Daniel 8

As we’ve noted already, both Daniel 7 and Daniel 2 contain dreams where 4 world empires are described, but God’s eternal Kingdom is established, bringing to an end the dominion of man. However, there are some significant differences between the two chapters. First, the dream of chapter 7 was given to God’s prophet, Daniel, whereas the dream of chapter 2 was given to the king of the first empire. And this change of recipients likely accounts for the other differences, including the fact that God’s saints were going to suffer at the hands of at least one of these empires (7.21,25). Even though he received an explanation of the vision, Daniel remained “greatly alarmed” (7.28). Daniel 8 relates another vision, one which hones in on 2 of the kingdoms described in chapter 7. Again, Daniel received some explanation, yet the experience left him “exhausted and sick for days” (8.27). 

Daniel 8 is a fascinating chapter for lovers of history, for the chapter relates several significant events from history including the rise of the Medo-Persian Empire, the conquests of Alexander the Great, the division of Alexander’s empire into 4 parts, and the rise of one Greek king (Antiochus IV) who would actively persecute God’s people. And it was this coming persecution to which Daniel’s attention was drawn in both this vision and the ones to follow.

The rise of Persia (Daniel 8.1-420 NASB95)

Historical Sketch:

  1. Cyrus conquered Ecbatana, the capital of the Medes, in 550 B.C. (possibly the same year as this vision). This brought the Medes into Cyrus’ kingdom, forming the backbone of the Medo-Persian Empire.
  2. Cyrus then defeated Lydia in 546 B.C. and Babylon in 539 B.C.
  3. Other Persian rulers would extend the boundaries of the Medo-Persian empire, but for our purposes we will briefly note how future rulers interacted with Greece. (Taken from “Israel & the Nations” by F.F. Bruce)
    • When Cyrus the Great overthrew Croesus of Lydia in about 546 BC, and added the Lydian kingdom to his own, he brought into his empire a number of Greek settlements in the west of Asia Minor which had previously been under Lydian control. These Greeks had close ties with their kinsmen in Greece itself, who lived in independent city-states.
    • A revolt by the Greek settlements of Ionia against the Persians in 494 BC was supported by some of the states of mainland Greece. When Darius I defeated the Ionian revolt, he determined to bring the states of mainland Greece into his empire as well, and in 490 BC sent an expedition against Athens, which had taken the lead in supporting the Ionian revolt. The expedition was defeated at the battle of Marathon.
    • Ten years later Xerxes himself led a much larger army against Greece, attacking by land and sea, but his forces were routed by the combined states of Greece in the naval battle of Salamis (480 BC) and the land battle of Plataea (479 BC). The Greeks then made an attempt to carry the war into the enemy’s territory and liberate the Greek states ruled by Persia. This attempt was not so effective as it might have been, because the city-states which had united to repel the Persian invader failed to remain united when the immediate threat receded.

1In the third year of the reign of Belshazzar the king a vision appeared to me, Daniel, subsequent to the one which appeared to me previously.

  • Note that this vision occurred before the Babylonian empire fell. Thus, the contents of this vision relate to the next 2 world empires.
  • ~ 550 B.C.

2I looked in the vision, and while I was looking I was in the citadel of Susa, which is in the province of Elam; and I looked in the vision and I myself was beside the Ulai Canal.

  • “The Ulai Canal is in the vicinity of Susa, the capital of the territory of Elam, some two hundred miles from Babylon. The city will later become the royal residence of the Achaemenid kings of Persia, so it is a suitable locale for the vision. The canal is an artificial one on the north side of the city that was closely associated with Susa both in cuneiform and classical sources.” (IVP Bible Background Commentary)
  • Note that Daniel was at Susa in a vision. Does not seem likely that he actually traveled there.

3Then I lifted my eyes and looked, and behold, a ram which had two horns was standing in front of the canal. Now the two horns were long, but one was longer than the other, with the longer one coming up last.

  • Possible that the longer horn represented the more dominant position of the Persians.

4I 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.

20“The ram which you saw with the two horns represents the kings of Media and Persia.

Alexander’s conquests (Daniel 8.5-721 NASB95)

Historical sketch:

  1. In 359 B.C. Phillip gained power in Macedon and over the next 20 years united the Greek city-states. He had plans of setting his forces out to war with Persia, but was assassinated before he could lead his forces into battle.
  2. Alexander was made regent of Greece when he was only 16 years old. He was 20 when his father was assassinated and he quickly consolidated power for himself and set out to do what his father had planned.
  3. In 334 B.C. Alexander crossed into Asia Minor and defeated a Persian army at the Granicus River. All of Asia minor was now open to him.
  4. In 333 B.C. Alexander defeated the Persian king Darius III at the city of Issus, to the NE of Antioch of Syria.
  5.  Alexander spent the next year moving south and taking the lands of Palestine and then Egypt. Tyre, with its island fortress held out the longest, but Alexander had stones thrown into the Mediterranean Sea paving a way for his army. Many of the cities and regions yielded peacefully, including Egypt who welcomed Alexander as a liberator. Alexander established the city of Alexandria in Egypt, perhaps the most successful of his Hellenistic cities.
  6.  Next Alexander moved north again through Syria and met Darius in battle once more, this time at the city of Gaugamela on the banks of the Tigris River. From there he took Babylon and the Persian capitals of Susa, Ecbatana, and Persepolis.
  7. Alexander continued pushing east, all the way to the Indus River, but his troops would go no further. As he was returning to Greece, Alexander died of a fever in the city of Babylon. He was only 33 (323 B.C.), but he had conquered the known world in only 11 years!

5While 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.

6He 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.

7I 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.

21“The shaggy goat represents the kingdom of Greece, and the large horn that is between his eyes is the first king.

Alexander’s empire divided (Daniel 8.822 NASB95)

Historical sketch:

  1. Alexander’s death was recounted in 1Maccabees 1.1-10
  2. “When Alexander died suddenly in 323 at the age of 33, the two who could claim ancestral rights to the kingdom (his illegitimate half-brother, Philip Arrideus, and the son of Alexander and Roxane, Alexander IV, born two months after his father’s death) were installed as figureheads while the operation of the kingdom was entrusted to three experienced officers, Antipater (viceroy of Macedon), Perdiccas (head of the armies) and Craterus (in charge of the treasury and advisor to Arrideus). By 321 these three regents had sufficiently antagonized one another that a battle was instigated by a fourth player, Ptolemy, who had been given a position of authority in Egypt.” (IVP Bible Background Commentary)
  3. The Greeks would war with each other for ~20 years, but eventually 4 kingdoms arose from Alexander’s empire:
    • Macedonia and Greece, ruled by Cassander
    • Thrace and Asia Minor, ruled by Lysimachus
    • Northern Syria, Mesopotamia, and regions to the east, ruled by Seleucus
    • Southern Syria, Palestine, and Egypt, ruled by Ptolemy.
  4. The Jews would first be ruled by the Ptolemies, then by the Seleucids. The wars and intrigue between these two kingdoms is described in greater detail in Daniel 11.

8Then 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.

22“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.

Antiochus IV exalts himself (Daniel 8.9-1923-26 NASB95)

Historical sketch:

  1. The Ptolemy and Seleucid kingdoms had been rivals since the Greek Empire was divided after Alexander’s death (323 BC). It had been decided that Palestine would fall under the Seleucid kingdom, but Ptolemy occupied Canaan before Seleucid could. This would remain a bitter source of resentment.
  2. In 223 B.C. a new king took control of the Syrian kingdom, Antiochus III, the great. He was only 18 years old when he took power, but he proved to be quite able. He initially had to put down revolts in the eastern portion of his empire, but after those territories were secured he turned his attention south to Palestine and Egypt. Several attempts to take Palestine were made in the following years, but none were successful.
  3. However, in 198 B.C. the Syrian and Egyptian kingdoms met in battle at Panion, near the headwaters of the Jordan River. Syria soundly defeated Egypt and Palestine passed into Syrian control.
  4. Shortly after Antiochus III had defeated Egypt, he became involved in a war with the rising power of Rome. Some hold that this was spurred on by Hannibal, who had fled to Syria after being defeated by Rome. Others hold that various Greek states pleaded for help from Antiochus against Rome.
  5. Antiochus was soundly defeated by Rome in 190 BC, and had to accept their terms of peace. “He agreed to evacuate all his territories west of the Taurus mountain range, which were divided between the Rhodians and the Pergamenes, to surrender all his elephants and most of what remained of his fleet, to agree to recruit no soldiers from Greece and the Aegean lands, and to pay an indemnity of 15,000 talents…the indemnity, which was to be paid in installments over 12 years, was the heaviest known in ancient history.” (FF Bruce) Of course, the funds would be raised from taxing other portions of the kingdom, including Palestine.
  6. Antiochus III’s son, Antiochus IV, was also sent to Rome and held hostage until the tribute could be paid.
  7. Antiochus III died and was succeeded by another son, Seleucus IV. Seleucus arranged for his brother Antiochus to be released from Rome. When Seleucus died, Antiochus became king of Syria. The year was 175 BC.
  8. Sometime during his reign, Antiochus IV took for himself the title “Ephiphanes” which means “the illustrious”. He used this title as a sign of deity, but the Jews nicknamed him “Epimanes”, “the madman”.
  9. Antiochus IV removed Onias from being high priest and appointed Jason (actually a brother of Onias, but one who favored Hellenism) high priest. Jason had offered a large sum of tribute money, and the cash-strapped Syrians needed the money. This move outraged the pious Jews.
  10. Jason did many things to encourage Hellenism, including building a Greek gymnasium, where Jewish boys would exercise in the nude. The Hasidim (pious ones) arose during this time, as strong opponents to Hellenism.
  11. In 171 B.C. Antiochus appointed Menalaus as high priest. Menalaus was not of the tribe of Levi, but of Benjamin. He had agreed to pay even more money in tribute. This only further outraged the pious Jews.
  12. Around 170 BC Antiochus IV turned his attention towards Egypt. Antiochus secured control of Egypt through treaty in 169. However, the Romans did not want Syria to control Egypt. Word was sent to Antiochus that he must withdraw from Egypt, or face open war with Rome. Antiochus withdrew from Egypt, now fearing for his kingdom. He realized the importance of a strong buffer zone between Egypt and his kingdom. His attention turned to firming his hold on Palestine.
  13. During the conflict b/w Syria and Egypt, the pious Jews had rebelled, deposing Menalaus and reinstalling Jason. Antiochus marched toward Jerusalem determined to wipe out Judaism, believing it necessary in order to secure the complete loyalty of the people.
  14. “He decided to abolish Judaea’s former constitution as a temple-state, and to establish a Greek city-state in its place, controlled by men whom Antiochus could trust…Orders were given that the temple ritual must be suspended, the sacred scriptures be destroyed, the Sabbath and other festival days be no longer observed, the strict food laws be abolished, and the rite of circumcision be discontinued. These steps were taken towards the end of 167 BC. The culminating attack on Jewish worship came in December of that year, when a new and smaller altar was erected upon the altar of burnt offering in the Temple court, and solemnly dedicated to the worship of Olympian Zeus…his cult was solemnly inaugurated with the sacrifice of animals considered unclean by the Jewish law.” (FF Bruce) This was referred to by the pious Jews as “the abomination of desolation”.

9Out 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.

  • You may recall that the 4th beast in chapter 7 also featured a “little horn” (7.8). However, there are some differences between the two:
    • The 4th beast in chapter 7 likely refers to Rome. This little horn is definitely a Greek king.
    • The little horn in chapter 7 uprooted 3 other horns. There is no parallel in chapter 8.
    • The saints who were persecuted by the little horn in chapter 7 would receive the Kingdom. There is no mention of the Kingdom in chapter 8.
    • “We are being introduced to a recurring historical phenomenon: the clever but ruthless world dictator, who stops at nothing in order to obtain his ambitions” (Baldwin 162)
  • The “Beautiful Land” refers to Israel (see Daniel 11.16,41). 

10It grew up to the host of heaven and caused some of the host and some of the stars to fall to the earth, and it trampled them down.

  • “The God of Israel is sometimes called “Lord [Yahweh] of hosts” (2 Sam 6:2Isa. 6:3). Judges 5:20 speaks of the stars fighting from heaven on behalf of Israel, and it is clear that here the “host of heaven” is also fighting on the side of Israel. The phrase expresses the transcendent dimension of the conflict between Antiochus and the Jews. The language of this verse is reminiscent of Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28.” (Zondervan Illustrated Bible Background Commentary)

11It even magnified itself to be equal with the Commander of the host; and it removed the regular sacrifice from Him, and the place of His sanctuary was thrown down.

  • By taking the title “ephiphanes”, Antiochus magnified himself to a position of deity.
  • “Regular sacrifice” likely referred to the regular morning and evening burnt offerings (see Numbers 28.3,10). 

12And 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.

  • This verse is significant. Why was Antiochus able to persecute the Jews in such fashion? Because of their transgressions! 
  • See also vs. 23. 

13Then 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?”

14He said to me, “For 2,300 evenings and mornings; then the holy place will be properly restored.”

  • “Many commentators think the “evenings and mornings” refer to the offerings of the daily sacrifice (see 8:11), making the period 1,150 days or about three years and two months. Antiochus had pagan sacrifices offered in the temple on the 15th of Chislev, 167 b.c., and the Jews reconsecrated the temple on the 25th of Chislev 164 (1 Macc 1:544:52), but he had stopped Jewish rituals sometime before the 15th of Chislev (1:44–51). Others, taking the period as 2,300 days, have suggested it is the period between the removal of the High Priest Onias III from office in 171 b.c. and the rededication of the temple. It may be that the number has a symbolic meaning that is now not clear to us.” (Zondervan Illustrated Bible Background Commentary)

15When I, Daniel, had seen the vision, I sought to understand it; and behold, standing before me was one who looked like a man.

16And 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.”

  • This is the first mention of an angel’s name in Scripture. Michael will also be named in Daniel 10.1312.1
  • It was Gabriel who announced the births of John the Baptist (Luke 1.19) and Jesus (Luke 1.26). 

17So 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.”

  • “the time of the end” refers to different events in Scripture (note Amos 8.2Ezekiel 7.1-921.25,2935.5). 
  • The point would seem to be that the point of the vision is what occurs at the end of the vision. In other words, the emphasis of the vision is on what Antiochus IV would do to God’s people. Compare Habakkuk 2.2-3

18Now 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.

19He said, “Behold, I am going to let you know what will occur at the final period of the indignation, for it pertains to the appointed time of the end.

23“In the latter period of their rule, When the transgressors have run their course, A king will arise, Insolent and skilled in intrigue.

24“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.

  • Note that his power is not his own. Jehovah retains sovereignty, it is He who gives dominion to kings.

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.

  • Antiochus IV died of disease in late 164 B.C. 

26“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.”

  • Compare with Revelation 22.10
  • Daniel received this vision in 550 BC and was completed in 164 BC, so less than 400 years. Yet, Daniel was told to keep it secret because the vision was about many days in the future.
  • The message of Revelation cannot be about events of our time, for the Lord told John to not seal his vision, because the time was near!

Take comfort, God knows what will be!

Daniel knew that various kingdoms of men would arise, but ultimately God’s Kingdom would be establish and triumph over all (chapters 2,7). But God’s ultimate triumph didn’t mean His people wouldn’t suffer. Thus, it would seem that the main point of this vision, and of subsequent visions, was to reassure Daniel (and the faithful who would read these words) that the Lord knew the trials that await. And if He knows, then His people can patiently endure with the assurance that His will is done and His Kingdom will endure.

Yet, such knowledge is difficult to comprehend (8.27). And I fear many today not only relate to Daniel, but remain fearful of the future. They fear what is happening in society, they fear that America will no longer be “Christian”. Such knowledge is difficult, but take comfort. Our God knows what will be, and if He knows what will be then we can be assured that His Kingdom will endure!

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