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Bible Commentaries

Hamilton Smith's Writings

Daniel 8

Verses 1-27

THE RAM AND THE HE-GOAT

Daniel 8

The first seven chapters of the Book of Daniel have been mainly occupied with the Gentile powers, whether as they appear in the sight of man, or as viewed by God. From chapter eight to the end of the Book. the visions and interpretations in a very special way concern the Jews; many details are given that would have little interest or even meaning for the Gentile powers.

This may account for the fact that, from Dan_2:4 to the end of Daniel 7 , the Spirit of God has used the Aramaic dialect, this portion of the book being more directly concerned with the Gentiles. In Daniel 8 the Spirit of God again reverts to the Hebrew language, which is used to the end of the Book, this part of the prophecy being specially concerned with the Jews.

In Daniel 8 we have the record of Daniel's vision of the ram and the he-goat (verses 1-14); and the interpretation of the vision (verses 15-27).

We have seen that the second and third world empires have been pre-figured in the image by the breast and arms of silver, and the belly and thighs of brass, setting forth their imposing character in the sight of men. Again, in the visions of Daniel 7 , they come before us under the figure of beasts - the bear and the leopard - to set forth their moral character in the sight of God. Now, again, in Daniel 8 , the second and third empires pass before us under the figure of two animals - the ram and the he-goat - to set forth their history in relation to men. That these figures respectively set forth the Empires of Persia and Greece is not a matter of conjecture but revelation, according to the interpretation given by Gabriel in verses 20 and 21.

As these empires have passed away, the question might arise, What use can these details serve? Two things have to be borne in mind in answering this question. First, these empires, in the day of their power, had to do with God's people, and whatever concerns His people touches His glory, and is of deep and lasting importance. Secondly, we have to remember that though these empires have "had their dominion taken away: yet their lives were prolonged for a season and time" ( Dan_7:12 ). Thus, to the end of the times of the Gentiles, there will still exist nations that represent these once powerful empires, and, at the time of the end, these nations will be found in opposition to the people of God - the Jews. This it is that gives such importance to the details of Daniel 8 . It prophetically gives the history of these two empires in the day of their power, and their connection with the people of God - prophecies which have already been fulfilled. At the same time their past history foreshadows their opposition to the people of God in the time of the end.

In reading these Scriptures, let us, as one has said, hold these two thoughts, "that Christ is the aim and end of all the counsels of God, and that the Jews are the objects of His counsels here below." It is true that God's earthly people have broken down, and, under the chastening of God, have been scattered and no longer publicly owned as His people. Nevertheless, they are still the people beloved for the fathers' sake, and, when the time of their judicial blindness is past they will be restored to their land and re-established in blessing. "The gifts and calling of God are without repentance" ( Rom_11:29 ). Moreover, if the everlasting love of God is still toward Israel, His eyes are still upon the Land and the Temple. The land may be desolate and trodden under foot of the Gentiles, but it is still the "land which the Lord thy God careth for: the eyes of thy God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year even unto the end of the year" ( Deu_11:12 ). Again, the word came to Solomon, "I have hallowed this house, which thou hast built, to put My name there for ever; and Mine eyes and Mine heart shall be there perpetually." ( 1Ki_9:3 ).

Keeping these thoughts before us, we can understand that everything that concerns God's earthly people, whether in the past or future, is of the deepest importance to God, for in and through this people the glory of Christ on earth will at last be maintained, and all the counsels of God for the blessing of the nations be fulfilled.

Through their sin and failure the earthly people of God have come under the indignation and chastening of God, whereby they have fallen into the bondage of the nations. Nevertheless, God is not indifferent to the ill-treatment of His people by those who have taken occasion by God's chastening to exalt themselves and persecute God's people.

The prophecies of Daniel, as other Scriptures, clearly show that in the time of the end the opposition to and persecution of God's people will take a threefold form.

First, there will be the persecution arising from the revived head of the Roman Empire, brought before us under the figure of the little horn of chapter 7. (See verses 21, 25, and Rev_13:1-10 ). Secondly, there will be the persecution arising against the Jews, when back in their land, from their northern enemy, as set forth in the little horn of chapter 8. Thirdly, there will be persecution from the Antichrist in their midst, brought before us in Dan_11:36to39 . (See also Rev_13:11-18 ).

It is the second form of the persecution of God's earthly people that passes before us in Daniel 8 , that is to say, the persecution that comes from the Assyrian, or king of the north, referred to by so many of the prophets.

(a) The vision of the ram and the he-goat (1-14).

(Vv. 1, 2). This fresh vision appeared to Daniel in the third year of the reign of Belshazzar. The period of the first world empire was within three years of its close. In the palace of Shushan, in the province of Elam, Daniel in vision stood by the river Ulai.

(Vv. 3, 4). He sees a ram with two horns, one being higher than the other, and this higher horn appearing after the other This, we know from verse 20, is a figure of the Medo-Persian Empire, the two horns setting forth the dual character of the empire. One horn being higher than the other prophetically sets forth that one part of the empire would gain ascendancy over the other, and this dominating power would rise last. This we know is exactly what came to pass. Darius the Mede who crushed the power of Babylon, gave place to Cyrus the Persian, who rapidly gained the ascendancy in the Persian Empire. The victorious career of Cyrus, and the directions of his conquest, are foretold by the ram pushing toward the west, and north, and south. No power could stand against him or thwart his will.

(Vv. 5-7). As Daniel was considering this ram, he saw an he-goat come from the west, moving with such swiftness that he did not appear to touch the ground. Between the eyes of the goat was a notable horn. This rough goat, we know from verse 21, is a figure of the Grecian kingdom, and the great horn a figure of the first king. In few and striking words the passage sets forth the career of Alexander the Great.

The he-goat attacks the ram with such overwhelming force that there was no power in the ram to withstand the onslaught. The ram was cast down, ruthlessly crushed with none to deliver. The figure vividly sets forth the rapidity and ferocity of the conquests of Alexander by which the Persian Empire was crushed and came to its end as a world power, the Grecian Empire being established in its place.

(V. 8). Further, in the vision Daniel saw that the he-goat became very great, but at the summit of its power the great horn was broken, and in its place four notable horns came up towards the four winds of heaven. Again it is impossible not to see in this picture exactly what came to pass in history. Alexander's brief but victorious career was cut short in the midst of his triumphs, and eventually the empire was divided into four kingdoms, Syria, Egypt, Greece and Thrace.

(Vv. 9, 10). Out of one of these four horns there came forth a little horn. Evidently this little horn sets forth a king that arises in the north, for he pursues his conquests towards the south, the east, and the pleasant land.

This "little horn" is not to be confounded with the "little horn" of Daniel 7 . The expression "little horn" may indicate that the person thus figured arises from the mass, and, apart from his own genius, would be a person of no consequence. The little horn of Daniel 7 is evidently the head of the revived Roman Empire, while the little horn of Daniel 8 is a figure of the king of the north, who is the subject of many prophecies and who will play such a leading part in connection with God's earthly people in the time of the end. For this reason, doubtless, the vision and interpretation are mainly occupied with this little horn.

It will help to notice that the portion of the vision to the end of verse 8 has already been fulfilled. At verse 9 we pass to that part of the vision the fulfilment of which is yet future. In the time of the end (verse 17), there will exist a nation north of Palestine that will attack the Jewish nation then gathered back in their land. The "host of heaven" would seem to be figurative of the people of God - those who own the rule of heaven. The "stars," as in other Scriptures, set forth those who hold a place of subordinate authority under God amongst His people (See Rev_1:20 ; Rev_2:1 ; Rev_3:1 ). This northern power will be allowed, for a time, to overrun the "pleasant land," and cast down those in authority among God's people.

(Vv. 11, 12). Here the prophet speaks more particularly of the head of this northern power, for he no longer says "it" - the power - but "he" - a person. This person will exalt himself against Christ, the Prince of the host, and "from him" (not "by him" as in our translation) "the daily sacrifice was taken away." The sacrifice will be taken from Jehovah and His sanctuary destroyed. The opening clause of verse 12 should read, "A time of trial was appointed to the continual sacrifice by reason of transgression" (N. Tn.). The meaning appears to be that the little horn will be allowed to take away the sacrifice because of the transgression of God's people. Then the vision indicates that "it," the northern power, will cast down tile truth and, for a time, be allowed to prosper and accomplish great things.

(Vv. 13, 14). At this point in the vision Daniel heard one saint speaking to another, and asking how long will the state of things of which the vision speaks be allowed to continue. Speaking to Daniel, one says that the sanctuary and the host will be trodden underfoot for two thousand three hundred days, or nearly six and one half years.

(b) The interpretation (Vv. 15-27).

(Vv. 15-18). In the verses that follow, the meaning of these visions is made known to Daniel by the Angel Gabriel. As ever, the interpretation adds further details to the vision. First, Daniel is definitely told that the vision looks on to the time of the end. Daniel, who is overcome by the vision of that which will happen to his people in the latter times, is strengthened to face the truth.

(V. 19). He is told that the vision speaks of the events that will terminate the "indignation," and that whatever sorrows intervene they will have a definite end - "at the time appointed the end shall be." The term "indignation" is a well known expression in prophecy setting forth the time during which God's indignation is aroused against His people on account of their idolatry (See Isa_5:25 ; Isa_9:19 ; Isa_10:5 ; Isa_10:25 ).

(Vv. 20-22). Then follows the definite application of the vision to the second and third world empires - Persia and Greece, and the division of the Grecian Empire into four kingdoms.

(Vv. 23-24). Further details are then given as to the little horn. He will be a person characterised by boldness and knowledge of occult mysteries. His activities will be great and yet not by his own power. Apparently, he will have the support of some other power, being himself the instrument of foreign policy. He will attack and destroy the godly of those days, the saints of God - "the mighty and the holy people."

(V. 25). Apparently, his triumph over the people of God will not be by force of arms, but by craft, and his policy will seem to secure peace by corrupting many of the professing people of God. In his daring he will stand up against the Prince of princes. This defiance of Christ will be his ruin. Christ will destroy this wicked man "without hand," or apart from human means.

(Vv. 26, 27). Daniel is told that the vision is true, but that its fulfilment will not be for many days to come. It is possible that the future actions of this king of the north have been foreshadowed in the history of the vile Antiochus Epiphanes who, in his day, attacked the people of God by craft and corruption, desecrated the temple, and set aside the law. Nevertheless, for the fulfilment of the prophecy we must, according to the word of Gabriel, wait for the time of the end.

The effect of these visions upon Daniel was such that he fainted and was sick certain days. In spite of the interpretation, none but Daniel appeared to understand the vision.

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Bibliographical Information
Smith, Hamilton. "Commentary on Daniel 8". "Hamilton Smith's Writings". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/hsw/daniel-8.html. 1832.