In the first year of king Belshazzar’s reign, as described in chapter 7, Daniel dreamed about the conquest of Babylon by the Persian Empire. Now, in chapter 8, during the third reign of the same king, he is given a second vision about the same events and actually transported in vision to the capital of the new empire. As readers of the book, we have already seen the historical realization of this prophetic turn-over in chapter 5.
But we need to keep in mind that, starting with chapter 7, the book is no longer given in chronological order. Rather, it is the succession of prophecies that provides the structure for the remainder of the book. Some visions are repetitive in content but in ways that bring in further elements to strengthen previous revelations. In this particular case, the second vision Daniel receives takes him to the very capital of the empire soon to conquer Babylon, his current residence.
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. 2 I 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 (Daniel 8:1-2).
His positioning in Susa strengthens the reality of the imminent future, and Doukhan suggests that the presence of the canal—an important source of irrigation—points to the progress and prosperity of the coming kingdom. Susa would become a wealthy capital of Persia where the treasures of the empire were stored.[i]
This chapter, therefore, reiterates Daniel’s first dream related in chapter 7, and is structured in two main sections: in the first part we find out what Daniel saw, and in the second part of the chapter we learn what Daniel heard. What he heard interpreted what he saw. Let’s dig in.
What Daniel Saw
3 Then 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. 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. 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 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 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. 9 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. 10 It 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. 11 It 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.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 (Daniel 8:3-12).
Two animals are part of this vision: a ram and a goat. The ram has two horns, one longer than the other, with the longer coming up last. As the bear with one side higher than the other in chapter 7, the ram represents Medo-Persia, an empire coming from the east and expanding west, north, and south. As history shows, Cyrus would conquer Media, Lydia, and, several years after Daniel’s vision, would also subdue Babylon.
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The goat has a more elaborate description: it came from the west, had a horn between his eyes, crushed the ram, and grew exceedingly. Yet its horn was broken, giving place to four horns out of which came a little horn. The goat represents the same empire symbolized by the winged leopard with four heads in chapter 7: Greece. The Greeks, coming from the West, as the vision indicates, defeated the Persians at Marathon in 490 B. C. and subsequently expanded to Babylon and Susa, plundering their treasure and burning the royal palace as a clear mark of conquest.
As the new empire extended further east, Alexander the Great, then 33, became ill and died at the height of his glory, just as the vision indicates (“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. 8:8). The Greek empire was divided between Alexander’s four generals.[ii]
The little horn is the same little horn in chapter 7 and its actions extend beyond the realm of our world:
- It grew up to the host of heaven and caused some of the host and some of the stars to fall to the earth,
- it trampled down [the fallen host and stars of heaven],
- It … magnified itself to be equal with the Commander of the host,
- it removed the regular sacrifice from Him,
- the place of His sanctuary was thrown down.
- the host will be given over to the horn along with the regular sacrifice,
- it will fling truth to the ground and perform its will and prosper. (Daniel 8:3-12)
These actions are clearly taken against the Host of Heaven, and it appears that for a while the little horn succeeds in causing Him great damage. Its intention is to seek to usurp God and the allusions to the falling of some from Heaven recalls Lucifer, whose wish to be equal with God led to the downfall of his followers. The little horn, then, displays the same desire of prominence as Lucifer, and the same attempt to be equal with God. It does so by removing the sacrifice and trampling the sanctuary. Interestingly, the second part of the vision begins with a reference to the sanctuary. Let’s turn to it.
What Daniel Heard
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?’ 14 He said to me, ‘For 2,300 evenings and mornings; then the holy place will be properly restored.” 15 When I, Daniel, had seen the vision, 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. 19 He 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. 20 The ram which you saw with the two horns represents the kings of Media and Persia. 21 The shaggy goat represents the kingdom of Greece, and the large horn that is between his eyes is the first king. 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’ (Daniel 8:13-21).
A conversation occurs between two “holy ones” concerning the trampling of the sanctuary and the removal of the sacrifice. The dialogue involves only one question and one answer:
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? …For 2,300 evenings and mornings; then the holy place will be properly restored (Daniel 8:13, 14).
In this dialogue between two holy ones, we find that there is an end to the actions of the little horn, and we are even given a specific timeframe. The hope of restoration is prophesized.
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A second speech bids Gabriel explain the vision to Daniel. Gabriel obeys and comes close to Daniel, which causes him to faint. But Gabriel comforts the prophet by letting him know that the vision refers to the time of the end, and restores him to strength, reiterating the fact that the vision describes end-time events. He also elucidates the identity of the two animals: the ram represents Medo-Persia and the goat represents Greece, out of which four kingdoms would rise after the fall of the first king. He does not, however, identify the little horn by name. Instead, he repeats some of the actions of this power, which paint a fairly grim picture, were it not for the last listing:
- It arises when the transgressors have run their course,
- It is insolent and skilled in intrigue,
- It works in the power of another,
- It will destroy to an extraordinary degree,
- It will prosper and perform his will,
- It will destroy mighty men and the holy people,
- It will manifest shrewdness and cause deceit to succeed by his influence,
- It will magnify himself in his heart,
- It will destroy many while they are at ease.
- It will even oppose the Prince of princes,
It will be broken without human agency. (see Daniel 8:23-25)
Atonement as Judgment
The sacrifice in the prophecy refers to the Israelite sacrificial system carried out at the temple (or sanctuary). This was instituted by God in order to depict key aspects of atonement: the salvation of humanity through the blood of Jesus and God’s continued presence of God among His people, symbolized by the perpetual burnt offering.
In seizing the ‘daily sacrifice,’ the horn substitutes itself for God in the religious experience.[iii]
Doukhan notes that “the word emeth rendered here by ‘truth’ is synonymous with ‘law’ (see Ps. 43:3; 1 1 9 :43, etc.). In Hebrew, truth is a concrete action of obedience to God and has nothing to do with our abstract conception of truth. It is anything in accordance with the law.”
Jewish commentators (Ibn Ezra, Rashi) interpreted the verse to mean that ‘the little horn shall annul the Law [Torah] and the observance of the commandments.’”[iv] Thus, as we learned in chapter 7, the entity represented by the little horn seeks to change the law of God, that is, the Ten Commandments. Historically, this has been accomplished in changing the holy day of observance from Sabbath to Sunday.
The symbols of the ram and goat recall the most important Jewish festival—Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement. The parallels between chapters 7 and 8 indicate that the cleansing of the sanctuary in 7 corresponds to the judgment of the little horn 8. Simply put, “what chapter 7 calls the Day of Judgment, chapter 8 labels as the Day of Atonement. They are in fact the same event. Israel experienced the Day of Atonement as the actualization of the last judgment.”[v]
This day was a day of forgiveness for all of Israel. While atonement for sins was offered throughout the year as symbolized by the regular sacrifices, the purification of the Sanctuary on the Day of Atonement required a new level of reconciliation. On this day, the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies and God offered not just individual forgiveness, but a purification of the entire nation.
Since the sanctuary also represents God’s created world, “the cleansing of the sanctuary is in fact the sign of the total purification of the whole earth on the day of God’s judgment.”[vi] This recreation points back to God’s creation of a sinless race described in Genesis 1 and 2, as alluded to by the expression “evenings and mornings” in verse 14 (in chapter 7 stated as “a time, times and half a time.”) Judgment and recreation, therefore, are concurrent, and the yearly event that Israel experienced pointed to a heavenly event yet to take place.
Such a purification requires the extinction of evil and its perpetuating forces. Once again, after a long description of the little horn’s destructive activities, its own ruin is prophesied. While the foretelling of the little horn’s destructive actions can be disquieting to the human mind, the promise of its end brings us peace and hope. Its end, as evident in the text, will not be the result of natural forces or of its own undoing, but a far-reaching effect of God’s direct intervention (v. 25).
Secrets of Success
Although hardly intuitive, ruin and redemption go together. Not in general, but certainly in the context of sin. The restoration of things to their original purity makes necessary the destruction of evil forces. This ruin has never been God’s ideal or intention, yet love can only operate in a context of freedom, and freedom allows for evil to exist and endure. Still, hope remains the burning light within that reveals the path of the future to all who choose to believe.
A future where transgressors no longer run their course, where insolence and skill are silenced and can no longer weave intrigue, where evil no longer prospers and its will is brought to ashes, where shrewdness and deceit no longer bear any influence, where peaceful men and women are no longer persecuted and destroyed. Perhaps most importantly, the magnification of the human heart will no longer be a reality of the new heaven and the new earth.
This is how evil began, and its end will ensure that the effects of evil will have been sufficiently demonstrated to reveal before the entire universe that God is worthy of worship by all creatures. For the here and now, we can find comfort and strength in knowing that the same God who will reveal the true nature of evil and bring it to an end does not idly watch evil unfold but walks alongside us through it and sustains us through it.
What form and shape this sustenance takes is God’s personal choice and our personal experience with Him—an experience we can cherish even in the midst of life’s perplexities. Or perhaps even more so during those times.
[i] Jacques Doukhan, Secrets of Daniel (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 2000), p. 122.
[ii] Doukhan, p. 123.
[iii] Ibid, p. 124.
[v] Ibid, p. 127.
[vi] Ibid, p. 129.