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"Rams, Goats and the Glory of God"


Read: Daniel chapter eight

          We pick up our study of Daniel where we left off before Christmas with chapter seven.  That places us firmly in the second half of this book that we saw last time is marked by graphic apocalyptic images you doubtless noticed as we read this chapter earlier.  These final chapters of Daniel are prophecies predicting future events. You may recall that chapter seven contains prophetic teaching about the global military and political dynasties that would come to power in succession to one another.  First, Babylon would dominate the Ancient Near East.  In chapter seven Babylon was symbolized by a winged, lion-like creature.  After Babylon, the Medo-Persian Empire, consolidated under King Cyrus occupied the world’s center stage and it is  symbolized in chapter seven by a bear that was “raised up on one side” “with three ribs in its mouth.  This Persian Empire would give way to the Greek Empire under the brilliant military conquests of Alexander the Great.  The four-headed and four-winged leopard symbolizes Alexander and the Greek Empire. 

From the Grecian Empire would grow another even more dominant world power, the Roman Empire.  This beast, which dominates chapter seven, is described apocalyptically as having iron legs and ten horns with a little horn emerging later that would rip up three of the other horns.  Based on the description of the little horn given by Daniel and its correlation to the antichrist figure described in the New Testament, many in the church have understood that little horn to be the final world tyrant who will severely persecute God’s people before being destroyed by Christ.  As we move into chapter eight, there is some overlap with these dynasties in chapter seven.  As we’ll see, this chapter focuses on the Medo-Persian Empire, the Greek empire and most of its time is spent on another little horn who rises not from Rome, but from the Greek empire.

There are also some shifts or changes that occur between chapter seven and chapter eight.  An important one is a change in language and while not noticeable in English translations of the Bible, is nonetheless informative.  Chapters two through seven were written in Arabic, which was the language of much of the Gentile world in the Ancient Near East.  In chapter eight through the end of the book, the author reverts back to the Hebrew language found in nearly all of the rest of the Old Testament.  A good question is:  Why do you introduce a book in Hebrew, tell the stories of Daniel in Babylon and the prophecy in chapter seven in Arabic, only to revert back to Hebrew in chapters eight through 12?  The answer tells us much about God’s heart for the nations.  Remember that the big message in chapters two through seven was that God---the God of the Jews was completely sovereign over the affairs of this world including the captivity and exile of his people by Babylon. 

Four times in that section the author uses the phrase “people of every race, nation and language” to communicate the intended audience for this revelation of the greatness of God as he shows his glory in the midst of his miraculous activity through Daniel and his friends.  Chapters two through seven were written in Arabic because the Gentiles were the original intended audience for these chapters.  Although both Jew and Gentile have been greatly strengthened by these chapters, they were first intended by God as a record of his supremacy while his people were in the midst of the Gentiles.  Again, this shows us God’s heart for all the nations and partially sets the stage for the Great Commission where Jesus will tell his disciples to take the ultimate message of God’s supremacy, the gospel.

Several weeks ago we said that much apocalyptic prophecy in the Bible is not written to give us a detailed photograph of the future, but more of an impressionistic painting.  This chapter is a notable exception to that. The images in this chapter correlate very closely with the past historical events that we know fulfilled these prophecies.  Most of the specific details of the imagery correlate to specific future historical people or events.  Beyond that, this chapter has within it an angelic interpretation of much of the imagery given to Daniel.  In that interpretation, specific names of countries, not just apocalyptic images are given.  Because there is such a close match between the details of the apocalyptic imagery here to the historical events they predict, we are going to begin by giving the historical details this prophecy predicts and then show the correlation between the events that transpired and the apocalyptic imagery that point to them. This prophecy in chapter eight was written around 550 BC.  That’s the approximate date for the “third year of the reign of King Beltzhazzar” in verse one. The events that are prophesied here begin about 20 years after that, through the 300’s and down to 163 BC.  So the events prophesied here span almost 400 years.  The first event is the ascendancy of the Medo-Persian Empire under King Cyrus. 

As we have seen before, the two kingdoms of the Medes and Persians unite and under Cyrus topple Babylon.  Verse four gives us the apocalyptic imagery for this conquest.  I saw the ram charging westward and northward and southward. No beast could stand before him, and there was no one who could rescue from his power. He did as he pleased and became great.”  The expansion of the Medo-Persian Empire was to the west and north and south, corresponding precisely with the imagery of the charging ram.  The interpretation the angel Gabriel gives is in verse 20.  He says, “As for the ram that you saw with the two horns, these are the kings of Media and Persia.”  Media and Persia were two separate kingdoms that merge and become one great “charging ram.” 

The next chapter in history prophesied here is the conquest by the Macedonian or Greek Empire under Alexander the Great.  Historians tell us that Alexander began his dominance from the west in 334 B.C.  In a campaign unique in all military history, in the span of three short years, he defeated every major rival in the Near and Middle East.  He flew through this region, devastating sometimes far larger armies, only to die at age 33 in 323—eleven years after he began his campaign.  After his death, no one was able to maintain control over this new empire and it eventually split into four separate and far less formidable kingdoms.  That history is predicted in the prophetic images in verse five.  There he says, “As I was considering, behold, a male goat came from the west across the face of the whole earth, without touching the ground. And the goat had a conspicuous horn between his eyes.” 

As the text later says explicitly in verse 21, “the goat is the king of Greece,”  the first great horn between his eyes is the first King” (who we know to be Alexander) and the image of the goat moving “without touching the ground” is a powerful description of the tremendous speed of Alexander’s conquest.  Alexander’s death, at the height of his power and the subsequent division of the kingdom, is conveyed prophetically in verse eight.  There it says, “Then the goat became exceedingly great, but when he was strong, the great horn was broken, and instead of it there came up four conspicuous horns toward the four winds of heaven.”  That is stated in plain language in Gabriel’s interpretation in verse 22. Again, we see the very close correlation between the apocalyptic imagery and the future historical events as they transpired.

The next series of events within this prophecy are almost universally recognized as predicting the reign of a future king of one of these four splinters from Alexander’s Macedonian Empire.  This kingdom eventually came to be ruled by a man named Antiochus Epiphanes who we have mentioned earlier.  He usurped power from his nephew in around 170 B.C.—so we have moved about 150 years after the death of Alexander.  His rule, though not nearly as expansive as Alexander’s, did indeed spread to the south in Egypt and to the east and is remembered most for his brutal domination of the Jews in Israel.  Antiochus was driven to suppress among his conquered peoples anything he considered inconsistent with Greek culture.  That obsession placed him on a collision course with the Jews in Israel whose temple and monotheism differed radically from the Greek religion and worldview.

Historians tell us that he sent his generals with 20,000 troops to seize Jerusalem on a Sabbath in 168 B.C.  At some point, they forcibly stopped the regular morning and evening burnt offerings in the temple prescribed by Old Testament law.  Upon entering the temple, they erected an idol of Zeus and offered unclean swine on the altar of God, thoroughly desecrating it.  This idol became known as the “abomination of desolation.”  Before that, he had seized control of the high priesthood, placing his own Gentile brother in that position and he incessantly pressured the Jewish religious leaders to conform to the polytheistic religion of the Greeks.  He ordered all copies of the Hebrew Scripture to be destroyed and it was a capital offense to be found with a copy of the Torah.  Parents were executed for circumcising their baby boys.  This oppression continued until 165 B.C. when the Jewish hero Judas Maccabaeus rededicated the temple three years later on December 25, an event which is commemorated in the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah.

Finally, two years later in 163 B.C. Antiochus died a tortuous death, not in battle but from a severe abdominal condition that according to the Jewish historian Josephus involved worms, a revolting stench and exquisite and lasting pain.  This assault on God’s people, when figured according to the number of morning and evening offerings lasted every bit of the “2,300 evenings and mornings” the heavenly being prophesies in verse 14.  The apocalyptic prophecy in verses 8-12 speaks of Antiochus as the “little horn.”  There we read, speaking of these four Grecian kingdoms “ 9Out of one of them came a little horn, which grew exceedingly great toward the south, toward the east, and toward the glorious land…And the regular burnt offering was taken away from him, and the place of his sanctuary was overthrown.  12And a host will be given over to it together with the regular burnt offering because of transgression, and it will throw truth to the ground, and it will act and prosper.” 

Again, note the close correlation of the images to future historic events.  Antiochus’ reign spread to the south and the east and “toward the glorious land” which elsewhere in Scripture refers to the land of Israel.  The regular burnt offerings were taken away; the place of the sanctuary was overthrown.  The truth thrown to the ground surely describes the attempted abolition of the sacred scriptures.  There is no explicit mention of the swine on the altar, the desecration of the priesthood or the prohibition of circumcision, but those attacks are probably conveyed in verses 10-11.  10It grew great, even to the host of heaven. And some of the host and some of the stars it threw down to the ground and trampled on them.  11It became great, even as great as the Prince of the host.”  These verses may speak of some heavenly battle that raged in connection with the blasphemies of Antiochus—we certainly see angelic conflict in chapter ten. One question is, “How can the little horn grow as great as the heavenly host in verse 10 and the “Prince of the host” in verse 11 who we know from other Scriptures speaks of Christ himself?”  The best explanation of that is this apocalyptically describes a man, who will, by attacking the temple, the worship and the law of God’s people, was in fact making war on God himself. This is explained in verse 25 in Gabriel’s interpretation of the vision when he says of this little horn, “And he shall even rise up against the Prince of princes.”

History testifies to this.  The coins of Antiochus bore the title translated “God manifest.”  That, and his blasphemous and focused assaults against the people of God and the worship of God were direct attacks against God himself.  Verse 24 says that “his power shall be great---but not by his own power...”  In light of the thorough and direct anti-God nature of his rule, that may very well indicate that Antiochus was uniquely empowered by Satan.  His agonizing death is prophesied in the second half of verse 25.  “…and he shall be broken—but by no human hand.”  Antiochus would not have the luxury of dying in battle, but by the wrath of God seen in the tortuous way his life ended, not with a bang, but a whimper.

At least one more question surfaces before we move to applying the truth of this chapter to our lives.  That is—“what is the relationship between the little horn seen here in chapter eight, which almost all Bible students recognize as Antiochus, and the little horn of chapter seven, that we said probably represented the final, end-time antichrist?”   Although there are similarities between the two, many students of Scripture believe that the significant differences between these two images indicate that they are not the same person.  The little horn of chapter seven has ten horns while this one in chapter eight has four.  Those are different images in a chapter whose imagery is characterized by a close correlation to historic events.  The relationship between the two is probably that this one little horn represented by Antiochus points to the final anti-God figure who will one day make war against God, the antichrist. You’ll recall we said that there have been several antichrists in human history, all of whom prefigure the final antichrist whose opposition against God and his people is seen in texts like Second Thessalonians 2:3-4.  Paul says, “…and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction,  4who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.” 

          Now let me make three points of application in closing.  First, a chapter like this one where we see the very clear and stunning specificity of these prophecies that were fulfilled scream to us the divine inspiration of the Bible.  The fulfilled predictive prophecies of the Bible are a powerful validation of the utterly unique status of the Bible as God’s inspired word.  Jesus calls Daniel a “prophet” in Matthew 24:15 and that description by Christ confirms the supernatural work of God through Daniel in this book.  It’s important for us to remember that no other book has this kind of perfect prophetic accuracy.  Only a book inspired by a God who has complete knowledge of future events features very detailed and accurate prophetic pronouncements about the future.  That unique quality of the scripture should profoundly encourage us to take ALL the teachings of the Bible as the very breath of God and place our trust in all God’s word.

          Second, this chapter reminds us that the lesson of both the Bible and history is God at times allows authority to be given to evil nations and tyrants.  This is a fact of history and Daniel chapter eight affirms to us that this does not happen merely by chance, but by the set purposes of God even if it means the excruciating suffering of his own people.  According to people like Walter Brueggemann, in Scripture this evokes serious questions from God’s people.  One is, “Why does God allow this?”  We see this in verses like Psalms 10:1.  There the Psalmist asks, “Why, O Lord, do you stand afar off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?”  Why do you let these terrible things happen to your own people, God!?”  You’ll note there is no explanation in Daniel chapter eight as to why he allows this monster to punish his people and defile his Name.  He simply states what will occur.  We simply do not know all the answers to that question this side of heaven.  These events are often used to accomplish God’s redemptive plan as he did with Joseph’s trials or the persecutions that drove the early church to penetrate the Gentile world with the gospel.  As our loving Father he uses them to discipline or train his children to trust him and live more closely for him according to passages like Hebrews chapter 12.  He sometimes uses these terrible assaults to establish the necessary climate for the next thing he is going to do.  Sometimes “B” can’t occur until “A” happens.  The list goes on and on, but ultimately God does all that he does for the glory of his name and we are called to trust in that truth and know that one day all the secret things will be revealed.  Whatever your belief about the current situation in Iraq, we can all agree that whatever the secondary causes may be on this planet, the primary cause is God.  We must not use that truth to excuse bad decisions made by human leaders, but it does help us to know that God is far larger than any leader’s alleged or real mistakes.

          Another similar question these black moments in history prompt is the question, “Where are you God?  In the wilderness wanderings of the Exodus, God’s people ask him in the midst of the difficulties, “Is the Lord among us or not?” [Exodus 17:7]  There is an inclination in every believer’s heart that causes us to believe that as long as God is with us, things will be alright.  But when things in life become very difficult, that inclination can easily shift to blame.  God, where are you!?  The underlying assumption is—“God, if you were here, things wouldn’t be this tough—you must have taken a walk, God.”  This was doubtless the Jewish response to the actions of Antiochus.  Think about the questions this must have raised after the exile.  God re-established his people in the Promised Land and helped them recover the word of God and temple worship for his glory.  Then, at one point in history, this arrogant pagan king with visions of his own divinity brutally comes along and replaces the High Priest with a Gentile, works to abolish the very word of God and uses the dwelling place of God for vile, pagan sacrifices that openly mock God and his law.  If you and I were Jews and we saw that happening, we would be asking, “Come on God, where are the lightning bolts for this guy!?” If you, who value the glory of your name above all else, are not going to fight against this blasphemous creature who is intentionally and arrogantly dragging you through the mud, then what are we supposed to believe about you? You must be absent because if you were anywhere near here, you would certainly do something about this.”  Even the great man of faith Daniel is absolutely stunned by these prophecies.  Verse 27 records his reaction.  And I, Daniel, was overcome and lay sick for some days. Then I rose and went about the king's business, but I was appalled by the vision and did not understand it.” 

          Daniel is so appalled he is physically sickened by all this.  He doesn’t understand how all these things could be.  If a man like Daniel has that reaction to just the visions of this, how do you suppose the average Jew responded in the midst of the crisis?  A final question recorded in Scripture that terrible chapters of history elicit from God’s people is in verses like Psalm 35:17. “How long, O Lord, will you look on? Rescue me from their destruction, my precious life from the lions!”  Sometimes in the midst of trials, the pain is so great one question dominates our thinking and drowns out our faith and that is—“when are you going to stop this, Lord?”  We see this from the martyrs in Revelation 6:10.  They ask, “They cried out with a loud voice, "O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?" These people openly acknowledge God as the “Sovereign Lord, holy and true” and they themselves are no longer suffering—they have been martyred.  Yet from their heavenly vantage point as they see the absolute carnage inflicted by evil men, they cry out, “How long before we get to see your justice against these godless thugs?”

          There are at least two answers to that question, one of which is provided in this chapter.  In verse 23, referring to the end of one of these dynasties it says that will occur, “when the transgressors have reached their limit.”  Then, God will sweep them out of power.  We see this again in Genesis 15:16 as God tells Abraham what will occur to this people he will birth through him.  He says that he will not give the Promised Land to his people until the current occupants have reached his limit for sin that will bring his judgment upon them. “And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”   The two reasons God gave Israel the Promised Land were because he had promised it to them and because of the “wickedness of these nations” [Deut 9:4] that had finally reached his divine threshold for judgment.  The Bible at times pictures God’s wrath as a cup of wine and when the cup is filled—as the evil on earth reaches his pre-determined threshold, he then empties the cup of his wrath on those who oppose him, but not before. Jesus says to the Pharisees in Matthew 23:32 “Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers.”Fill up the cup of God’s wrath like the one he poured out on rebellious forefathers.”  We don’t understand all that, but we are called to trust in God’s timetable and his reasons for waiting to judge the wicked.

          A second reason God delays his judgment far beyond what we consider a reasonable period of time is seen in 2 Peter 3:9.  There he says, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”  God waits to destroy people like Antiochus because he is merciful.  As recipients of his mercy, we should be eternally thankful for the fact that God in his patience waits a long time before he judges sin.  If we would have gotten what we deserved when we deserved it, we would have never seen the light of day.  We were conceived in sin.

          Finally, this text reminds us of the important truth that eventually all godless nations and regimes will fall before a holy, sovereign God.   Where is Stalin?  Where is Hitler and his 1000 year Reich?  Eventually, all tyrants become so full of themselves that they fall prey to one of God’s universal laws of the universe. “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”   That is more than just a proverb.  That is an axiom proven by 6000 years of human history.  This is what caused Satan’s fall, Adam and Eve’s fall and every wicked nation eventually succumbs to this.  God will not allow his name to be mistreated indefinitely.  In the coming years as we at times look on with dismay at the rise of powerful wicked world powers, we can be confident that though wicked leaders will have authority far longer than we like, they cannot survive indefinitely and one day “…will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” [Matthew 24:30].  Until then, whether our trials are personal or global, may God give us the grace to trust in him for our joy and his glory.


Page last modified on 1/28/2007

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