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Prophetic Lesson

Daniel  8

(Dan 8 NIV) In the third year of King Belshazzar's reign, I, Daniel, had a vision, after the one that had already appeared to me. {2} In my vision I saw myself in the citadel of Susa in the province of Elam; in the vision I was beside the Ulai Canal. {3} I looked up, and there before me was a ram with two horns, standing beside the canal, and the horns were long. One of the horns was longer than the other but grew up later. {4} I watched the ram as he charged toward the west and the north and the south. No animal could stand against him, and none could rescue from his power. He did as he pleased and became great. {5} As I was thinking about this, suddenly a goat with a prominent horn between his eyes came from the west, crossing the whole earth without touching the ground. {6} He came toward the two-horned ram I had seen standing beside the canal and charged at him in great rage. {7} I saw him attack the ram furiously, striking the ram and shattering his two horns. The ram was powerless to stand against him; the goat knocked him to the ground and trampled on him, and none could rescue the ram from his power. {8} The goat became very great, but at the height of his power his large horn was broken off, and in its place four prominent horns grew up toward the four winds of heaven. {9} Out of one of them came another horn, which started small but grew in power to the south and to the east and toward the Beautiful Land. {10} It grew until it reached the host of the heavens, and it threw some of the starry host down to the earth and trampled on them. {11} It set itself up to be as great as the Prince of the host; it took away the daily sacrifice from him, and the place of his sanctuary was brought low. {12} Because of rebellion, the host of the saints and the daily sacrifice were given over to it. It prospered in everything it did, and truth was thrown to the ground. {13} Then I heard a holy one speaking, and another holy one said to him, "How long will it take for the vision to be fulfilled--the vision concerning the daily sacrifice, the rebellion that causes desolation, and the surrender of the sanctuary and of the host that will be trampled underfoot?" {14} He said to me, "It will take 2,300 evenings and mornings; then the sanctuary will be reconsecrated." {15} While I, Daniel, was watching the vision and trying to understand it, there before me stood one who looked like a man. {16} And I heard a man's voice from the Ulai calling, "Gabriel, tell this man the meaning of the vision." {17} As he came near the place where I was standing, I was terrified and fell prostrate. "Son of man," he said to me, "understand that the vision concerns the time of the end." {18} While he was speaking to me, I was in a deep sleep, with my face to the ground. Then he touched me and raised me to my feet. {19} He said: "I am going to tell you what will happen later in the time of wrath, because the vision concerns the appointed time of the end. {20} The two-horned ram that you saw represents the kings of Media and Persia. {21} The shaggy goat is the king of Greece, and the large horn between his eyes is the first king. {22} The four horns that replaced the one that was broken off represent four kingdoms that will emerge from his nation but will not have the same power. {23} "In the latter part of their reign, when rebels have become completely wicked, a stern-faced king, a master of intrigue, will arise. {24} He will become very strong, but not by his own power. He will cause astounding devastation and will succeed in whatever he does. He will destroy the mighty men and the holy people. {25} He will cause deceit to prosper, and he will consider himself superior. When they feel secure, he will destroy many and take his stand against the Prince of princes. Yet he will be destroyed, but not by human power. {26} "The vision of the evenings and mornings that has been given you is true, but seal up the vision, for it concerns the distant future." {27} I, Daniel, was exhausted and lay ill for several days. Then I got up and went about the king's business. I was appalled by the vision; it was beyond understanding.


The approximate time of this prophecy is 553 BC, as dated by the reigns of these kings. It is important to note also that this section of Daniel is not in Aramaic (the language of the Babylonian empire) but in Hebrew. For this reason, some liberal scholars have challenged the authenticity of this section of the book, and proposed it to be a later addition. I think this unlikely because:

·        Daniel would have treated Hebrew as his native language. He is writing to the Jews, not the Babylonians.

·        The evidence of Josephus indicates that (because his work suddenly becomes more detailed when discussing the events of the Maccabees) that Daniel greatly predated that book.

·        The objection itself is founded on circular reasoning: it must be later because prophecy cannot exist. Since this is such accurate prophecy, it must therefore be a later interpolation of a Hebrew text.

Regrettably, this heresy is taught in many Bible colleges today.

Note also that Daniel is in Susa - the capital of the Medes and Persians - only in the vision. He is actually in Babylon. This vision also takes place before the fall of the Babylonian empire.

Detailed Interpretation

We are most fortunate in this passage in our attempt to interpret it because

·        Gabriel (“hero of God”) the archangel explains most of it to Daniel.

·        By the most common interpretation, most of the events have come to pass.

So, therefore, let us look at the classic interpretation.

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:

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

·        North, to Armenia and Scythia

·        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 small horn

Note that the small horn “grew in power to the south and to the east and toward the Beautiful Land.” In other words, it must have started from the north and west of Palestine. The Seleucids, descendants of Seleucus, are the only one of the four horns which meet this criteria. The general consensus of the commentators is that this horn is Antiochus IV Epiphanes. The only dissent is from those who hold this is to be fulfilled in the future. This is, in my opinion, a misinterpretation of what Christ said in Matthew 24:15 about the “abomination that causes desolation.” He is not implying that the abomination is yet to come; he is saying, in essence, we’ve seen this once before and we will see it again. {Personal opinion}

Antiochus was indeed a man of abomination. His very name is offensive to the people of God, for “Epiphanes” is taken from the Greek word from which we get “epiphany”, meaning “an appearance of God in human form.” By his name he claimed to be God in the flesh (a claim made by many men of this time. Proving it is somewhat more difficult). The extent of his abomination is recorded in the noncanonical book I Maccabees:

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.

The 2300

We now come to the most puzzling part of the interpretation. Indeed, Gabriel commands that it be sealed up. That command itself bears upon the interpretation. There are three questions:

1) Is it 2300 days or 1150 days (“evenings and mornings)?

2) Are those actual days, or day=year years?

3) When does this period of time start?

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.

Moral Points

Besides the obvious fulfillment of prophecy -- which makes prophecy much more sure to us, and gives us assurance that what He said He will do -- there are some other moral points to be made from this chapter:

·        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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