Daniel chapter 8 is a preacher’s nightmare. Even noted scholars hesitate to be dogmatic in their interpretation of this chapter. Daniel himself has not the foggiest notion of the vision’s meaning, even after the angel Gabriel has interpreted the vision for him.
Daniel had a reputation for being able to understand and interpret all kinds of visions and dreams (1:17; 5:11-12). He had already demonstrated his God-given skill in interpreting the two visions of Nebuchadnezzar. Yet, the vision he receives in chapter 8 leaves him physically ill. He simply cannot grasp its meaning:
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 8:27).
When a divinely gifted interpreter of dreams and visions cannot understand it, even with Gabriel the angel explaining this prophecy to him, what am I as a preacher to do with this text? How can I write, or stand before a congregation, and say I simply do not understand the text on which I am speaking?
Struggling with this text has been interesting. While I cannot say my agony over this passage has led to complete understanding, I may say confidently I have learned much, and you can as well. May the Spirit of God enlighten our hearts and minds to our passage, as we come recalling the words of the apostle Paul:
16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
Verses 1 and 2 are the introduction to the vision Daniel received; verses 3-8 describe Daniel’s vision of the ram and the goat. The rising up and reign of the “little horn” are recorded in verses 9-14. Verses 15-19 introduce the angel, Gabriel, who is instructed to convey the meaning of the vision to Daniel. Verses 20 and 21 are the interpretation of the vision of verses 3-8, and verses 22-26 are the interpretation of verses 9-14. An account of Daniel’s response to the vision in verse 27 concludes the chapter. The chapter may be outlined as follows:
(1) Revelation of Daniel’s Vision Verses 1-14
(2) Interpretation of Daniel’s Vision Verses 15-27
1 In the third year of the reign of Belshazzar the king82 a vision appeared to me, Daniel, subsequent to the one which appeared to me previously. 2 And I looked in the vision, and it came about while I was looking, that 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.
Daniel had a purpose for including this information in his introduction. He wants his readers to know that the prophecy of chapter 8 must be understood in the context of the reign of Belshazzar, and particularly in light of the events described in chapter 5. Further, the prophecy of chapter 8 should be understood in relationship to the prophecy of chapter 7. Even though the prophecy of chapter 7 is written in Aramaic and chapter 8 in Hebrew, these two prophecies cannot be understood in isolation; they must be understood in relationship to each other.
Verse 1 tells us when Daniel received the vision and explains the relationship of the second vision to the first, recorded in chapter 7. Verse 2 is more geographical, telling us not where Daniel was when he received the vision, but where he was in the vision. His vision transported him both in time and space,83 as he found himself in Susa,84 about 150 miles north of the head of the Persian Gulf. Susa, the ancient capital of Elam, was destined in a few years to become a leading city in the Persian empire and the location of the king’s palace (see Nehemiah 1:1; Esther 1:2, 5: 2:3, 5). The canal (or river, see marginal note in NASB) mentioned by Daniel may have been the very one down which Alexander would later sail his fleet.85
How dramatically “things to come” are communicated to the prophet Daniel. He is actually transported to the future capital of the Persian empire. There, in Susa, beside the Ulai Canal, he learns that the two kingdoms which will follow the Babylonian empire will be Medo-Persia and Greece (see verses 20-21). We might liken it to an English prophet in the sixteenth century being transported to Washington D.C. in the twenty-first century. It will be some 12 years until the death of Belshazzar and the end of the Babylonian domination of the world, but Daniel’s vision takes him to the very capital of Persia where Nehemiah and Esther will later dwell.
3 Then I lifted my gaze 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. 4 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.
The ram, later identified as representing the kings of Medo-Persia (verse 20), has two horns. The first horn would be Media and the second Persia, coming later than the first and being more powerful. The directions in which these kings extend their dominion is revealed in verse 4 and confirmed by history.
Verse 4 describes the power given to the ram, enabling him to dominate the nations. No beasts could withstand the ram, and no one was able to rescue peoples from him. He could do as he pleased. In the process, the kings became arrogant, magnifying themselves. These same characteristics apply both to the goat and to the horn. From the first five chapters of Daniel, we see some of the same characteristics in Nebuchadnezzar and in Belshazzar.
5 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. 6 And 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. 7 And 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. 8 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.
The ram had its day in the sun. There was a time when it could do as it wished, when no one could be rescued from his power. When the Medo-Persian kingdom had served its purpose, it was overcome by Greece, represented in Daniel’s vision by the male goat (see verse 21). This goat had only one horn rather than two. It is generally agreed that this horn represented Alexander the Great. Coming from the west with a vengeance, he attacked the ram (Medo-Persia), striking a death-blow to this kingdom which had been instrumental in the return of the Jews to their land and in the rebuilding of the temple.
The goat is now the dominant world power from whose grasp none can be delivered. Like the ram before him, he magnified himself exceedingly, and with power came pride and oppression. Coming to an early demise at the pinnacle of his power, his “horn was broken” (verse 8).86 Although it took a number of years, eventually four kings rose to take control of his empire.87
9 And 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.88 10 And it grew up to the host of heaven89 and caused some of the host and some of the stars to fall to the earth, and it trampled them down. 11 It even magnified itself to be equal with the Commander of the host; and it removed the regular sacrifice90 from Him, and the place of His sanctuary was thrown down. 12 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.91 13 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?” 14 And he said to me, “For 2,300 evenings and mornings; then the holy place will be properly restored.”
We should begin by noting that the focus of chapter 8 is the “little horn,” just as the “little horn” is the central focus of chapter 7.92 Six verses are devoted to the description of the ram and the goat. The origins of the “little horn” give little indication of the power and prominence to which this king eventually attains. After the one “large horn” of the goat is broken off (apparently the death of Alexander the Great), four lesser horns arise. The “little horn” emerges from one of these four horns. While rather small at first, it grows to be exceedingly great.
The conflict between the “little horn” and God at this point becomes almost bigger than life. At verse 10, the little horn achieves things which are more than human. He “grows up to the host of heaven,” causing “some of the host and some of the stars to fall to earth,” where “he tramples them” (verse 10). Like the ram and the goat before him, he “magnified himself” (verse 11). While the others magnified themselves above men, this horn magnifies himself “to be equal with the Commander of the host.” He “removes the regular sacrifice from Him” and throws down “the place of His sanctuary” (verse 11). This king thinks himself equal with God, going as far as directly opposing God.
The “little horn” seems to change before our eyes, from a mortal man to an incarnation of Satan himself. The focus seems to shift from the Israelites, Israel, Jerusalem, and the temple, to the “host of heaven” and the “stars of heaven.” Are these angels as they seem to be (see Revelation 12:4)? This prophecy suggests that much more exists here than meets the eye. Little wonder then that Bible students differ greatly about the meaning of these verses.93
Verse 12 puts the success of the horn just described in verses 10 and 11 in perspective. One may gain the impression from verses 10 and 11 that the horn takes on God and wins. The reality, expressed in verse 12, is that the “host of heaven” is “given over to the horn,” not because of the horn’s greatness, but “on account of transgression.” Truth is cast to the ground, and everything this horn attempts seems to succeed—even his rebellion against God, His people, and His holy place.
This is almost too much to fathom, much less accept. Apparently an angel, identified as a “holy one,” speaks up, and Daniel overhears the conversation. The first angel asks how long this transgression and defilement of the holy place and the oppression of the host will go on. Verse 14 answers this question: it will last for 2,300 evenings and mornings,94 and then the holy place will be restored properly.
15 And it came about when I, Daniel, had seen the vision, that I sought to understand it; and behold, standing before me was one who looked like a man. 16 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.” 17 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.” 18 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.
Daniel, the man so gifted in understanding and interpreting visions and dreams, is completely baffled and seeks to understand the meaning of the vision he has seen. An angel who looked like a man was standing by Daniel in his vision. A voice from between the banks of the Ulai called out to the one standing by Daniel. He called the angel by name—Gabriel. This is the first time in the Old Testament an angel is identified by name.95 The voice instructs Gabriel to explain the meaning of the vision to Daniel.
As Gabriel draws near to Daniel, the prophet is overcome by fear and falls on his face. Gabriel draws near, informing him that the time-frame of the events revealed by his vision is the distant future. When Daniel begins to fall into a deep sleep, Gabriel makes him stand up. This is not the time to sleep in class. He wants Daniel’s full attention as he reveals the meaning of the vision.
Three times in this chapter it is stated that the vision pertains to the end times (verses 17, 19, 26). This raises a question, because the “little horn” in chapter 8 emerges from one of the four horns taking the place of Alexander the Great. The “end” 96 referred to here seems of necessity not to be the final end, still future for us, but the end times preceding the first coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Baldwin understands “the end” in our text not to be the final end:
“‘The vision is for the time of the end’ needs to be interpreted in connection with prophetic use of ‘the end’, for it does not necessarily mean the end of all things, but may refer to the question asked in verse 13; verse 19 supports this interpretation. Ezekiel, quoting Amos 8:1, had used the word ‘end’ in 7:2, 3. For the Northern Kingdom at the time of Amos the end was brought about by Assyrian invasion and captivity; for Judah the end was the sack of Jerusalem by the Babylonian armies (cf. Ezk. 21:25, 29; 35:5). In each case the end meant the end of rebellion against God, because He intervened in judgment. The same sense applies in Daniel 8 (cf. 9:26).” 97
It seems best to understand that a king will arise at the latter part of the kingdom of Greece who will openly rebel against God, oppose and oppress the saints, and succeed for a limited period of time. This time of tribulation marks the end of an age and precedes the first coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The fulfillment of the prophecies pertaining to the “little horn” of chapter 8 seems to take place under Antiochus Epiphanes. But this end time and this king also serves as a prototype of another “horn” in the last days, who brings about tribulation such as the world has never seen and will never see again. This seems to be the way our Lord interpreted the prophecy of Daniel:
9 Then they will deliver you up to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations on account of My name. 10 And at that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will arise, and will mislead many. 12 And because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end, it is he who shall be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come. 15 Therefore when you see the ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), 16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains; 17 let him who is on the housetop not go down to get the things out that are in his house; 18 and let him who is in the field not turn back to get his cloak. 19 But woe to those who are with child and to those who nurse babes in those days! 20 But pray that your flight may not be in the winter, or on a Sabbath; 21 for then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever shall (Matthew 24:9-21 - emphasis mine).
19 And he said, “Behold, I am going to let you know what will occur at the final period of the indignation,98 for it pertains to the appointed time of the end. 20 “The ram which you saw with the two horns represents the kings of Media and Persia. 21 “And the shaggy goat represents the kingdom of Greece, and the large horn that is between his eyes is the first king. 22 “And 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. 23 “And in the latter period of their rule, When the transgressors have run their course, A king will arise insolent and skilled in intrigue. 24 “And 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. 25 “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. 26 “And 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.”
Gabriel informs Daniel about the subject matter of the vision he has received: the events of the “final period of the indignation” (verse 19). Though not synonymous with the “appointed time of the end,” it does pertain to it. The “final period of the indignation” precedes the “appointed time of the end.” One might say the period of indignation precipitates the time of the end.
During part of his reign, this wicked “horn” appears to prevail against God; reality is otherwise. The “horn” is granted a period of time to rebel against God and to succeed, not because he is stronger than God, but because his rebellion is a part of the purpose of God. His reign is divinely purposed and permitted so that God’s indignation may be poured out on a sinful people. Because of sin, God’s indignation is poured out on mankind through this “horn:”
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 (Daniel 8:12).
The vision pertaining to the ram and the goat, recorded in verses 5-8, is interpreted in but two verses (20 and 21), one verse for each empire. The ram represented Medo-Persia; the goat, Greece. Nothing is mysterious or debatable about this part of the vision. The difficulty comes with the interpretation of the “little horn” in verses 22-26, which receive the greatest emphasis and attention in Gabriel’s interpretation of the vision.
The four horns, arising after the breaking off of the goat’s one horn, are four kings, whose resulting kingdoms never approach the power and dominion of the first. Later in the reign of these kings, the little horn does emerge from one of the four kingdoms. From a merely human perspective, he arises because of his own power and greatness. From the divine point of view, he is raised up and given power because the “transgressors have run their course” (verse 23). As the iniquity of the Amorites was not yet full and the Israelites would have to wait over 400 years to possess the land of Canaan (Genesis 15:16), so the “little horn” was not allowed to rise to power until sin had run its full course, and the time for God’s indignation to be poured out through this king had come.
The sins of the Jews are in view here, for it is against the Jews and against Jerusalem that this king pours out his wrath. Through this king, God gives His people what they deserve, in full measure.
While verses 23-26 describe the actions of this king, their primary focus is his character. Arrogant, cunning, and deceptive, he is powerful, but “not by his own power.” He is so wicked and evil that it becomes apparent someone is behind him, someone greater than he, granting him power and expanding his pride. The source of this power can be no other than Satan himself. Here, as in Isaiah 14, a wicked king is described with the characteristics and attributes of Satan:
11 Again the word of the LORD came to me saying, 12 “Son of man, take up a lamentation over the king of Tyre, and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, “You had the seal of perfection, Full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. 13 You were in Eden, the garden of God; Every precious stone was your covering; The ruby, the topaz, and the diamond; The beryl, the onyx, and the jasper; The lapis lazuli, the turquoise, and the emerald; And the gold, the workmanship of your settings and sockets, was in you. On the day that you were created That you were prepared. 14 You were the anointed cherub who covers, And I placed you there. You were on the holy mountain of God; You walked in the midst of the stones of fire. 15 You were blameless in your ways From the day you were created, Until unrighteousness was found in you. 16 By the abundance of your trade You were internally filled with violence, And you sinned; Therefore I have cast you as profane From the mountain of God. And I have destroyed you, O covering cherub, From the midst of the stones of fire. 17 Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; You corrupted your wisdom by reason of your splendor. I cast you to the ground; I put you before kings, That they may see you. 18 By the multitude of your iniquities, In the unrighteousness of your trade, You profaned your sanctuaries. Therefore I have brought fire from the midst of you; It has consumed you, And I have turned you to ashes on the earth In the eyes of all who see you. 19 All who know you among the peoples Are appalled at you; You have become terrified. And you will be no more” ‘“ (Ezekiel 28:11-19; see also, Isaiah 14:5-6, 12-15).
This king will evidence the same pride which characterizes Satan. He will deceive and destroy “to an extraordinary degree.” He will be a master of destruction. His destruction will be all the greater because in some way he will put men at ease, bringing about their destruction when they do not expect it. His destruction will come upon him as unexpectedly as that which he brought on others, but not by any human agency. If the ram was subdued by the goat, this “horn” will be destroyed by God.
Gabriel’s final words provide instructions for Daniel concerning his vision: the vision is true and reliable and the events are certain to take place. But they are events in the distant future, long after Daniel’s death. Daniel must not make these visions known to anyone else, almost as though this vision is recorded in Daniel’s diary to be published after his death.
27 Then I, Daniel, was exhausted and sick for days. Then I got up again and carried on the king’s business;99 but I was astounded at the vision, and there was none to explain it.
Daniel paid a high price for receiving this vision. He received a revelation he could not understand, a vision he must keep to himself. If this were not enough, the experience so drained his strength that he lay sick and exhausted for days.
Does it puzzle you that God revealed this vision to Daniel? Why reveal a vision to a prophet he cannot understand, even with the help of an angel? Why reveal a vision which caused such physical and emotional distress—and then instruct him not to tell anyone?
Why indeed! If the message of chapter 8 were announced as the subject of next week’s sermon, and it was preached true to the text, most Christians would not show up to hear it. Many indeed would refuse to hear it.
While struggling in my study of this text, it occurred to me that Christians today do not want this kind of revelation. They do not want to hear a word from God if it is like Daniel chapter 8. Contemporary American Christians want the truths of God’s Word made clear and comprehendible, and most of all, relevant. We want a word from God which is affirming, that reassures that there are only good things ahead. We want clear, amusing illustrations with immediate, practical applications which make us more successful and cause us to feel more fulfilled.
Do you wonder why the prophets of old were consistently persecuted, even killed, and their message resisted and rejected? Do you wonder why the prophets did not find a willing, listening audience? Because true prophets have always told men what they needed to hear, while false prophets tell men what they want to hear.
In wrestling with the message of chapter 8, I find myself faced with some very serious problems raised by this text. In the first verse of the chapter, Daniel informs us that the second vision of Daniel, recorded in chapter 8, should be understood in relationship to the first vision in chapter 7. In both chapters, we find a “little horn,” having a number of things in common. A problem arises because they are so much alike, and yet there are some seemingly irreconcilable differences.100
One difference is that the little horn of chapter 7 emerges out of the fourth kingdom, while the horn of chapter 8 emerges out of the third kingdom. The little horn of chapter 7 is the eleventh horn, while the horn of chapter 8 grows out of one of four horns. The period of oppression by the horn of chapter 7 is 3 1/2 years; the period of oppression by the horn of chapter 8 is 2,300 days.
I frankly am unable to explain the difference between these two horns to my own satisfaction. Why should this surprise me? The Old Testament prophets—not just Daniel—did not understand their own prophecies, especially when it came to the suffering and glory of the Messiah (see 1 Peter 1:10-12).
One could say we have a problem with prophecy because it is still future. There is much truth in this. The suffering and the glory of the Messiah now makes sense to the Christian, knowing He came first to suffer and that He will return in glory.
The apostle Paul reminds us that even when we look back on fulfilled prophecy, it is still, to one degree or another, unfathomable. In Romans 9-11, the apostle Paul explains how the salvation of both Jews and Gentiles was a part of God’s eternal plan, and even a part of Old Testament prophetic revelation. God did choose to bless the Gentiles through the seed of Abraham, but this “seed” was Christ, not faithful Israel. God’s blessings did come through the Jews, but in a backhanded manner. The Gentiles received the gospel because the Jews rejected it. At the end of his explanation of the outworking of the eternal plan and purpose of God, Paul looks back on the wisdom of God and finds it beyond comprehension:
30 For just as you once were disobedient to God but now have been shown mercy because of their disobedience, 31 so these also now have been disobedient, in order that because of the mercy shown to you they also may now be shown mercy. 32 For God has shut up all in disobedience that He might show mercy to all. 33 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God (Romans 11:30-36).
If God’s wisdom is such that we cannot fully grasp His infinite wisdom in retrospect, how could we ever expect to understand God’s plan and purpose in advance? Daniel did not understand the prophecy contained in his vision, even after Gabriel’s explanation. Peter tells us the prophets did not understand their own writings (1 Peter 1:10-12). Why does this surprise us?
I must admit I do not understand chapter 8 either. I understand pieces of it, but not the package. I can look back and see that the ram was Medo-Persia and that the goat symbolized Greece. But I cannot understand all that is said of the “little horn,” in either chapter 7 or chapter 8. Why should I? Why should I expect to understand the infinitely wise God?
God’s purpose in revealing the vision to Daniel was not to enable him to understand the future before it happened nor is it His purpose for revealing this vision to us. Prophecy has never been fully understood in advance, nor will it ever be so.
God revealed this prophecy not so that we might understand completely His plan or be able to recognize every event as it is fulfilled, but to reveal to us some of what lies ahead, and to assure us that His purposes and promises will be fulfilled.
Daniel 8 tells us that before the coming of the end there will be a time when an evil king will arise who will resist God, persecute His saints, and even appear to succeed. There will be tough times ahead. This, I believe, is what caused Daniel such distress—knowing that God Himself, along with His people, would suffer at the hands of wicked men. Our text tells us clearly that the success of this evil horn is by divine permission in order to fulfill God’s purposes. In the end, God will destroy this wicked one and reward the righteous.
We need know no more than this: God is in control of the future. While we may not understand exactly what is going to happen, or when, we do know that God is in control, and that He is causing all things to work together for His glory and for the good of His saints.
Many of you may be suffering this very moment, each in a different way. I ask, do you understand exactly what the future holds for you? Who among you knows precisely what God is doing, or why? Like Job, we are called to suffer without God’s explanation. We do not need to know what will happen tomorrow. We do not need to know the reasons for what God is doing in our lives at the moment. All we need to know is that He is our God, and that He is in control. This is the essence of chapter 8: we know our future is in God’s hands and that suffering must precede glory. Knowing this is enough. If we know Him, we know all we need to know.
I find myself reluctantly admitting, at the end of my efforts to understand what this prophecy means, that I do not really understand it at all. Why does this admission come so slowly and reluctantly? Prophecy is given to teach me and to remind me that I do not understand God’s ways. Let us not reluctantly confess our ignorance and God’s wisdom but gladly acknowledge it.
Prophecy is given not so we will understand all that the infinitely wise God is doing. Prophecy is given to remind us that God is in control. When His promises are fulfilled, we will look back in wonder, confessing that we would never have planned it that way, and we would not have believed God would achieve His ends that way, even if we had been told in advance. Prophecy exposes our lack of wisdom and our need for divine enablement. Prophecy assures us of God’s infinite holiness, power, and goodness, and turns us to Him for the wisdom and grace we need in our weakness:
28 Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the LORD, the creator of the ends of the earth Does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable. 29 He gives strength to the weary, And to him who lacks might He increases power. 30 Though youths grow weary and tired, And vigorous young men stumble badly, 31 Yet those who wait for the LORD Will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary. (Isaiah 40:28-31; 55:6-11).
(1) What is the structure of Daniel 8?
In general, verses 1-14 contain the account of Daniel’s vision, and verses 15-27 give us the interpretation of that vision. Verses 1 and 2 serve to introduce the vision. In verses 2-14, we have a description of the ram (3-4), the goat (5-8), and the “little horn” (9-14). In verses 15-18, Gabriel the angelic interpreter, is introduced. Verses 19-26 then explain the meaning of the ram (20), the goat (21), and the little horn (22-25). Verse 27 describes Daniel’s response to the vision.
(2) Describe some of the major features or characteristics of Daniel 8.
(3) What relationship exists between the vision of chapter 8 and previous visions?
Daniel draws out the connection between his vision in chapter 8 and that recorded in chapter 7 in 8:1. It is assumed that all the visions will be understood in relationship to one another. Nebuchadnezzar’s vision in chapter 2 focuses on five kingdoms (the four earthly kingdoms represented in the statue and the fifth eternal kingdom brought about by the stone). Daniel’s vision in chapter 7 also refers to four human kingdoms (represented by the four beasts) and an eternal kingdom, established by God. Daniel’s vision in chapter 8 focuses on but two kingdoms, identified as the kingdoms of Medo-Persia and Greece. The first three kingdoms are identified as Babylon (2:37-39), Medo-Persia (8:20), and Greece (8:21). The fourth kingdom is not specifically identified.
Daniel 2 focuses on the first, fourth, and eternal kingdom with little attention given to the second and third kingdoms. Daniel 7 focuses on the fourth and the eternal kingdoms, giving little attention to the first three. Daniel 8 emphasizes the second and third kingdoms. When chapters 2, 7, and 8 are taken together, the five kingdoms are described and explained.
(4) What does Daniel tell us about the timing of this vision? What difference does the timing make? Why do you think both visions are given to Daniel during the reign of Belshazzar?
In verse 1 of chapter 8, Daniel informs us that the vision he describes here was given to him in the third year of Belshazzar. His first vision, described in chapter 7, was given to him in the first year of Belshazzar. It would seem that some 12 years pass between the time of the second vision and the events described in Daniel 5, which declare the end of king Belshazzar and his kingdom.
In the introduction to his second vision, (8:1-2), Daniel is indicating that his vision in chapter 7 and that described in chapter 8 are related and must be interpreted in relationship to each other.
I believe the emphasis of both chapters 7 and 8 falls on the mysterious “little horns” of these chapters, and that Belshazzar, as described in chapter 5, has some of the same characteristics as these horns. Belshazzar and his divine removal thus serve as both an illustration and a prototype for the prophecy in Daniel 7 and 8.
(5) Why does Daniel tell us where he was when he received this second vision?
Daniel’s vision in chapter 8 pertains to the second and third kingdoms of Daniel: Medo-Persia and Greece. In his vision, Daniel is transported to Susa, the capital of Persia, later referred to in the Books of Nehemiah and Esther. His presence in this capital city simply underscores the future certainty of the fulfillment of God’s prophetic promises. It is one thing to be told in a dream that there will be certain kingdoms in the future; it is another to actually be present in a vision.
(6) What is unique about the second dream which sets it apart from the first?
Daniel 7 and 8 both have a “little horn” which receives a great deal of attention in the vision. In chapter 7, the little horn arises out of the fourth kingdom; in chapter 8, the little horn arises out of the third kingdom. In chapter 7, there is a great deal of emphasis on the heavenly court, the condemnation of the horn, and the establishment of the kingdom of God. In chapter 8, the focus falls more on the little horn, his character, his apparent success in opposing God, His chosen city, and His saints. Also, the vision of chapter 8 is interpreted by Gabriel, but even after his explanation, Daniel does not understand it. Chapter 8 places more emphasis on the fact that the rebellion of the little horn is because of Israel’s sins, in order to bring about divine indignation.
(7) What are the problems associated with Daniel 8, which make this vision so difficult to understand? What are some possible solutions?
The biggest problem is with the “little horns” of chapters 7 and 8. They are very much alike, so much so that one would think they are one and the same person. But they can hardly be the same. The horn of chapter 7 arises out of the fourth empire; the horn of chapter 8 arises from the third empire. The horn of chapter 7 is the eleventh horn; the horn of chapter 8 emerges from one of four horns.
It may be possible, in some way, that our struggle with the identity of the “little horn” is like that which the Old Testament prophets had with the Messiah. It appeared to them that there were two Messiah’s, one who suffered, and one who triumphed (see 1 Peter 1:10-12). The solution was found in the two comings of the Christ, but that was only seen after His first coming. We should remember that Satan likes to mimic God, and that Revelation speaks of a beast who is healed of a fatal wound (Revelation 13:3, 12, 14).
As I read the description of the “little horn” in chapters 7 and 8, I find the same characteristics are evident in kings like Nebuchadnezzar (before his fall and restoration), Belshazzar, and also the ram and the goat. Satan always seems to have a “horn” in the wings, so to speak. Why would we expect to see only one horn in history? It seems there will be many, with the last horn simply given the ability to go farther than any of his predecessors.
The other major problem with chapter 8 is that it is supposed to deal with “the time of the end” (verses 17, 19, 26); yet it describes only the second and third empires and does not appear to go as far as the fourth empire. How can chapter 8 deal with the times of the end without describing the fourth empire?
The term “end” is often used, but it does not necessarily refer to the final end, but rather to the end of something. In our text, the reference may not be to the final end of God’s plans and purposes, that is with the establishment of His kingdom. It is possible as well that there will be an earlier “end” which may be like the final end, foreshadowing it. The rise to power of Antiochus Epiphanes, and his desecration of the temple, may be a kind of “end” preceding the first coming of Christ and foreshadowing the final end, which precedes the second coming of our Lord.
(8) Why would God reveal a vision to Daniel he does not understand, which he cannot tell anyone, and which causes him to be physically ill for a period of time?
Prophecy is not given to men so they can understand all that God is doing and why. It is not given so that we may recognize the fulfillment of God’s plans and purposes as it happens. Prophecy is given so we will know that the future is in God’s hands, He is in control, and His purposes and promises will prevail. It is given to inform us that there will be suffering and even the appearance of defeat. This is what seemed to happen at the first coming of our Lord, when He was rejected by the Jews and crucified. It will also seem to happen when the little horn opposes God and His people and appears to succeed for a season. Prophecy is not given to help us understand all that is happening at the time, but so we will know God is the One in control of what is happening at any and all times. Prophecy is given so that when we do not understand we will turn to Him who is all-knowing and all-powerful.
(9) What would Daniel 8 have to say to an Old Testament Israelite who lived shortly after Daniel?
The Jews were shortly to be released from their captivity and encouraged to return to the promised land, and particularly to Jerusalem where they would rebuild the temple. In the euphoria of that time, they might wrongly conclude that the promised kingdom had come. While they were not able to understand all of Daniel 8, they would know that this could not be the fulfillment of God’s promises concerning His eternal kingdom. They were to be released during the second (Medo-Persian) empire, only to be greatly opposed and even defeated in the third. The kingdom was not coming to the Jews in those next few years. While there was much cause for rejoicing at the release and return of the Jewish captives, let them see it in the broader perspective of God’s purposes and promises.
82 Walvoord demonstrates that recent archaeological findings tell us Daniel’s vision in chapter 8 was received some 12 years before the fatal feast of Belshazzar. John F. Walvoord, Daniel: The Key to Prophetic Revelation (Chicago: Moody Press, 1971), p. 179.
83 Compare Ezekiel 8:3; 40:1-2.
84 “Beginning in 1884, the site of ancient Susa, then a large mound, has been explored and has divulged many archeological treasures. The code of Hammurabi was found there in 1901. The famous palace referred to by Daniel, Esther and Nehemiah was begun by Darius I and enlarged by later kings. Remains of its magnificence can still be seen near the modern village of Shush.” Walvoord, p. 181.
86 “All of this, of course, was fulfilled dramatically in history. The forces of Alexander first met and defeated the Persians at the Granicus River in Asia Minor in May 334 B.C., which was the beginning of the complete conquest of the entire Persian Empire. A year and a half later a battle occurred at Issus (November 333 B.C.) near the northeastern tip of the Mediterranean Sea. The power of Persia was finally broken at Gaugamela near Nineveh in October 331 B.C.” Walvoord, p. 183.
“Alexander, who had conquered more of the world than any previous ruler, was not abl61e61 to conquer himself. Partly due to a strenuous exertion, his dissipated life, and a raging fever, Alexander died in a drunken debauch at Babylon, not yet thirty-three years of age. His death left a great conquest without an effective single leader, and it took about twenty years for the empire to be successfully divided.” Walvoord, p. 184.
87 “Practically all commentators, however, recognize the four horns as symbolic of the four kingdoms of the Diadochi which emerged as follows: (1) Cassander assumed rule over Macedonia and Greece; (2) Lysimacus took control of Thrace, Bithynia, and most of Asia Minor; (3) Seleucus took Syria and the lands to the east including Babylonia; (4) Ptolemy established rule over Egypt and possibly Palestine and Arabia Petraea. A fifth contender for political power, Antigonus, was soon defeated.” Walvoord, p. 184.
“These conquests, of course, are confirmed in the history of Syria, especially under Antiochus Epiphanes, the eighth king in the Syrian dynasty who reigned 175-164 .C. (I Macc 1:10; 6:16). In his lifetime, he conducted military expeditions in relation to all of these areas . . . . The land of Israel indeed became the battle ground between Syria and Egypt, and the setting of some of Antiochus Epiphanes’ most significant blasphemous acts against God. According to 1 Maccabees 1:20, Revised Standard Version, Antiochus first invaded Egypt and then Jerusalem: ‘after subduing Egypt, Antiochus returned in the one hundred and forty-third year. He went up against Israel and came to Jerusalem with a strong force.’” Walvoord, p. 185.
90 See Exodus 29:38-42.
91 “The obscurity of the first part of this verse is noted in the margin of the RSV and has puzzled translators from early times. The grammar is difficult and the sense hard to establish.” Joyce C. Baldwin, Daniel: An Introduction and Commentary (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1978), p. 157.
92 In chapter 7, only three verses are devoted to the first three beasts, one verse per beast. Nine verses are devoted to the fourth beast and the “little horn,” three verses to the fourth beast and six verses to the horn. In chapter 8, three verses are devoted to a description of the ram (who appears to be the second beast of chapter 7), six verses to the goat (who seems to be the third beast of chapter 7), and ten verses to the “little horn.” In both chapters, the “little horn” is the center of attention.
93 “Up to Daniel 8:11, it is not difficult to find fulfillment of the vision in the history of the Medo-Persian, Alexandrian, and post-Alexandrian periods. Beginning with verse 11, however, expositors have differed widely as to whether the main import of the passage refers to Antiochus Epiphanes, with complete fulfillment in his lifetime, or whether the passage either primarily or secondarily refers also to the end of the age, that is, the period of great tribulation preceding the second coming of Jesus Christ . . . As Montgomery states, verses 11 and 12 ‘constitute . . . the most difficult short passage of the book.’” Walvoord, p. 186.
94 “The Seventh Day Adventists understood that the two thousand and three hundred days referred to years which, on the basis of their interpretation, were to culminate in the year 1844 with the second coming of Christ.” Walvoord, p. 188.
99 The “king” would have been Belshazzar. Daniel was employed by the king, and yet we learn from chapter 5 that this king seems to have known nothing about Daniel, especially of his unusual wisdom and skill in the interpretation of visions and dreams.
“Such an understanding of the last two periods demands that the little horn of 8:9, which grew out of one of the four horns of the he-goat, be distinguished from the little horn of 7:8, which came up among the ten horns of the indescribable beast. Though they have a superficial similarity, there are many differences between them and they do not belong to the same era. This fact is an indication that we are being introduced to a recurring historical phenomenon: the clever but ruthless world dictator, who stops at nothing in order to achieve his ambitions.” Baldwin, p. 162.
“While there are obvious similarities between the two little horns of chapter 7 and chapter 8, the differences are important. If the fourth kingdom represented by Daniel 7 is Rome, then obviously the third kingdom represented by the goat in chapter 8 is not Rome. Their characteristics are much different as they arise from different beasts, their horns differ in number, and the end result is different. The Messianic kingdom according to Daniel 7 was going to be erected after the final world empire. This is not true of the period following the he-goat in chapter 8.” Walvoord, p. 194.