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Daniel (2010)

A Lesson in Prophecy

Daniel  8

Lesson audio

This section may be the most clear picture of prophecy in the entire Bible. In it, Daniel is given the meaning of his visions, and a clear understanding of the future. Or is it?

In the third year of the reign of Belshazzar the king a vision appeared to me, Daniel, subsequent to the one which appeared to me previously. I looked in the vision, and while I was looking I was in the citadel of Susa, which is in the province of Elam; and I looked in the vision and I myself was beside the Ulai Canal. Then I lifted my eyes and looked, and behold, a ram which had two horns was standing in front of the canal. Now the two horns were long, but one was longer than the other, with the longer one coming up last. I saw the ram butting westward, northward, and southward, and no other beasts could stand before him nor was there anyone to rescue from his power, but he did as he pleased and magnified himself. While I was observing, behold, a male goat was coming from the west over the surface of the whole earth without touching the ground; and the goat had a conspicuous horn between his eyes. He came up to the ram that had the two horns, which I had seen standing in front of the canal, and rushed at him in his mighty wrath. I saw him come beside the ram, and he was enraged at him; and he struck the ram and shattered his two horns, and the ram had no strength to withstand him. So he hurled him to the ground and trampled on him, and there was none to rescue the ram from his power. Then the male goat magnified himself exceedingly. But as soon as he was mighty, the large horn was broken; and in its place there came up four conspicuous horns toward the four winds of heaven. Out of one of them came forth a rather small horn which grew exceedingly great toward the south, toward the east, and toward the Beautiful Land. It grew up to the host of heaven and caused some of the host and some of the stars to fall to the earth, and it trampled them down. It even magnified itself to be equal with the Commander of the host; and it removed the regular sacrifice from Him, and the place of His sanctuary was thrown down. And on account of transgression the host will be given over to the horn along with the regular sacrifice; and it will fling truth to the ground and perform its will and prosper. Then I heard a holy one speaking, and another holy one said to that particular one who was speaking, "How long will the vision about the regular sacrifice apply, while the transgression causes horror, so as to allow both the holy place and the host to be trampled?" He said to me, "For 2,300 evenings and mornings; then the holy place will be properly restored." When I, Daniel, had seen the vision, I sought to understand it; and behold, standing before me was one who looked like a man. And I heard the voice of a man between the banks of Ulai, and he called out and said, "Gabriel, give this man an understanding of the vision." So he came near to where I was standing, and when he came I was frightened and fell on my face; but he said to me, "Son of man, understand that the vision pertains to the time of the end." Now while he was talking with me, I sank into a deep sleep with my face to the ground; but he touched me and made me stand upright. He said, "Behold, I am going to let you know what will occur at the final period of the indignation, for it pertains to the appointed time of the end. "The ram which you saw with the two horns represents the kings of Media and Persia. "The shaggy goat represents the kingdom of Greece, and the large horn that is between his eyes is the first king. "The broken horn and the four horns that arose in its place represent four kingdoms which will arise from his nation, although not with his power. "In the latter period of their rule, When the transgressors have run their course, A king will arise, Insolent and skilled in intrigue. "His power will be mighty, but not by his own power, And he will destroy to an extraordinary degree And prosper and perform his will; He will destroy mighty men and the holy people. "And through his shrewdness He will cause deceit to succeed by his influence; And he will magnify himself in his heart, And he will destroy many while they are at ease. He will even oppose the Prince of princes, But he will be broken without human agency. "The vision of the evenings and mornings Which has been told is true; But keep the vision secret, For it pertains to many days in the future." Then I, Daniel, was exhausted and sick for days. Then I got up again and carried on the king's business; but I was astounded at the vision, and there was none to explain it.

(Daniel 8:1-27 NASB)


We may begin with some notes about the text itself. Conservative scholars believe this was written approximately 553 BC. You should note that the book is not written in Aramaic but in Hebrew. This is the technical reason liberal scholars challenge the date of the book. I submit, however, that there are good reasons to believe in the traditional date:

  • First, Hebrew would be Daniel’s native language. As his book is written to the Jews, it would be normal to use Hebrew.
  • The evidence of Josephus clearly indicates that Daniel preceded the period assumed by liberal scholars.
  • The real, hidden objection is that prophecy cannot happen. Therefore, if it appears to happen then we must post date the book.

Regrettably, this new version of history is commonly taught in Bible colleges today.

There is some question as to Daniel's location. Some scholars assume he is in Susa only in the vision. Others have him physically there. I suspect the vision theory is correct, because this is in Belshazzar’s reign.


The attractiveness of this passage comes from the fact that Gabriel explains it. Without this, chapter 8 would be a minor footnote.

The Ram

The ram itself was a known symbol for the Medo-Persian empire. Their king carried a ram’s head into battle, for example. There exists today in the ruins of Perseopolis a symbolic ram’s head -- with one horn larger than the other. With such information, we can make the following assignments:

·        The two horns represent the two peoples - the Medes and the Persians.

·        The longer horn represents the Persians, who eventually came to dominate this empire.

·        Charging west, north and south corresponds well to the historical conquests of this empire:

o   West, to Babylon, Syria and Asia Minor (modern Turkey).

o   North, to Armenia and Scythia

o   South, to Egypt, Arabia and Ethiopia.

The Goat

The goat is interpreted as being the empire of Greece. The specific interpretation is:

·        The prominent horn is Alexander the Great.

·        The phrase “without touching the ground” has reference to the swiftness of his conquests. He became a general at 21; he conquered his empire by the age of 26. His empire ran from Greece to India, from modern Yugoslavia down to Ethiopia.

·        The horn was broken; Alexander died at the age of 33 in 323 BC. Kindly note how long after the prophecy was given that this occurred.

·        The four horns -- note how accurately the Bible foretells this -- are the four generals who divided Alexander’s empire:

·        Lysimachus took Asia Minor, Thrace, and Bithynia

·        Cassandra to Macedonia and Greece.

·        Seleucus took Syria, Babylon and all the empire into India. Note this well: his descendant must come from this direction.

·        Ptolemy took Egypt, Arabia and Palestine. Secular history is most familiar with his descendants. One wrote (or commissioned) the Almagest, the star chart which guided sailors for almost 1,800 years. The most famous of his descendants was the last of his dynasty: Cleopatra.

The Little Horn

The identification of the little horn of Daniel has occupied scholars for many years. The most common interpretation is to identify the little horn with one Antiochus Epiphanies, who was a descendent of one of the generals and Alexander's army. He was a descendent of Seleucus, which matches the prophecy quite well when you think where the little horn had to come from. At the end of this section we will discuss alternative views to this point.

Let's examine the evidence in favor of Antiochus Epiphanies:

Daniel 8:9

·         Came out of one of them (i.e. horns). Antiochus was from one of the four kingdoms

·         grew exceedingly great. Yes, if understood from the viewpoint of Judea.

  • grew towards the south. Antiochus fought two successful wars against Egypt.
  • grew towards the Glorious Land. Judea was left in peace until Antiochus invaded.
  • grew great towards the East. Antiochus had success against Media and Armenia.
  • sequence of growth – south, east, Glorious Land. Antiochus captured Egypt, invaded Judea, campaigned in the east,
Dan. 8:10

·         He threw down some of the host. Yes.

Dan. 8:11

·         sacrifices removed. Antiochus is the only king known to specifically have stopped sacrifices.

·         acted arrogantly against the prince of the host. Antiochus removed the high priest.

·         cast down the temple. Metaphorically.

·         little horn prospered. Antiochus collected great booty from Egypt then cleaned out the temple in Jerusalem.

·         time frame, 3 and 1/2 times approximately = 1150 days. Duration of persecutions.

Dan. 8:17

·         vision to time of the end. From the writer's viewpoint.

Dan. 8:23

·         bold king shall arise. Fits Antiochus

·         a king.. skilled in intrigue. Fits Antiochus

Dan. 8:24

·         his power shall be mighty. Powerful at the time.

·         he will destroy fearfully; destroy the holy people. Antiochus tore down the walls and the houses and had anyone who continued to worship God executed.

Dan. 8:25

·         he shall make deceit prosper. Those who connived with Antiochus made their own profit.

·         in his own mind he shall be great. Antiochus changed his name to Antiochus Theos Epiphanes Nikephorus, i.e. Antiochus the god manifest, the victory-bringer.

·         without warning he shall destroy many. Yes.

Source: Wikipedia article on Daniel 8.

Josephus also gives us the same information:

Antiochus turned about and advanced on Israel and Jerusalem in massive strength. Insolently breaking into the sanctuary, he removed the golden altar and the lampstand for the light with all its fittings, together with the table for the loaves of offering, the libation vessels, the cups, the golden censers, the veil, the crowns, and the golden decorations on the front of the Temple, which he stripped of everything.

(about two years later, after another raid and conquest)

Then the king issued a proclamation to his whole kingdom that all were to become a single people, each renouncing his particular customs. .....

.... directing them to adopt customs foreign to the country, banning holocausts (sacrifices by fire), sacrifices and libations from the sanctuary, profaning Sabbaths and feasts, defiling the sanctuary and the sacred ministers, building altars, precincts and shrines for idols, sacrificing pigs and unclean beasts, leaving their sons uncircumcised, and prostituting themselves to all kinds of impurity and abomination, so that they should forget the Law and revoke all observance of it. Anyone not obeying the king’s command was to be put to death. ....

.... the king erected the abomination of desolation above the altar; and altars were built in the surrounding towns of Judah and incense offered at the doors of houses and in the streets. Any books of the Law that came to light were torn up and burned. Whenever anyone was discovered possessing a copy of the covenant or practicing the Law, the king’s decree sentenced him to death. Having might on their side, they took action month after month against any offenders they discovered in the towns of Israel. ..... Women who had had their children circumcised were put to death according to the edict, with their babies hung around their necks, and the members of the household and those who had performed the circumcision were executed with them.

Yet there were many in Israel who stood firm and found the courage to refuse unclean food. Thy chose death rather than contamination by such fare or profanation of the holy covenant, and they were executed. It was a dreadful wrath that visited Israel.

So the story is told (it is instructive and inspiring reading). Ultimately, this horn is to die, but not by the power of man. His death is recorded in I Maccabees chapter 6:

Then summoning all his Friends, he {Antiochus Epiphanes} said to them, “Sleep evades my eyes, and my heart is cowed by anxiety. I have been asking myself how I could come to such a pitch of distress, so great a flood as that which now engulfs me -- I who was so generous and well loved in my heyday. But now I remember the wrong I did in Jerusalem when I seized all the vessels of silver and gold there, and ordered the extermination of the inhabitants of Judah for no reason at all. This, I am convinced, is why these misfortunes have overtaken me, and why I am dying of melancholy in a foreign land.”

Antiochus Epiphanes died of severe depression.

With all this evidence, it may seem impossible to dispute this interpretation. However there are two facts which must be taken into account:

·           Daniel himself is told that the vision pertains to the "time of the end." He is told that it refers to events many days in the future. Just exactly how do we define end times? Paul thought he was living in the end times; or, one could suppose the end times of the Jews as a nation.

·           In Matthew 24:15 Jesus himself tells his disciples that they are to look for "the abomination of desolation." It is clear he is referring to a future event.

Therefore many interpreters today hold that these events have not transpired and are in the future; or that there will be a literal fulfillment a second time. The latter idea is sometimes called the "dual view" of prophecy.

Indeed, the number 2300 is open to interpretation itself. Does it mean

·           2300 days or 1150 days, one day be one morning and one evening?

·           2300 days or 2300 years?

Once you have that figured out, you get to determine when the 2300 starts.

Most commentators hold to 2300 days (or days of years). Those who do not cite the fact that approximately 1150 days passed between the sacrifice of the pig on the altar and the rededication of the sanctuary. The problem with this view is that the simplest counting -- start with the sacrifice and end with the rededication -- misses the mark by 55 days (too soon). Other starting and ending dates must be taken to make this view work. (The actual date of the sacrifice in question is December 8, 167 BC; the rededication exactly three years later.) Some (taking a 360 year day, per Babylonian counting) make the discrepancy 70 days, and transmute that to the 70 weeks we will encounter later.

Taking a different starting date -- Alexander’s start of conquest in 334 BC, and interpreting the time as 2,300 years, we come to 1967 A.D. - the date the Jews took back under their own sovereignty, for the first time since Alexander, the site of the Temple in Jerusalem. Date setters in prophecy can have a lot of fun with this. Similar series of dates are available to make this little horn appear to be the Papacy.

As for the average Christian, there are some lessons in this:

·        First, at the very least we can consider this prophecy has been fulfilled at least once. The identification of the beasts and of the little horn are solid. At the least, then, we can say that prophecy does indeed work.

·        Next, we can at the very least say that prophecy unfulfilled will be fulfilled. This is one of the reasons God gives us prophecy which has already been fulfilled-to strengthen our faith.

·        Third, if it is not already clear to you, God will have his way.

Moral Points

This passage is not without its moral points.

·         As verse 12 tells us (and again in verse 23) this judgment was caused by the rebellion of the Jewish people. Judgment begins in the house of the Lord; just because you are called “Christian” does not mean you will escape it. Just because a nation is called “Christian” does not mean it will escape either.

·         Daniel ends this vision exhausted and ill. Such abomination actually sickens him. I wonder if we would have this reaction. I think we would be so jaded today that most of us would simply respond, “cool. Far out.” Perhaps this is not so much a sign of Daniel’s sensitivity as our lack of it.

·         “Seal up the vision” -- God does not intend that you understand all of it -- yet. You will understand that which is necessary to make faith sure. As we shall see, judgment at His return is coming up.

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