The Ram & the Goat | Daniel 8

In the third year of the reign of King Belshazzar a vision appeared to me, Daniel, after that which appeared to me at the first. And I saw in the vision; and when I saw, I was in Susa the citadel, which is in the province of Elam. And I saw in the vision, and I was at the Ulai canal. I raised my eyes and saw, and behold, a ram standing on the bank of the canal. It had two horns, and both horns were high, but one was higher than the other, and the higher one came up last. I saw the ram charging westward and northward and southward. No beast could stand before him, and there was no one who could rescue from his power. He did as he pleased and became great.

As I was considering, behold, a male goat came from the west across the face of the whole earth, without touching the ground. And the goat had a conspicuous horn between his eyes. He came to the ram with the two horns, which I had seen standing on the bank of the canal, and he ran at him in his powerful wrath. I saw him come close to the ram, and he was enraged against him and struck the ram and broke his two horns. And the ram had no power to stand before him, but he cast him down to the ground and trampled on him. And there was no one who could rescue the ram from his power. Then the goat became exceedingly great, but when he was strong, the great horn was broken, and instead of it there came up four conspicuous horns toward the four winds of heaven.

Out of one of them came a little horn, which grew exceedingly great toward the south, toward the east, and toward the glorious land. It grew great, even to the host of heaven. And some of the host and some of the stars it threw down to the ground and trampled on them. It became great, even as great as the Prince of the host. And the regular burnt offering was taken away from him, and the place of his sanctuary was overthrown. And a host will be given over to it together with the regular burnt offering because of transgression, and it will throw truth to the ground, and it will act and prosper. Then I heard a holy one speaking, and another holy one said to the one who spoke, “For how long is the vision concerning the regular burnt offering, the transgression that makes desolate, and the giving over of the sanctuary and host to be trampled underfoot?” And he said to me, “For 2,300 evenings and mornings. Then the sanctuary shall be restored to its rightful state.”

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. But he said to me, “Understand, O son of man, that the vision is for the time of the end.”

And when he had spoken to me, I fell into a deep sleep with my face to the ground. But he touched me and made me stand up. He said, “Behold, I will make known to you what shall be at the latter end of the indignation, for it refers to the appointed time of the end. As for the ram that you saw with the two horns, these are the kings of Media and Persia. And the goat is the king of Greece. And the great horn between his eyes is the first king. As for the horn that was broken, in place of which four others arose, four kingdoms shall arise from his nation, but not with his power. And at the latter end of their kingdom, when the transgressors have reached their limit, a king of bold face, one who understands riddles, shall arise. His power shall be great—but not by his own power; and he shall cause fearful destruction and shall succeed in what he does, and destroy mighty men and the people who are the saints. By his cunning he shall make deceit prosper under his hand, and in his own mind he shall become great. Without warning he shall destroy many. And he shall even rise up against the Prince of princes, and he shall be broken—but by no human hand. The vision of the evenings and the mornings that has been told is true, but seal up the vision, for it refers to many days from now.”

And I, Daniel, was overcome and lay sick for some days. Then I rose and went about the king’s business, but I was appalled by the vision and did not understand it.

Daniel 8 ESV

Antiochus IV was a brutal king. He began his reign as the king of the Seleucid Empire in the year 175 BC and died in 164 BC. Over the course of those eleven years of his rule, he gave himself the title of Epiphanes, which means God manifest, and heavily persecuted the Jews. In 168 BC, he marched on Jerusalem, still seething with anger after his failed conquest of Egypt, 2 Maccabees 5:12-14[1] describes the assault:

And he commanded his soldiers to cut down relentlessly every one they met and to slay those who went into the houses. Then there was killing of young and old, destruction of boys, women, and children, and slaughter of virgins and infants. Within the total of three days eighty thousand were destroyed, forty thousand in hand-to-hand fighting; and as many were sold into slavery as were slain.

Yet this initial bloodbath was only the beginning of the sorrows. 2 Maccabees 6:1-6, 10-11 declares to us the state of Jerusalem under Antiochus’ cruel reign:

Not long after this, the king sent an Athenian senator to compel the Jews to forsake the laws of their fathers and cease to live by the laws of God, and also to pollute the temple in Jerusalem and call it the temple of Olympian Zeus, and to call the one in Geri′zim[2] the temple of Zeus the Friend of Strangers, as did the people who dwelt in that place.

Harsh and utterly grievous was the onslaught of evil. For the temple was filled with debauchery and reveling by the Gentiles, who dallied with harlots and had intercourse with women within the sacred precincts, and besides brought in things for sacrifice that were unfit. The altar was covered with abominable offerings which were forbidden by the laws. A man could neither keep the sabbath, nor observe the feasts of his fathers, nor so much as confess himself to be a Jew.

For example, two women were brought in for having circumcised their children. These women they publicly paraded about the city, with their babies hung at their breasts, then hurled them down headlong from the wall. Others who had assembled in the caves near by, to observe the seventh day secretly, were betrayed to Philip and were all burned together, because their piety kept them from defending themselves, in view of their regard for that most holy day.

AT THE ULAI CANAL // VERSES 1-26

The vision of our present chapter dates itself two years after the vision of chapter 7. Verse 2 tells us that the vision came to Daniel while he was in Susa, which was one of the most important cities in the Babylonian Empire and eventually became the capital of the Persian Empire.[3] Beside the Ulai canal, he saw a ram with two large horns, although one horn was larger than the other. The ram charged to the north, to the west, and to the south and triumphed over all he met. He did as he pleased and became great (v. 4).

However, a male goat arose in the west and crossed the earth without touching the ground. The goat had one conspicuous horn and charged at the ram. The goat then broke the two horns of the ram and trampled him upon the ground. The goat then reigned supreme with no one to challenge him. Yet in the midst of the goat horn’s strength, it broke and was replaced by four other prominent horns that extended toward the four winds of heaven (v. 8).

The third movement of the vision then reveals a little horn which grew out of one of the four horns. This little horn became great in the south, in the east, and over the glorious land. It even rose against the Prince of the hosts of heaven and cast some of the stars onto the ground to trample over them. It defiled the sanctuary and removed the burnt offerings there, throwing truth to the ground. Yet in all of this, the little horn prospered. Daniel then heard one angel asking another how long this desolation was to endure. The answer: For 2,300 evenings and mornings. Then the sanctuary shall be restored to its rightful place (v. 14).

In verses 15-17, Daniel beheld a man-like figure beside him, and a voice called to it, Gabriel, make this man understand the vision (v. 16). Daniel fell upon his face in fear as Gabriel approached him, and the angel told him that the dream was of the time of the end (v. 18). After then awakening Daniel from a deep sleep, Gabriel explained the meaning of the vision. The ram represents the Medo-Persian Empire with its two horns being the kings of Media and Persia (v. 20). The goat is Greece with the first horn being the first king, whose kingdom would be splintered into four lesser kingdoms. Toward the last days of these kingdoms, another king would arise from one of the four (the little horn). Gabriel concludes:

His power shall be great—but not by his own power; and he shall cause fearful destruction and shall succeed in what he does, and destroy mighty men and the people who are the saints. By his cunning he shall make deceit prosper under his hand, and in his own mind he shall become great. Without warning he shall destroy many. And he shall even rise up against the Prince of princes, and he shall be broken—but by no human hand. The vision of the evenings and the mornings that has been told is true, but seal up the vision, for it refers to many days from now.”

vv. 24-26

A PARTICULAR VISION

Now comes the million-dollar question: what are we to make of this vision? The interpretation that Gabriel gave to Daniel is certainly helpful. Unlike the previous vision, the two beasts of this chapter are said to represent two particular kingdoms. Duguid notes how even the location sets this vision apart:

The location prepares us for the fact that this vision is going to be different from that in chapter 7. The earlier vision expressed universal and ultimate realities in the language of symbolism rather than history, and therefore appropriately took place in an undefined location, beside the great Sea (Dan. 7:2). In the vision of chapter 8, however, we focus on the particularities of specific and easily identifiable historical figures and kingdoms, and so the vision is located in a specific geographical location.[4]

Medo-Persia and Greece are the kingdoms being described in this vision, and the great accuracy of this particular vision is one of the chief reasons that modern scholars deny that the book of Daniel authentically belonged to Daniel. Their secular bias discounts the possibility of prophesy alongside the existence of God; therefore, they assume that Daniel must have been written after the fact. We who affirm the existence of God Almighty should, however, have no problem with Him supernaturally revealing the events of history almost four hundred years prior to His servants, which is exactly what is taking place in this vision.

The ram with lopsided horns is an accurate depiction of the Medo-Persian Empire, which we often simply call the Persian Empire because, while it was originally a joint empire between the Persians and the Medians, the Persians quickly proved to be the mightier branch. Founded by Cyrus the Great in 559 BC, this great empire ruled for over two hundred years until it collapsed in 330 BC before armies of Alexander the Great.

Alexander is one of history’s most conspicuous figures for good reason. Tutored by the philosopher Aristotle until he was sixteen, he became king of Macedon at the age of twenty and quickly united the Greek city-states under his leadership. In 334 BC, he launched his conquest of the Persian Empire. While he wanted to conquer India as well, he returned home, only to die in Babylon at the age of thirty-two.

Without an heir to inherit his empire, his officials asked the dying Alexander who would rule the kingdom. He responded, “to the strongest.” Like modern Darwinism, this policy of might-makes-right resulted in forty-year civil war that eventually ended with four kingdoms led by four of Alexander’s former generals (the Kingdoms of Ptolemy, Cassander, Lysimachus, and Seleucus). Thus, the one conspicuous horn overthrew the two horns of the ram, only to be broken at the height of his power and replaced by four other horns.

But what of the little horn? He seems to quite clearly be Antiochus IV. As the last powerful king over the dying Seleucid Empire, Antiochus was certainly concerned with both the south and the east. To the east, he struggled to maintain his grip over the remnants of Persia against the Parthians. To the south, he longed to settle the long feud between the Seleucid and Ptolemaic Empires by conquering Egypt (which was then under the Ptolemy dynasty). Yet the vision is most concerned with what he did whenever he set himself against the glorious land (v. 9). As we read from 2 Maccabees above, he conquered Jerusalem and mercilessly persecuted the people for about three and a half years. During this tribulation, he burned Scripture, made the temple into a temple to Zeus, and executed any who practiced circumcision and observed the Sabbath. Daniel later calls this the abomination that makes desolate (12:11), and while foretelling the similar destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70 AD, Jesus used the same term, calling it the abomination of desolation.

All of this would last for 2,300 evenings and mornings, which at first seems to be twice as long as Antiochus’ persecution actually lasted (since 2,300 days is a little more than six years). However, Mitchell Chase suggests that because sacrifices took place in the morning and evening the vision is referring to 2,300 sacrifices instead of days, which would be around three years.[5]

One other problem is that we are told that this vision is for the time of end. How then could it apply to Antiochus, since the world has clearly not ended over the following 2100 years? The short answer is that Antiochus’ time, the 2nd Century, was at the end of that era of human history. Christ’s coming radically altered history and ushered in the end times, in which the church has been living for the past two thousand years.

Thus, everything seems to line up. Antiochus IV was indeed one who caused fearful destruction and who destroyed mighty men and the people who are the saints (v. 24). The deceit of paganism prospered under his reign, and in his own mind, he was great, as great as God Himself. As promised, Antiochus also did not meet his end by any human hand. Consider how 2 Maccabees 9 describes his sickness and eventual death, especially pay attention to how the author of the book clearly alludes back to our passage in Daniel:

But the all-seeing Lord, the God of Israel, struck him an incurable and unseen blow. As soon as he ceased speaking he was seized with a pain in his bowels for which there was no relief and with sharp internal tortures— and that very justly, for he had tortured the bowels of others with many and strange inflictions. Yet he did not in any way stop his insolence, but was even more filled with arrogance, breathing fire in his rage against the Jews, and giving orders to hasten the journey. And so it came about that he fell out of his chariot as it was rushing along, and the fall was so hard as to torture every limb of his body. Thus he who had just been thinking that he could command the waves of the sea, in his superhuman arrogance, and imagining that he could weigh the high mountains in a balance, was brought down to earth and carried in a litter, making the power of God manifest to all. And so the ungodly man’s body swarmed with worms, and while he was still living in anguish and pain, his flesh rotted away, and because of his stench the whole army felt revulsion at his decay. Because of his intolerable stench no one was able to carry the man who a little while before had thought that he could touch the stars of heaven. Then it was that, broken in spirit, he began to lose much of his arrogance and to come to his senses under the scourge of God, for he was tortured with pain every moment… So the murderer and blasphemer, having endured the most intense suffering, such as he had inflicted on others, came to the end of his life by a most pitiable fate, among the mountains in a strange land. (vv. 5-11, 28)

CONFIDENCE IN PROVIDENCE

This vision is clearly connected to the vision of chapter 7; however, as we said, where the first vision was general, this one seems clearly to be particular. The little horn in chapter 7 represents the many antichrists (the little horn) throughout history that will raise themselves up against the LORD and His saints. Chapter 8 predicts a particular manifestation of the little horn in the person of Antiochus IV. Of course, rulers such as Nero and Hitler took up that mantle as well, and the spirit of antichrist is no less on the move today. To put this another way, Antiochus was the little horn of both chapter 7 and chapter 8, but Nero, Hitler, and every other manifestation of the antichrist are each the little horn of chapter 7 but not of chapter 8.

Yet the LORD prophesied the limited reign of Antiochus so that when the time of tribulation had come upon them, they would not despair. The same is then true of every appearance of the little horn in history. They raise themselves against God and His saints only to be cast down by the Most High. The same is true even when the little horn is an ideology or system rather than a single individual. Their kingdoms rise and fall, while God’s kingdom continues to endure. We need this hope to sustain us during the 2,300 evenings and mornings, during the time, times, and half a time when evil seems to have won the victory, when antichrist appears to have conquered.

Yet this raises very significant question: why does God allow evil to triumph over His people, even for a little while? Verse 12 helps us to answer this question by noting that the sacrifice would be ceased because of transgression. I agree with numerous commentators that this is referring to the transgression of the Jews for which God was disciplining them. The LORD used the wickedness of Antiochus as a rod of correction upon His people, just as in Daniel’s own day He used Nebuchadnezzar. Here again the author of 2 Maccabees supports this interpretation since he wrote these words to the Jews of his own day:

Now I urge those who read this book not to be depressed by such calamities, but to recognize that these punishments were designed not to destroy but to discipline our people. In fact, not to let the impious alone for long, but to punish them immediately, is a sign of great kindness. For in the case of the other nations the Lord waits patiently to punish them until they have reached the full measure of their sins; but he does not deal in this way with us, in order that he may not take vengeance on us afterward when our sins have reached their height. Therefore he never withdraws his mercy from us. Though he disciplines us with calamities, he does not forsake his own people.

6:12-16

Indeed, the author of Hebrews tells us that a lack of discipline from the Lord means being illegitimate sons. In Genesis 15, God told Abraham that his ancestors would not lay claim to Canaan for another four hundred years “for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete” (v. 16). In these scenarios, God gives people over to their sin, to the vanities of their pleasure and the futility of their mind, until the day of His wrath comes upon them in its fullness. Yet “the LORD reproves him whom he loves” (Proverbs 3:12).

Of course, the greatest display of love from the Father was not in His discipline of us but rather in the crucifixion of His Son. If the Jews lamented the defilement of the temple as the abomination of desolation, how much worse was the humiliation and murder of the Author of life? The reality that Christ freely delivered Himself over to the scorn of the cross does not erase that it was the darkest day in all of history. The death of the immortal Word at the hands of His own creation rightly resulted in earthquakes, darkness, and the opening of tombs, for creation was turned upon its head. Yet even though Christ Himself is the living temple, the desecration of His body did not result in our desolation but rather our redemption and restoration. His sinless body was pierced and broken under the full weight of God’s wrath as a perfect sacrifice for our sins. He received wrath without any mixture of mercy, so we could receive mercy without any mixture of wrath. The Deathless died to give us life everlasting.

Furthermore, as we see that greatest sin and sorrow was used by God for the reconciliation and re-creation of God’s people to Himself and to one another, we also have confidence that all other evils will be used for good in the end. To make this more real to us, we can observe God’s hand in the COVID-19 pandemic of the past year. Is it not, after all, far easier to acknowledge God’s discipline in the sorrows of the past than in the present? I would, however, make the claim that every sorrow and suffering that God permits to befall His people is an act of discipline upon them. Of course, this also means that we must have the right concept of discipline, for discipline is not merely the act of correcting misbehavior; rather, it is the shaping of one’s life into an ideal. I have spoken of how this plays out in parenting in past sermons, but when it comes to God’s discipline of us, we should note that He does not always discipline us in order to correct particular sins. His discipline always, however, shapes us into being more like Christ. Thus, we can have hope that in every moment of suffering, even those caused by grievous evil (although God Himself is not the author of evil), our LORD will use it for ultimate good and to conform us more into the image of His Son. The pandemic is, therefore, no different. Our Father is using it to grow and discipline His people, which I think can be most readily seen in the increased love and desire for the physical gathering of the saints.

Indeed, in Luke 13:1-5, Jesus taught another grace that comes with suffering. In those verses, we are given a rare glimpse at how Jesus responded to two tragedies of His day. The first was an act of evil: Pilate slaughtered Galileans while they were sacrificing. The second was an act of nature: a tower fell and killed eighteen persons. Jesus did respond to these two events by comforting everyone with the love of God in the midst of a broken world; instead, He told those standing around Him: “unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (vv. 3, 5). At the very least, every tragedy is a wakeup call from the LORD to repent before our time of death inevitably comes upon us. Again, this is a bitter grace, but it is grace from the Father’s hand.

FAITHFUL AS WE WAIT // VERSE 27

The chapter concludes as follows: And I, Daniel, was overcome and lay sick for some days. Then I rose and went about the king’s business, but I was appalled by the vision and did not understand it. The prophet was rightly sickened by the impending horrors that he saw awaited his people, even though he would not live to see it. Here is the proper contrast to Hezekiah’s selfish assurance that the destruction of Jerusalem would not happen in his day.

Yet even though the prophet was appalled by the vision and did not understand it fully (indeed how can anyone understand what has not yet come to pass), Daniel rose and went about the king’s business. Here is a marvelous example for how we, as God’s people, should approach future suffering. We must be faithful with what the LORD has set before us in the present, knowing that He alone governs the future and trusting in His providential hand.

This is eminently practical for us because, as John Piper warns, “Global cataclysms and personal catastrophes are coming.” He then explains why he is so certain of coming woes:

I say this not as one with my finger in the wind, but with my finger in the Bible. “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). “You yourselves know that we are destined for [these afflictions]” (1 Thess. 3:3). “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12). We are “fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him” (Rom. 8:17). “Not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:23).[6]

I will add to this list of exhortations the words of Paul in Philippians 1:29: “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.” It is grace, a severe grace but grace nonetheless, to suffer for Christ’s sake as well as to believe in Him for salvation. And suffering, whether individual or corporate (or both), will happen. The little horn is always making fresh battles upon the church by the power of the ancient Serpent, and God’s people will always endure, even through fire. We do not know what shape they will take next, but we do know that they are coming.

Even so, we are not called to fear or fret about what tomorrow may or may not bring. We must rise up each new day and set ourselves to our King’s business. But what is the business of our King? Prioritize prayer. Be saturated in the Scriptures. Love and serve God’s people. Disciple the nations. But most importantly, count Christ as more precious than everything else heaped together. Upon his deathbed, David Dickson spoke these words, “I have taken all my good deeds, and all my bad deeds, and cast them in a heap before the Lord, and fled from both to the Lord Jesus Christ, and in him I have sweet peace.” Such a faith in Christ alone as both our Lord and Savior is our eternal calling, which we begin now. As we do this, God is faithful to give us the grace and peace for each day’s challenges. The future is in His hands, we must only trust and obey Him in the present.


[1] I am going to quote from 2 Maccabees a great deal in this sermon, so I should make a quick note on how that book should properly be viewed. Unlike Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, we do not believe that 2 Maccabees or any other book of the Apocrypha belongs to the canon of Scripture. 1-2 Maccabees particularly can be helpful in understanding history between the Old and New Testaments; however, they should be read as being just as fallible as any other book outside of Scripture. For example, many biblical historians look to Josephus to help understand the history of the New Testament, yet Josephus, while helpful, is never mistaken for being Scripture. The proceeding quotations from 2 Maccabees should be treated in the same manner.

[2] This was the temple of the Samaritans.

[3] The Book of Esther takes place in Susa.

[4] Iain Duguid, Daniel, 124.

[5] Mitchell Chase, ESV Expository Commentary, Vol. VII, 112.

[6] John Piper, Spectacular Sins, 15.

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