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Bible Commentaries

Layman's Bible Commentary

Daniel 8

Vision of the Ram and the He-Goat (8:1-27)

The struggle between the upstart Macedonian king, Alexander, and the massive Persian Empire shook the ancient world. That struggle is dramatically retold here in the violence of a clash between a he-goat and a ram, symbols especially appropriate to the two empires in question.

Verses 1-2

The Setting (8:1-2)

Daniel tells where he was when this vision occurred and comments that it was after "the first," apparently meaning the vision recorded in chapter 7. He was in Susa, the great Persian center, during the third year of Belshazzar’s reign, before the Persians came to power. The vision came while he was by the River Ulai. The author thus sets a cosmic drama of imperial conflict in Susa, which was the ancient capital of Persia, just at the time when the last vestige of Chaldean power was disappearing.

Verses 3-14

The Vision (8:3-14)

The River Ulai should probably be identified with a canal dug to connect the Choaspes and Corprates rivers, which flowed near Susa. This would parallel the situation of the River Chebar in Ezekiel, which is now firmly identified with the Canal Kebar. The ram who stood on the bank of the Canal Ulai had two great horns; "both horns were high, but one was higher than the other, and the higher one came up last." Media and Persia were the two horns of the ram, and Persia, the latter horn, was by far the higher of the two. In fact, Media never dominated the Near East as did Babylonia or Persia. The ram charging westward, northward, and southward at will, with nobody able to stop him, is an apt symbol of Persia’s expansive power beginning with Cyrus.

While Daniel watched the invincible ram in all his magnificence, a "he-goat came from the west across the face of the whole earth, without touching the ground; and the goat had a conspicuous horn between his eyes." The unexpected appearance of Alexander the Great (336-323 B.C.) and the swiftness of his incredible conquest are meant. He moved so swiftly that his feet hardly touched the ground. Crossing the Hellespont in 334 B.C., Alexander made short work of destroying the Persian Empire by winning a decisive victory at Issus the next year, and by conquering unconquerable Tyre the year thereafter. When Alexander died in 323 B.C., he had brought the whole Middle East, from Egypt to the Indian frontier, under Greek influence and power. He was indeed the swift he-goat.

Verses 6-7 laconically tell of the brief struggle between the he-goat and the ram, which resulted in utter defeat for the once mighty ram. No ally or other power on earth could rescue the two-horned ram, because in its time of domination the MedoPersian Empire had made sure that all other centers of power were destroyed.

Verse 8 recounts how the he-goat magnified himself, but at the very height of his power his horn was broken. This reference is to the sudden death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C. Instead of "the great horn" there arose four horns in its stead. Historically, after a period of struggle, the empire of Alexander was divided by four generals. Cassander held power in Greece, Lysimachus ruled over Anatolia, Syro-Mesopotamia was under the rule of Seleucus, and Egypt was controlled by Ptolemy. These are the "four conspicuous horns" which shared the heritage of Alexander’s expansive domain and power.

The writer used broad, sweeping strokes to paint the background picture of cosmic struggle, but he wasted little time getting to the urgent present. Neither time nor space is spent on explanation or denunciation of the four successors or even upon the Seleucids and Ptolemies. "A little horn" appeared, which grew southward and eastward and, most important, "toward the glorious land," which was Palestine. This move toward Palestine is the disturbing center of the drama. The extent of Antiochus’ intention is signified in the words, "It grew great, even to the host of heaven; and some of the host of the stars it cast down to the ground, and trampled upon them." This statement is not to be taken literally, yet Antiochus’ egomania, expressed in his claims to deity, had such purpose in view.

The "little horn" magnified itself against "the Prince of the host," stopped burnt offerings, and overthrew the sanctuary. Antiochus did overthrow the high priest and replace normal worship with a Grecianized abomination. He took control of the Temple, which he apparently looted in 168 B.C., and for more than three years no proper offering was made there. The Temple was occupied and controlled by the heathen ruler. What was meant by "host" in verse 12 eludes us, unless it should be translated "temple service," thus reading with certain of the ancient translations: "And the temple service was given over to it together with continual burnt offering through transgression." Although we cannot be absolutely certain about the text, the meaning of the whole passage clearly points to interference with and interruption of Temple worship. "Truth was cast down to the ground" (vs. 12).

True religion, as exemplified in the earlier stories, no longer had control because the little horn "acted and prospered." One senses in these passages not the atmosphere of what had happened or what was to happen but rather what was happening. This is the picture of the height of repressive measures in the early years of the Maccabean revolt (168-165 B.C.).

Daniel, having seen the shocking and almost hopeless state of affairs, heard a "holy one" (an angel) speaking to "another holy one" about the future. Doubtless the most urgent question among oppressed saints was: How long will this continue? That was exactly the question put by the one angel to the other. How long will this sacrilege, this blasphemy, and this persecution be allowed to continue? The answer was given as follows : "For two thousand and three hundred evenings and mornings; then the sanctuary shall be restored to its rightful state." This figure would amount to 1150 days, which is a shorter time than the three and a half years mentioned in chapter 7 (1278 days). It could be that chapter 8 is later than chapter 7, or perhaps we should understand both figures as round numbers or approximations. In any case the promised end of distress is clearly in sight, when rightful order shall be restored among God’s people and in his Temple.

Verses 15-25

Interpretation (8:15-25)

The setting for the interpretation is so obviously related to Ezekiel i-3 that there is little reason to pursue points of comparison. A voice spoke to Daniel, not directly but through the angel Gabriel, while Daniel was by the banks of the Ulai Canal. Like Ezekiel, this man of God was so overwhelmed by the experience that he fell to the ground (Ezekiel 1:28 to Ezekiel 2:1). At this point the expression "son of man" (vs. 17) is used with exactly the same meaning that it has in Ezekiel, and should be translated simply "man" or "human being." Gabriel, having been sent by God, explained the vision : "Understand, O son of man, that the vision is for the time of the end."

A view of the end-time was given to Daniel after he had fallen into a very deep sleep. In this sleep the voice proceeded to tell Daniel "what shall be at the latter end of the indignation; for it pertains to the appointed time of the end." The consummation is the heart of the matter now. Media and Persia were the ram with two horns, and the king of Greece was the he-goat (vss. 20-21). The big horn was the first king of Greece. Actually Philip was the first in the Macedonian line, but his more influential and greater son, Alexander, was meant in this instance (vs. 21). The four horns are the four who arose to rule after the death of Alexander, as detailed above (vs. 22). At the "latter end" of Greek power "a king of bold countenance . . . shall arise." This was, of course, Antiochus Epiphanes, who is described as "one who understands riddles." The expression, "bold countenance," reflects the insolence and harshness which this "little horn" displayed toward God and man. The understanding of riddles is a caustic reference to his trickery in language and action in order to achieve the goals of his power.

His power would be great and would bring, in the wake of success, fearful destruction of mighty men and the saints of God. It was against this latter group, "the saints" who remained loyal and whose loyalty was remembered in the early stories of the book, that the heaviest blows of persecution fell. That Antiochus IV was a cunning and deceitful person is a well-remembered historical fact. Every device was used for his own ends because in his own mind he magnified his person to the level of deity.

To strike and to destroy without warning is typical of this kind of tyrant (vs. 25). Yet it is probable that this reference had a specific incident in view. In 168 B.C. the Syrian general, Appolonius, came in peace to the turbulent city of Jerusalem; but when all was quiet, he fell upon the helpless people and carried out a bloody massacre for the king (see 1 Maccabees 1:29-32). The Temple was sacked and afterward Zeus instead of the Lord was worshiped there. This treachery was an unforgettable moment in the tragedy of Jewish history.

Finally the assurance is given that Antiochus will be broken by no human hand. It was a mountain which filled the earth that destroyed the image of four metals mentioned in chapter 2, and it was intervention by the Ancient of Days that brought an end to the beasts which foraged across the earth (ch. 7). Now the direct intervention of God himself will bring an end to the distress of his people. Only as God would enter the arena of history could there be sure hope. This writer opened vistas of hope which he could not fully explore, but which were finally fulfilled in Jesus Christ, God-come-to-man.

Verses 26-27

Postscript (8:26-27)

"The vision of the evenings and the mornings" is a label given to the vision because of the 2300 evenings and mornings which were the measure of its duration. This vision was ordered sealed and kept closed until a future tune when its message would be relevant and needed.

The chapter ends with a statement of the effect that so overwhelming an experience had upon Daniel, physically and emotionally. He was appalled and baffled by the vision because he did not completely understand it. The author was now speaking in vision from the age of Chaldean power and saw the age in which he was living as being far in the future. In a dream he thrust himself back in time to get perspective for the present. The sealing of the book for future use must be understood from the vantage point of the dream, in which he stood in the Chaldean period. Thus an authentic ring of predictive prophecy adds authority to the proclamation.

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Daniel 8". "Layman's Bible Commentary".