Daniel 8 – The Vision of the Ram and the Goat

Vision de Daniel à Suze
By: Stephanus Garsia (11th Century)

8:1-2 – Daniel has a vision three years after the dream of chapter seven (approximately 550BC) while Belshazzar was still in Babylon (and his father, Nabonidus, still king of all Babylon)Perhaps the reason he repeats the “vision” three times is because it was so disturbing to him (8:27).  Daniel was taken (much like Ezekiel) in this vision to the “citadel of Susa” (another name for the “city”) located 220 miles east of Babylon and 150 miles north of the Persian Gulf.  This city was later to become one of the royal cities of Medo-Persia acting as a winter palace (cf. Est.1:2; Neh.1:1; 2:1).  The location is important as it had not yet become a location of prominence again having been destroyed some years before and the Medo-Persians having not yet rebuilt it for full use yet at the time of Daniel’s vision.

8:3-4 – A Ram Appears.  The ram has two horns, one longer than the other, but the shorter growing longer than the former.  According to one fourth century AD writer (Ammianus Marcellinus 10:1 – see Goldingay 208) the Medo-Persians always carried a golden head of a ram into battle with them as their symbol.  More importantly this ram is later interpreted as Medo-Persia and it can be surmised that the initially longer horn was Media which was the initially predominant power of the two, until Persia became the more powerful.  The charging of the ram is to the west, north and south following essentially the path of Medo-Persia in her conquests of Babylon, Lydia, Asia Minor, and Egypt.  There appeared to be none that could stop this empire.  In what sense might the kingdoms of this world all be understood as “animals” in light of the implications of verse 4?  What does this suggest about all worldly kingdoms even though they be ordained of the LORD?
8:5-8 – A Goat Appears.  This goat is described with a “prominent horn between his eyes” suggesting a single ruler and kingdom (Alexander the Great of Macedon as the interpretation of Dan.8:21 declares).  The ram notably charges across the earth “without touching the ground” in a similar manner to the four-headed leapord-like creature of Dan.7:6 that suggested Greece as well.  The enraged goat destroyed the ram and the two horns.  However, the “large horn” before it could become even greater than it had already become was “broken off” and replaced by “four” (again the connection to Dan.7:6).  Alexander’s untimely death off in Babylon (323BC) left his empire shattered and ten years later it was divided among four of his generals.
8:9-12 – A Small Horn.  From among one of the four horns of the goat there appeared a small horn initially that grew in the south, east and toward the “Beautiful Land” (Heb. sebî : that is toward “Jerusalem”; cf. Dan.11: 16, 41; Jer.3:19; Eze.20:6, 15)  On this occurring see 1 Macc.1 and 2 Macc.5-6.  Who is this “small horn” that grew?  History now tells us it was Antiochus IV Epiphanes (reigned 175BC-163BC) of Syria who assassinated the high priest Onias III in 170BC replacing him with another priest, ended the sacrifices and desecrated the temples setting up an altar to Zeus and sacrificing a swine on the altar in 167BC, that the temple was restored and dedicated December 14, 164BC (Hanukkah), while he died shortly thereafter in 163BC.  But who are the “host of heaven” that he threw down to the earth and trampled?  Certainly not angels.  More likely this refers to the faithful of Israel (cf. Dan.12:3; see also Gen.15:5; 22:17; Deut.17:3; Enoch 46:7; Mt.13:43; Phil.2:15; Rev.12:4).  Further, he set himself up against the “Prince” of the host…which suggests God Himself.  This is done by his taking away the “daily sacrifice” (Heb. tāmîd “continually”; cf. Exo.29:38-42; Num.28:3-8) and desecrating the temple.  Why would the LORD allow it to prosper in everything it did and truth to be “thrown to the ground”?  Does the LORD have a greater purpose than the immediate or temporary?
8:13-14 – The Conversation.  Daniel is meant to overhear a conversation among some of the “holy ones” (angels?).  It seems that even they are concerned with the question of humanity, “How long?” (cf. Ps.6:3; Isa.6:11; Zech.1:12)  The two speaking are concerned with how long it will take for all of the declared to happen to actually occur.  The answer is declared to Daniel (though the LXX and Syriac read that the answer was given to the other holy one) that it will take “2300 evenings and mornings”.  How should we understand this?  As 1500 days or as 2300 days?  The latter seems preferable given the manner in which Hebrew chooses to express the form for the numbers with mornings and evenings.  Thus this would be about seven years time from beginning to end.  In other words, there is a definite limit set to the wickedness of this king and his kingdom.  There is no reason to automatically assume that this “horn” is to be identified with the “horn” of chapter seven since that one belonged to the fourth beast (rather than the third which was Greece) and came from one of the four horns as opposed to that fourth beasts little horn that came up among the ten horns and displaced three.  While both chapters speak of little horns, they are distinguished considerably even while both being arrogant and prideful and opposing the LORD and the saints.
8:15-18 – Gabriel Arrives.  While Daniel was contemplating all that he had seen and heard he received a messenger like “a man” (Heb. gāber) who would explain the vision.  There are only two angels ever named in Scripture and this is the first occasion where one is named.  “Gabriel” appears again at the announcement of John the Baptist’s birth (Luke 1:19) and Jesus birth (Luke 1:26).  “Michael” is the other angel named in Scripture (Dan.10:13, 21; 12:1; Jude 9; Rev.12:7); though in the approximately second-third century BC apocryphal work of 1 Enoch there are several others named as well: Raphael, Uriel, Raguel, Saraqqel and Remiel (1 Enoch 9:1; 20:1-8).  Gabriel task appears always to be that of messenger in the Scripture (thus “angel” is a fitting name though he is not called that here in Daniel).  Daniel kept falling in fear before Gabriel and actually may have passed out, but Gabriel lifted him up.  The message Gabriel had for Daniel was that these things pertained to “the time of the end”, but the “end” of what?  The end of that era or the end of all things?  The former seems more likely if one postulates the historical interpretation at all, but if one still holds to any future sense then there must be also something remaining of the actual “end” of this world and the reign of the LORD. 
There are actually four main views for interpreting Daniel 8: (1) Historical – All of Daniel 8 was historical and has been fulfilled; (2) Futuristic – All is still in the future; (3) Dual Fulfillment – The chapter referred both to what happened historically now and what will happen at the Second Coming; (4) Typological – The chapter refers to historical fulfillment but also things typical of that which points to the end of the age (see Walvoord 192-196).
8:19-27 – The Interpretation.  Gabriel interprets the vision for Daniel (who earlier in the book had been the interpreter for others) and explains that the ram was Medo-Persia and the goat was Greece and specifically the horn was the first king of Greece.  What Daniel has seen up to this point is over two hundred years in the future from his time.  He is told that the kingdom of Greece will be divided into four kingdoms none of which will come close to the power of Greece and from one of those will be raised up a particular king (this actually foretells what will occur 350 years in the future).  It is noteworthy that this king is raised up when wickedness is complete (cf. Gen.15:16; 1 Th.2:16).  The king is noted for his appearance, intelligence, and unknown source of power; and though everything he does even against the LORD and the saints seems to succeed it will only be temporary until the LORD Himself destroys him.  What does it mean for Daniel to “seal up” (Heb. sātam) the vision?  This term when “applied to a book is not strictly ‘seal’ but rather ‘guard from use’ and therefore from misuse (cf. 12:3)” (Baldwin 179).  Why should the LORD have told Daniel any of this and not saved such matters for another more near to the time of the incidents?  What was the purpose of revealing this in the third year of Belshazzar?  Also, does this not point ahead beyond Antiochus IV Epiphanes to one who like him will do much the same even as it would appear that almost similar sorts of calamity overtook Judea in the latter part of the first century (cf. Matt.24; Mark 13; Luke 21:5ff), but still point ahead to “the end”?

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