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Bible Commentaries
Daniel 8

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary


Sure Triumph of the Kingdom of God as the Universal World-kingdom. CHAPTERS 8-11.


With this chapter the Aramaic section closes and the use of Hebrew is resumed. (See note Daniel 2:4, and our Introduction, II, 7.) In consequence of Daniel’s failure to understand the interpretation previously given (Daniel 7:28) the more obscure parts especially those which concerned the fourth kingdom and Antiochus Epiphanes are explained more in detail.

Verse 1

1. If this were the third year of Belshazzar’s co-regency, this vision chronologically preceded the narration of chap. v while coming two years later than that of chap. 7. This verse does not conclusively prove, as Kamphausen and others think, that the author of Daniel regarded Belshazzar as an “independent king who ruled many years.” We are now historically certain that Belshazzar ruled as independent sovereign only a few weeks or months, if at all; but the cuneiform records, though they never declare him to have exercised joint sovereignty with his father, yet do assign to him state functions agreeable to the position which he would have possessed as co-regent. For Belshazzar see our Introduction, III, 3, (4).

Verse 2

2. He dreams that he is in Shushan. This place is comparatively well known now. From ancient times it was the capital of Elam, and Persian kings who were successors of Cyrus, took it as their capital also (Meyer, Geschichte, ¶ 466). Bertholdt, De Wette, Graf, etc., thought the mention of a Babylonian imperial palace at this time in Elam was clearly an error, and proved the late authorship of this passage, and Reuss laughed at the idea that a courtier of Babylon could even dream of being in the capital of Persia ( La Bible, 7:222); but recent researches make the accuracy of this statement less doubtful. If this vision is to be dated a year or two previous to the capture of Babylon by Cyrus it is quite natural that at this period all Babylonian statesmen would be seeking the friendship and alliance of every city which was not absolutely controlled by Cyrus. (Compare Daniel 8:27.) Now, though Cyrus was king of Anzan (Elam), he never calls himself in his inscriptions king of Susa (Shushan), and high authorities believe that there is “no proof that Cyrus ever lived in Susa or looked upon himself as its king” (Billerbeck, Susa, 1893). Even if Cyrus did control Susa there is reason to believe from the inscriptions, that at certain times during his reign this city looked toward the Babylonian king as friend and helper, not as an enemy. In any case, diplomatic and other intercommunication between Shushan and Babylon at this period is most natural, and it is the contrary supposition which would now appear “incredible.” Several words in this passage appear archaic. The name Elam is seldom used by the successors of Cyrus, who instead of this use the word Persia. The Greeks also located Susa in Susiana, not in Elam. The word “palace” is thought to be the old Persian word commonly used by Darius and Artaxerxes, for the royal fortress or castle. Even the name Shushan for Susa is archaic, as, contrary to later usage, in the oldest texts this name is written Shusha, or Shushi, being probably pronounced Shoshan, having been named after the god Shushinak (Hilprecht, American Philological Society, 1893). Loftus in 1852 here found, near the reputed tomb of Daniel, the palace built by Darius (521-485 B.C.). M. Dieulafoy, 1882-1885, made many excavations, finding vast magnificent chambers, one of which was supported by thirty-six immense columns in rows of six. The roof of this royal hall was of cedar brought from Phoenicia. The tall, slender pilasters with their beautiful capitals were carved to represent the lotus, the brick walls were painted with colored stucco, the doorways were supported by an Egyptian cornice carved in the form of a double row of lotus leaves, the great pylons at each side of the entrance were decorated with enameled buds. Many beautiful scenes were painted on the palace walls, where, for example, the Indian bodyguard of the Persian king could be seen in all the glory of their gorgeous uniforms. This was the very palace mentioned in Esther, and the successor of the palace spoken of in Daniel’s vision. M. Dieulafoy has tried to reconstruct this marvelous building, with its portals of marble and porphyry columns; its magnificent gateways guarded by double-headed bulls; its banquet halls where the emblematic designs upon the stucco stand out “like heavy lace;” the cornices covered with enameled tiles of turquoise; its thick carpets and splendid drapery. The earlier palace referred to in Daniel must have been very similar to this. Sardanapalus (650 B.C.) says of it: “I conquered Shushan, the great city, the dwelling of the gods… by the command of Ashur and Ishtar I entered into the palaces and sojourned there with joy. I opened their treasures in which gold, silver, and other possessions were stored, which the ancient kings of Elam had collected and on which no other enemy had laid his hand. I brought it out and accounted it my booty.” Then he speaks of silver and gold which the kings of Elam, in seven expeditions, had brought from Babylon, and “costly treasure” of jewels which former kings of Babylon had sent to Elam “to make alliance” with its kings, and of the splendid spoil of garments, weapons of war, chariots, horses, and a great many statues of kings and deities which he had carried away. For a popular general description see Evetts’s New Light on the Bible, 1892. Assurbanipal mentions the river Uai (Eulaeus) in close connection with Shushan.

Verse 3

3. Even Dr. Terry says of the ram that “it represented the Medo-Persian empire.” This indeed can hardly be denied in the face of the direct statement of Daniel 8:20. But since this two-horned ram corresponds exactly to the bear of Daniel 7:5, this alone would seem to settle the contention that the second empire was not Median but Medo-Persian. Dr. Terry supposes that the two horns represent the dynasties of Cyrus and Darius Hystaspes. Yet, according to his own theory, neither of these was a Median king, but both were kings of a later Persian empire; the second, or Median empire, having existed merely in the imagination of the writer of this book, being represented only by “Darius the Mede” (vi, 31). It does not appear consistent to acknowledge a Medo-Persian empire here and to deny it a place in the list of successive empires described in chaps. ii and 7. Bryan is more consistent with his own position when he declares that the ram here represents the two distinct empires of the Medes and Persians, the higher horn representing the Persian and the lower one the Median empire. But certainly it is contrary to all the laws of symbolism to represent two distinct empires as merely the two horns of one animal. In that case, what would the animal itself symbolize? It is the animal, not the horn, which symbolizes the empire. The empire is a unit as the animal is one. But this one empire is distinctly declared in Daniel 8:20 to be that of the Medes and Persians. The two horns of power growing out of this one beast almost certainly, therefore, represent these dual potencies; the higher and younger of the two representing the Persian, and the other the Median branches of the one empire. This explanation agrees with Daniel’s own statement, and has the additional advantage over the opposing view of being consistent with the facts of history. (See notes Daniel 2:39-41.) As a ram naturally has two horns this feature would not have had symbolic importance if the fact had not been brought into prominence by the writer himself.

Verse 4

4. This Medo-Persian beast became great (rather, “magnified himself,” R.V.) as he pushed his conquests through Syria and Mesopotamia toward the Mediterranean on the west, Armenia and Scythia on the north, Libya, Egypt, and Arabia on the south. It has been supposed that conquests in the East are not mentioned because such victories had no vital interest to the Jews, or because they were comparatively unimportant in the development of the Medo-Persian empire, or perhaps because this threefold conquest bears some analogy to the “three ribs” in the mouth of the bear (Daniel 7:5). The Greek version, however, adds “eastward.”

Verse 5

5. This he-goat was the Grecian empire impersonated in Alexander the Great (Daniel 8:21), as the Babylonian in Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 2:38). The marvelous rapidity of Alexander’s conquests is well pictured by the goat which seemed to rush over the ground without touching it. (Compare the four-winged leopard, Daniel 7:6.) The Grecian empire is symbolized as a goat with one notable or conspicuous horn, because it rose and reached its culmination in Alexander, who in a very few years conquered the entire world, and almost literally took possession of the face of the whole earth. The Arabic designation of Alexander as the “two horned” has no reference to this passage (Prince), but probably grew out of the Egyptian legend that he was the son of Amon, whose symbol was a ram. In the Syriac version of the pseudo-Callisthenes he is also given this title. (Compare Budge, History of Alexander.)

Verses 6-7

6, 7. A graphic picture of Alexander’s conquest of the Medo-Persian empire under Darius. Alexander was really the aggressor, and refusing absolutely to make terms of peace pursued him to his death, notwithstanding the sympathy of many onlookers who feared that it would be their turn next to be trampled upon.

Verse 8

8. While still in his youth and at the height of his power Alexander died (323 B.C.), and after a confused conflict, which reached a crisis with the battle of Ipsus (301 B.C.), his great empire was divided into four parts: Thracia on the north, Macedonia on the west, Syria on the east, and Egypt on the south. Ptolemy I took Egypt; Seleucus, Syria; Cassander, Macedonia and Greece; and Lysimachus, Thracia, to which he added later a large part of Asia Minor. As, however, the number “four” is often used symbolically this passage may possibly only mean that the entire empire was split into pieces in all directions. (Compare Daniel 11:4.)

Verse 9

9. Out of one of these grand divisions of the empire (Syria) the little horn arose. This horn has previously been identified as Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the “eleventh” horn or king of the fourth empire (Daniel 7:8; Daniel 7:20; Daniel 7:24). That he was the “eleventh” would indicate in symbolical language that he was “one too many,” since “ten” is the symbolic number of completeness. Antiochus, who was the second son of Antiochus the Great, after expelling Heliodorus, who was a claimant to the throne, grasped the Syrian kingdom from his brother, Seleucus Philopator, B.C. 175. He immediately planned and executed several successful campaigns into Egypt on the south (compare Daniel 11:5; Daniel 11:25; 1Ma 1:18 ), and toward Persia on the east ( 1Ma 3:31 ); but was especially brutal in his conquests of the pleasant, or, rather, glorious country of Palestine. (Compare Jeremiah 3:13; Zechariah 7:14; Ezekiel 20:6.) Again and again he visited Jerusalem with terrible punishments, despoiling the city, defiling the temple, and massacring many thousands of its inhabitants, being seemingly determined, if possible, to exterminate the Jewish nation (1 Macc. i-iii; 2 Macc. v, vi; Antiquities of the Jews, XII, Daniel 5:3; XII, Daniel 7:2; Apion, Daniel 2:7).

Verse 10

10. The little evil horn grew till it reached heaven and made war on the stars (compare Isaiah 14:13) and the host, that is, the army of stars (Deuteronomy 4:19; 2 Kings 17:16; Jeremiah 8:2), or of angels (Daniel 4:35, Aramaic; 1 Kings 22:19; Nehemiah 9:6). On the stars compare Isaiah 14:13; the LXX. in its oldest manuscript speaks only of the stars. Professor G.F. Moore’s conjecture that this verse refers to Antiochus’s treatment of heathen religions (compare Daniel 11:36; 1Ma 1:42 ; 1Ma 1:51 ) while the next verse refers to the Jewish religion “the prince of the host” has not met with much favor ( Journal of Biblical Literature, 1896). Thomson’s idea that the host means the various guardian angels of the nations which Antiochus defeated (the stars being the symbols of those angels) is also too ingenious to be probable (yet compare note Daniel 10:13). It seems more natural to suppose that these heavenly lights and ministers are all only symbols of the holy heavenly people against whom Antiochus was most fierce (Daniel 8:24-25; Daniel 11:36-37).

Verses 11-12

11, 12. The R.V. translates these difficult verses: “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.” It is absolutely impossible to reach certainty in regard to some of these words and phrases; but it seems clear that the “prince of the host” is either the “Ancient of days” (Daniel 7:9; Daniel 8:25), or else the Son of man to whom he gave the kingdom (Daniel 7:13). It was because of the “transgression” of the Jewish people that the host of holy ones (Daniel 8:10), and even the holy temple itself, was given into the power of this great transgressor, Antiochus Epiphanes. (See note Daniel 8:9; compare Job 1:12.) “Any such triumph of a heathen power over the representatives of the true religion is a casting down of the truth to the ground.” Terry.

Verse 13

13. “Then I heard a holy one speaking; and another holy one said unto that certain one which 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?” (R.V.) (Compare Daniel 4:13; Zechariah 1:12-13.) Even the angels are interested in the question how long this defilement of the temple and punishment of the holy people is to last. As long as their transgression lasts the punishment will continue. However, the “transgression that maketh desolate” mentioned here may not refer to Israel’s sin but to the “iniquity (or abomination) of desolation” which was set up by this arch transgressor, Antiochus, in the temple. (See notes Daniel 11:31; Daniel 12:11.)

Verse 14

14. Days Literally, evenings-mornings; that is, successive evenings and mornings. Since it is a question of the suspension of the daily sacrifice the verse alludes, no doubt, to the evening oblation (Daniel 9:21) and the morning oblation (note Daniel 9:26; Exodus 29:41). There have been libraries of discussion over the meaning and application of these words, but they most probably refer to the fact that there should be twenty-three hundred omissions of the daily sacrifices, covering a period of some eleven hundred and fifty days. This most naturally applies to the “three years and six months” during which time Josephus says Antiochus “put a stop to the daily offerings” (Wars, I, 1, i). There is no need to suppose that Josephus’s reckoning of three and a half years (twelve hundred and sixty days) is exact to the day. Daniel calculates one period of this temple defilement to be twelve hundred and ninety days (Daniel 12:11) and another period to the complete triumph of righteousness thirteen hundred and thirty-five days (Daniel 12:12); while here a certain section of this persecution is computed at twenty-three hundred evenings-mornings. This might possibly mean twenty-three hundred full days (Genesis 1:5); but since there is no period of six and a half years known to us which would offer a natural explanation of the use of such a time reckoning, it is probably better to consider it as eleven hundred and fifty days, and explain it as above though there can be no doubt that the persecutions of Antiochus covered a period of six years and longer. We are as yet not sufficiently acquainted with the daily history of the Jews during this awful time of trouble to understand in all cases what these numbers mean. Indeed it may be possible that Dr. Terry is right in his suggestion that this difference of enumeration, referring to the same general period, was to enforce the truth that the “time, times, and dividing of a time” (Daniel 7:25; Daniel 12:7) could not be reckoned with mathematical accuracy. (Compare Acts 1:7.) Since, however, these figures are not made up of the usual symbolic numbers of Scripture we prefer to accept them as referring to events well known then, although hidden from us.

Then shall the sanctuary be cleansed Or, “justified” (R.V., margin). “The justification of the sanctuary is the vindication of the cause; for so long as it is polluted it lies under condemnation.” Bevan.

Verses 15-16

15, 16. This is the first time in Scripture that an angel is given a name. This one, having the appearance of a man (Daniel 7:13; Ezekiel 1:26), is called Gabriel “Man of God,” or “Hero of God.” He appears again Daniel 9:21, and probably Daniel 10:18. He is always in Scripture the bearer of good news to prayerful hearts. (Compare Luke 1:11; Luke 1:26.) He ever appears as God’s representative and mediatorial revelation of divine wisdom and comfort. The connection of this “archangel” with any of the seven amshaspands of Zoroastrianism, the seven Babylonian planets, or the seven counselors at the Persian court (Ezra 7:14) has not been made out (see article “Gabriel” in Hastings’s Dictionary of the Bible, 2:1899). It was formerly supposed that at least the names of these angels came from Babylon, but the cuneiform texts so far offer no confirmation of this theory. In the Zend-Avesta angels are supposed to be spoken of as symbols of God’s attributes, while the archangels are merely the Good Mind’s “thoughts and beneficent intentions” ( Sacred Books of the East, vol. xxxi). In the Scripture they appear as personal messengers of Jehovah. After considering the whole question of the angelology of Daniel, Behrmann reaches the conclusion that “we meet here no conception which had not been intimated or begun in earlier or contemporary biblical books.” (See also Daniel 10:13.)

Verse 17

17. Here, at least, son of man means human as contrasted with angelic or divine. (Compare Daniel 7:13.) Daniel, though accustomed to angelic presences (Daniel 7:10; Daniel 7:16), was “terrified” either at the appearance of this greatest of the angels, or, as Gabriel’s first words may suggest, being overwhelmed with the thought that now at last this most profound mystery is about to be explained. (Compare Daniel 8:27.)

At the time of the end Rather, the vision belongeth to the time of the end. The “end” does not refer to the end of the world; for the vision does not refer to this. Rather, as Daniel 8:19 proves and the interpretation of the vision necessitates, the “end” is the “end of the indignation” or “wrath,” which the Jews were then suffering under Antiochus. With this king the power of the fourth brute kingdom is to be broken, after which comes the kingdom of God under the peaceful rule of one who is like the Son of man (Daniel 7:13-14).

Verse 18

18. The seer is overcome with the awful nearness of God and the strange character of the revelations received (Daniel 8:17; Daniel 8:27; Daniel 10:9; compare Luke 9:32).

In a deep sleep Rather, in a faint, or trance.

Verse 19

19. “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” (R.V.). See note Daniel 8:17.

Verses 20-22

20-22. These verses explain Daniel 8:3-8. (See notes.) The explanation is brief, because the interest centers not in the great horn (Alexander the Great), but in the “little horn” (Antiochus Epiphanes).

Verse 23

23. The Alexandrine empire has been broken into four kingdoms (Daniel 8:8; Daniel 8:22) which in this vision are said to have ultimately become changed into a kingdom the fourth kingdom of Daniel (Daniel 7:7-8; Daniel 7:23-25; notes Daniel 2:39-41). At the latter end of this kingdom appears a fierce and shrewd king who is undoubtedly Antiochus Epiphanes. He is said to come when the transgressors are come to the full, perhaps referring to the sins of the people of Israel, which according to Scripture, were always the cause of their troubles (see, for example, Ezekiel 4-7) or else to the fact that all the iniquity of the previous beast empires seemed to come to a head in the days of this worst king.

Understanding dark sentences That is, skilled in double dealing (Bevan). He was a skillful diplomatist, and the intrigues of state would be the “riddles” in which Antiochus would be the most interested (Daniel 8:25; Daniel 11:21; Daniel 11:32; 1Ma 1:30 ).

Verse 24

24. See Daniel 8:12. Not by his own power he shall prosper, and practice (literally, do), and destroy wonderfully (or, by a slight change, utter monstrous things, as Daniel 11:36), and afflict “the mighty ones and the people of the saints.” This was permitted not because he was more powerful than Jehovah, but rather because, like Pharaoh, he was being unconsciously controlled by the One who can make even the sin and wrath of man to praise him. As a double meaning is always to be looked for in an apocalyptic description there may also be a reference here to the fact that it was through outside help that he reached the throne and was confirmed upon it. Still other exegetes make prominent the fact that it was not by power but by poison that this crafty king worked his way up to the throne.

Verse 25

25. By peace [rather, in their security ] shall he destroy many I think with Bevan and Prince that this undoubtedly has reference to his sudden treacherous attack on Jerusalem ( 1Ma 1:30 ). The oldest Greek version seems to have had a better text than ours, and renders, “And against the saints shall be his policy, and deceit shall prosper in his hand, and his heart shall be lifted up, and by treachery he shall destroy many.”

Prince of princes That is, the divine prince of the host. (See note Daniel 8:11.) Not by the agency of some human hand, but by direct judgment from heaven, shall this little evil horn be broken. Antiochus was not killed in battle, but died suddenly from some horrible malady, just after his failure to rob a temple in Elymais. (See 1Ma 6:6-18 ; 2Ma 9:1-10 .) This was insanity or “madness of the heart,” according to some ancient authors, but according to the writer of 2 Macc. he was eaten up with worms, and “the filthiness of his smell was noisome to all his army.”

Verse 26

26. Wherefore shut thou up, etc. Rather, nevertheless shut thou up the vision. (See Daniel 9:24; Daniel 12:4.) Although a true prophecy, it was to be hidden from the minds of men, if not from their eyes, until a later time. Two large legal documents of the fifth century B.C. were found in perfect condition by Dr. Petrie, which had been hidden away in an earthen pot probably at the time they were drawn up. (Compare Jeremiah 32:11.) However, there is no account in Daniel or elsewhere of any such discovery in the days of Antiochus Epiphanes to which time this prophecy chiefly refers. It is better, therefore, to understand this verse as part of the apocalyptic vision. The author uses here the common literary method of his day in enforcing the thought that the chief lessons of the vision were not for the contemporaries of Nebuchadnezzar and Daniel, but for those who should live long afterward. It could not be understood until then.

Verse 27

27. Sick Sickness is no proof of God’s displeasure. It may be the result of highest spiritual revelations. He whom God loved most, even the “Man of sorrows,” was “made perfect through suffering” (Hebrews 2:10; Hebrews 5:8).

None understood it Probably (against Behrmann), I was no understander thereof, or (R.V., margin) “there was none to make it understood.”

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Daniel 8". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/daniel-8.html. 1874-1909.
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