By Sam E. Stone
The type of prophecies that Daniel gave to the Jews are frequently called apocalyptic. Using a great deal of symbolic language and unusual pictures of animals and people, his messages—like those in Revelation—are often difficult to interpret. In today’s lesson we have a great advantage: God’s messenger explains what the vision means! The interpretation points to a future time, not the Babylonian Empire with which Daniel and his people were dealing when he wrote.
Tremper Longman III notes, “The connection of Daniel 8 with chapter 7 is obvious. The first verse associates the two by introducing the second vision as occurring after the one already given. It comes from approximately the same time period (Belshazzar’s third year). Both visions compare the leaders to animals, showing hostility between the earthly kingdoms and the divine realm.”
Meeting the Interpreter
Daniel 8:1, 15-19
In this chapter the author reverts to the Hebrew language. (Daniel had used Aramaic in 2:4-7:28.) James E. Smith observes, “This change was appropriate because from this point on God revealed to Daniel what would happen to his people in the more immediate future.” Daniel had felt “deeply troubled” by what he had seen (7:15, 28). During this time he continued to pray to the Lord.
In the vision he saw himself in the citadel of Susa, in the province of Elam, beside the Ulai Canal. This city later became one of the chief centers of the Persian Empire. Verses 3-14 record the vision itself. Our printed text explains its meaning. Daniel heard a man’s voice from the Ulai call, “Gabriel, tell this man the meaning of the vision.” Gabriel is the first angel to be named in the Bible. Later he appears in the New Testament to announce the great acts of redemption soon to take place (Luke 1:19, 26).
Daniel fell prostrate on the ground. Gabriel asked if he understood this vision. Then he raised Daniel to his feet and declared, “I am going to tell you what will happen later . . . because the vision concerns the appointed time of the end.”
Receiving the Interpretation
Gabriel began to explain the vision to Daniel. The two-horned ram . . . represents the kings of Media and Persia. Two kingdoms combined into one when Cyrus conquered the Medes, took over their territory, and proclaimed himself king of Persia (modern Iran). He ruled over the Jews, later allowing them to return to their homeland and simply pay tribute to him.
This arrangement lasted for some time. Then Alexander the Great of Greece (the “large horn” or the “first king” in the vision) came into power, conquered the Persians, and ruled over Palestine. He was born about 194 years after Daniel’s vision. Next the vision shows four horns replacing the one that was broken off. When Alexander died at age 33 in 323 BC, his kingdom was eventually divided among four of his generals (called the Diadochi). No single one of them could match the power he had.
Next on the scene appears a fierce-looking king, a master of intrigue. Antiochus IV (known as Epiphanes) started out small and grew large through his military success, expanding his influence into Egypt, Persia, Parthia, and Armenia, in addition to Palestine. He is described as completely wicked. He could not be destroyed by human power, but he will be unable to stand against the Prince of princes (God). In the second century before Christ, the Lord allowed him to use his might and power to punish the Jews, because of their rebellion against God (Daniel 8:23). For a long period he will succeed in whatever he does and destroy those who are mighty, the holy people. He will be destroyed eventually, but not by human power.
“The angelic interpreter reaffirms the time frame of the suffering and its end,” points out Longman. The vision of the evenings and mornings that has been given you is true, but seal up the vision, for it concerns the distant future. “Even in historical retrospect we cannot be dogmatic about the meaning of the 2,300 evenings and mornings (v. 14). The number is given not so much so that those who read Daniel’s sixth-century prognostications in the second century could compute when the suffering would stop as much as to assure them that God had things under control.”
One writer gave this word of encouragement: “We should not be too disappointed if we fail to feel sure that we understand everything in the prophecy, for Daniel himself felt sick in not understanding it all either!” (8:27).
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.