For more study see commentary on Daniel 8.
We’ve been away from our usual order in Daniel for a couple of weeks so a brief recap is in order. In Daniel 7 Daniel is given a vision which shows history from God’s perspective. This matches the dream given to Nebuchadnezzar but whereas Nebuchadnezzar views man from man’s perspective and sees him as precious metals, God views man as beasts.
Daniel 8 continues with Daniel’s visions and builds upon God’s view of history. Once again the empires of the world are represented by beasts. This time however, instead of giving a broad view of four empires, only two are revealed in greater detail.
1 In the third year of King Belshazzar’s reign, I, Daniel, had a vision, after the one that had already appeared to me. 2 In my vision I saw myself in the citadel of Susa in the province of Elam; in the vision I was beside the Ulai Canal. 3 I looked up, and there before me was a ram with two horns, standing beside the canal, and the horns were long. One of the horns was longer than the other but grew up later. 4 I watched the ram as he charged toward the west and the north and the south. No animal could stand against him, and none could rescue from his power. He did as he pleased and became great.
We have not seen this animal yet but it represents an empire that God has already revealed to Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar. The ram with two horns is the Medo-Persian Empire. In Daniel 7 they were represented by the bear that was raised up on one side. Here they are represented by a ram with two horns. One horn is larger than the other though. The Persian part of the Medo-Persian Empire is the greater half.
The ram is closely associated with the Medo-Persian Empire. It was the guardian spirit of Persia. It is commonly found on Persian seals. And strangest by far is that when a Persian king went to war, he wore the head of a ram instead of a crown.
There are three directions that the ram charged. This is not by accident. These are the three directions in which the Medo-Persian Empire expanded – west, north, and south.
5 As I was thinking about this, suddenly a goat with a prominent horn between his eyes came from the west, crossing the whole earth without touching the ground. 6 He came toward the two-horned ram I had seen standing beside the canal and charged at him in great rage. 7 I saw him attack the ram furiously, striking the ram and shattering his two horns. The ram was powerless to stand against him; the goat knocked him to the ground and trampled on him, and none could rescue the ram from his power. 8 The goat became very great, but at the height of his power his large horn was broken off, and in its place four prominent horns grew up toward the four winds of heaven.
The ram seems to be unstoppable until the appearance of the goat. The goat is the next empire to come, the Greeks. Ordinarily a goat has two horns but this one has one great horn, Alexander the Great. The national emblem of Greece was a goat and the animal is found on coins of the country.
The ancient capital of Greece was Aegae or the “Goat City.” This rest next to the Aegean of “Goat Sea.” The son of Alexander the Great was named Aegus or “Son of a goat.”
At the age of 22 Alexander led his murdered father’s armies against the Medes and Persians and crushed them. He defeated 600,000 Persians in a battle at Issus. Between 330 and 327 BC he conquered the entire Middle East region. This rapid conquest is symbolized by the goat’s feet never touching the ground. Even to this day, this amazing military conquest is unique in all of history.
At the height of his power in 323 BC the goat’s great horn was broken off. Alexander the great died at the age of 33. There are various stories about what brought about his demise. One tradition states that he drowned in his own vomit from a drunken stupor. Another says that he was poisoned by one of his generals, Cassander. A third tradition holds that he died from complications from malaria.
No matter what truly brought about his death, we’re reminded that God holds the power over even the mightiest men on earth.
Following Alexander’s death, the empire was split into four parts, hence the four horns and the four heads from Daniel 7. This was not as simple of a split as it sounds on the surface however. The division came only after 21 years of intense fighting. A fifth general of Alexander attempted to lay claim to part of the territories but was finally forced out. God’s prophecy to Daniel would not be thwarted.
9 Out of one of them came another horn, which started small but grew in power to the south and to the east and toward the Beautiful Land. 10 It grew until it reached the host of the heavens, and it threw some of the starry host down to the earth and trampled on them. 11 It set itself up to be as great as the Prince of the host; it took away the daily sacrifice from him, and the place of his sanctuary was brought low. 12 Because of rebellion, the host of the saints and the daily sacrifice were given over to it. It prospered in everything it did, and truth was thrown to the ground.
We knew about the previous two empires before. But these verses give us more detail about what will happen during the Greek Empire. There is another horn that rises from one of the four horns. This is where things can become a bit tricky because of the way prophecy is often fulfilled.
This is a reference to a literal person, Antiochus Epiphanes IV. But this man is also a foreshadowing of the antichrist. What he does is by satanic influence. Even though the symbol of a horn is used in both Daniel 7 and Daniel 8, they do not refer to the same person. But the two a very similar.
The little horn of Daniel 7 is from the Roman Empire. He is an eleventh horn who uproots three horns. He persecutes the people of God for 3 ½ years. And he is the antichrist of the end times.
The little horn of Daniel 8 is from the Greek Empire. He is a fifth horn that comes from one of the four horns. He persecutes the people of God for 2300 days. He is Antiochus Epiphanes IV, a picture of what the antichrist will be like.
Antiochus IV had a real great family tree. The name Antiochus means “opposer”. Antiochus II referred to himself as Antiocus Theos, meaning God. Antiochus III was known as the Great. So with a healthy ego built in from several generations, Antiochus IV assumed the title “theos epiphanies” meaning “the Manifest God.” Not surprisingly, his enemies derided him by referring to him as Antiochus Epiphames, changing just one letter to mean mad man.
According to history, Antiochus was responsible for the slaughter of over 100,000 Jews. This does not even approach the greatest of his atrocities though in the eyes of the Jewish people. He forbid the practice of all Sabbaths and feasts. He tore apart and burned the books of the Old Testament. He built shrines for idols and sacrificed unclean animals.
The worst thing of all though was that he sacrificed a pig to the god Zeus in the temple of God. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back and led to the Maccabean revolt. On December 25, 165 BC the Holy Place was finally cleansed. This was the first celebration of Hanukkah.
13 Then I heard a holy one speaking, and another holy one said to him, “How long will it take for the vision to be fulfilled—the vision concerning the daily sacrifice, the rebellion that causes desolation, and the surrender of the sanctuary and of the host that will be trampled underfoot?”
14 He said to me, “It will take 2,300 evenings and mornings; then the sanctuary will be reconsecrated.”
It is difficult to place the 2300 evenings and mornings because we can’t be sure if this means 2300 days or 1150 days because evenings and mornings could be a reference to the number of sacrifices missed – two each day.
We know the day that the temple was reconsecrated – December 25. But we starts the clock ticking? If we go back 2300 days we arrive at September 6, 171 BC. Around this time the former high priest Onias III was assassinated. Also in mid September 171 BC Lysimachus desecrated the temple by stealing some of the sacred vessels.
If we instead go back 1150 days, we arrive at December 15, 168 BC. This is the exact date that Antiochus desecrated the temple by sacrificing a pig on the altar. It’s possible that this prophecy had a double fulfillment.
Verses 15-22 gives us the interpretation to the vision which we have already looked at. Let’s jump to verses 23-27
23 “In the latter part of their reign, when rebels have become completely wicked, a stern-faced king, a master of intrigue, will arise. 24 He will become very strong, but not by his own power. He will cause astounding devastation and will succeed in whatever he does. He will destroy the mighty men and the holy people. 25 He will cause deceit to prosper, and he will consider himself superior. When they feel secure, he will destroy many and take his stand against the Prince of princes. Yet he will be destroyed, but not by human power.
26 “The vision of the evenings and mornings that has been given you is true, but seal up the vision, for it concerns the distant future.”
27 I, Daniel, was exhausted and lay ill for several days. Then I got up and went about the king’s business. I was appalled by the vision; it was beyond understanding.
The tone of these final verses changes. The key to understanding the timing of these verses is in the first verse. The “latter part of their reign” refers to the four horns. The rebels are the Jewish people who refuse to adhere to the Greek laws and customs. However they have become completely wicked. Not only are they rebels against the government, they are enemies of God.
The stern faced king is another double fulfillment of prophecy until the very end when it is only referring to the antichrist. Antiochus fulfills the prophecy through the part that states that he will consider himself superior to others. However the rest is only fulfilled in the antichrist as he will set himself up against Christ. The antichrist’s end will be supernatural. Antiochus IV died of natural causes, not by anything supernatural.
Daniel is overwhelmed by the vision and the interpretation. It makes him physically ill and he remained that way for several days. I can speak of only one time in ministry that I can possibly relate to this. Very early in my ministry I ended up in the middle of a very ugly divorce. As I was visiting the wife she told me things that I absolutely knew weren’t true. One of the quickest ways to make me upset is to lie to me. I was so appalled by this that by the time I made it back home I was shaking and I literally couldn’t do anything for the rest of the day because this confrontation had left me physically exhausted.
It’s possible that Daniel has yet another double meaning when he states that the vision was beyond understanding. It could mean that Daniel was simply unable to comprehend the meaning of what he had been shown. Or it could mean that Daniel was unable to understand why God would allow these things to take place. Earlier visions revealed God as the ruler of history. This vision shows what happens when man is left to his own devices and God does not intervene until the end.
So what do we learn from Daniel 8? This gives us a blueprint for interpreting prophecy. Throughout scripture we are given numerous pictures of Jesus before He arrived on the scene. Melchizedek, Elijah, and Jonah are all pictures of Jesus. Here we are given a picture of the antichrist. Antiochus IV gives us a glimpse of the corruptness that the antichrist will display. Just as Jesus was far greater than the men who gave us glimpses of him, so the antichrist will be far more vile than Antiochus IV.