corner graphic   Hi,    
Finding the new version too difficult to understand? Go to

Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Daniel 8




Chapter 8 The Rise of the Greek Empire and The Resulting Evil King Whose Persecution Brought About Such a Transformation of The True Remnant In Israel That The Time of God’s Wrath Against Israel Came to An End (Until Israel Rejected The Messiah).

This chapter, which moves from the Aramaic of the previous six chapters to the Hebrew of chapter 1 and of the remainder of the book, both debunks the theory of a separate Medan empire in Daniel (as does Daniel 5:28) and explains at the same time why it was thought necessary. It was mainly because the horn (the small one) of chapter 7 was wrongly equated with the ‘small horn’ of chapter 8, both of which were identified with Antiochus Epiphanes, a king arising from the Greek empire, who savagely persecuted Israel.

But small horns are small because they are those which start to come up later, that is they come up after others that precede them, therefore there can be any number of them. It depends what beast they are on. And in fact these two are presented so differently that to identify them would be to lose all sense of reality. What such interpreters fail to acknowledge is that Antiochus Epiphanes is in fact but an example of the greater Anti-God yet to come.

At this time the Babylonian empire was weakening and new powers were arising, first the Medes, and then the Persian empire under Cyrus II who rebelled against the Medes and conquered them (550 BC). He then conquered Lydia (547 BC) and Babylon (539 BC). His son Cambyses followed him (530 BC) and conquered Egypt, followed by Darius I (522 BC) and Xerxes (also named Ahasuerus - 486 BC). Both Darius and Xerxes sought to conquer Greece which was made up of a number of nation states, the last part of their world which remained unconquered. But, after some success, they finally failed. However, the empire continued and at last seemed on the point of taking over Greece as a result of bribing the Greeks to fight each other, thus weakening them considerably, but civil war developed in the empire preventing consolidation of the position, and they failed, although the Greeks of Asia did still remain under their control.

Then Philip of Macedon united the Greeks, followed by his son Alexander the Great (336 BC) who invaded the Persian empire, and having first ‘delivered’ the Greeks in Asia, Alexander defeated the main Persian army in 333 BC. From there he went forward and conquered the whole of the Mediterranean world and beyond. But when he died (323 BC) his enfeebled son was unable to do anything and his empire was eventually divided up into four empires, two of which were the Seleucids, north of Palestine (Babylonia and Syria) and the Ptolemies, south of Palestine (in Egypt), the ‘king of the north’ and ‘the king of the south’. Both empires were ‘Hellenised’, that is, strongly influenced by Greek culture.

The Ptolemies ruled Palestine for the next one hundred years but interfered little in their internal and religious affairs, until eventually there arose a Seleucid king name Antiochus III, ‘the Great’ (223-187 BC), who annexed Palestine in 198 BC, and showed the Jews great consideration. Meanwhile Hellenisation continued apace in Palestine, causing growing dissension between the Hellenised Jews with their new ideas, which at a minimum flirted with the Greek gods, and the more orthodox. Then Antiochus III, encouraged by Hannibal of Carthage who was now a refugee in Asia, advanced into Greece where he came into conflict with the might of Rome (192 BC), who drove him back from Greece and followed him into Asia, totally defeating him. Antiochus III died in 187 BC while plundering an Elamite temple for needed treasure, for he was still subject to Roman tribute. His son Seleucus IV (187-175 BC) who succeeded him began to meddle more in Jewish affairs (2 Maccabees 3).

Things, however, came to a head in the reign of his successor and brother Antiochus IV (Epiphanes) (175-163 BC) who had been a hostage in Rome. Threatened by both Rome and Egypt he determined to unify his empire round Hellenistic culture, including the worship of the Greek gods, which included himself as the manifestation of Zeus, (depicted on his coins), and sought every means of building up his treasury, plundering a number of temples in the cause. He took more seriously what others before him had claimed.

He was a strange man. He would mix among the common people and partake in their fun, and yet he could rob their temples, and treat them savagely, especially when he thought that they were being unreasonable.

Internal dissension among the Jews, largely about Hellenisation and who should be High Priest, meant that all parties looked for assistance to Antiochus, which was a great mistake, and eventually, as a result of opposition to his policies, and probably with his eye on the temple treasures, (he was an infamous robber of temples), he sacked Jerusalem and practically forbade the practise of Judaism, suspending regular sacrifices, destroying copies of the Scriptures and forbidding circumcision and the observance of the Sabbath. Moreover all without exception were to offer sacrifices to Zeus (see the Jewish histories 1 Maccabees 1:41-64; 2 Maccabees 6:1-11).

This was later followed by the erection of an altar to Zeus in the temple, on which he sacrificed a pig, an abomination to the Jews, a Desolating Horror. This latter took place in December 167 BC. While a deliberate snub to the Jews he almost certainly could not understand why there was so much fuss. No other part of his empire would have objected strongly to such moves.

This all resulted in a rebellion by the Jews under the Maccabees which enabled them through good generalship, great bravery and fortuitous circumstances to free themselves from Antiochus’ yoke and restore and cleanse the temple in December 164 BC, three years after its desecration.

The vision in this chapter sees this period as pivotal for Israel. The persecutions of Antiochus were seen as the final and most furious manifestation of God’s indignation against His people. The faithful remnant who resulted were seen as free from wrath and as opening the way for the coming of the Davidic Messiah, Jesus, (as depicted in chapter 7).

Verse 1

Commencement of Daniel’s Vision.

‘In the third year of the king Belshazzar, a vision appeared to me, even to me Daniel, after that which appeared to me at the first.’

Daniel draws our attention to the fact that this, his second great vision, occurred two years after the first. But this was not stated to be a dream-vision, but a full vision during which he remained awake and conscious. The mention of Belshazzar is important in that it indicates the continuation at this time of the Babylonian empire. The order of the empires is thus here clearly stated, Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Greek.

Verse 2

‘And I saw in the vision, - now it was so that when I was seeing I was in Shushan the fortress, which is in the province of Elam - and I saw in the vision, and I was by the River Ulai.’

Daniel repeats that he saw things in vision, and informs us of his whereabouts at the time. He was in Shushan (Susa), the fortress-city, in the province of Elam. It is quite probable that he was there on a mission on behalf of Babylon, as a retired governor of Babylon now available for such special missions. This would explain why, as he saw the power of Medo-Persia, he recognised that the downfall of Babylon must come soon. On the other hand some see this as meaning that he was, as it were, transported there in the vision.

Shushan was Cyrus’ capital city, capital of the Persian empire, a huge fortress of a city in the former territory of Elam, ‘in the province of Elam’. In Ezra 4:9 the ‘Shushancites’ are differentiated from the Elamites. This was a differentiation of cityfolk from the provincials. Compare Jerusalem and Judah, often seen in apposition. At this time Elam was a province of either Media or Persia.

The ‘River’ Ulai flowed by Susa and was a canal, 275 metres (900 feet) wide, which joined two large rivers.

Verse 3

The Mighty Ram - The Medo Persian Empire.

‘Then I lifted up my eyes and saw, and behold, there stood before the river one ram which had two horns, and the two horns were high, but one was higher that the other, and the higher came up last.’

‘I lifted up my eyes.’ We might paraphrase as ‘my eyes were opened’. The fact that he was by this Medo-Persian river partly explains why he had Medo-Persia in mind and saw this vision.

‘One ram which had two horns, and the two horns were high, but one was higher that the other, and the higher came up last.’ He emphasises that there was one ram but that it had two horns, of which one was higher than the other, and had come up last. This is a clear description of the Medo-Persian empire (Daniel 8:20). Cyrus was the larger horn, being over the whole, but beneath him and allied to him was the kingship of the Medes, which had previously been the most powerful. His general who captured Babylon was a Mede.

We are told that the guardian spirit of the Persian kingdom was said to appear under the form of a ram with clean feet and sharp-pointed horns, and that often, when the king stood at the head of his army, he carried the head of a ram. Ezekiel used the picture of the ram, and the he-goat, to denote a form of leadership (Ezekiel 34:17; Ezekiel 39:18). Although not wild beasts they were still seen as pretty fearsome.

Verse 4

‘I saw the ram pushing westward, and northward, and southward, and no beasts could stand before him, nor was there any who could deliver out of his hand, but he did according to his will and magnified himself.’

The vision was of a successful empire builder, conquering in all directions, all-powerful and undefeatable, one who attained great power and authority. ‘Pushing’, that is, with his horns. ‘Magnified himself’ (as with Nebuchadnezzar - Daniel 4:30) is probably intended in a bad sense explaining why God brought his empire crashing down. The Persian empire was however always favourable to Israel, for its policy was to foster local religions.

Verse 5

The Mighty He-Goat - The Greek Empire.

‘And as I was considering, behold a he-goat came from the west over the face of the whole earth and did not touch the ground. And the goat had a notable horn between its eyes.’

As we are specifically told later (Daniel 8:21) this he-goat represents Greece, to the west of the Persian empire. Greece had been well known for centuries as a source of trade, and it had provided contingents of very effective mercenaries for foreign armies, including the Egyptian and Persian armies. ‘Over the face of the whole earth’ means the Mediterranean ‘earth’, but now stretching into Europe as well. ‘Did not touch the ground.’ They skimmed over the ground, demonstrating the speed of their conquests. The notable horn was no doubt Alexander the Great.

Verse 6-7

‘And he came to the ram which had two horns, which I saw standing before the river, and ran on him in the fury of his power. And I saw him come close to the ram, and he was full of rage against him, and smote the ram and broke his two horns. And there was no power in the ram to stand before him. But he cast him down to the ground and trampled on him. And there was none who could deliver the ram out of his hand.’

Alexander’s swift approach and savage attack defeated the Persian army which came out to oppose him, and he then overran Syria and Palestine and finally defeated the Persians once and for all at the battle of Gaugamela, near Nineveh in 331 BC. The contrast between the one horn of the he-goat (thus a visionary goat, for goats have two horns) with the two horns of the ram, emphasis the dual nature of the Medo-Persian empire. This duality is constantly emphasised as we have seen.

Verse 8

‘And the he-goat magnified himself exceedingly, and when he was strong the great horn was broken, and instead of it there came up conspicuously four towards the four winds of heaven.’

Following the death of Alexander his empire eventually divided into four. But the reason for his death is emphasised. He magnified himself exceedingly, taking godlike status. Thus at the height of his strength he was smitten down, resulting finally in the four empires.

‘Towards the four winds of heaven.’ The four winds of heaven always indicate the activity of God. For He is the king of heaven and acts from heaven (Daniel 7:2; Daniel 4:37 compare Daniel 4:13; Daniel 4:26; Daniel 4:31). For these ‘four winds of heaven’ compare Jeremiah 49:36, where they represent God’s fierce activity against Elam resulting in their scattering to all parts of the earth. They are winds with ‘worldwide’ effects, although we must remember that it means the known world of that day. Israel too had been spread in all directions around the known world by the four winds of heaven (Zechariah 2:6). Thus the idea of the four winds of heaven is of the activity of God stirring up ‘the world’ with mighty effects (compare Daniel 7:2 and contrast Ezekiel 37:9 where the four winds are life giving for the people of God). The idea here is that, just as Alexander had magnified himself, so they also defied God to His face.

Some see it simply as meaning in all four directions, but that is the four winds, not the four winds of heaven.

On the death of Alexander the Great his empire was in fact split between his four generals, two of whom were prominent in the Mediterranean world north and south of Palestine. Most who hold this view think that they were Lysimachus (who ruled over Thrace and Bithynia), Cassander (Macedonia and Greece), Seleucus (Syria, Babylonia, and the eastern territories), and Ptolemy (Egypt, Palestine, and Arabia Petrea). However, the exact identification of the rulers is debatable because it took about 20 years for the kingdom to be successfully divided. But there is no question about the fact that Greece split into four major parts.

Antiochus Epiphanes - The Persecutor of the Jews and Despoiler of the Temple.

Verse 9-10

‘And out of one of them came a horn from smallness which grew exceedingly great towards the south, and towards the east and towards the beauty (the desirable). And it grew great even to the host of heaven, and some of the host and of the stars it cast down to the ground and trampled on them.’

This horn is described in a totally different way from that in Daniel 7:8. There it is described as ‘a horn, a small one’, and it uproots and replaces three horns. Here it is ‘a horn from smallness’, that is a growing one, and it arises from one horn. Its activity is also described in a different way.

1) In chapter 7 God directly intervenes as a result of the king’s activity and the everlasting kingdom is set up, in chapter 8 all that is mentioned is the renewal of the sacrifices.

2) In chapter 7 the destruction of the king is almost overlooked, the emphasis being on the destruction of the wild beast and the end of empire, while in chapter 8 he is broken, but not by a human hand, presumably referring to a death by non-violent means attributed to God. The destiny of the wild beast is not even in mind.

3) The king in chapter 7 has eyes like the eyes of a man, which suggests outward humility towards God, while in chapter 8 he openly defies God.

4) The king in chapter 7 has a mouth that speaks great things, while in chapter 8 he magnifies himselfin his heart.

Given that both defy God and persecute the people of God these differences in description are specific and do not suggest identification. They could of course be reconciled by clever argument, but the first impression is certainly of a different type of attitude and situation.

The king referred to here in chapter 8 is almost certainly Antiochus IV Epiphanes, (175-164 BC) who ruled the Seleucid empire in Babylonia and Syria (see 1 Maccabees 1:10), in contrast with that in chapter 7 which refers to a great and evil king of the time of the end.

‘Which grew exceedingly great towards the south, and towards the east and towards the beauty (the desirable).’ Reference here would seem to be towards Antiochus’ campaigns against Egypt (the south - Daniel 11:5) - see 1 Maccabees 1:16-19, from which he was turned back by the authority of Rome. The east is Elymais in Persia, and Armenia (1 Maccabees 3:31; 1 Maccabees 3:37; 1 Maccabees 6:1-4).

‘The beauty (the desirable).’ Reference may be made to Daniel 11:16; Daniel 11:41; Daniel 11:45; Jeremiah 3:19; Ezekiel 20:6; Ezekiel 20:15; compare Psalms 106:24; Zechariah 7:14. The reference is to the land of promise, seen as God’s land and God’s inheritance to His people. The aim is to bring out the awfulness of his crime.

‘And it grew great even to the host of heaven, and some of the host and of the stars it cast down to the ground and trampled on them.’

The host of heaven elsewhere can mean the sun, moon and stars and their connections with the gods (see Deuteronomy 4:19; Deuteronomy 17:3; 2 Kings 17:16; 2 Kings 21:3 and often; Isaiah 34:4; Jeremiah 8:2; Jeremiah 19:13; Zephaniah 1:5), or the angels in God’s court (1 Kings 22:19; 2 Chronicles 18:18; Nehemiah 9:6). But the people of Israel are thought of as the hosts of Yahweh in Exodus 7:4; Exodus 12:41 also see Exodus 16:13; Deuteronomy 4:13 and often, where Israel are called ‘the host’.

Antiochus made great claims for himself, seeing himself as the manifestation of Zeus, and thus as being over the host of heaven in the first sense. He pillaged and robbed temples without restraint, treating their gods with contempt. Thus by the Jews he would be seen as not only blasphemous in his attitude towards God but also by many as sacrilegious in his attitude and behaviour towards the gods in general. That is not to say that he persecuted all religions, for that would have gained him nothing. As long as the people submitted to Zeus he left them generally alone, except where he felt that he could enrich himself by robbing their temples.

Polybius comments that he ‘robbed most of the sanctuaries’ although it is not clear how extensive was the area in mind, and Granus Licianus tells us that he plundered the temple of Diana in Hierapolis and robbed it of its treasures. Polybius also tells us that immediately prior to his death he made a vain attempt to acquire the riches of a temple of Artemis in Elymais, where he had come on a campaign against the Parthians (compare 1 Maccabees 6:1-4). These are examples we know of; we need not doubt that they were some among many, for it was clearly his custom. Thus he would adequately fit the description given, if interpreting the host of heaven as signifying the gods.

But alternately ‘the host of heaven’ (see Daniel 4:26 for the use of heaven to mean God) may here mean the people of the God of heaven. Compare Daniel 8:11 - ‘the prince of the host’, Daniel 8:12 - ‘the host who were given over to him’, and Daniel 12:3 where the true people of God are to shine as the stars, so that Daniel sees them as like stars (compare Genesis 37:9; Revelation 12:1). Indeed the next two verses really demand it. The trampling down then refers to their maltreatment and persecution.

Verse 11-12

‘Yes it magnified itself, even to the prince of the host, and it took away from him what is done continually (religious worship including the offerings and sacrifices), and the place of his sanctuary was cast down, and the host was given up together with the continual (rites) because of transgression. And it cast down truth to the ground, and it acted and prospered.’

This would seem to confirm that the ‘host of heaven’ is the people of God. Antiochus, by his behaviour set himself against God and those who served Him.

For ‘the prince (sar) of the host’ compare Joshua 5:14, ‘as sar of the host of Yahweh have I come’ where the thought is probably of the divine Angel of Yahweh (Judges 2:1). See also ‘the prince (sar) of princes’ in Daniel 8:25 in this chapter. ‘Yahweh of Hosts’ was after all a regular name for God. In Isaiah 9:6 the coming king is called ‘the Prince (sar) of peace. But in Daniel 10:21 we have reference to ‘Michael your sar’ and in Daniel 12:1 to ‘Michael -- the great sar who stands for the children of your people’. However, neither are directly linked with God’s host.

So in the light of reference to the ‘taking away’ from him of what is ‘done continually’ (the sabbaths and feasts, the offerings and sacrifices) and the reference to ‘his’ sanctuary we must surely see this prince of the host as meaning God Himself or the Angel of Yahweh. The ‘host of heaven’ is then certainly the true Israel.

By his religious restrictions, forbidding sacrifices and circumcision, banning the sabbath, and the reading of the Scriptures, and by the desecration of God’s temple, he basically took away from God what was His, and in the course of it cast down the sanctuary (compare 1 Maccabees 1:44-47).

An alternative is to see the prince of the host as the true High Priest who had had taken from him the privilege of partaking in the continual rites of worship, and had also seen the sanctuary which was his responsibility, desecrated.

‘What is done continually’ (religious worship including the offerings and sacrifices). This is literally ‘the continual.’ It probably includes all the continually repeated aspects of Israelite worship; morning and evening sacrifice, other regular sacrifices, the keeping of the sabbath, circumcision, the reading of Scripture, and so on (compare again 1 Maccabees 1:44-47).

‘And the place of his sanctuary was cast down.’ ‘The place’ means that which has been set up. It may refer mainly to the altar, which was replaced by Antiochus with an altar for the worship of Zeus, or it may mean that the whole of the sanctuary which had been set up for the worship of God was rendered useless for its purpose because of the desecration. Notice that the stars (God’s true people?) were cast down to the ground, literally ‘were made to fall’ (Daniel 8:10), the place of His sanctuary was cast down (Daniel 8:11) and truth was cast down to the ground (Daniel 8:12), a threefold casting down denoting completeness.

The ‘giving up’ up may mean given up by God because of the transgressions of His people. Such humiliations of His people as this are usually traced to sin in Scripture, and at this time there was much sin and apostasy in Israel due to the worst aspects of Hellenisation. It will shortly be depicted as the latter part of the whole period of God’s indignation against Israel. Alternately it may signify that Antiochus gave them up, and the continual rites, to punishment, cessation and retribution because they had transgressed against him.

‘Because of transgression.’ Compare Daniel 8:23, but see also Daniel 8:13.

‘And it cast down truth to the ground, and it acted and prospered.’ This is expressing what has already been said in another way. As a result of his activities it was truth that was the victim. It was rejected and tossed to the ground. People were being turned from the way of truth by persecution. And in the face of it Antiochus prospered. There was judgment waiting to happen.

Verse 13

‘Then I heard a holy one speaking, and another holy one said to that certain one who spoke, “How long will be the vision about the continual things (worship rites) and the transgression that appals (or makes desolate), to give both the sanctuary and the host to be trodden underfoot?” And he said to me, “To two thousand three hundred mornings and evenings. Then will the sanctuary be cleansed (made righteous).” ’

Here we have a conversation between two holy ones, or angels, in which the question is put as to how long the devastating things that are to happen will last.

We could paraphrase it as ‘how long will it take for the vision to be fulfilled, during which the continual rites will cease, and the transgression that appals takes place, and from the time when the sanctuary and God’s people are trodden under foot, to the date when the sanctuary is finally made righteous (justified)?’

The main ideas to be considered are:

1) The cessation of the continual rites of true worship. This represented the decrees by which true worship was forbidden, including the observance of the Sabbath, the offering of the morning and evening sacrifices, and the carrying out of the other regular ritual observances.

2) The transgression that appals. This could have been the active participation in worship of a high priest who was not of the recognised priestly line, the stealing of the temple vessels by that high priest, the murder of the true high priest by instigation of that high priest, or the final sacrilege of offering a pig on the altar. All these could be seen as transgressions that ‘appalled’. Compare Ezra 9:4 where he too was appalled. at the holy seed mixing in marriage with the inhabitants of the land, and Jeremiah 2:12 where God calls on the heavens to be appalled at the idolatry of God’s people.

3) The treading under foot of the sanctuary and God’s people. This occurred the moment that Menelaus was appointed and took up office. The sanctity of the sanctuary and the concerns of the people were both trodden under foot. And this then continued in what followed.

4) The date when the temple is finally ‘made righteous’. This may have been the time when the temple was purified, or it may have been seen as only accomplished when the defiler had died. It may thus refer to the date of Antiochus’ death.

The reply to the question is then, for two thousand three hundred mornings and evenings, after which the sanctuary will be ‘made righteous’.

The ‘desolation’ or ‘astonishment’ may refer to the time when the High Priest Menelaus was appointed who was not of the priestly line, thus defiling the sanctuary, the time when he stole the sacred temple vessels for his own use, taking them out of the sanctuary, the time when he slew the true high priest who was sacred before God, or to the time when the daily sacrifices ceased, all being transgressions which astonished and desolated the true Israel. The transgression may have been that of Antiochus, or that of the high priest, or that of the leadership of Israel who allowed it, or all three.

The ‘two thousand three hundred mornings and evenings’ presents a difficulty of interpretation. Does this mean two thousand three hundred days, (compare the regular use of mornings and evenings in Genesis 1), or does it mean one thousand one hundred and fifty evening sacrifices and one thousand one hundred and fifty morning sacrifices which have been omitted because of the persecution? The latter may well be an accurate indication of the length of time that the sacrifices ceased.

And if it means two thousand three hundred days is it then the equivalent of ‘a time, times (e.g. five times) and half a time’ (Daniel 7:25) where it signified a period that came to more than six but less than seven times, thought of here in terms of years? Seven years would be, say, two thousand five hundred and twenty days, Thus two thousand three hundred could be a round number indicating not reaching the perfect seven years because God prevented it, expressed here in days so as to suggest that every day of that dreadful time was counted by God.

One thing we can be sure of is that it does not mean two thousand three hundred years. It does not say ‘days’ it says evenings and mornings. Besides it is very questionable whether we have a right to see days as representing years anywhere except when it is made perfectly clear in the context. The prophets cannot be so straitjacketed or presumed upon.

If we take the two thousand three hundred evenings and mornings as representing the number of evening and morning sacrifices, thus one thousand one hundred and fifty days, we can obtain this by adding the 1,080 days (360 + 360 + 360) between the sacrificing of a pig on the altar and the purifying of the temple, plus an extra ten as the finalising of the building of the pagan altar was early December and the cessation late December (the former the 15th the latter the 25th of Chislev) making 1,090 days, and adding two round months because the actual sacrifices ceased prior to the altar being set up, thus making 1,150 days. Alternately the two months may be to take into account work done in preparation for the final desecration, once the sacrifices had been forbidden (1 Maccabees 1:45). Either way we can reach the 1,150 days referred to in this chapter as ‘2,300 evenings mornings’ (i.e. morning and evening sacrifices).

If we consider the meaning to be two thousand three hundred days, however, the period being over six years, but falling short of seven, compare ‘a time, times and half a time’, it may be from 171 BC, when Menelaus the High Priest appointed by Antiochus, who was not of the recognised priestly line, profaned the sanctuary itself by acting as High Priest, or from the time when he stole and profaned the temple vessels, or from 170 BC when he killed Onias III, the High Priest recognised by the people and by God (Daniel 11:22), (any of these might be ‘the transgression that appals’) to 164 BC, the death of Antiochus, a date chosen on the grounds that only the death of the defiler could finally ‘make righteous’ the holy sanctuary and ‘atone’ for the blasphemy.

One thing we can be sure of is that it refers to a period during the reign of Antiochus during which he caused the sabbaths and the sacrifices to cease, desecrated the temple and persecuted Israel severely.

Verse 15-16

The Angel Gabriel Appears To Interpret the Vision.

‘And so it was that when I, even I Daniel, had seen the vision, that I sought to understand it, and behold there stood before me the appearance of a man, and I heard a man’s voice between the banks of the Ulai which called and said, “Gabriel, make this man (or ‘that one there’ - hallaz) to understand the vision.’

Daniel, considering the vision he had seen and seeking in his own mind to understand it, suddenly saw the appearance of a man (gaber = ‘man’ or ‘strong’ - suggestive of Gabriel = ‘man of God’ or ‘God has made strong’) before him. Then he heard the voice of a man (adam), possibly coming from above the water at the centre of the river (compare Daniel 12:6-7), telling Gabriel (see also Daniel 9:21) to reveal to him the truth about the vision. It was the voice of authority.

The voice was probably not an ordinary ‘holy one’ (angel) otherwise why differ from Daniel 8:13? Thus this must have been the man clothed with linen (Daniel 12:6-7; Ezekiel 9:2), who was so powerful that he could declare the ending of time (Daniel 12:7) and mark men off for judgment (Ezekiel 9:2), for the fact that it is described as the voice of a man suggests that whoever it was had appeared in human form. The voice commanded Gabriel to reveal the meaning of the vision.

We should note that, along with Michael the archangel, Gabriel is the only angel ever mentioned by name in Scripture (Daniel 9:21; Daniel 10:13; Daniel 10:21; Daniel 12:1; Luke 1:19; Luke 1:26; Jude 1:9).

Verse 17

‘So he came near where I stood, and when he came I was filled with awe, and fell on my face. But he said to me, “Understand O son of man, for the vision belongs to the time of the end.”

The approach of Gabriel filled Daniel with awe and he fell on his face. The presence of Gabriel and the voice from the river made him aware of the awesome presence of God. Gabriel then addressed him as ‘son of man’, a title suggestive of weakness and humanity, and, in the context of Daniel, of one of the people of God.

‘For the vision belongs to the time of the end.’ The meaning of this statement is open to question. Of course, for interpreters who see large parts of prophetic Scripture as belonging to what they call ‘the end times’, meaning the time just before Christ’s second coming, even when, on the face of it, it does not fit in, there is no difficulty, ‘the end’ always means that period. The fact that what has gone before does not fit in with that is no problem, they simply double up and say it all applies to both its obvious meaning and the end times. Such interpreters take up certain phrases and say that they always indicate what they mean by ‘the end times’ (phrases such as ‘the Day of Yahweh’, which can actually refer to any ‘day’ when Yahweh acts in judgment whether at the ‘end times’ or not; and ‘in that day’, which can simply mean at that time; although both often can mean ‘the end times’).

But we have to ask what Daniel meant by it in context, and, as we have seen, the vision refers first to the rise of the Medo-Persian empire, and then of the Greek empire and then refers at the end to the time of the rise and persecutions of Antiochus Epiphanes and desecration of the temple, and ceases at the point of the ‘making righteous’ of the temple. ‘The ‘fourth empire’ is not yet in sight. Thus the obvious meaning of ‘belongs to the time of the end’ is that the whole significance and purpose of the vision was to bring us up to that end point, the end of the vision. The ‘time of the end’ is ‘the time of the end of the vision’. The concentration of the vision was not on the prior sweep of history but on the final phase, the dealings of Antiochus Epiphanes. That is the time the vision ‘belongs to’, the time at the end of the vision.

Note on - ‘The vision belongs to the time of the end’ and similar phrases

In Daniel, references to ‘the end’ are many and certainly do not all point to one period. We have seen already that in Daniel 8:17 ‘the time of the end’ is the time on which the vision concentrates at its end, the time of Antiochus Epiphanes, thus meaning ‘the time of the end of the vision’. We can compare Daniel 8:19 where ‘the latter time of the indignation’, that is the final part of the period of indignation against Israel and Judah, (which includes the three hundred and ninety years of Israel and the forty years of Judah - Ezekiel 4:4-13) belongs to ‘the appointed time of the end’. This refers to the activities of Antiochus which are seen as the closure of the time of indignation. The angel’s explanation will cover exactly the same period. This ‘indignation’ refers to God’s wrath against His people as described by the prophets, which was clearly here seen as continuing during the activities of Medo-Persia and Greece because of the disobedience of God’s rebellious people, the latter time of it being the reign of Antiochus, for that is what the vision is specifically emphasising. The end of this period is ‘the appointed time of the end’ (of the indignation).

This phrase ‘the appointed time’ also occurs in Daniel 11:27; Daniel 11:29; Daniel 11:35 where each time it is referring to the time that God has appointed in which to deal with this vile persecutor, Antiochus. The exile was clearly not seen as having averted ‘the indignation’, and this was to be Israel’s next major hurdle. Thus Daniel saw the Maccabaean uprising which followed Antiochus, and the rise of the Hasidim (the loyal ones) and their followers, preparatory for the coming of John the Baptiser and Jesus, as following this period of indignation. The return from exile had not purified the people. This had required the persecution of an Antiochus.

In Daniel 11:6 ‘the end of the years’ simply means the end of the period to which those particular circumstances apply.

Very different are references to ‘the end’ (Daniel 9:26; Daniel 11:40, Daniel 12:6 compare Daniel 12:13, and possibly Daniel 12:4; Daniel 12:9) where there is no reference point for ‘the end’ and we must therefore see them as actually referring to the time when God is about to sum up history. For all these references see the commentary at that point.

Like all the prophets Daniel looked forward in his vision and saw the near and far future. None of them knew how long it would be. But they saw certain events ahead like mountain peaks one behind the other. And to them beyond the first mountain peak were ‘the last days’.

Imagine a sturdy walker on a long hike in unknown mountainous country. He looks ahead and sees stretching before him a number of mountain peaks, and the farthest does not seem all that much further than the nearest. The problem is going to be getting to the first. Then they will come quickly one after another. So he struggles on and at last reaches the first mountain. But when he gets to the top of the first mountain peak, he receives his first shock. The second mountain peak which had seemed to be just behind the first is now a long way distance away separated from him by a huge plain. So he begins his weary trip towards the second. And the same happens each time he reaches a mountain top. Rather than being close together as they first appeared they are each separated from the other by huge plains.

In the same way the prophets looked ahead and saw the mountain tops. They did not know what lay between, and they rarely reached the first mountain. (Ezekiel did and then he saw further mountains ahead). They were not fortune tellers or foretellers of future events in order to satisfy human curiosity, they were the voice of God, declarers of what God was going to do and the principles that he would follow through to the end. Their prophecies were regularly in two phases, the first phase which would be fulfilled in the not too distant future, but would only be a partial fulfilment, and a second phase, a further mountain top, which would bring about its final fulfilment. Compare for example Tyre (Ezekiel 26:7-14). This was first to be defeated by Nebuchadnezzar, but it would only a lot later on become a place to spread nets in. A similar example is Babylon, defeated by the Medes, but it was only long centuries later that it became a total ruin (Isaiah 13:17-22). And yet the second result followed the first inexorably.

In Daniel’s case he saw first the persecutions of Antiochus Epiphanes, which would have such a profound effect on the faith of Israel, bringing about the birth of what was good in the Pharisaic teaching with its emphasis on the resurrection. That was his first mountain top. And then would come (of which he saw glimpses) the rise of the fourth kingdom and the birth of Jesus the Messiah and Son of Man, followed by the establishment of the new Israel under the Kingly Rule of God, arising out of the old Israel, all smiting at the base of the totality of the empires, and then would come ‘the end’, troublous times, followed by the final judgment of God and the resurrection (Daniel 12:2-3). And all seen as coming closely one after another, without any conception of the spans of time that lay between, which to us seem so huge, but which to God, Who can step from one mountain top to another in a moment of time, are just ahead.

So the fourth and final empire, which was already in view in Daniel 11:30, would follow Antiochus. And as we have seen in his visions that was the ‘end time’ empire, (Daniel 2:40-44; Daniel 7:7-8; Daniel 7:19-25), the apocalyptic empire, which would clash with the smiting stone and the son of man receiving His kingdom.

To put it in other words the actions of Antiochus would introduce ‘the last days’. These ‘last days’ would include the conquests of Rome, the coming of Jesus, the Messiah and Son of Man, (regularly described in the New Testament as ‘the last days’ and as being ‘the end of the ages’ and its equivalent - Acts 2:17; 1 Peter 1:20; 1 Peter 4:7; 1 Corinthians 10:11; Hebrews 1:1-2; Hebrews 9:26-28), the destruction of Jerusalem by Rome, the growth of the new Israel, the everlasting kingdom of God which incorporates all true believers, and indeed is the true church and the true Israel of God, the disintegration of Rome into many ‘kingships’ (the ten horns), and the final times prior to the second coming of Christ, which would include the rise of ‘the horn, the small one’, leading up to that coming, and the resurrection and the final judgment of God. All these are portrayed in one way or another by the prophets.

End of note.

Verse 18-19

‘Now as he was speaking with me, I fell into a deep sleep (swooned) with my face towards the ground, but he touched me and set me upright, and he said, “Behold I will make you know what shall be in the latter time of the indignation, for it belongs to the appointed time of the end.” ’

The effect of the contact with Gabriel caused him to go into a deep swoon as he lay on his face on the ground (Daniel 8:17). This is elsewhere the result of contact with the supernatural where something unique is happening, compare Daniel 10:9; Genesis 2:21; Genesis 15:12. But Gabriel touched him and aroused him, giving him strength for this ordeal of receiving revelation from such a powerful angel. For ‘set me upright’ compare Daniel 7:4. He was made ready to receive God’s revelation.

By considering the vision we are made to recognise that God’s indignation against his people had not ceased with the return from exile, simply because they failed to repent and be transformed. So it continued through the rise of Medo-Persia to the appointed time for Antiochus, the latter period being in the latter part of the whole period of indignation, leading up to ‘the appointed time of the end’ of the indignation. All was within God’s appointment. And the result of Antiochus’ persecution was the beginning of a new period for the true purified Israel, free from indignation, which was the beginning of the last days, preparing for the arrival of the Messiah, and was also the beginning of the rise of the fourth kingdom, the kingdom of the last days, which began with Rome and continued in different forms ever since. The days of Antiochus were seen as pivotal.

Verses 20-22

The Interpretation of the Vision.

‘The ram which you saw, which had the two horns, they are the kings of Media and Persia. And the rough he-goat is the king of Greece. And the great horn that is between his eyes is the first king. And as for that which was broken, in the place whereof four stood up, four kingdoms shall stand up out of the nation, but not with his power.’

This confirms what we have seen above, all given in a few words within which more than three hundred years have passed by. But all is leading up to the time of Antiochus IV. Note the emphasis on the declining control of the empires. ‘Two horns’, an empire made up of two, although one king had dominion of the other; ‘four kingdoms’, an empire made up of four, and even more separated. Compare the declining value of the metals in Daniel 2:37-43.

Verse 23

‘And in the latter time of their kingdom, when the transgressors (or, repointed, this could be ‘transgressions’) are come to the full, a king of strong countenance, and understanding riddles, will stand up. And his power will be mighty, but not by his own power. And he will destroy wonderfully, and will prosper and will do (whatever he wants). And he will destroy the mighty ones and the holy people.’

The one now spoken of arises in the latter time of the Greek kingdom, at a time when Israel’s transgressing has reached its full, as they turned back to the idolatry from which the exile was supposed to deliver them. Some would turn back reluctantly under persecution, but these had turned back for political convenience long before. Among many hellenisation and acknowledgement of the Greek gods gave them a new way of life and a new culture, and they embraced it eagerly (see 1 Maccabees 1:11-15).

‘A king of strong countenance, and understanding riddles, will stand up.’ This can hardly be any other than Antiochus Epiphanes. ‘Strong countenance’ refers to hardness of feature caused by a hard and unyielding spirit (compare Deuteronomy 28:50).

‘Understanding riddles.’ Seeing himself as a god he saw himself as wise and full of understanding of the things of the gods, which was why the stubborn Israelites so infuriated him. Did they not realise that he was a master of the knowledge of the gods? Or the idea may be that he was a master of dissimulation, cunning enough to be able to deceive people and disguise his intentions. For example, he sent his general to Jerusalem pretending peace, and when they received him he took advantage of the Sabbath and then slaughtered many Israelites.

‘And his power will be mighty, but not by his own power.’ He claimed to be the manifestation of Zeus and thus that Zeus was operative through him, thus this may be seeing it from his viewpoint. Others see it as meaning that it was God Who enabled him in order to use him as an instrument of chastisement for His people. He was only able to do it because God allowed it. Like the Assyrians and Nebuchadnezzar before him he was the rod of God’s anger (Isaiah 10:5). Perhaps the latter may be seen as more likely to be in Daniel’s mind.

‘He will destroy wonderfully, and will prosper and will do (whatever he wants). And he will destroy the mighty ones and the holy people.’ This describes his effectiveness in every sphere. He destroyed, and prospered, and did whatever he wanted. No one, apart in the end from the Romans, could prevent him from doing whatever he wanted. However mighty his enemies might be they could not stand before him. ‘The mighty ones and the holy people.’ A deliberate contrast. He was not just a successful warrior, he was an attacker of God’s true people, and it was that that would result in his downfall. He was the first real persecutor.

Verse 25

‘And by his understanding he will cause deceit to prosper by his hand, and he will magnify himself in his heart and he will destroy many in security. He will also stand up against the prince of princes. But he will be broken without hand.’

His ‘understanding’ means his understanding of cunning. He used deceit to obtain victory and reap wealth. He was a man who could not be trusted. ‘Magnifying himself in his heart’ may well refer to his claims of deity. Once kings magnified themselves too highly, their end was sure. Compare Daniel 8:4; Daniel 8:8. ‘Destroy many in security’ probably refers to his methods such as that of pretending to come in peace and then taking men by surprise and slaughtering them (see 1 Maccabees 1:29-30).

‘He will also stand up against the prince of princes. But he will be broken without hand.’ The ‘prince of princes’, that is God. Compare ‘the prince of the host’ (Daniel 8:11.) This probably mainly refers to the desecration of the temple and the ban on circumcision, the Sabbath, and true worship, and the enforced destruction of the Scriptures. Thus he would die, but not by a human hand, that is not ‘naturally’ or by being slain in warfare but because God had destined him for death. They need not fear for God has him in hand.

Verse 26

‘And the vision of the evenings and mornings which has been told is true. But shut up the vision for it belongs to many days.’

Compare Daniel 8:14. The spoken vision of the evenings and the mornings was of the period when the temple was desecrated, whether by a the ministrations of a false High Priest (Menelaus) or by the altar of Zeus. It would be a heavy burden for Israel if they considered the fact, that the sanctuary that they would so painfully erect would again be desecrated, and almost unbelievable that God would allow it. But Daniel is assured that it will indeed be so, but that it will not be for a long time. So the vision was not to be read out as though it could happen at any time. It was to be kept on one side and preserved with a recognition that it spoke of a distant future and in those days would prove a comfort and a strength.

Verse 27

‘And I Daniel was totally exhausted, and was sick certain days. Then I rose up and did the business of the king, and I was astonished at the vision, but none understood it (or ‘I did not understand it’).’

The reception of the vision was exhausting and demanding, so much so that Daniel was ill and unable to carry out his duties for the king. And he spent much time pondering it in total astonishment. But as it had been explained to him it is difficult to believe that this means that he did not understand it, as some suggest. Possibly he found it hard to believe and comprehend, living as he did when the Persian empire was so strong and powerful. Or possibly the idea is that, when he tried to explain it, it was too hard for men to grasp. It would seem to speak in riddles. It was beyond conception.

Should We Read Into This Horn of Littleness The Evil King of the End Times?

That he is a pattern of that king we need not doubt, but the evil king of the end times is clearly depicted in chapter 7. Thus this one is but a shadow of the other. It is in chapter 11 that the one merges into the other. We may safely therefore say that he was a warning and pattern of what is to come, but should probably go no further than that. Some are too eager to read into Scripture what it does not say, and should beware. This is the word of God. Our interpretations must therefore be careful and not so enthusiastic that they go beyond what is said.


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Daniel 8:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, November 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
Commentary Navigator
Search This Commentary
Enter query in the box below
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology