Before we begin Daniel 8 let’s give an overview of what we have covered. Chapter 1 provides an introduction. Chapters 2-7 describe the times of the Gentiles, written in Aramaic, the common language of the Babylonians, Assyrians, and Persians used in government and commerce.
Daniel 7 is one of the most important portions of Scripture in the OT because it is a key guide to biblical prophecy. In this chapter God revealed to Daniel the vision of the Son of Man, a key piece of revelation from God about the coming Messiah. Daniel’s vision in chapter 7 is both a summary of what has been revealed before, especially in the vision of Nebuchadnezzar in chapter 2, and the outline of future world history which the last half of Daniel reveals in greater detail. In the first half, generalities are revealed and in the second half specifics are given. These include details concerning the end of the times of the Gentiles, the relationship of Israel to world history, and insights into the time of great tribulation.
One reason for repeating the similar information in chapters 2 in chap. 7 is that chapter 2 presents the world kingdoms from a Gentile perspective, while chapter 7 views the Gentile empires from the perspective of the Jewish people. In chapter 2, an ungodly king is used to reveal the future while in chapter 7 godly Daniel receives the vision. In chapter 2, Daniel is the interpreter and in 7, an angel. Chapter 2 considers world history from a human perspective while chapter 7 from God’s perspective. Another reason for the repetition in those two chapters is to confirm the certainty of the predictions. As Joseph said, Pharaoh’s dreams were repeated because “the matter has been determined by God, and He will carry it out soon” (Gen 41:32). The vision gave hope to Israel in captivity, letting them know that during the times of the Gentiles things will get worse, but the Messiah and His kingdom is coming. Both visions point to Messiah’s second coming, not His first.
V 1-2 Overview – This chapter is the account of the vision seen by Daniel in the third year of the reign of Belshazzar. This was the King of Daniel 5 who saw the handwriting on the wall which foretold his impending judgment Those events were around 551 B.C., two years after the dream of chapter 7 and before the events of chapter 5. This vision appears to have come to him when he was awake as opposed to the vision in Daniel 7 which occurred when he was asleep.
The prophet either was, or appeared to be, in the city of Susa, in the province of Elam by the river Ulai. Susa was the capitol of the Medo-Persian Empire, about 250 miles east of Babylon. Since Daniel saw himself in a vision, he may not have been bodily in that place (in Ezekiel’s vision at the Jerusalem temple, he was physically with the elders in Babylon in Ezek. 8–11).
V 3-14 Daniel in this vision sees a ram with two horns, one higher than the other. In v 20 we are told that the ram represents Medio-Persia. The ram moves westward, and northward, and southward, and is so powerful that nothing could oppose him. As he was looking on this, he saw a male goat come from the west, moving so quickly that it hardly touches the ground, with a single notable horn between his eyes. The goat attacked the ram, broke his two horns, and overcame him entirely. The goat became very strong, but in time the horn was broken, and four other horns came up in its place.
From one of these there sprang up a little horn that became great and mighty, extending itself toward the south, and the east, and the pleasant land—the land of Israel. This horn became so mighty that it seemed to attack “the host of heaven”; it cast some of them down to the ground; and magnified itself against the prince of the host; it caused the daily sacrifice in the temple to cease, and the sanctuary of the prince was cast down. A request is made to know how long this was to continue, and the answer was 2,300 days, and that then the sanctuary would be cleansed.
V 15-19 The angel Gabriel is then sent to explain the vision to the prophet. The man’s voice may have been Michael the archangel, or the voice of God, but is not identified. The vision, the presence of Gabriel, and the mysterious voice caused Daniel to be overcome and he fell on his face. John had a similar reaction in Revelation 1 with the vision of the glorified Yeshua. But Gabriel reassured Daniel and tells him that the vision concerns “the time of the end”. Gabriel addressed Daniel as son of man, but he didn’t use the Hebrew equivalent of the Aramaic given to the Messiah, that points to Messiah’s divinity (7:13). The phrase here points to Daniel’s human weakness and mortality. Although Daniel was awake in the earlier part of the vision, he falls into a deep sleep. It was not a natural sleep but the result of his fear. As in the case of Ezekiel (Ezek. 1:28-2:2), Daniel was awakened.
Daniel was overcome by this vision for a time; and was revived. This is one of the few prophecies in the Scriptures that are explained to the prophet, and so it becomes a key to explain in explaining the prophecies of Daniel 2 and 7.
V 20-21 The events described here are so clear, that Porphyry, who lived in the 3rd century A.D. and wrote 15 volumes against the Christians of his day, taught that this chapter, as well as other portions of Daniel, were written after the events occurred. In this we must acknowledge that either Porphyry is correct, or Daniel was given these visions by God. No man by mere natural means could have predicted these events with so much accuracy and detail.
Going back to vv 8:3-4 Daniel saw in his vision a ram which had two horns on the bank of the river. We are clearly told that the ram are the two kings of Media and Persia. The united power of these two kingdoms is indicated by the two horns of the one ram. Horns as we have previously learned indicate power. That Daniel notes the length of the horns indicates great power. The higher horn springing up last speaks of Persia which became the mightier power of the two, so that Media becomes more obscure over time. The ram pushing westward, northward, and southward speaks of the conquests of the united kingdom of the Medes and Persians. Centuries before Cyrus appeared on the scene, Isaiah called Cyrus by name and even called him God’s “shepherd” (Isaiah 44:28-45:4). Cyrus and his armies pushed to the west, north and south defeating their enemies. They took Libya, Egypt, Asia Minor and advances as far as India, creating the largest empire in the ancient east until the time of Alexander the Great. Once his conquests were consolidated, Cyrus attacked Babylon and took it in 539 B.C.
Cyrus was kind to those he took captive and permitted the Jews to return to their land to rebuild the temple and restore the nation (2 Chronicles 36:22-23;Ezra 1:1-3; 6:2-5). He also allowed them to take with them the sacred vessels that Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple (Ezra 1:5-11). Cyrus fulfilled God’s Word through Isaiah who prophesied that he would allow Israel to return to their land. Isaiah called Cyrus the Lord’s anointed (Isaiah 45:1). He was so anointed as Isaiah 45:4 describes, for the sake of “Israel my chosen”. No matter how the nations may treat Israel, God uses the nations to accomplish His ordained purposes. His plans for Israel will be fulfilled no matter how much the Gentile nations may oppose His chosen people.
In verses 5-7 while Daniel was thinking about what he had seen concerning the vision of the Ram a goat appeared from the west. Here he is described as a shaggy goat and is told that this shaggy goat was the King of Greece. Alexander the Great was the one who consolidated Greece into a great power, and he conquered the Persian empire. Historians write about Caranus, the first king of the Macedonians, who was led by goats to the city of Edessa where he established the seat of his kingdom. The goat became an emblem of Macedon. The Jewish Roman historian Josephus (Ant. b. xi. ch. viii.) wrote that when Alexander was at Jerusalem, the prophecies of Daniel were shown to him by the high priest, with the result that he granted special favor to the Jews. Daniel describes this goat as crossing the whole earth which describes Alexander quite well, he is said to have wept because there were no other worlds to conquer. The vision of the goat not touching the earth speaks of the speed of his movements and conquests.
The conquests of Alexander accomplished God’s purposes and helped to prepare the world for the coming of Messiah and the spread of the Gospel. He exported Greek culture and language which united diverse peoples together; eventually Greek became the universal language which advanced the knowledge of God’s Word to the nations. He literally “wedded East to West” when 9,000 of his soldiers and officers married Eastern women in one mass wedding. What Alexander began; the Romans completed. Roman roads and bridges enabled people to travel and share their ideas; Roman law kept nations under control; Roman legions enforced that law; and the Roman peace (Pax Romana) gave people the opportunity to experience more security than they had known before.
V 22-26 these verses explain Daniel 8:8-14 which is the time after the death of Alexander the Great. His empire was divided into four parts with four of his generals taking control (v 8). Out of one of those horns a “little horn” appears this is Antiochus Epiphanes, the ruler of Syria from 175 to 163 B.C. and was a type of the Antichrist and the evil king responsible for the desecration of the Temple and the resulting revolt led by the Maccabees. Antiochus gave himself the name “Epiphanes,” which means a revelation (epiphany) of the gods.
He even had the word theos (god) put on the coins minted with his features on it, and his features on the coins came to look more and more like the Greek god Zeus. To assimilate Israel into his Kingdom he began a campaign to force the Jews to embrace Hellenism (the Greek world view) and worship the gods of Olympus. One of his first acts was to drive out the high priest Onias a faithful priest and replace him with Jason who embraced the Greek world view. But Jason was replaced by Menelaus, who purchased the priesthood. Believing a rumor that the king was dead, Jason attacked Jerusalem only to learn that Antiochus was very much alive. Antiochus in retaliation conquered Jerusalem and defiled the temple. He then issued an edict that there would be one religion and it would be the worship of the gods of Olympus. He prohibited the Jews from honoring the Sabbath, practicing circumcision, and obeying kashrut. He replaced the Jewish altar with an altar to Zeus – and sacrificed a pig on it! Any Jew found possessing a copy of the Torah was slain. Jerusalem was eventually delivered by the courageous exploits of Judah Maccabeus and his followers, and on Chanukkah in December, 165, the temple was purified, the altar of burnt offering restored, and Jewish worship once again restored. Antiochus went mad while in Persia, where he died in 163.
The historical events surrounding Antiochus help us understand the prophecy and vision of Daniel here in Chapter 8. Antiochus attacked the Jews in their “beautiful” land (Israel) and put a stop to worship in the Temple and claimed that he was a god. In Daniel 8:10, the Jewish people are described as “the host of heaven” (i.e., “godly people”) and “stars” (Genesis 15:5; 39:9-11). When Antiochus stopped the daily sacrifices in the temple and substituted pagan worship, this was called “the abomination that makes desolate.” This is found in Daniel 9:27;11:31; and Daniel 12:11, and is later referred to by Jesus in Matthew 24:15. What Antiochus did was a foreshadowing of what the Antichrist will do when he puts his image in the temple and commands the world to worship him (2 Thesalonians 2:1-4; Revelation 13).
The holy ones referred to in vv. 13-14 refer to two angels who speak together and from their conversation, Daniel learned in v 14 that from the time of the desecration of the temple and its cleansing and restoration 2,300 days would pass. The Hebrew text reads “2,300 evenings and mornings,” because burnt offerings were sacrificed at the temple every morning and every evening of every day.
There is a debate over the meaning, is it 2,300 days or 1,150 days, 2,300 divided by two referring to the twice daily sacrifices of the Temple? And what date or event signals the beginning of the countdown? Some believe that it is 2,300 days which is about six years, if you use 360 days for the year. Others prefer 1,150 days, which give us slightly over three years. But what is the starting point for the countdown?
The six-year advocates begin with 171 B.C., when Antiochus deposed the true high priest. Subtract six years and this takes you to 165 when Judas Maccabeus defeated the enemy and reconsecrated the temple. However, the three-year advocates begin with the establishment of the pagan altar in the temple on 25 Kislev, 168, and this takes us to 165. Either approach meets the requirements of the prophecy.
Antiochus and the events of Hanukkah foreshadow the end times when Antichrist will oppose God and God’s people. The “king of fierce countenance” is the Antichrist, not Antiochus Epiphanes; but if you compare Daniel 8:23-27 with Daniel 8:9-14, you will see that the characteristics of Antiochus parallel those of Antichrist of whom he is a type.
Both begin modestly but increase in power and influence; both claim to be God and boast of their power and strength; both persecute the Jewish people; both place images of themselves in the temple; both impose their own religion on God’s people; both are opposed by a believing remnant that know God; both are empowered by the devil and are great deceivers; both appear to succeed and seem to be invincible; both are finally defeated by the coming of a redeemer (Judas Maccabeus and Yeshua).
There are many other parallels as well. The “Prince of princes” (Daniel 8:25) is Yeshua, who is also the “God of gods” (Daniel 11:36) and the “King of Kings” (Revelation 19:16). The Antichrist is the man of sin who opposes Yeshua the Son of man the second Adam and seeks to replace Him as he has from the very beginning in the Garden of Eden, but ultimately Yeshua defeats him as prophesied in Genesis 3:15 and Romans 16:20 and will place the Antichrist and his false prophet, as well as Satan into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:1-3). As a result of this vision and being in the presence of angels, Daniel became ill. One cause of his illness was his inability to understand where this vision of the “the little horn,” (Revelation 8:9-12;23-26) fit into the prophetic scheme for Israel. He knew that the “little horn” would appear in the last days, but what would occur between his day and that day?
He would learn from Jeremiah’s prophecy that his people would be released from their captivity and allowed to return to their land and rebuild their temple, but Daniel knew nothing about God’s “mystery” concerning the church (Ephesians 3:1-13) or the “mystery” concerning the partial blinding and hardening of Israel (Romans 11:25-36). And who was the “king of fierce countenance” and why would he attack the Jewish people?
Daniel was overwhelmed by the suffering of the Jewish people and the consequences of truth being cast to the ground (Daniel 8:12; Isaiah 59:14-15). Daniel is a good example for the study of prophecy. He asked the Lord for the explanation (Daniel 8:15) and allowed the Lord to instruct him. But his investigation into God’s prophetic program wasn’t a matter of satisfying curiosity or knowledge above others. He was concerned about his people and the work they had to do on earth.
He so identified with what he learned that it made him ill! Too many “prophetic students” don’t wait before God for instruction and insight, nor do they feel burdened when they learn God’s truth about the future. Instead, they try to display their “knowledge” and impress people with what they think they know. If the study only remains in the head and does not change the heart it is vanity. When he got over his weakness and sickness, the prophet went back to work for the king and didn’t tell anybody what he had learned. But God still had more truth to teach him, and he was ready to receive it.