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Bible Commentaries
Daniel 8

The Expositor's Bible CommentaryThe Expositor's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-27


This vision is dated as having occurred in the third year of Belshazzar; but it is not easy to see the significance of the date, since it is almost exclusively occupied with the establishment of the Greek Empire, its dissolution into the kingdoms of the Diadochi, and the godless despotism of King Antiochus Epiphanes.

The seer imagines himself to be in the palace of Shushan: "As I beheld I was in the castle of Shushan." It has been supposed by some that Daniel was really there upon some business connected with the kingdom of Babylon. But this view creates a needless difficulty. Shushan, which the Greeks called Susa, and the Persians Shush (now Shushter), "the city of the lily," was "the palace" or fortress (birah) of the Achaemenid kings of Persia. and it is most unlikely that a chief officer of the kingdom of Babylon should have been there in the third year of the imaginary King Belshazzar, just when Cyrus was on the eve of capturing Babylon without a blow. If Belshazzar is some dim reflection of the son of Nabunaid (though he never reigned), Shushan was not then subject to the King of Babylonia. But the ideal presence of the prophet there, in vision, is analogous to the presence of the exile Ezekiel in Jerusalem; {Ezekiel 40:1} and these transferences of the prophets to the scenes of their operation were sometimes even regarded as bodily, as in the legend of Habakkuk taken to the lions’ den to support Daniel.

Shushan is described as being in the province of Elam or Elymais, which may be here used as a general designation of the district in which Susa was included. The prophet imagines himself as standing by the river-basin of the Ulai, which shows that we must take the words "in the castle of Shushan" in an ideal sense; for, as Ewald says, "it is only in a dream that images and places are changed so rapidly." The Ulai is the river called by the Greeks the Eulaens, now the Karun.

Shushan is said by Pliny and Arrian to have been on the river Eulaens, and by Herodotus to have been on the banks of

"Choaspes, amber stream, The drink of none but kings."

It seems now to have been proved that the Ulai was merely a branch of the Choaspes or Kerkhah.

Lifting up his eyes, Daniel sees a ram standing eastward of the river-basin. It has two lofty horns, the loftier of the two being the later in origin. It butts westward, northward, and southward, and does great things. But in the midst of its successes a he-goat, with a conspicuous horn between its eyes, comes from the West so swiftly over the face of all the earth that it scarcely seems even to touch the ground, and runs upon the ram in the fury of his strength, conquering and trampling upon him, and smashing in pieces his two horns. But his impetuosity was shortlived, for the great horn was speedily broken, and four others rose in its place towards the four winds of heaven. Out of these four horns shot up a puny horn, which grew exceedingly great towards the South, and towards the East, and towards the "Glory," i.e., towards the Holy Land. It became great even to the host of heaven, and cast down some of the host and of the stars to the ground, and trampled on them. He even behaved proudly against the prince of the host, took away from him "the daily" (sacrifice), polluted the dismantled sanctuary with sacrilegious arms, and cast the truth to the ground and prospered. Then "one holy one called to another and asked, For how long is the vision of the daily [sacrifice], and the horrible sacrilege, that thus both the sanctuary and host are surrendered to be trampled underfoot?" And the answer is, "Until two thousand three hundred ‘erebh-boqer, ‘evening-morning’; then will the sanctuary be justified."

Daniel sought to understand the vision, and immediately there stood before him one in the semblance of a man, and he hears the distant voice of some standing between the Ulai- i.e. , between its two banks, or perhaps between its two branches the Eulaeus and the Choaspes-who called aloud to "Gabriel." The archangel Gabriel is here first mentioned in Scripture. "Gabriel," cried the voice, "explain to him what he has seen." So Gabriel came and stood beside him; but he was terrified, and fell on his face. "Observe, thou son of man," said the angel to him; "for unto the time of the end is the vision." But since Daniel still lay prostrate on his face, and sank into a swoon, the angel touched him, and raised him up, and said that the great wrath was only for a fixed time, and he would tell him what would happen at the end of it.

The two-horned ram, he said, the Baalkeranaim, or "lord of two horns," represents the King of Media and Persia; the shaggy goat is the Empire of Greece; and the great horn is its first king-Alexander the Great.

The four horns rising out of the broken great horn are four inferior kingdoms. In one of these, sacrilege would culminate in the person of a king of bold face, and skilled in cunning, who would become powerful, though not by his own strength. He would prosper and destroy mighty men and the people of the holy ones, and deceit would succeed by his double-dealing. He would contend against the Prince of princes and yet without a hand would he be broken in pieces.

Such is the vision and its interpretation; and though there is here and there a difficulty in the details and translation, and though there is a necessary crudeness in the emblematic imagery, the general significance of the whole is perfectly clear.

The scene of the vision is ideally placed in Shushan, because the Jews regarded it as the royal capital of the Persian dominion, and the dream begins with the overthrow of the Medo-Persian Empire. The ram is a natural symbol of power and strength, as in Isaiah 60:7. The two horns represent the two divisions of the empire, of which the later-the Persian - is the loftier and the stronger. It is regarded as being already the lord of the East, but it extends its conquests by butting westward over the Tigris into Europe, and southwards to Egypt and Africa, and northwards towards Scythia, with magnificent success.

The he-goat is Greece. Its one great horn represents "the great Emathian conqueror." So swift was the career of Alexander’s conquests, that the goat seems to speed along without so much as touching the ground. {Isaiah 5:26-29 Comp. #/RAPC 1 Maccabees 1:3} With irresistible fury, in the great battles of the Granicus (B.C. 334), Issus (B.C. 333), and Arbela (B.C. 331), he stamps to pieces the power of Persia and of its king, Darius Codomannus. In this short space of time Alexander conquers Syria, Phoenicia, Cyprus, Tyre, Gaza, Egypt, Babylonia, Persia, Media, Hyrcania, Aria, and Arachosia. In B.C. 330 Darius was murdered by Bessus, and Alexander became lord of his kingdom. In B.C. 329 the Greek King conquered Bactria, crossed the Oxus and Jaxartes, and defeated the Scythians. In B.C. 328 he conquered Sogdiana. In B.C. 327 and 326 he crossed the Indus, Hydaspes, and Akesines, subdued Northern and Western India, and-compelled by the discontent of his troops to pause in his career of victory-sailed down the Hydaspes and Indus to the Ocean.

He then returned by land through Gedrosia, Karmania, Persia, and Susiana to Babylon.

There the great horn is suddenly broken without hand. {#/RAPC 1 Maccabees 6:1-16 2 Maccabees 9:9 Job 7:6 Proverbs 26:20} Alexander in B.C. 323, after a reign of twelve years and eight months, died as a fool dieth, of a fever brought on by fatigue, exposure, drunkenness, and debauchery. He was only thirty-two years old.

The dismemberment of his empire immediately followed. In B.C. 322 its vast extent was divided among his principal generals. Twenty-two years of war ensued; and in B.C. 301, after the defeat of Antigonus and his son Demetrius at the Battle of Ipsus, four horns are visible in the place of one. The battle was won by the confederacy of Cassander, Lysimachus, Ptolemy, and Seleucus, and they founded four kingdoms. Cassander ruled in Greece and Macedonia; Lysimachus in Asia Minor; Ptolemy in Egypt, Coele-Syria, and Palestine; Seleucus in Upper Asia.

With one only of the four kingdoms, and with one only of its kings, is the vision further concerned-with the kingdom of the Seleueidae, and with the eighth king of the Dynasty, Antiochus Epiphanes. In this chapter, however, a brief sketch only of him is furnished. Many details of the minutest kind are subsequently added.

He is called "a puny horn," because, in his youth, no one could have anticipated his future greatness. He was only a younger son of Antiochus III (the Great). When Antiochus III was defeated in the Battle of Magnesia under Mount Sipylus (B.C. 190), his loss was terrible. Fifty thousand foot and four thousand horse were slain on the battlefield, and fourteen hundred were taken prisoners. He was forced to make peace with the Romans, and to give them hostages, one of whom was Antiochus the Younger, brother of Seleucus, who was heir to the throne. Antiochus for thirteen years languished miserably as a hostage at Rome. His father, Antiochus the Great, was either slain in B.C. 187 by the people of Elymais, after his sacrilegious plundering of the Temple of Jupiter-Belus; or murdered by some of his own attendants whom he had beaten during a fit of drunkenness. Seleucus Philopator succeeded him, and after having reigned for thirteen years, wished to see his brother Antiochus again. He therefore sent his son Demetrius in exchange for him, perhaps desiring that the boy, who was then twelve years old, should enjoy the advantage of a Roman education, or thinking that Antiochus would be of more use to him in his designs against Ptolemy Philometor, the child-king of Egypt. When Demetrius was on his way to Rome, and Antiochus had not yet reached Antioch, Heliodorus, the treasurer, seized the opportunity to poison Seleucus and usurp the crown.

The chances, therefore, of Antiochus seemed very forlorn. But he was a man of ability, though with a taint of folly and madness in his veins. By allying himself with Eumenes, King of Pergamum, as we shall see hereafter, he suppressed Heliodorus, secured the kingdom, and "becoming very great," though only by fraud, cruelty, and stratagem, assumed the title of Epiphanes "the Illustrious." He extended his power "towards the South" by intriguing and warring against Egypt and his young nephew, Ptolemy Philometor; and "towards the Sun-rising" by his successes in the direction of Media and Persia; {See #/RAPC 1 Maccabees 3:29-37} and towards "the Glory" or "Ornament" (hatstsebi) - i.e., the Holy Land. Inflated with insolence, he now set himself against the stars, the host of heaven- i.e., against the chosen people of God and their leaders. He cast down and trampled on them, and defined the Prince of the host; for he

"Not e’en against the Holy One of heaven Refrained his tongue blasphemous."

His chief enormity was the abolition of "the daily" (tamid) - i.e., the sacrifice daily offered in the Temple; and the desecration of the sanctuary itself by violence and sacrilege, which will be more fully set forth in the next chapters. He also seized and destroyed the sacred books of the Jews. As he forbade the reading of the Law-of which the daily lesson was called the Parashah -there began from this time the custom of selecting a lesson from the Prophets, which was called the Haphtarah.

It was natural to make one of the holy ones, who are supposed to witness this horrible iniquity, inquire how long it was to be permitted. The enigmatic answer is, "Until an evening-morning two thousand three hundred."

In the further explanation given to Daniel by Gabriel a few more touches are added.

Antiochus Epiphanes is described as a king "bold of visage, and skilled in enigmas." His boldness is sufficiently illustrated by his many campaigns and battles, and his braggart insolence has been already alluded to in Daniel 7:8. His skill in enigmas is illustrated by his dark and tortuous diplomacy, which was exhibited in all his proceedings, {Comp. Daniel 11:21} and especially in the whole of his dealings with Egypt, in which country he desired to usurp the throne from his young nephew Ptolemy Philometor. The statement that "he will have mighty strength, but not by his own strength," may either mean that his transient prosperity was due only to the permission of God, or that his successes were won rather by cunning than by prowess. After an allusion to his cruel persecution of the holy people, Gabriel adds that "without a hand shall he be broken in pieces"; in other words, his retribution and destruction shall be due to no human intervention, but will come from God Himself.

Daniel is bidden to hide the vision for many days-a sentence which is due to the literary plan of the Book; and he is assured that the vision concerning the "evening-morning" was true. He adds that the vision exhausted and almost annihilated him; but, afterwards, he arose and did the king’s business. He was silent about the vision, for neither he nor any one else understood it. Of course, had the real date of the chapter been in the reign of Belshazzar, it was wholly impossible that either the seer or any one else should have been able to attach any significance to it.

Emphasis is evidently attached to the "two thousand three hundred evening-morning" during which the desolation of the sanctuary is to continue.

What does the phrase "evening-morning" (‘erebh-boqer) mean?

In Daniel 8:26 it is called "the vision concerning the evening and the morning."

Does "evening-morning" mean a whole day, or half a day? The expression is doubly perplexing. If the writer meant "days," why does he not say " days ," as in Daniel 12:11-12? And why, in any case, does he here use the solecism ‘erebh-boqer (Abendmorgen), and not, as in Daniel 8:26, "evening and morning?" Does the expression mean two thousand three hundred days? or eleven hundred and fifty days?

It is a natural supposition that the time is meant to correspond with the three years and a half ("a time, two times, and half a time") of Daniel 7:25. But here again all certainty of detail is precluded by our ignorance as to the exact length of years by which the writer reckoned; and how he treated the month Veadar , a month of thirty days, which was intercalated once in every six years.

Supposing that he allowed an intercalary fifteen days for three and a half years, and took the Babylonian reckoning of twelve months of thirty days, then three and a half years gives us twelve hundred and seventy-five days, or, omitting any allowance for intercalation, twelve hundred and sixty days.

If, then, "two thousand three hundred evening-morning" means two thousand three hundred half days, we have one hundred and ten days too many for the three and a half years.

And if the phrase means two thousand three hundred full days, that gives us (counting thirty intercalary days for Veadar ) too little for seven years by two hundred and fifty days. Some see in this a mystic intimation that the period of chastisement shall for the elect’s sake be shortened. {Matthew 24:22} Some commentators reckon seven years roughly, from the elevation of Menelaus to the high-priesthood (Kisleu, B.C. 1682 Macc. 5:11) to the victory of Judas Maccabaeus over Nicanor at Adasa, March, B.C. 161. {#/RAPC 1 Maccabees 7:25-50 2 Maccabees 15:20-35}

In neither case do the calculations agree with the twelve hundred and ninety or the thirteen hundred and thirty-five days of Daniel 12:12-13.

Entire volumes of tedious and wholly inconclusive comment have been written on these combinations, but by no reasonable supposition can we arrive at close accuracy. Strict chronological accuracy was difficult of attainment in those days, and was never a matter about which the Jews, in particular, greatly troubled themselves. We do not know either the terminus a quo from which or the terminus ad quem to which the writer reckoned. All that can be said is that it is perfectly impossible for us to identify or exactly equiparate the three and a half years, {Daniel 7:25} the "two thousand three hundred evening-morning," {Daniel 8:14} the seventy-two weeks, {Daniel 9:26} and the twelve hundred and ninety. {Daniel 12:11} Yet all those dates have this point of resemblance about them, that they very roughly indicate a space of about three and a half years (more or less) as the time during which the daily sacrifice should cease, and the Temple be polluted and desolate.

Turning now to the dates, we know that Judas the Maccabee cleansed {#/RAPC 1 Maccabees 4:41-56 2 Maccabees 10:1-5} ("justified" or "vindicated," Daniel 8:14) the Temple on Kisleu 25 (December 25th, B.C. 165). If we reckon back two thousand three hundred full days from this date, it brings us to B.C. 171, in which Menelaus, who bribed Antiochus to appoint him high priest, robbed the Temple of some of its treasures, and procured the murder of the high priest Onias III. In this year Antiochus sacrificed a great sow on the altar of burnt offerings, and sprinkled its broth over the sacred building. These crimes provoked the revolt of the Jews in which they killed Lysimachus, governor of Syria, and brought on themselves a heavy retribution.

If we reckon back two thousand three hundred half- days, eleven hundred and fifty whole days, we must go back three years and seventy days, but we cannot tell what exact event the writer had in mind as the starting-point of his calculations. The actual time which elapsed from the final defilement of the Temple by Apollonius, the general of Antiochus, in B.C. 168, till its re-purification was roughly three years. Perhaps, however-for all is uncertain-the writer reckoned from the earliest steps taken, or contemplated, by Antiochus for the suppression of Judaism. The purification of the Temple did not end the time of persecution, which was to continue, first, for one hundred and forty days longer, and then forty-five days more. {Daniel 12:11-12} It is clear from this that the writer reckoned the beginning and the end of troubles from different epochs which we have no longer sufficient data to discover.

It must, however, be borne in mind that no minute certainty about the exact dates is attainable. Many authorities, from Prideaux down to Schurer, place the desecration of the Temple towards the close of B.C. 168. Kuenen sees reason to place it a year later. Our authorities for this period of history are numerous, but they are fragmentary, abbreviated, and often inexact. Fortunately, so far as we are able to see, no very important lesson is lost by our inability to furnish an undoubted or a rigidly scientific explanation of the minuter details.


Jeremiah’s prophecy in Jeremiah 25:12-38

Jeremiah’s "prophecy" in Jeremiah 29:10-32

Destruction of the Temple-586 or 588

Return of the Jewish exiles.-537

Decree of Artaxerxes Longimanus {Ezra 7:1} -458

Second decree {Nehemiah 2:1} -445

Accession of Antiochus Epiphanes (August, Clinton)-175

Usurpation of the high-priesthood by Jason-175

Jason displaced by Menelaus-172 (?)

Murder of Onias III (June)-171

Apollonius defiles the Temple-168

War of Independence-166

Purification of the Temple by Judas the Maccabee-(Dec.) 165

Death of Antiochus-163

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Daniel 8". "The Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/teb/daniel-8.html.
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