The Vision (8:1-14)
Two years after Daniel received his first vision which is recorded in Daniel 7, Daniel has another vision. The vision begins with Daniel seeing a ram with two high horns, but one horn was higher than another and the higher horn came up last. The ram was charging west, north, and south and no beast could stand before him or be rescued from his power. The ram did as it pleased and became great.
But then Daniel sees a male goat in this vision which comes from the west across the face of the whole earth, without touching the ground. Further, the goat has a conspicuous horn between its eyes. The goat runs at the ram in his powerful wrath, struck the ram, and broke both of his horns. The ram was cast to the ground and trampled and no one could rescue the ram from the power of the goat. The goat becomes exceedingly great. But when he was strong, the great horn was broken and four conspicuous horns came up toward the four winds of heaven.
Out of one of those four horns came a little horn which grew very great toward south and east, toward the glorious land. It grew great toward the host of heaven and threw down some of the host and the stars. He will even act arrogantly against the prince of the host, taking away the regular burnt offering and overthrowing the place of his sanctuary. The host will be given over to it along with the offerings because of sins. The little horn will act and prosper as it throws the host and the offering to the ground. In verse 13 the question is asked how long will these things continue? The answer is given in verse 14, “For 2300 evenings and mornings. Then the sanctuary will be restored to its rightful state.” This is the vision Daniel saw.
Daniel Wants To Understand (8:15-19)
After seeing this vision, of course Daniel wants to understand what it means. Two animals are fighting with each other. The goat is victorious and a horn on its head becomes so great that it acts against God and his people, overthrowing the burnt offerings, the temple, and the people. A voice tells Gabriel to make Daniel understand the meaning of the vision. So we must listen carefully to the revelation given and not insert meaning that is not clearly provided to us by the angel. When the angel spoke, Daniel falls on his face to the ground in a deep sleep. But the angel touched him and made him stand up. In verse 19 the angel declares that this refers to the latter end of the indignation, which is referring to the appointed time of the end. These events are pointing to the end times, not as the world as so often people misunderstand, but the latter days or time of the end refers to the end of the Jewish age and system (cf. Hebrews 1:1-2).
Understanding the Vision (8:20-27)
Daniel 8:20 reveals that the ram with two horns are the kings of Media and Persia. Persia was the greater power of the Medo-Persian Empire, which is reflected in the horns of this ram. So we are seeing the power of the Persian Empire. No one can stand against it and it is able to conquer all around it. Daniel 8:21 tells us that the goat referred to Greece and the great horn on it refers to the first king. So this is a picture of Alexander the Great going to war against Persia in 334 BC and being victorious three years later. But after conquering much of the world, Alexander suddenly dies, throwing his empire into civil war until it is divided into four kingdoms. But, as verse 22 says, they do not possess the power and might that Alexander had. After some time, one of those kingdoms, which we know historically to be the Seleucid kingdom. One king from that kingdom will arise who will have great power. But notice verse 24. “His power shall be great — but not by his own power.” God is going to give power to this bold king because of the sins of the people (8:12,23). He is going to succeed in his purposes. He will destroy mighty men and the Jews (8:12,24). In his own mind he shall become great and he will destroy many. In verse 11 we are told that this king would remove the burnt offerings and overthrow God’s temple.
There is no doubt that king that the vision refers to is Antiochus IV of the Seleucid kingdom who desecrated the temple and ended the worship and offerings in that temple. He severely persecuted the Jews. He made claims to be God. He had Epiphanes put on his coins which means, “God revealed.” The full title he gave himself was “Theos Antiochus Epiphanes” which means The Illustrious God. Thus we see him doing exactly what this text declares, acting arrogantly against the Prince of the host (the Lord) in verse 11, also called the Prince of princes in verse 25. We should not be troubled by “the host” being a reference to Israel, for it is used that way to speak of Israel in Exodus 12:41. He also suddenly dies of an illness, which is what verse 25 also says.
The vision’s interpretation ends with the declaration that the contents are true and certain, but seal it up because it will happen many days from now. After seeing this vision and understanding the interpretation, Daniel is sick for days, appalled by the vision, and did not fully understand it. Even as he performs the king’s business, he is troubled by what he has learned.
So what is the message? What is God teaching about himself in this chapter through this vision? Throughout the vision we are seeing the power of God at work. For example, verse 4 says that no beast could stand before the ram and no one could rescue from its power. But then we see the goat stand before the ram and destroys its power. How did the goat do this? The implied answer is that God did this. Then in verses 7-8 we are told that the goat is extremely powerful but its great horn was broken. Who broke the great horn if the goat was so strong? The implied answer again is God. In verse 24 we are told about the great power of the little horn that rises up. But the text specifies that his power is great, but not by his own power. Where did his power come from? Again, the implied answer is God gave him his power. In verse 25 we see the little horn destroying many and even rising up against God. But then “he shall be broken, but by no human hand.” Who broke the power of the little horn? The answer is God again. The book of Daniel is making the emphatic point that God is behind the scenes bringing all of these things about. In chapter 2 we learn that God reigns and rules over the kingdoms of men. In chapter 4 we learn that God rules and causes kings to rise and fall. In chapter 5 Belshazzar is reminded that the Most High rules. In chapter 7 we see the Son of Man receiving the kingdom and destroying the other powers. God is behind all of these events because he is telling about what will happen 200-400 years in the future from Daniel’s lifetime.
God is sovereign. God brings judgment. God destroys. Do you see the pattern? Each power/kingdom/ruler appears by God’s power, enjoys success, acts aggressively, and then falls by God’s hand. Psalm 2 makes the same point. The nations rage, God laughs, and breaks the nations with rod of iron, dashing them in pieces (Psalm 2:2,4,9). Listen to this point from Daniel 8. God allows kings to do their evil worst because of the people’s sins but then will judge that ruler and breaks his power.
Again we are given the troubling news that God is allowing wickedness to happen to accomplish his purposes. These nations and rulers are empowered by God and with that power the rulers act. But this does not mean that they can do absolutely anything. The text is teaching us hope in the face of this disturbing news concerning wickedness. The hope is not simply that God will one day judge these evil people far into the future. The hope until that time is that God limits what these rulers and nations can do. God is behind their power, limiting their time and authority. Notice this point is made in verses 13-14. This rule of the little horn (Antiochus IV) would not continue indefinitely. The Jews would not forever be harmed and the temple would not forever remain desolate. God allowed this for sins but then would bring restoration after 2300 morning and evenings.
Therefore we are given another layer about the rule of God. Although an evil king will attack God’s temple and persecute God’s people in the future, our sovereign God will limit the number of days of persecution and will destroy the persecutor. We see this theme repeated many times in the scriptures. The book of Revelation repeatedly gives the message of God’s people suffering but a subsequent judgment to come against those who caused the suffering. But in this message was also the message of limitation. The suffering would not last forever. God was going to act on behalf of his people (Revelation 6:10-11; 11:15-18; 12:13-13:1; 13:10; 18:8). The most notable image of this truth is in Revelation 20 where we see the dragon (identified as Satan in 20:2) is cast into an abyss where he is limited, no longer allowed to deceive the nations. Satan, the ultimate evil figure, is allowed to do his work, but he has limits placed upon him regarding the nations. Even in the book of Job we see God placing limits on what Satan can and cannot do.
Another instance in the scriptures of God allowing evil to work but restraining its power is in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-8. “And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming.” (2 Thessalonians 2:6–8 ESV) Notice again that God is restraining the lawless one and then the Lord will kill and bring it to nothing.
Look at Matthew 24:21-22. For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. (Matthew 24:21–22 ESV) The same point is made that no one would have survived but God cut the days short. Our sovereign God limits the number of days or the power of wickedness and then turns to destroy the wicked.
The Call For Endurance
This message is the hope we need for endurance against wickedness. God repeatedly calls for people to remain faithful in the face of evil. Notice how the message of the beast in the book of Revelation is set this way.
5 And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. 6 It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. 7 Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, 8 and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. 9 If anyone has an ear, let him hear: 10 If anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes; if anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword must he be slain. Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints. (Revelation 13:5–10 ESV)
First, authority was limited for the beast to only 42 months (13:5). Second, the beast was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them (13:7). Third, authority was even given to the beast over all the people and nations of the earth (13:7-8). Sound terrible but listen to the message in verse 10. “Here is the call for the endurance and faith of the saints.” You will be taken captive. You will be slain by the sword (13:10). But the beast’s authority is limited. Therefore, you are called to endure and maintain your faith. God will destroy the enemy. But until then, God will allow us to suffer. Do not lose hope. God is sovereign, the times of persecution are always limited, and the faithful are safe with the Lord for eternity and no one can snatch us from the hand of our Lord. This is our hope in hopeless times. God is with us, allowing trouble because of sins, but ready to judge the wicked and the enemies of God’s people.