toward the Holy Land (glorious land) (8:9).
· He also expands upward, toward heaven and throws down some of the “host” and some of the “stars.” (8:10) I would interpret this as a spiritual expansion of power, but not in a good way. This person is making war on heaven. In 8:24b, he destroys the “mighty men and the holy people.” This would refer to humans, and so the “host” of 8:10 is interpreted by ESV Study Bible (ESVSB) and Miller (226) to be the Jews who were killed by Antiochus IV.
· The ambition to power reaches the point of confronting the “Prince of the host,” who is regarded by ESVSB and Miller (226) to be God Himself (8:11). This confrontation includes removing the “regular burnt offering” (the daily sacrifices offered morning and night) that is devoted to the Prince (“taken away from him”) (8:11). Antiochus IV issued a decree in 167 BC that services in the Temple should cease (Miller, 227). The sanctuary is also “overthrown” (NIV: “brought low”). Miller says this refers to its desecration (Miller, 227).
· The complete victory of Antiochus, the little horn, is described in terms of religious victory—the daily sacrifices are given to him—and in terms of power over humans—“a host” (NIV: “the host of the saints”). During the period 167-164 BC Antiochus IV ruled with great cruelty in the Holy Land. His opposition to the Jewish religion is summarized by the clause: “it will throw truth to the ground.” This all is due to “transgression” or “rebellion.” This is probably in reference to the apostasy of many Jews during that time (Miller, 227, and ESVSB). (8:12 and 8:23-25).
· This king of “bold face” (8:23) will have great power and success (8:24), especially in persecuting the Jews (8:24). He will make deceit prosper (8:25), and he will think he is a great person (8:25). He gave himself the title “Epiphanes,” which means “illustrious one” (Miller, 235). But his rebellion against God Himself (8:25) will end when he is broken (8:25). Miller refers to his dying of “remorse” because of military defeats. (Miller, 236)
· In 8:13-14 a time period is given for these events. There are several developments that are encompassed by the time period, including the “regular burnt offering” (a short-hand reference to the cessation of the offering) and the trampling of the host. The time period is 2300 “evenings and mornings.” There are two interpretations to this period. One is that a single day encompassed two events—an evening and a morning. Therefore the 2300 represents 1150 days. Miller cites arguments that, instead, the “evening and morning” is a single day, and so the 2300 refers to 2300 days. This probably refers to the period from the murder of the former high priest Onias III in 170 BC until the rededication of the Temple in 164 BC (an event that is observed at Hanukkah). One of the events that the 2300 days includes is the “transgression that makes desolate” (8:13). This refers to the setting up of an altar dedicated to Zeus by Antiochus IV in December, 167 BC. This also is referred to in 11:31 as “the abomination that makes desolate.” The commentary on 8:13-14 in the interpretation section is simply to say that it is true and that it refers to later days (8:26). (Miller, 228-230, and ESVSB)
Daniel’s vision in chapter 8 has parallels to former visions—the statue of different metals and the four beasts. However, it differs in that its time scope is narrower than the other visions and its details are more focused on one person. In a sense, the ram and the goat and the four horns of the goat are really background for the main subject of the vision, which is the little horn that becomes a powerful king with a “bold face,” Antiochus IV Epiphanes. This tyrant would harass the Jewish people in a terrible way and threaten to end the Jewish religion. Out of his persecutions arose the move led by the Maccabees. That rebellion successfully defeated Antiochus IV. The great author of persecution and sacrilege died a failure.
Daniel’s prophecy prepared the Jewish people for Antiochus IV, though to what degree the prophecy was known and gave them comfort, I do not know. In addition, we are prepared for later references to this same ruler in additional prophecies. Moreover, we are prepared for a reference the “abomination that makes desolate” in 11:31. Also, the career of Antiochus is a precursor (or “type”) to the career of another “little horn” (7:8) that would come much later in history—the Antichrist/Beast.
Crossway Bibles (2009-04-09). ESV Study Bible. Good News Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Miller, Stephen R. The New American Commentary. Vol. 18. Daniel. Nashville: Broadman &
Holman Publ., 1994.
The Holy Bible, New International Version. International Bible Society. Grand Rapids:
Zondervan Publ., 1984.
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