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Bible Commentaries
Daniel 8

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Verses 1-2


From Daniel 8 until the end of the book, the description of the events is again in Hebrew. The part from Daniel 2:4 up to and including Daniel 7 is written in Aramaic, the language of the first great empire. This change will have to do with the content of the following chapters. In the description of these events it is mainly about the consequences these events have for Israel, that is called “the Beautiful [Land]” (Daniel 8:9). They also concern God and “the place of His sanctuary”, which is the temple (Daniel 8:11). Israel is the land over which God’s eyes are open day and night (Deuteronomy 11:12; 1 Kings 9:3).

Daniel 8 is about the second and third empires, that is to say the world empire of the Medes and Persians and the Greek empire. In Daniel 7 these empires are presented as a bear and a leopard. Here they are presented as a ram and a goat. The bear and leopard are predators, they devour, they are impure beasts. Rams and goats are pure animals. They could be eaten in Israel and were also used for the sacrificial service.

The world empires are unclean powers that devour horribly. Yet there is also an aspect in those world empires that makes it possible to compare them to a ram and a goat, which indicates that they are a pleasure to God. For they accomplish the pleasure of God by doing His work. That work consists of executing His judgment, first and foremost on His people, but then also on the people who executed His judgment, because this people went beyond God’s will.

Cyrus, the head of the Medo-Persian empire, is called the “anointed” of God (Isaiah 45:1). He is the executer of God’s discipline, and he also cares for His people. We also find this in the book of Zechariah where the black horses that go north make the Spirit of God rest, that is, they do His pleasure (Zechariah 6:6-Ruth :). So in this chapter the goat is a pleasure to God if he destroys the ram. But he loses this pleasure when he exalts himself.

Time and Place of the Vision

When Daniel gets the vision, he is still under the reign of the ruler of Babylon, while the vision is about the judgment of the Medes and Persians through the Greeks. So he sees in advance that the second empire is conquered by the third empire. The vision he gets is in line with the previous one, that of the four world empires in the previous chapter. That was two years ago (Daniel 7:1), but he still remembers it well. Of those four empires, the second and the third empire, that is the empires of the Medes and Persians and of Greece, are now highlighted (Daniel 8:20-Ecclesiastes :).

When Daniel sees the vision, he is not in Babylon, but in the citadel of Susa, in the province of Elam. Susa is the capital of the province of Elam, which must have been located west of Persia, east of Babylon and south of the Medes. In the vision Daniel is beside the Ulai Canal. Other visions are also connected to a river (Daniel 10:4; Ezekiel 1:1; Psalms 137:1). Here the Ulai Canal is the place where Daniel sees the ram.

Verses 3-4

The Ram and its Performance

In the vision Daniel is an attentive spectator. He is not passive, but involved. That is clear from the remark ”I lifted my eyes”. He sees a ram which has two horns standing in front of the canal. A horn is a picture of power. If a horn is broken, it means the end of power. He also sees that both horns are long, that there is a difference in length, and that the length of one changes with respect to the other. We have also seen this with the bear, which is raised up on one side (Daniel 7:5).

We do not have to guess for the meaning of the ram. In Daniel 8:20 is the explanation: the ram with the two horns “are the kings of Media and Persia”. It is one ram with two horns. This suggests that it is one empire, with two distinct powers.

I have been in uncertainty about the statement of “one [was] longer than the other, with the longer one coming up last”. I asked Gerard Kramer if he could help me. I know him as a reliable and competent Bible interpreter and historian, and I consult him more often. I am happy to pass on the clarification from his reply, which has given me the requested clarification:

The Medes and the Persians have lived in the same area for centuries. First the Medes dominated that area and later the Persians. But both of them stayed to live there; the roles were literally reversed, however. The last king of the Medes, Astyages, had to his sorrow only a daughter, called Mandane. He deliberately married this one to a Persian, called Cambyses, to prevent that a possible descendant (his grandson) could assert rights on the Medes’ throne. The descendant came; it was the later Cyrus – who at first would have been called differently. This boy was considered a Persian - because his father Cambyses was a Persian – and was also a foundling, so that he knew nothing of his royal ancestry. However, when he was an adult, his identity came to light and he rebelled against his grandfather Astyages; he won, and thus became the first Persian king. The empire of the Medes was now replaced by the Persian empire.

In this Persian empire, ruled by the Persian kings, Medo vassal princes could occasionally be placed over certain areas to rule. Such a person was Darius the Mede. He “received the kingdom” at the age of 62, says Dn5:31 – according to some this expression indicates receiving the kingdom from a higher authority – in this case the Persian king Cyrus (=Cores). Indeed he ruled, according to Dn9:1, over the Babylonian part. However, Cyrus was not first the most powerful, but permanently the most powerful: he ruled over the entire Persian empire, as did his successors. After that there was no Medo empire anymore. Alexander the Great put an end to the Persian empire.

By the way, the Greeks, who fought 100 years prior to Alexander the Great against the Persians, always referred to these wars as the Medo wars, although they fought against two Persian kings; however, we refer to them as the Persian wars. I am only telling this to show that the Medes are always a recognizable constant factor in the empire dominated by the Persians. [End of quotation.]

In short, it comes down to the fact that the moment the Medes and Persians are given world domination, the Persians are in power, with Cyrus at the head (Ezra 1:2). That is the moment when, to say with Daniel 7, the bear rises up on one side (Daniel 7:5), or to say with Daniel 8, one horn is longer than the other (Daniel 8:3).

The ram, the Medo-Persian empire, was first very powerful. It exercised its power against Babylon, Syria, Greece and Asia Minor in the west, against the Lydians, Armenians and Scythians in the north and against Israel, Arabia, Ethiopia and Egypt in the south. This kingdom itself came from the east (Isaiah 46:11; Isaiah 41:2). These three wind directions with the areas in them are possibly the three ribs in the mouth of the bear (Daniel 7:5). His power was so great that no one could hold out or free himself from his power. In all his conquests there was no thought of God. He acted only out of self-interest and seemed to succeed in his intention. He rose in power.

Verses 5-7

The Goat and the Ram

What Daniel sees, fascinates him very much. His attention does not slacken. He keeps watching closely and sees a ram coming. He notices that the ram comes from the west. Here too we do not have to guess who the ram represents. It is according to Daniel 8:21 Greece. Greece lies west of Persia.

From the west, Alexander stormed into the mighty Medo-Persian empire at enormous speed. It is proposed here that he, as it were with a giant leap, without touching the earth, attacks the second empire. His punching power is so great, that he shatters the “two horns” of this empire. That means that both realms of the Medes and Persians are made completely powerless. In this powerless state, Greece trampled this empire underfoot, leaving nothing remaining of it.

The power that Greece, led by Alexander, exercises is irresistible. There is no one in the once mighty second world empire who is powerful enough to launch a counteroffensive. Nor are there any empires or allied friends who can come to his aid. Alexander crushes the Medo-Persian empire in two wars. The power of Greece is absolute and world-wide. The execution of judgement over the Medo-Persian empire is according to God’s pleasure. The destroyer, the Medo-Persian empire, is now being destroyed himself (Isaiah 33:1). Alexander has no awareness of it, but he is a tool in God’s hand to exercise judgment.

Verse 8

The Large Horn and the Four Horns

When Greece has the power, that empire will grow larger and larger. This is not only about the size of his area, but also about his arrogance. In his arrogance he has Greek culture imported into the conquered areas, including Judea. This entering of Greek culture into its entire empire is sometimes called ‘Hellenizing’, after the formal name for Greece, Hellas.

Then comes the moment that “the large horn”, that is Alexander the Great, is broken. This means that he dies. It is known from non-biblical history that he started war at the age of twenty. When he is thirty-two or thirty-three years old, he “magnified [himself] exceedingly”. He is in the power of his life and at the height of his fame. Suddenly, however, Alexander dies. He is not killed in war. His death has been attributed to a sudden fever.

Because Alexander has no son, his empire is divided among his four generals, all of whom gain power over a part of the great empire. They are represented in the four conspicuous horns. These four horns have the same meaning as the four heads of the leopard in the vision Daniel saw in the previous chapter (Daniel 7:6; Daniel 11:4).

The four areas are divided among the four generals as follows:
1. Seleucus got Syria in the east,
2. Lysimachus got Asia Minor in the north,
3. Ptolemy got Egypt in the south and
4. Cassander got Macedonia in the west.

Verses 9-12

The Small Horn

The small horn that appears should not be confused with the small horn from the previous chapter (Daniel 7:8). The small horn here belongs to the ram and therefore comes from the third empire; the small horn from the previous chapter comes from the fourth empire. Nor is it here a horn that is given an independent place by exterminating three horns, but this horn originates from one of the four horns.

That means, that one of the four empires rises above the other empires and draws power to itself. Non-biblical history shows that it is the Syrian part of the empire of Alexander the Great. Nothing is said about when this will happen. With this little horn we will have to think of Antiochus Epiphanes. So much is known about him in history, that there seems to be no doubt about it.

This Antiochus Epiphanes will be exceptionally great. In his lust for power he extends toward the south, Egypt, toward the east, Persia, and toward “the Beautiful [land]”, Israel. This is where God’s land and people come into view, and that is what prophecy in particular is all about. The “stars” are leaders and rulers of the people. Of one of them, Eleazar, an old man, is known that Antiochus kills him because the old man does not want to eat pig meat. That’s how he trampled many down. He also magnifies himself to be equal with “the Commander of the host” which is against God.

He shows his horror of God by taking away the regular sacrifice, that is to say the morning and evening burnt offering. God has commanded that these sacrifices should be offered on His altar every day and that He dwells among His people on the basis of these two sacrifices (Exodus 29:38-1 Corinthians :). Antiochus forbids making these sacrifices. In fact, God is taken away from the people. Also “the place of His sanctuary” is thrown down. Antiochus does not burn and destroy the temple, but he desecrates it by making it a temple for Jupiter Olympus and placing his statue in it. He also flings the truth to the ground; he tramples the word of truth, which is the book of the law. He does what he can to destroy its entirety so that it will be lost and forgotten forever.

In all that the wicked Antiochus does, he is prosperous. He succeeds. Thus, the service of God seems to have ended. No more sacrifices can be made, the temple is desecrated, the book of the law rejected. God seems to be the loser. But Antiochus would never have succeeded if God had not allowed it. He would not have had any power against Israel if he had not been given it from above (cf. John 19:11). It all happens under the permissive will of God.

Antiochus is used to bring God’s people into this misery “on account of transgression”. Because of the rebellion of God’s people against God, because of the apostasy of His people from Him, a self-willed sacrificial service is instituted as a substitute for the true service to the true God. The true service to God has been pushed aside by the Jewish people. Now the judgment comes by replacing the true service by religion of the Greek main god Zeus. If the beautiful land and all its beautiful things have been destroyed, it must be acknowledged that the cause of this destruction is sin. “Who gave Jacob up for spoil, and Israel to plunderers? Was it not the LORD, against whom we have sinned, And in whose ways they were not willing to walk, And whose law they did not obey?” (Isaiah 42:24).

The great apostasy of the Jews after exile consists of contempt and desecration of the holy things, a contempt for the service of God. This is expressed by offering the lame and the sick beasts as a sacrifice. In this way they say that they find the LORD’s table despicable (Micah 1:7-Ruth :). Therefore God sends Antiochus to take away the regular sacrifice and to throw down His holy dwelling. And so it can be said he could “perform [his will] and prosper.”

Verses 13-14

How Long?

After Daniel has seen the performance of the goat and especially that of the little horn, he hears “a holy one” speak. This turns out to be “that particular one”. It seems that we have to do with the Lord Jesus again here. We are not told what He has said. Then we hear another holy one, probably an angel, asking Him a question. The question is “how long” the devastating activities of the little horn will last. The angel repeats the activities mentioned in the previous verses. This question is asked because of the suffering that the saints endure because the service to God has been taken away. How long will the regular sacrifice remain taken away, how long will God not receive His daily sacrifice? How long will the apostasy last?

Remarkably, the answer is not given to the angel, but to Daniel. It is therefore the answer to the question of his heart. He is the type of the faithful remnant of Israel that will ask that question in the end times if they resist the oppression that the antichrist, of whom Antiochus is in certain respects a picture, brings upon them.

The duration of the taken away sacrifice is not given in days – 1150 days – but in evenings and mornings. This has to do with the daily morning and evening burnt offering (Exodus 29:38-Mark :), whose fragrance must constantly rise to God and on the basis of which He can dwell among His people. God counts according to the sacrifices that are withheld from Him. The 2300 evenings and mornings mean as many burnt offerings are withheld from God.

God counts the time of trial of His people in days. Thus the Lord Jesus, when He speaks of a great tribulation, speaks of “those days” (Matthew 24:21-Song of Solomon :; cf. Revelation 2:10). However, those days are coming to an end. After its expiry, the holy temple will be cleansed and the people will be able to bring the prescribed sacrifices again. Although God in His righteousness can allow His sanctuary to be desecrated for a time, He will also ensure that His sanctuary is sanctified in His time.

Verses 15-18

Understanding the Vision

Daniel is not only a spectator. He experiences what he sees. He tries to understand what he sees in the vision. Then he sees someone “who looked like a man” before him and he hears a voice. It is the voice of a Man. He hears the voice “between [the banks of] Ulai”, where it is just like the Person is floating over the water. The Man of Whom he hears the voice is the Lord Jesus. He speaks to the angel Gabriel who Daniel sees standing before him.

Gabriel is commissioned by the Lord Jesus to let Daniel understand the vision. Gabriel changes place and stands next to Daniel. By entering that place he looks in the same direction together with Daniel. From this position he will tell him the meaning of the vision. But Daniel is first overpowered by fear and throws himself on the ground with his face down. He, as a sinful and mortal man, cannot bear the presence of this holy and powerful angel who brings God’s presence so close to him.

When Daniel lies thus on the ground, Gabriel says to him that he must understand “that the vision pertains to the time of the end”. Gabriel addresses Daniel as a “son of man”, emphasizing Daniel’s humanity. That’s contrary to what he has seen, because that comes from heaven. He also depends on a messenger from heaven for its explanation. The expression “the time of the end” refers to the last days just before the coming of the Lord Jesus to earth. The explanation goes beyond the vision. It is not only about what is already history for us, but there is also a prophetic meaning for the future.

It’s all too much for Daniel. He falls asleep. This is not because of the lack of interest for the vision, or because of indifference, but because of the weakness and bewilderment of his mind. He wants to stay awake, but can’t. His powers are exhausted (cf. Daniel 10:9). Then Gabriel touches him. This means he gives Daniel the strength to stand up. Then he gives him the place he has taken first. That is the place where Gabriel stood next to him.

Verses 19-25

The Interpretation of the Vision

Gabriel introduces his interpretation with the promise that he will let Daniel know “what will occur at the final period of the indignation”. The application and interpretation is therefore about the end time. It is called here the “period of indignation”. The expression “indignation” is used in Isaiah for the indignation of God upon His people who have turned away from Him, following the antichrist (Isaiah 10:25; Isaiah 26:20). It is the time of great tribulation.

The fact that it is about the time of the end means that the explanation goes beyond the immediate or near future. The near future is about the conquest by the Greeks of the empire of the Medes and Persians. We see this in the meaning of the ram and the goat. What these represent, it is clearly said. We also hear about the one large horn and the four horns that replace it. The first king is Alexander. Upon his death, his kingdom was divided among his four generals. This division also means the end of the power of the Greek empire. None of the four parts had the power Alexander had.

When the four kings are at the end of their power, an “insolent” king will arise. That is the small horn, or the earlier mentioned Antiochus Epiphanes. The reason for his rise is not primarily the approaching end of the kingship of the four kings, but the behavior of the apostates. It concerns the apostates of God’s people. There comes a moment when the degenerate Jews have made the measure of their iniquity full (cf. Matthew 23:32; Genesis 15:16; 1 Thessalonians 2:16). That is the moment when they are ready for the destruction that God will bring upon them through Antiochus as a discipline. Besides his insolent deeds, this king is also “skilled in intrigue”, which indicates the corruptness of his character. He achieves his goals by exercising a reign of terror and the use of lies and deceit.

He does not possess the great power he develops by himself: “His power will be mighty, but not by his [own] power.” He owes his strength to another power. By this other power he is strong and he succeeds in his pursuit of causing destruction. It can’t be otherwise but if someone who takes pleasure in causing destruction is an instrument of the devil. The remark “that he will destroy to an extraordinary degree” also shows this. Someone of whom you do not expect to be so powerful and yet to be so, has help from the realm of darkness. He has sold his soul to the devil who rewards him with ‘power’. The devil uses Russia, the mighty empire in the far north (Ezekiel 38:2-Joshua :; Ezekiel 38:14-Nehemiah :Ezekiel 39:1-Exodus :).

The fact that the driving force behind Antiochus is the devil is also shown by the fact that he wants to cause destruction among God’s people in particular. He will do it and he will succeed. We know it is because he - without being aware of it - is used by God as a disciplinarian in His hand. However, this does not absolve him from his corrupt actions through and through, which will also be judged by God, as we read at the end of Daniel 8:25. God knows how to use man’s evil deeds, for which he is fully responsible himself, for His purpose. His goal is the welfare of His people and the glorification of His Son by those people.

The “mighty men” he destroys are the leaders of Israel who lead the people into the apostasy. He will also destroy “the holy people”. Despite the apostasy of the people, God’s Spirit calls them here “the holy people”. That is what the people should have been: a people set apart from all peoples to live only for God. But because they rejected Him and surrendered to the idolatry of the nations, they are surrendered by God to their enemies, here in the person of the cruel, wicked Antiochus. This is not a new way of acting by God. We see in the book of Judges several times that God surrenders His people into the hands of their enemies when they have departed from Him. He does so that they may return to Him. When they call upon Him, He sends a liberator.

This can also happen in our personal lives. When we depart from the Lord, He sometimes has to give us up to the power of sin. Then we learn the reign of sin through experiencing the power of sin. By this we will remember how good it was when we followed the Lord and served Him. We hear that also from the prodigal son and what he says in the parable the Lord Jesus tells (Luke 15:17). The result is that we will then acknowledge with repentance our wrong path. We will know that the Father awaits us and puts us in His arms when we come back to Him.

In Daniel 8:25 attention is once again drawn to his craftiness. Because he is cunning, he manages to be deceitful. He may well conceal his true intention and exercise power over others. His success will make him proud. He will boast of his prosperity. Somehow he will succeed in gaining a foothold in Israel. If the Jews think they have nothing to fear from him and they are at rest, he will strike and kill many. In his pride he will even venture to stand up against the Lord Jesus, as if he could destroy Him too. But he dies suddenly by the hand of God (Daniel 2:45; Job 34:20).

Verses 26-27

The Effect on Daniel

If we had to give this vision a name, we could call it ‘the vision of the ram and the goat’. God’s Spirit does not call this vision with that name. At the end of the vision the Spirit of God calls it “the vision of the evenings and the mornings”. We think it is about the battle between the Greeks and the Medes and Persians. But God’s Spirit says that in reality it is about the time when God’s sacrifice, repeated twice a day, is denied Him. It “is true”. We need not doubt it.

This is about the daily burnt offering. That speaks of the Lord Jesus in His work on the cross that was accomplished for God. Christ has glorified God perfectly and in everything. God wants us to tell Him what the Lord Jesus meant to Him on the cross. We often think about what the Lord Jesus did for us, what the consequences of His work are for us. But how often do we think about what His sacrifice means to God?

Daniel must keep the vision secret. It is not only important for the immediate future in connection with the coming of the Greek empire and in particular the small horn (Antiochus Epiphanes). What it lastly is all about is the time of the end. Then what this vision has shown will find its fulfilment in the great tribulation, when enemies will oppress both from the outside and from within God’s people. The (religious) main enemy inside is the antichrist. The (political) enemy from outside comes from the north, Syria, supported by the enemy from the far north, Russia.

When Daniel has seen the vision and heard the interpretation, he is exhausted. He is sick of it, because it all touched him deeply. For us it’s a bit different. It need not make us sick or even surprise us that there are world rulers who want to have nothing to do with God and persecute His people (1 Peter 4:12).

What should touch us is how the believers are doing spiritually. Do we have an eye for the fact that there are spiritual powers that are gaining entrance among God’s people to draw this people away from bringing daily sacrifices to God? False brothers try to sneak in and challenge our faith (Galatians 2:4-Deuteronomy :). If a spirit of legalism gets a grip on the believers, it means the end of bringing sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving to God. That this can happen should make us sick.

Because of everything that came down on Daniel, he is sick for a few days. He had to report sick to the king. We see here that prophets are not machines that receive a message mechanically and deliver it onto the people. Prophets are holy men of God who are driven by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21). They have not understood everything that has been told to them and have examined it carefully. Much has remained a mystery to them too, but they believed what is said: “As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that [would come] to you made careful searches and inquiries, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look” (1 Peter 1:10-2 Kings :).

In Daniel we see that every vision has worked a deep soul exercise with him. It has brought him to fasting and reading the Word of God. The same is necessary for us. We cannot grow in the grace and knowledge of God’s Word if we do not pray and if there are no soul exercises. In the next chapter we will see another wonderful example of this. The question for us is also: How does the Lord’s teaching about future events affect us?

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Daniel 8". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/daniel-8.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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