Today, we get to look into the most unusual chapter in the whole book of Daniel. What makes it unusual is not necessarily that it’s difficult to understand. In fact, as we’ll see in a moment, the angel pretty much explains the meaning of all of it in the chapter itself. It’s not like last week, in chapter 7, where there wasn’t too much explained, and so we were limited in our certainty about the exact meaning. This week, we have the interpretation of the vision and what it means, but we don’t have much about what God is explicitly teaching Daniel and even us, for today. He tells him what is about happen, very specifically, but that’s about it.
For that reason, I almost put this chapter with last week—two chapters, one sermon. But, instead, I’ve decided to build on last week. In other words, the monsters continue this Sunday. So, we’ll read chapter 8, then we’ll walk through it together, and then build on last week as far as takeaways for Daniel, and also for us. Michelle, take it away!
So, at first reading, you may feel a bit like Daniel in the last verse: a bit sick to your stomach, or maybe you feel a bit lost. To say the least, this is not a favorite chapter for pastors to preach. Unless you’re at a church that goes through books of the Bible, you’d probably never hear a sermon on Daniel chapter 8. And that’s not because it doesn’t have significance or meaning, but just that significance for us today is a bit less explicit in Daniel 8 compared to elsewhere in Scripture. But, the beauty of the commitment we have at Raintree to be going through books of the Bible, at least most of the time, verse by verse, is that we can’t skip over the difficult nor the seemingly obscure parts, even if maybe we’d prefer to!
So, let’s walk through this. I’ll read it again, little by little, explaining things as we go along, and then once we feel confident in understanding what is happening, we can talk about takeaways, and build on last week near the end of our time.
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. [So this is after the vision from last week in chapter 7, which was in the first year of King Belshazzar. Now we’re in the third, and he is given this second vision]. 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. [So, already we see that this is a very specific vision, with specific places].
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. [This may ring a bell that this ram’s horns were not the same length, if you remember back to the 2nd beast in chapter 7 last week, which was a bear raised up on one side. Supposedly that represented Medo-Persia, two unequal kingdoms put together. It wasn’t explicit in chapter 7, but it is explicit here. In verse 20, the angel tells Daniel that this ram represents the kings of Media and Persia. So this is the Medo-Persian Empire. That’s what this ram is]. 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. [In other words, this would be a great kingdom, and as we know, if you recall, this is the kingdom that comes right after Belshazzar is killed at the end of chapter 5. After the Babylonian Empire, which is the authority under which Daniel is living right now, after that will come the Medo-Persian empire, this ram].
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. [So, now there’s a goat! And we know who this is also because the angel tells Daniel who it is. Verse 21: “And the goat is the king of Greece. And the great horn between his eyes is the first king.” So we have Medo-Persia as the ram, and now Greece coming and flying toward them, it says without touching the ground. And this goat had a single strong horn. Who is this horn? The angel says this is the first king of Greece, and we know in hindsight that this is Alexander the Great. And it makes sense that this goat that represents Greece is flying, not touching the ground, because Alexander the Great conquered the entire known world by the age of 32, in other words very quickly. He had a lot of speed. So, the goat is Greece, and this one powerful horn on the goat is, specifically, Alexander the Great.]
6 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. 7 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. 8 Then the goat [which is Greece] became exceedingly great, but when he was strong, the great horn [who is Alexander the Great] was broken, and instead of it there came up four conspicuous horns toward the four winds of heaven. [So now we have four new horns on the goat, four new smaller kingdoms of Greece, which makes perfect sense, because when Alexander the Great died, his empire was divided between four of his generals. This is pretty much without question what this is referring to. In verse 22, the angel states: “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.” These four new rulers weren’t quite as powerful as Alexander the Great.]
So, we had the ram with two horns who was strong, representing Medo-Persia. Then this incredibly powerful, fast goat with a single, powerful horn, he attacks the ram and breaks off its horns and tramples it on the ground. This is Greece, and Alexander the Great in particular conquering the Medo-Persian Empire. And then we have Alexander the Great, this single big horn dying, and four horns coming up after it, still on the goat. These are the four generals who are now reigning in different parts of the kingdom of Greece. That’s where we’re at, as we continue in verse 9:
9 Out of one of them came a little horn [out of one of these four regions, the four horns, came another ruler], which grew exceedingly great toward the south, toward the east, and toward the glorious land [probably referring to Palestine]. 10 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. 11 It became great, even as great as the Prince of the host. [Now, what this is telling us about this new ruler is that he is particularly powerful and particularly hostile toward God. He, even moreso than the other generals and rulers, is trying to place himself into the position of God. And that’s why Daniel gives us this visionary language, because that’s what he’s seeing. It’s not actually like he’s defeating God in any way, but that he’s trying to battle him.]
Verse 11 continues: And the regular burnt offering was taken away from him, and the place of his sanctuary was overthrown. [What’s happening here? This ruler took away the daily animal sacrifices of the Jewish people and even took over the sanctuary itself.] 12 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. [In other words, a group of God’s people will be given over to this ruler, and also the right to give burnt offerings to God, all of that the Jewish people will lose, why? Vs. 12: “because of transgression.” Ultimately, the reason why this is all happening when it does come to pass is due to the rebellion of the Jewish people. That’s what verse 12 is getting at.]
13 Then I heard a holy one speaking, and another holy one said to the one who spoke [in other words, one angel is asking another], “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?” [In other words, how long will this intense persecution of God’s people last?!] 14 And he said to me, “For 2,300 evenings and mornings. Then the sanctuary shall be restored to its rightful state.” [For a little over six years, this ruler will have this kind of control over God’s people, and this kind of intense persecution will go on for God’s people.]
At this point, Daniel just wants to understand. So Gabriel was sent to explain to Daniel what he had seen. He explains that these animals are Medo-Persia, then Greece. And then he goes into even more detail and explanation about this particular horn that will arise from the four. Verse 23 and following:
23 And at the latter end of their kingdom [he’s starting back at the four horns here], when the transgressors have reached their limit, a king of bold face [basically, completely set on wickedness], one who understands riddles [just a specific description of this ruler], shall arise. 24 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. [Again, we see this persecution and attacking of God’s people]. 25 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. [Again, he’s even trying to rise up against God himself]. 26 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.” [This is certainly true that it’s many days, because Daniel is still under Belsahazzar, who is the King of Babylon. So we have two more kingdoms coming before this particular ruler that has a hatred and hostility toward God and his people].
The obvious question for us to ask is, “Who is the little horn?” If you remember in chapter 7, last week, we also asked the question of that particular vision, “Who is the little horn?” Completely different vision, and yet the fourth beast had ten horns, out of which one little horn came up even stronger and more prevalent than the others! As I mentioned last week, there is a lot of disagreement about who the little horn of chapter 7 is. Many say Antiochus IV, of Greece. Some say it points to the anti-Christ. But, we don’t really know.
However, in chapter 8, virtually all scholars agree that THIS little horn refers to Antiochus IV Epiphanes. He reigned over the Syrian region and the majority of Western Asia from 175-164 B.C., and the description that Gabriel gives for the little horn in this chapter is uncannily descriptive of Antiochus IV. He’s called a little horn probably because he wasn’t actually in line for the throne, but he stole it from his nephew. He conquered and increased the size of his kingdom. And he was a tyrant of all tyrants. He forced people to fully assimilate into Greek culture and Greek religion.
He hated the Jewish people and their customs and beliefs. He banned circumcision; in 167 he banned temple sacrifices in Jerusalem; then even more outrageous—he defiled the temple by burning a pig’s flesh on the altar. It was an open and deliberate mocking of God. He burned the Scriptures, and he slaughtered those that refused to compromise their faith in God. Within the context of this vision being such a historically-specific vision—as in there are more specifics in this vision than most—within that context and with the details it gives about this little horn, it makes perfect sense that this is Antiochus IV. With that piece of the puzzle, it should give you a somewhat complete picture of this vision in Daniel 7. God was giving Daniel a vision of the future, with remarkable specifics. God was warning Daniel of what was to come.
So, hopefully, we all at least grasp what Daniel has seen in his vision here in chapter 8. The hard question now is, what can we actually take away from this? That’s a sort-of hard question because the things we learn from chapter 8 are all implied. But, building off of last week, I think we can see some neat things to take home.
- Every earthly kingdom is temporary.
This is a recurring theme in Daniel if you haven’t noticed yet. The reason why this vision can bring encouragement for all of God’s people, no matter what kind of forces they are facing, is because every single earthly kingdom in history and to come is temporary. Evil itself is temporary. I realize, in our context, we may not be all that afraid of world powers coming to dominate us or to oppress those of the Christian faith, WE may not be worried about that right here right now in the states, but there are certainly brothers and sisters all over the world who are experiencing this, not only the fear of geographical domination, but direct persecution due to their faith.
We saw multiple times throughout chapter 8, that “his power was not his own,” or “his power was given him.” Throughout the entire book of Daniel we see again and again these threads of God’s sovereignty, that there is no ultimate power outside of his active control. And so this is a great hope and encouragement, and one of the primary themes of this whole book. Every earthly kingdom is temporary, but God’s kingdom is eternal.
- God knows and is sovereign over the future.
This is us just stepping back for a moment and realizing that this is a prophecy that God gave directly to Daniel years and years and year before it would come to pass. And this prophecy is specific! It’s incredible the number of details given in this chapter, which reminds us that He knows every detail of the future! In fact, to me, it’s interesting that details given in the book of Daniel about the future cause some scholars, mainly secular scholars, to date the book much later. Why? Because there’s no way that Daniel could have known these details unless he’s writing them after the fact. These particular scholars can’t allow the possibility that God actually revealed these details to Daniel in a vision, because He knows every detail of the future.
This is why you and I, especially, not just as the pinnacle of his creation (which describes all human beings) but his adopted children have no reason to fear the future. I know, sometimes we’re going to fear the future, but know the One in whose hands everything is held. Your doctor tells you there’s something wrong, but he doesn’t know what yet. Or they do know what it is, but they don’t know how well you’re going to recover. There’s a hurricane coming toward your home. You have an adult child leaving home for the first time, moving out. You have a parent or grandparent not doing well. You struggle with depression, and wonder if you ever won’t struggle with depression. You have a prodigal child, and you wonder if they will ever come back.
Listen, He knows the future, and He holds it in His hands. Maybe that’s a source of frustration sometimes (like “why won’t you do something about it or resolve it now?”), but ultimately, this is a source of tremendous comfort. Daniel, as he’s having this vision, is close to 80 years old now. And God is revealing to him the incredible pain and suffering and even death that the Jewish people, Daniel’s people, will experience in the years ahead.
That’s probably at least part of why he gets sick! Not just because he doesn’t fully understand what he is seeing, but because the thought of his fellow Israelites going through that, it makes him sick! He’s not just afraid for himself, because he’s 80, and he knows most likely he won’t have to experience this himself, but his people will. Whatever you’re afraid of this morning as to what the future holds, not just for you for your people, your family, be reminded: God holds the future in His hands.
- The end may not be near.
Obviously, the urgency of the end is here and necessary, and that’s part of why we see Paul and John and Jesus speak with such an urgency about the times, and saying that the end is near! I mean, were they wrong? It’s been 2,000 years, right? Did they misspeak? No, their goal in saying that was to communicate the urgency of the Gospel at all times, because the end could come at any time! But that “anytime” could be hundreds or thousands of years away. So, in a very real sense, the end may not be near.
The reason I think it’s important to bring that up, and the reason I bring it up with Daniel chapter 8, is to remind us of our calling to persevere. As I already mentioned, Daniel is 80 years old; he’s been in exile basically his entire life, and now, not only does it look like that’s not going to change, but it looks like it’s not going to change too much for a while even after he’s gone! And then, when the circumstances do finally change, these MONSTERS of people will come like Antiochus IV. Look, God will end all rebellion, we saw that last week, and God will bring about the new heavens and the new earth, but it might be a while.
As we get into the rest of the book of Daniel, and we do see very clearly future events, even future for us, things that haven’t come about for us. Do not read the circumstances, and just quickly assume, that “Wow, we’re there. We’re close.” People have thought that every single century since these words were written. I’m not saying don’t live in urgency; quite the opposite! Live in urgency, but also live in perseverance, knowing that the end may not be near, but also knowing our God is constantly working, and brings to completion that which he begins (Phil. 1:6), even in the midst of seemingly endless trials, hardship, and even persecution. #4, really a summary statement for Daniel chapter 8:
- Daniel’s vision is a sobering revelation of what is coming, and at the same time a comforting reminder of Who is in control.
For Daniel, and for us as well by extension, the future will be chaotic. The future does not look great at times. And I praise God that we, as Christians, don’t have to pretend like bad things don’t happen, or that we have to feel compelled to always paint bad things in good ways. We don’t always have to see the positive. I’m not saying there’s not a positive; I’m saying sometimes there is just pure evil! We saw this last week with the four beasts, and we certainly see it today with this little horn, Antiochus IV. His nickname was Epiphanes, which means God manifest, because how he thought of himself. But his actions, especially against God’s people, were so brutal and savage, just depraved, that some would call him “Epimanes” as a word-play on his nickname Epiphanes. Epimanes means “mad one.”
This vision is a sobering revelation of what is coming, and what is here now, and at the same time it’s a comforting reminder of Who is in control. Gabriel the angel, in explaining this vision, doesn’t spend a lot of time explaining how God is in control even in the midst of all this chaos. He explained a lot more last week in Chapter 7, but that was a totally different vision years earlier.
Chapter 8 doesn’t spend too much time explaining how God is in control, and yet it’s there. It’s implied in many ways, but it’s also clearly there, explicit. Verse 24 and following, again: “His power shall be great [meaning the little horn]—but not by his own power [just a little reminder again, that no one has power that ultimately God does not give him], and he shall cause fearful destruction and shall succeed in what he does, and destroy mighty men and the people who are the saints. But 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 rise up against the Prince of princes, and he shall be broken—but by no human hand.”
Maybe that’s all we need sometimes to persevere, just a glimmer of hope. Little reminders of a GREAT reality. God is God, we are not. God is King, we are not. No matter the terror of the monsters around us, God is in control, and the son of man will one day come on the clouds. He is our salvation. He is our Rock, the lamb that was slain on our behalf, that if we repent and trust in Him, the name of Jesus, we are saved. There are terrible monsters, and there will be more terrible monsters, but the son of man will break them all, and his kingdom, the only lasting kingdom, shall be given to us, his saints.