DANIEL - CHAPTER 8
A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
Copyright 2000 James Melough
8:1. “In the third year of the reign of king Belshazzar a vision appeared unto me Daniel, after that which appeared unto me at the first.”
This vision supplies further details relating to the empires of Medo-Persia and Greece, and in addition, introduces Antiochus Epiphanes, a bitter persecutor of the Jews in the second century BC, and a type of the still more terrible persecutor, the beast emperor, who will arise in the Tribulation age.
Daniel’s first vision had been in the first year of Belshazzar, as recorded in chapter 7, but now in this second vision there are added details not given in the first.
8:2. “And I saw in a vision: and it came to pass, when I was at Shushan in the palace, which is in the province of Elam; and I saw in a vision, and I was by the river Ulai.”
It is generally understood that the prophet wasn’t actually in Shushan, but that he had been carried there in spirit, and Dr. Heading points out that Ulai was a canal linking two rivers which flowed past the city. Shushan means a lily; Elam, their heaps: suckling them: eternal; and Ulai, my leaders (mighties), and undoubtedly these names, like all others in Scripture, have spiritual significance, but I regret being unable to determine what those meanings are.
8:3. “Then I lifted up mine eyes, and saw, and, behold, there stood before the river a ram which had two horns: and the two horns were high; but one was higher than the other, and the higher came up last.”
Verse 20 identifies this ram as Medo-Persia, the smaller horn representing Media under Darius; the higher horn which came up last, representing Persia under Cyrus, which eventually emerged as the dominant power.
The only apparent reason for God’s having chosen the ram to represent Medo-Persia; and the he goat, Greece, is that they were the emblems on the banners and coins of those two countries, and that the Persian kings wore golden crowns shaped like ram’s heads.
8:4. “I saw the ram pushing westward, and northward, and southward; so that no beasts might stand before him, neither was there any that could deliver out of his hand; but he did according to his will, and became great.”
This is generally taken to represent Persia’s subjugation of Babylon, Mesopotamia, Syria (westward), Colchis, Armenia, and the regions around the Caspian sea (northward), and Israel, Egypt, and Ethiopia (southward). The fact that the nations, powerless against the might of Persia, are referred to under the figure of beasts, reminds us that God views, not only the four having universal dominion, but all nations, as being of the same character, beastly.
8:5. “And as I was considering, behold, an he goat came from the west on the face of the whole earth, and touched not the ground: and the goat had a notable horn between his eyes.”
The goat from the west represents Greece; and the notable horn, its king, Alexander the Great. Its not touching the ground is usually taken to refer to the speed of Alexander’s conquests (he conquered virtually the known world of his day in just about twelve years), but an alternative rendering of this clause is “none touched him in the earth,” in which case the reference may be to his invincibility.
8:6. “And he came to the ram that had two horns, which I had seen standing before the river, and ran unto him in the fury of his power.”
8:7. “And I saw him come close unto the ram, and he was moved with choler against him, and smote the ram, and brake his two horns: and there was no power in the ram to stand before him, but he cast him down to the ground, and stamped upon him: and there was none that could deliver the ram out of his hand.”
8:8. “Therefore the he goat waxed very great: and when he was strong, the great horn was broken; and for it came up four notable ones toward the four winds of heaven.”
Verses 6 and 7 describe Alexander’s subjugation of the Medo-Persian empire, and verse 8 tells us of the conquests by which he subdued the known world of his day. The great horn broken symbolizes Alexander’s death which occurred in Babylon when he was only 32; while the rising up of “four notable ones (horns) towards the four winds of heaven” represents the division of the empire among his four chief generals, Cassander, Lysimachus, Ptolemy, and Seleucus. He himself had no natural heir. Cassander ruled Greece and Macedonia; Lysimachus, Thrace, Bithynia, Lydia,
Mycia and Phrygia; Ptolemy, Egypt; and Selecus, Israel, Syria and Mesopotamia.
8:9. “And out of one of them came forth a little horn, which waxed exceeding great, toward the south, and toward the east, and toward the pleasant land.”
This little horn refers to Antiochus Epiphanes, king of Syria from 175-163 BC. His being “exceeding great, toward the south, and toward the east, and toward the pleasant land” refers to his conquests in Egypt, the East, and Israel. He is not to be confused with the little horn of 7:8, which represents the beast ruler of the yet future Tribulation period, though he (Antiochus) is very clearly a type of that coming evil king.
8:10. “And it waxed great, even to (against) the host of heaven; and it cast down some of the host and of the stars to the ground, and stamped upon them.”
The “host of heaven” is taken by most commentators to represent God’s people, Israel; and the “stars,” either the leaders of the people, or more likely, those who bore a faithful witness for God. His casting some of them “to the ground” refers to his killing them.
History records the fulfillment of this prophecy. Antiochus Epiphanes, meaning the Illustrious One or manifestation of a god, was known also as Epimanes, i.e., the madman. Few of Israel’s persecutors have rivaled his ruthless cruelty.
8:11. “Yea, he (Antiochus) magnified himself even to (against) the prince of the host (Christ), and by him the daily sacrifice was taken away, and the place of his (God’s) sanctuary was cast down.”
The fact that he delighted in the appellation “Epiphanes (manifestation of a god)” declares how much he desired to be regarded as a god. Not only did he forbid all Jewish worship, but he profaned the temple by offering a pig on the altar, and sprinkling its blood on the walls and vessels; and having set up an image of Jupiter, he then declared the temple to be the shrine of that pagan god. It has been estimated that he massacred more than 100,000 Jews. It is beyond question that he is a type of the impious “little horn (king)” of chapter seven, the beast ruler of the Tribulation period, and that his blasphemous persecution of God’s people in the second century BC is but a foreshadowing of the still more terrible persecution which they will suffer at the hand of that final Gentile king in the Tribulation.
8:12. “And an host was given him against the daily sacrifice by reason of transgression, and it cast down the truth to the ground; and it practiced and prospered.”
The King James translation of this verse is obscure. Many Bible scholars understand it to mean that “the host” (Israel) was given into the hand of Antiochus because of their transgression against God’s order for the offering of the sacrifices. They themselves had been guilty of polluting God’s altar, e.g., “Ye offer polluted bread (sacrifices) upon Mine altar.... Ye offer the blind for sacrifice ... the lame and the sick” (Mal 1:7-8). In permitting Antiochus to sacrifice a pig on the temple altar, God would have His own people see His abhorrence of the maimed (and therefore proscribed) sacrifices with which they themselves had polluted His altar and sanctuary. Israel’s blemished lambs were no more acceptable to God than was the pig offered by Antiochus.
There is, however, practical instruction in this for Spiritual Israel (the Church). We may be guilty of the same offense, for Israel’s literal sacrifices are but symbols of our spiritual offerings. It is to be feared that much of what we offer to God today as worship and service is as abhorrent to Him as were those repudiated blemished offerings brought by His earthly people. They presented what cost them little (the blemished animal had little market value), but are we less guilty? What do our worship and service cost us? How much time, for example, do we give to our preparation for coming to the Lord’s table on the first day of each week? Do we spend time throughout the week - willingly giving up ease, pleasure, or money, to have that time - so that we may have for presentation to the Father that which can honestly be called “the sacrifices of praise” (Heb 13:15)?
The same standard must measure also our service. What service have we rendered this week, for example, that has cost us anything in the way of time, convenience, or money?
Spiritual men and women grieve to see spiritual Israel present the equivalent of earthly Israel’s blemished offerings which offended God, and brought His chastisement, for the Church will no more escape judgment than did Israel. For literal Israel the instrument of that chastisement was Antiochus, but he was only the puppet of Satan, permitted by God to desecrate temple and altar, so that Israel might see in that desecration a duplicate of their own defilement of His temple and altar. Blind eyes and seared consciences, however, prevent us from seeing that the type is being fulfilled today. Believers are frequently made to witness the spectacle, not only of God’s being presented with the blemished offerings of spiritual Israelites, but worse, with “the pig” of the unbeliever, for negligence on the part of elders has made it easy for Satan’s wolves, disguised as sheep, to take their places amongst God’s people. Dr. John Heading’s comments on this twelfth verse are worth noting, “The transgression totally was caused not only by the people and their evil ways, but by the high priest Jason who opened the temple gates so that Antiochus could enter. There were thus no powerful ‘porters to guard the gates of the house of the Lord, that none which was unclean in any thing should enter in,’ 2 Chron. 23:19. This recalls the local church visualized by Paul in Acts 20:29-30, where men from the outside and men from within would damage the spiritual status of the church at Ephesus.”
“... and it (the little horn, Antiochus) cast down the truth to the ground.” This is always Satan’s work, for the Truth is the antidote for his spiritual poison, the light to dispel his darkness. It is Truth alone that can annul the power of evil. Satan’s use of Antiochus therefore, “to cast down the truth to the ground,” that is, to destroy it, is nothing new. He has impelled multitudes to do the same thing down through the ages, and in his attempt to destroy the Truth we see the shadow of his ultimate objective - to destroy Him Who is not only “the Truth,” but “the Way, and the Life” as well. Nor have we far to look to find the reason for his hatred of the Truth. His own destruction is guaranteed both by the immutability of the written Word, and the omnipotence of the living Word. Until the day he is cast into the lake of fire therefore, he will continue the nefarious work so willing done by Antiochus almost twenty-two hundred years ago. Nor will he ever lack an “Antiochus” to do his bidding. The last one will be the Gentile Tribulation-age beast ruler. He has his “Antiochuses” at work today both outside and inside the Church, and their success may be measured by the spiritual illiteracy of God’s people. To multitudes of believers the Old Testament is written in an unknown language. Its truth has been “cast down to the ground” as far as they are concerned, and the New Testament is quickly meeting the same fate. How? Christians are so busy with the things of this world, and with useless “Christian activities” that they have no time to study their Bibles. The method may be more subtle, but Truth is just as much “cast down to the ground” today as it was in the days of Antiochus.
8:13. “Then I heard one saint speaking, and another saint said unto that certain saint which spake, How long shall be the vision concerning the daily sacrifice, and the transgression of desolation, to give both the sanctuary and the host to be trodden under foot?”
Saint here is generally taken to be a holy angel, and the words, “How long shall be the vision, etc.,” as meaning “How long will it take for the vision to be fulfilled?”
8:14. “And he said unto me, Unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed.”
There has been much debate over this verse. While certainly what Israel suffered at the hand of Antiochus is a foreshadowing of what she will yet suffer at the hand of the final beast ruler in the Tribulation, there doesn’t seem to be any reason to believe that the present reference is to any cleansing of the Temple other than that which followed its desecration by Antiochus, i.e., the cleansing carried out by Judas Maccabees between BC 164 and 163. In regard to that cleansing, the many attempts to explain the 2,300 days have produced no very satisfactory answer, and I regret being unable to shed any light on the puzzle, the difficulty being that while December 16, 167 BC is the generally accepted date of Antiochus’ desecration of the Temple, there is no generally accepted exact date of the completion of its cleansing. Many expositors believe that the time was “2,300 evenings and mornings” (the times for offering the evening and morning sacrifice), which would make the time 1,150 actual twenty-four days, and this certainly fits approximately the time from 167 BC, when Antiochus first defiled it, till 164 or 163 BC, when Judas Maccabees cleansed it.
8:15. “And it came to pass, when I, even I Daniel, had seen the vision, and sought for the meaning, then, behold, there stood before me as the appearance of a man.”
8:16. “And I heard a man’s voice between the banks of Ulai, which called, and said, Gabriel, make this man to understand the vision.”
8:17. “So he came near where I stood: and when he came, I was afraid, and fell upon my face; but he said unto me, Understand, O son of man: for at the time of the end shall be the vision.”
The One having the appearance of a man seems to be the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, confirmation of this view being found in the fact that He commanded Gabriel, an authority unlikely to be possessed by any other except perhaps the archangel Michael, and if it were he, then we might suppose that his name would have been used.
If the majesty of Gabriel prostrated Daniel with fear, what must the majesty of God be like? “Son of man” is not used here in the same sense as when applied to the Lord Jesus Christ. Here it simply designates Daniel as one of the human race. The fact that the events revealed in the vision are said to relate to “the time of the end” makes it clear that what happened in the second century BC was only a partial fulfillment of the prophecy, Antiochus being but a type of the final beast emperor of the Tribulation era.
8:18. “Now as he was speaking with me, I was in a deep sleep on my face toward the ground: but he touched me, and set me upright.”
8:19. “And he said, Behold, I will make thee know what shall be in the last end of the indignation: for at the time appointed the end shall be.”
“The last end of the indignation” continues to emphasize that while the prophecy included the activity of Antiochus, its ultimate application is to the activity of the final beast emperor in the Tribulation.
8:20. “The ram which thou sawest having two horns are the kings of Media and Persia.”
8:21. “And the rough goat is the king of Grecia: and the great horn that is between his eyes is the first king.”
8:22. “Now that being broken, whereas four stood up for it, four kingdoms shall stand up out of the nation, but not in his power.”
Since we have already discussed these verses, we will go on to look at verse 23.
8:23. “And in the latter time of their kingdom, when the transgressors are come to the full, a king of fierce countenance, and understanding dark sentences, shall stand up.”
While certainly the immediate application was to Antiochus, it is clear that the ultimate application is to the final beast emperor, for it cannot be said of Antiochus that he understood “dark sentences,” nor can it be said that transgressors had come to the full in his days. That “fullness” will be only when the beast reigns. (The ability to understand “dark sentences,” incidentally, is simply another way of declaring that the man will be possessed of extraordinary intelligence, and while Antiochus was shrewd and cunning, his intelligence was not phenomenal).
8:24. “And his power shall be mighty, but not by his own power: and he shall destroy wonderfully, and shall prosper, and practise, and shall destroy the mighty and the holy people.”
Antiochus was powerful to a degree, but it could not be said that he was mighty. And while he was certainly Satan’s instrument, it is clear that he was so in a much more limited measure than will be the coming beast emperor. Likewise in regard to the destruction wrought by Antiochus, it will pale into insignificance compared to that which will lie in the wake of the Tribulation-age beast ruler, as will also his slaughter of the “mighty and the holy people” (the Jews). “Mighty” meaning literally mighty ones, is taken by many to refer, not to Israel, but to the nations that will be conquered by the beast.
In the original language, the word “practise” has a great many meanings, all of which point to an ability far surpassing that of Antiochus, but which Scripture makes clear will be possessed by the beast.
8:25. “And through his policy also he shall cause craft to prosper in his hand; and he shall magnify himself in his heart, and by peace shall destroy many: he shall also stand up against the Prince of princes; but he shall be broken without hand.”
There is no question that Antiochus prospered through craft, that he “magnified himself in his heart,” i.e., he felt superior to others, and had great ambition, that he “by peace” destroyed many, i.e., treacherously destroyed them when they least expected it, having believed his promises of peace. Apart from the fact that he was opposed to the “Prince of princ-es,” i.e., the Lord Jesus Christ, however, he did not literally “stand up against the Prince of princes” as will the final beast emperor whose forces will engage in literal battle with Christ at Megiddo, and who will himself be cast directly into the lake of fire. His being “broken without hand” very clearly points to his being brought to an end by a unique means, i.e., by being cast directly into the lake of fire. Only the beast, the false prophet, and Satan will have this terrible experience. It did not happen to Antiochus.
8:26. “And the vision of the evening and the morning which was told is true: wherefore shut thou up the vision; for it shall be for many days.”
Some take “the vision of the evening and the morning’ to mean that the vision was given to Daniel at night, and there appears to be no good reason not to accept this. In regard to his being told “shut thou up the vision; for it shall be for many days,” most commentators take it to mean, not that he was to keep it secret, but to preserve it by committing it to writing, so that others might read what God had written concerning events at the end of the age that would see Gentile dominion broken, and Christ’s millennial kingdom established, a time then far distant, but now surely very near. Some, however, understand it to mean that the contents were not to be disclosed, and in view of what is written in verse 27, this interpretation may well be correct. The word shut, in fact, has this very meaning.
8:27. “And I Daniel fainted, and was sick certain days; afterward I rose up, and did the king’s business; and I was astonished at the vision, but none understood it.”
Daniel’s fainting and sickness may have been due to the emotional strain of having experienced a theophany (the appearance of Deity in the guise of a man or an angel), and of having been in the presence of Gabriel, see verses 15-18. His being astonished at the vision is usually taken to mean that he was appalled by it. The phrase “none understood it” is difficult to interpret, since the explanation given him by Gabriel seems to be reasonably explicit, though it is to be realized that we read it having the benefit of about 2,500 years of history, which records much of the fulfillment of the prophecy. We have to remember also that Daniel may have been given the vision, but not its meaning, as in 12:8-9, nor should we forget that the prophets not infrequently wrote without understanding the meaning of what they were commanded to write, see 1 Pe 1:10-12.