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Bible Commentaries
Daniel 8

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries


This chapter stands as the irrefutable example of genuine predictive prophecy at its most excellent achievement. Nobody, but nobody, can deny the obvious meaning of this prophecy. Even the most outspoken critical enemies freely admit the true meaning of the chapter, as did Herbert T. Andrews. He wrote:

“The interpretation of the vision which is given by Gabriel to Daniel is exceptionally clear, and leaves no manner of doubt that it refers to events of the Maccabean age. The ram with the two horns stands for Medo-Persia. The He-goat is the Greek Empire, the first horn representing Alexander the Great, and the four later horns the four kingdoms into which the empire later split up. The “Little horn” is Antiochus Epiphanes. His attack upon the Jewish religion is clearly described.”(F1)

The only support for the critical proposition that this is “prophecy written after the fact,” based on the absurd proposition that the Book of Daniel was written about 165 B.C. (in the times of the Maccabees), is their arrogant, imaginative assertion to that effect. We have referred to that assertion as “absurd.” Why? Every line of the Book of Daniel is in the Septuagint (LXX) version of the Old Testament.; and it was translated into the Greek language in the year 250 B.C.. What better proof could there be that Daniel was written long, long before the times of the Maccabees which are so accurately described herein?

There are also many other remarkable proofs of the divine origin of these remarkably vivid prophecies.

For example, if Daniel had been written in the times after Alexander appeared upon the historical horizon, any writer of that period would most certainly have made the ram, and not the goat, to have been the Greek kingdom. Why? Because Alexander wore a ram’s horn on his crown; and this writer has seen gold seals in the Metropolitan Museum, New York City, carrying the image of Alexander the Great with his invariable ram’s horn. “Alexander wore that horn in support of his boast that he was the son of Jupiter-Ammon.”(F2)

Then again, there is that story in Josephus which we mentioned in the introduction that when the High Priest of Jerusalem showed Alexander this chapter in the Book of Daniel, he spared the city from the punishment which their behavior had surely merited, and even extended the most amazing privileges to Jerusalem and the Jews. Some would question that story; but we accept it as the only reasonable explanation of what most surely happened in those events.

In the light of known facts, therefore, we find it ,somewhat incredible that an alleged Christian author would declare that:

Daniel is a straight piece of historical writing cast in the form of prophecy!(F3)

We fully agree with the words of many of the old commentators, for example, those of Gaebelein, who stated that:

“Here indeed is history prewritten, for all of these things were revealed while the Babylonian Empire was still flourishing. No wonder that critics and kindred infidels have tried their very best to break down the authenticity of this book.”(F4)

Verses 1-2

“In the third year of the reign of king Belshazzar a vision appeared unto me, Daniel, after that which appeared unto me at the first. And I saw in the vision; now it was so, that when I saw, I was in Shushan the palace, which is in the province of Elam; and I saw in the vision, and I was by the river Ulai.”

It is not necessary to suppose that Daniel was actually physically in Shushan for this vision, because the text clearly says that his being there was “when he saw.” Furthermore, at the end of the chapter, when he took up his regular business with the king he was not in Shushan, but in Babylon.

From time to time, critics in their vain efforts to discredit the prophecy have complained that in the time here cited, namely in the third (and last year) of Belshazzar, Shushan had not then been constructed, or that it was not in the province of Elam, etc., etc. Those interested in pursuing such nit picking criticisms will find all of them thoroughly refuted by C. F. Keil.(F5) His unequivocal conclusion was that, “The vision stands in intimate relationship to its contents and also to the time at which the revelation was made to Daniel.”(F6)

Verses 3-4

“Then I lifted up mine eyes, and saw, and, behold, there stood before the river a ram which had two horns: and the two horns were high; but one was higher than the other, and the higher came up last. I saw the ram pushing westward, and northward, and southward; and no beasts could stand before him, neither was there any that could deliver out of his hand; but he did according to his will, and magnified himself.”

Many have pointed out that the ram here is the same world power represented by the arms and breast of silver in Daniel 2:32 and the beast “like unto a bear” (Daniel 7:5). The symbolism is exactly the same in all three instances. The ram represents Medo-Persia. This is one kingdom with two elements (Median and Persian), not two successive powers, for they are here represented by one animal. The bear’s having three ribs in his mouth is the same as the ram pushing in three different directions, westward, northward, and southward. The bear’s raising up on one side is the same as the younger horn of the ram rising up higher than the first one. These symbols show that the Persian Power, which was subsequent to the Median power, would become dominant in the later phase of this kingdom. The ferocity, power, and force of the ram speak of the mighty conquests of the Persians who at places such as Marathon and Thermopylae even extended their power out of Asia into Europe.

It is of interest that in the ancient signs of the Zodiac, the Persians were under the sign of Aries the Ram, and Greece was under the sign of Capricorn the Goat.(F7)

Verses 5-8

“And as I was considering, a he-goat came from the west over the face of the whole earth, and he touched not the ground: and the goat had a notable horn between his eyes. And he came to the ram that had two horns, which I saw standing before the river, and ran upon him in the fury of his power. And I saw him come close unto the ram, and he was moved with anger against him, and smote the ram, and brake his two horns; and there was no power in the ram to stand before him; but he cast him down to the ground, and trampled upon him; and there was none that could deliver the ram out of his hand. And the he-goat magnified himself exceedingly: and when he was strong, the great horn was broken; and instead of it there came up four notable horns toward the four winds of heaven.”


This is so clear a prophecy that there is no wonder that Alexander the Great recognized himself in it when it was shown to him.

Again we have the clear consonance of this vision with the earlier ones in Daniel 2 and Daniel 7. The Greek kingdom of Alexander was represented in the first as belly and thighs of brass, and in the second by a leopard with four wings. The four wings, of course, stand for swiftness; and here that characteristic is inherent in the fact that this he-goat went so fast that he did not even touch the ground! Note also that he came from the west. Alexander’s great conquests followed that course exactly. He crossed the Hellespont and carried his campaigns all the way to India, the only conqueror in world history ever to do that.

The great central horn of the he-goat stands for Alexander himself. Note that it was broken when it was strong. It was at the very height of Alexander’s glory in 323 B.C. that he suddenly died as a result of his drinking and of a fever.

The four notable horns that followed Alexander were most circumstantially fulfilled by the division of his world-empire into four parts: (1) Cassandra controlled Macedonia and Greece; (2) Lysimachus controlled Thrace and Asia Minor; (3) Ptolemy I took firm control of Egypt; and (4) Seleucus controlled Syria and Babylonia. As the prophecy said, “toward the four winds of heaven.” Note also that none of these ever attained the importance of Alexander’s kingdom, despite the fact of the Seleucids gaining some preeminence. It was from them that the blasphemous “little horn” arose to challenge the Jewish religion in the times of the Maccabees. Palestine at first fell under the control of Egypt, but later was taken over by the Seleucids. It was from them that the terrible “little horn” developed. All of Alexander’s empire finally disappeared into the dominions of the Roman Empire. The last little remnant was that of the Ptolemys in Egypt; but Pompey reduced it to a Roman Province in 63 B.C. The famed Cleopatra was involved in events related to that.

Verses 9-14

“And out of one of them came forth a little horn, which waxed exceeding great, toward the south, and toward the east, and toward the glorious land. And it waxed great, even to the host of heaven; and some of the host and some of the stars it cast down to the ground, and trampled upon them. Yea, it magnified itself, even to the prince of the host; and it took away from him the continual burnt-offering, and the place of his sanctuary was cast down. And the host was given over to it together with the continual burnt-offering through transgression; and it cast down truth to the ground, and it did its pleasure and prospered. Then I heard a holy one speaking; and another holy one said unto that certain one who spake. How long shall be the vision concerning the continual burnt-offering, and the transgression that maketh desolate, to give both the sanctuary and the host to be trodden under foot? And he said unto me, Unto two thousand and three hundred evenings and mornings; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed.”


Salient features of this are: (1) The terrible calamity prophesied was allowed to fall upon Israel “through transgressions” (Daniel 8:12), that means as a punishment for the sinful rebellion of Israel. (2) It will be a limited, controlled punishment. The sanctuary will again be cleansed. (3) The mention of the `glorious land’ (Daniel 8:9) is a reference to Palestine. (4) `The prince of the host’ (Daniel 8:11) is a reference to God Himself, since he is depicted as the owner of the sanctuary and as the possessor of the continual burnt-offerings.

There is no disagreement whatever among scholars of all shades of belief. The `Little Horn’ of this passage is a prophecy of Antiochus Epiphanes. The title means, “Antiochus the Illustrious”; but the Jews referred to him as “Antiochus Epimanes,” meaning “Antiochus the Madman.”

This Antiochus Epiphanes was an evil character who inherited the throne of the Seleucid branch of Alexander’s empire from his brother Seleucus IV, continuing his abominable tyranny until his death in 163 B.C. His outrages against Judaism were related to his efforts to exterminate the worship of God which at that point in history was still controlled by the Law of Moses. This was in connection with his desire to Helenize (Grecianize) Palestine. Onias III was High Priest; but his brother Jason, who fully favored Antiochus’ plans to exterminate God’s religion and replace it with the worship of the Grecian deity Zeus, went to Antiochus and made a deal with him, that if he would get rid of Onias III, Jason would aid his plans. Onias III, therefore was murdered and the corruption of the Jewish worship for a few terrible years was indeed accomplished.(F8)

Antiochus’ outrageous actions precipitated a rebellion against him by the Maccabees; and the Maccabean war resulted in the overthrow of Antiochus, and the cleansing and re-consecration of the temple, events which the Jews thereafter celebrated with a fourth annual convocation rivaling the three older ones dating from the times of Moses, namely, Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. They called this celebration”The Feast of Lights,” or”The Feast of Dedication.”

Many of the facts of the Jewish war led by the Maccabees are recorded in the apocryphal books of 1 and 2 Maccabees and in the writings of Josephus. The extent of the desecrations imposed by Antiochus included the following:

“The observance of all Jewish laws, especially those relating to the Sabbath and circumcision were forbidden under penalty of death. All Jewish sacrifices were forbidden, and sacrifices to pagan deities the old mythical gods of the Romans) were offered throughout the nation. Once a month they had a search; and anyone found with a copy of the Law of Moses was put to death. The same penalty applied to anyone who either permitted or allowed the rite of circumcision. In the year 168 B.C., a pagan altar was erected on top of the great Altar in the temple itself. Both the temple and the city of Jerusalem were dedicated to Zeus.(F9) (This deity was the same as Jupiter Olympus). “He sacrificed a sow upon the altar of burnt-offering and sprinkled its blood over the entire building. He corrupted the youth of Jerusalem by the introduction of lewd and shameful practices; the feast of Tabernacles was made to be the feast of Bacchus; he auctioned off the office of the high priest; and he murdered at least 100,000 pious Jews.”(F10)

Regarding the true interpretation of the 2,300 evenings and mornings, it would appear that any certain solution of this is impossible. Note that: (1) we do not know if the civil year or the religious year is meant; (2) we do not know if “evenings and mornings” mean “days,” 2,300 days, or half that many days, since each day had both an evening and a morning; (3) the allegation that each day stands for a year (an assumption by no means proved) leads to the fantastic claim of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church that “Christ did not enter into the Holiest until the year 1844!

In our studies of Revelation, it became evident that such numbers are almost certainly symbolical; and in that likelihood we have concluded that Keil is correct in seeing this number as a symbol. A symbol of what?

“If we reduce these 2,300 days to years, we find that they add up to some three months and a little more past six years. The period of God’s judgments falling either upon pagans as in the case of Nebuchadnezzar in chapter 4, or upon Israel as in the seven years famine under Ahab, or the punishment of Israel for David’s numbering of the people (2 Samuel 24:13), was usually a full period of seven years; and the fact of this desecration to be terminated in a little over six years, indicates that, `It shall by no means reach the status of a full divine judgment against Israel.’“(F11)

Robert D. Culver was therefore most probably correct in the suggestion that the twenty-three hundred days, “Seem to refer to a period in 168-165 B.C. when the Temple was desecrated by pagan sacrifices.”(F12) If we must supply a reason why God permitted such outrageous transgressions against his holy religion, we need search no further than the prophecy of Malachi. The priesthood itself was cursed by Almighty God Himself for their shameful lapses; and such desecrations as arose in the 2nd century before Christ should therefore have been expected.

Daniel 8:10-11 above, indicates that the wickedness of Antiochus was against the “host of heaven, and the prince of the host (even God).” Such language is very extravagant, after the manner of prophecy; but the simple meaning of it would appear to be: “The insolence of Antiochus was a wickedness against Heaven, and the heavenly order of things!”(F13)

Up to here the explanation of the prophecy is nearly transparent, there being practically no disagreement about it from any quarter. However, the introduction of an additional element in Daniel 8:17 brings into the passage suggestions of its application to events far in the future from the times of Antiochus. We shall note these in the explanations given in the prophecy itself.

Verses 15-19

“And it came to pass when I, even I, Daniel, had seen the vision, that I sought to understand it; and, behold, there stood before me as the appearance of a man. And I heard a man’s voice between the banks of the Ulai, which called and said, Gabriel, make this man to understand the vision. So he came near where I stood; and when he came, I was affrighted, and fell upon my face: but he said unto me, Understand, O son of man; for the vision belongeth to the time of the end. Now as he was speaking with me, I fell into a deep sleep with my face toward the ground; but he touched me and set me upright. And he said, Behold, I will make thee know what shall be in the latter time of the indignation; for it belongeth to the appointed time of the end.”

This paragraph has the first naming of a holy angel in the entire Bible, Gabriel being the same angel that appeared to Mary and to Zacharias. The great burden of what the angel here said is that this great prophecy has an application to “the end time,” It is extremely unlikely that this could possibly refer to anything else other than the end of “the indignation,” that is, “God’s indignation upon the human race as a result of their shameful rebellions against his will.” In the understanding of the prophets, the “latter days,” “the last days,” the “end times,” etc. invariably refer to the end of time, the setting up of the Messianic kingdom (always in the foreground) and of the final execution of the Great Judgment upon all mankind.

Still another factor that almost certainly must be taken into consideration is the fact of Christ’s making the end of the Israelite nation (in the destruction of Jerusalem) a type of the final judgment (Matthew 24). In view of this, “the time of the end” might well have a dual application, being prophetic of the “end of the indignation” against Israel, which issued in the destruction of the nation, and also prophetic of the final judgment itself. “Certainly, there is more here than history relating to the times of Antiochus and the Maccabees.”(F14) Keil is apparently correct in the discernment that the primary application of this to the end time is not to the final judgment, but to the setting up of the kingdom of Christ in the First Advent of the Messiah.(F15) It should also be remembered in this context that the apostle Peter designated the entire Church Age as “the last days” (Acts 2:16). Of course, this does not at all deny the existence of prophetic overtones reaching to the Final Judgment itself.

“The time of the appointed end” Paul declared that God had “appointed a day” in which he would judge the world (Acts 17:31). There were also other days which God appointed. He had appointed seventy years as the termination of the captivity in Babylon, a time which when Daniel was written, had just about expired.

Verses 20-25

“The ram which thou sawest, that had the two horns, they are the kings of Media and of Persia. And the rough he-goat is the king of Greece: and the great horn that is between his eyes is the first king. And as for that which was broken, in the place whereof four stood up, four kingdoms shall stand up out of the nation, but not with his power. And in the latter time of their kingdom, when the transgressors are come to the full, a king of fierce countenance, and understanding dark sentences shall stand up. And his power shall be mighty, but not by his own power; and he shall destroy wonderfully, and shall prosper and do his pleasure; and he shall destroy the mighty ones and the holy people. And through his policy he shall cause craft to prosper in his hand; and he shall magnify himself mightily in his heart, and in their security shall he destroy many: he shall also stand up against the prince of princes; but he shall be broken without hand.”

“But not in his own power” Apparently God gave this evil man the power to bring punishment upon Israel. Also, the intervention of God is behind the statement that, “He shall be broken without hand” (Daniel 8:25). He is said to have died of madness. “The defeat of Antiochus by Judas Maccabaeus might have been overcome by that evil power if he had had the money to pay his troops. Not having it, he attempted to plunder the pagan temple of Artemis at Elymais. He utterly failed, and that caused his death. Historians of those times viewed his death as caused by madness inflicted by a Divine hand.”(F16)

“When the transgressors are come to the full” This is a reference to the transgressions of Israel. It was the climax of such sins that led to God’s permission for such an evil power as Antiochus to rise up.

Verses 26-27

“And the vision of the evenings and the mornings which hath been told is true: but shut thou up the vision; for it belongeth to many days to come. And I, Daniel, fainted, and was sick certain days; then I rose up and did the king’s business: and I wondered at the vision, but none understood it.”

“Shut thou up the vision” Andrews thought this meant, “Keep it secret”;(F17) but we believe the better understanding of it is that of Barnes who said it meant, “Keep a record of it, that it may be preserved and that the fulfillment of it might be noted.”(F18)

It is of very great significance that Daniel himself made no claim whatever to a full understanding of what he recorded. Even believing commentators often make the gross error of assuming that no prophet ever wrote anything that was not fully understood by the prophet himself, and that it is illogical to look for anything in the prophets that cannot be traced to the prophet’s own knowledge or experience.

It would be hard to imagine an error more directly opposed to what the Word of God teaches than is the one just cited. There are examples in both the Old Testament and the New Testament in which prophets plainly declared what they did not understand.

For example, on Pentecost, Peter stated that the promises of the Christian gospel were for them that “were afar off,” a plain reference to the Gentiles; yet it took a miraculous vision later to convince Peter that he should go to the home of Cornelius (a Gentile) and baptize him. In the Old Testament, there can hardly be any doubt whatever that Amos was without the foggiest notion of what God’s Words through him actually meant, when he stated that the sabbath would be gone, “When the earth is darkened in a clear sky, and the sun goes down at noon.”

This error fails to recognize that it was God who spoke “through” the prophets. People who are influenced by this error should read 1 Peter 1:10-12. In that passage an apostle of Christ stripped this common error of every vestige of its validity.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Daniel 8". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/daniel-8.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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