“When I, Daniel, had seen the vision, I sought to understand it. And behold, there stood before me one having the appearance of a man. And I heard a man’s voice between the banks of the Ulai, and it called, “Gabriel, make this man understand the vision.” So he came near where I stood. And when he came, I was frightened and fell on my face.”–Daniel 8:15-17a
Daniel chapter eight is a third vision of the coming kingdoms of the world that will rise and fall before the incarnation of Jesus Christ, and the inauguration of the kingdom of God in the world. I will review this chapter here in the newsletter instead of from the pulpit.
This vision of the future is revealed to Daniel in the third year of the reign of Belshazzar. Belshazzar ruled as co-regent of Babylon with his father Nabonidus. Daniel 5:18 refers to Nebuchadnezzar as Belshazzar’s “father,” but this should be understood in an ancestral sense and not a biological sense. Nebuchadnezzar (II) ruled Babylon from 605 to 562 BC. The co-regency of Belshazzar ran from 550 to 539 BC. I remind you that the purpose of the record of Daniel is not to be an all-encompassing history, but an accurate record of the work of God in the life of Daniel and his friends during their time of exile and captivity.
The vision recorded in chapter eight occurred in approximately 547 BC. If Daniel was fifteen years old when he was taken into captivity, that means he was approximately 67 years old when he received this vision from God. It is important that we understand Daniel as a faithful, older man at this point. He had lived nearly his entire life in exile and captivity, but at the same time seeking the kingdom of God and the restoration of Israel. Lastly, at this time, he continued to serve in the court of the Babylonian king, going about doing “the king’s business” (v. 27).
The vision is given to Daniel, not in his home, but by a canal in the city of Susa. As he looks across this canal, the Lord reveals to him a more specific version of what will happen in the future. Each vision – the statue, the four beasts, and now the ram and goat – gets more specific concerning God’s actions in the future. The interpretation of this vision specifically names the nations that will overtake Babylon and devour each other on the way to the eternal kingdom of God. The interpretation of this vision introduces us to the angel Gabriel, the same angel that will later announce the birth of Jesus to Mary. This is the first time in Scripture that an angel is named.
After reviving Daniel from his overwhelming shock of seeing heavenly glory and majesty, Gabriel interprets the vision to Daniel. It’s important that I note Daniel did not understand what he was seeing (v.15). Daniel did not come to understand these things because he was clever, but because they were explained to him by Gabriel. Many people in every age of church history have claimed with certainty to draw all kinds of meanings from the visions of Daniel that he himself did not draw from them, and were not made known through the interpretation of God. This is similar to many of the farfetched interpretations that many impose on the parables of Jesus. The purpose of this vision remains the same as the previous dream and vision – that the kingdoms of men will rise and fall by the purposes of God, not by a human hand (v. 25b).
In this vision Daniel records what he saw of a warring ram and goat. The ram whose horns are broken and is overwhelmed, is declared to be the Mede and Persian Empire (v. 20). The goat that rises in strength, but who’s one horn is replaced by four, is named as Greece (v. 21). The one great horn, understood to be Alexander the Great, is broken and replaced by four, understood to be the four Greek generals – Cassander, Lysimachus, Seleucus, and Ptolemy – who assumed power over different portions of the Greek empire following the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC (v. 22).
This particular chapter is one of the great stumbling points for people that deny the actual authorship of Daniel. They claim it is impossible that Daniel could know the correct names of actual historical empires yet to come. This struggle revolves around unbelievers coming face to face with God knowing and causing the future in starkly real terms. This chapter begins with symbolic characters but ends with real historic facts. The Medo Persian Empire DID follow the Babylonian Empire, and the Greek Empire DID follow the Medo Persian Empire – and that Greek empire was led by one spectacular world conqueror. The assertion of the unbelieving is that this book must have been written closer to the time of Jesus. The assertion of the believing is that it proves the sovereignty of God unlike any other book in the Bible.
Verses 23-25 speak of transgression rising and reaching its limit, then being judged. This judgment involves a king who will bring a fearful destruction, be deceitful, destroy many, then himself be destroyed. Since this ruler comes after the “four kings” as a “little horn,” he is understood to be Antiochus IV Epiphanes who came to power in 175 BC. Antiochus IV persecuted the Jews and desecrated the temple. Mitchell Chase writes, “He ordered a slaughter of Jews, resulting in approximately forty thousand dying by violence and around the same number being sold into slavery (2 Maccabees 5:12-14). Antiochus attacked the temple and, in 167 BC, ordered the cessation of regular offerings. On December 16, 167, he set up an idol of Zeus on the altar of the temple, thus desecrating the sanctuary. He also, at the same time, defiled the altar by offering pagan sacrifices, including pigs. He cast down the “truth” by forbidding practices commanded in the Law and forcing Jews to adopt Greek customs and religious practices.”
The “2,300 evenings and mornings” (v.14) are approximately six years and three months, which corresponds to the period between the desecration of the temple by Antiochus IV and its restoration by Judas Maccabeus. Judas Maccabeus recaptured Jerusalem, reconsecrated the temple, and offered its first sacrifice upon a new altar on December 14, 164 BC. This rededication of the temple is memorialized by the Jewish people in their celebration of Hanukkah.
These things are a faith-building fascination to us today but were shocking and over-whelming to Daniel. Seeing the violence and struggle of the future caused Daniel to be “overcome and lay sick for some days” (v. 27). It is a rare thing for any person to have the future revealed to them by God. It’s too much for us. The normal path of the Christian is to believe God and walk by faith, waiting on the Lord to bring His purposes to pass. However, may Daniel chapter eight encourage you, that God knows the future and chose to reveal it to Daniel.
Soli Deo Gloria,