Alfred Place Baptist Church

Daniel 8 A Ram And A Goat

Though this dream of the beasts and the throne comes to Daniel nothing happens for two long years. Belshazzar is still on the throne and Daniel is the forgotten man of Babylon. In Daniel chapter 8 we are informed that in the third year of King Belshazzar Daniel has a vision of a fight between two animals – a ram and a goat. The ram has two powerful horns, one bigger than the other, (8:3) and he charges toward the west and the north and the south. Evidently the ram comes from the east, and it appears irresistible – “no animal could stand against him, and none could rescue from his power. He did as he pleased and became great” (8:8). What is the ram ? We do not need to speculate because a messenger from God whose appearance was like a man’s and whose name was Gabriel ((8:15&16) tells Daniel that the ram with the two horns “represents the kings of Media and Persia” (8:20).

Then in the vision Daniel sees a goat coming from the west travelling so fast that, like a hovercraft, he skims the surface of the ground (8:6). The goat smashes into the ram “in great rage” (8:6) and shatters both his horns. Whereas we had been told, “No animal could stand against the ram” (8:4), now we see that the ram itself was powerless to stand against the goat. What the identity of the goat is Daniel is also told, “the shaggy goat is the king of Greece” (8:21). “The large horn between his eyes is the first king” (8:21) that is, this horn represents Alexander the Great who conquered the whole middle-east by the time he was 30 years of age and died grieving because there were no more conquests to be made. “The goat became very great, but at the height of his power his large horn was broken off” (8:8). Alexander’s kingdom was broken into four smaller kingdoms, Macedonia, Thrace, Syria and Egypt and so so this prophecy was fulfilled, “in its place four prominent horns grew up toward the four winds of heaven” (8:8). Again we are being shown the history of mankind – the clashing of the brittle horns – one nation overcoming another which a short time earlier had seemed virtually impregnable. When the smoke of battle blows away not a beast survives, and not even a horn is intact. The price of victory is as costly as the price of defeat.

The war between ram and goat is simply the background for the heart of Daniel 8 which is a warning of another horn of exceptional malice. This horn is described in two sections (vv. 9-12 & vv. 23-25), and is not intended to be identified with the little horn of chapter 7. The horn of chapter 8 is expressly identified as a king who shall arise from Greece (not from Rome as the horn of chapter 7), and the various characteristics which describe this horn reveal how dissimilar it is in origin, nature and destiny. So out of one of the four prominent horns, that is, from one of the four kingdoms into which Alexander’s empire was broken, comes another horn (8:9). Its littleness is not emphasised, merely that it “started small but grew in power” (8:9).

This horn which “grew in power to the south and the east and toward the Beautiful Land” (8:9) is known to be a specific king whose name was Antiochus Epiphanes IV. Information is given about him in this chapter so that the earlier readers of Daniel would be forewarned at his rise. He came from one of the divisions of the former empire of Alexander. He started insignificantly enough, of the most humble origins, but rose in power because of a single-minded ruthlessness. It was in the year 175 BC that he began his infamous reign. One looks in vain for some noble qualities to explain how he achieved such significance. We are told about him that he was “a stern-faced king, a master of intrigue,” (8:23). He became powerful by giving favour to any who would betray their friends and allies, and to men who had no scruples. When he got to the top he still behaved as if he were living in the underworld. Daniel is warned, “He will become very strong, but not by his own power. He will cause astounding devastation and succeed in whatever he does” (8:24). On coins in the latter part of his reign he actually called himself (Theos) Epiphanes, ‘(god) manifest’. The horn reached for the stars (8:10) claiming equality with God. A day came when Antiochus Ephiphanes focused his attention on Israel “the beautiful land” (8:9), and on its “mighty men and the holy people” (8:24). It was in the year 169 BC that he first entered the Temple in Jerusalem. He insisted on going into the holy of holies, and carried off some of the gold and silver vessels. He further determined to hellenize Palestine, that is to dismantle the whole of the worship of the Lord. A religious persecution of unprecedented bitterness commenced. Sabbath-keeping and the practice of circumcision was forbidden under pain of death. Sacrifices in the Temple were outlawed, prostitution was established there. The people of God who loved the Word were subject to every kind of degradation and brutality. A Greek altar was erected on the site of the old one on 25 December 167 BC which was the last straw and led to the Maccabean revolt. Daniel’s vision describes Antiochus’s activities in somewhat mysterious language: the horn “set itself up to be as great as the Prince of the host; it took away the daily sacrifice from him, and the place of the sanctuary was brought low Because of rebellion, the host of the saints, and the daily sacrifice were given over to it. It prospered in everything it did, and truth was thrown to the ground” (8:11&12). It was all so abominable that it made desolate the hearts of the people of God as they heard what desecration had been done to their Lord and his temple. All this took place in Jerusalem between the years 171-165 BC. It lasted 2300 long evenings and mornings (8:14), almost seven years, and then the sanctuary was restored.

Daniel had already seen in the dream recorded in chapter 7 a shadowy figure emerging at the end of human history in Satan’s last desperate attempt to lead the world’s rebellion against God. That man will attempt to dethrone God and scatter the hosts of heaven. In fact the apostle Paul echoes the language of Daniel 8 to describe the final appearing of the man of sin, “He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshipped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God” (2 Thess. 2:4). In this chapter Daniel is being shown that the horn who grows in power “until it reached the hosts of the heavens” is somehow also a more ominous figure than one Greek king. The spirit that possessed Antiochus, and allowed him to achieve his earthly success, was “not by his own power” (8:24) and would be the same spirit that will energise the final man of lawlessness at the end of the age. As Ronald S. Wallace writes, “When the people of God in the second century before Christ were made the target of this earthly ruler’s spite and cunning, they were suffering under a hatred far more intense, deceitful and determined than is the normal fate of a historically enslaved people. They were indeed suffering as the immediate and ready target of the powers of evil that hate God’s work and are out to destroy for ever whatever confesses his name. They were being attacked by a typical Antichrist even before Christ came in the flesh ! Daniel was thus able to attach a unique importance to this little figure, Antiochus Epiphanes, arising so dramatically out of the Greek dynasty, whose career had such a baneful effect on the life of the people of God that he could dominate their official rulers, desecrate their sanctuary and cause even sacrifice to cease – he was a sign and symbol of what is to come at the end” (The Lord is King, IVP, p.145).

So it is the rise of this figure, to which Daniel will return again in his book, which is at the heart of this vision described for us in chapter 8. The normal Puritan structure of a sermon ended with a climactic section entitled ‘Uses’ which consisted of the application of the passage to the hearers. There are at least five uses in application of the last couple of verses in this chapter.

[1] The first use comes from the fact that all the above is true (8:26). This vision and its interpretation is not a fantasy: the goat destroyed the ram and then himself perished, his large horn being broken off at the height of his power and in its place grew four prominent horns. Out of one of them came another horn who was Antiochus Epiphanes. All this did occur. It is true. The Lord Jesus Christ said of God’s Scriptures, “Your word is truth” (John 17:17). That is the only rational for such an event as hundreds of people spending a week of their annual vacation in a Christian conference, where the climax of each day is their gathering around a book in the Bible that was written 2500 years ago hearing it expounded and applied to their own daily living. Why should people use their time thus ? The only answer to that question is that these words are true. Many reasons are suggested why people should become Christians: the strength it will give to human relationships; the peace it will give at death; the grace to handle moral and emotional problems that come into our lives. All those are good reasons for becoming Christians, but ultimately there is only one reason why anyone should become a Christian. It is true. We study the Bible to obey it because it is true. That is the first use.

[2] The second use is found in the words of God to Daniel when he tells him that this mighty anti-christian figure will be destroyed “not by human power” (9:25), that is, not by assassination with sword, or defeat in battle. The time will come for God himself to act. It is a spine-tingling experience to hear a great Dutch congregation sing Essenburg’s transcription of Psalm 68:-

God shall arise and by his might put all his enemies to flight
With shame and consternation.
His haters, haughty though they be, shall at his August presence flee
In utter desolation.
For when Jehovah shall appear, He shall consume, afar and near,
All those that evil cherish.
As smoke before His dreadful ire, as wax is melted by the fire
So shall the wicked perish.

So one day on a campaign in Media in 164 BC Antiochus Epiphanes was overwhelmed by an attack of pain. There was a brief mysterious illness – a form of dementia – and he was a dead man. His little journey from the womb to the tomb was all over. As Luther sang,
And let the prince of ill, look grim as e’er he will,
He harms us not a whit; For why? his doom is writ;
A word shall quickly slay him.

[3] The third use is found in what Gabriel tells Daniel, “Seal up the vision,” (8:26), that is, keep it safe; preserve it safely. It is going to be fulfilled. The people of God after Daniel’s day were going to need this Word. Guard it well. Every householder has certain documents which do not merely lie around on the table like junk mail. They are too important for that. Some are even placed in safe-deposit boxes. Others are locked in drawers Everyone is careful with certificates, deeds and wills. The church has been given by her Master the Word of God. How do we keep it safe ? By knowing what it says, hiding it in our hearts, giving it the unquestioned place of centrality in our congregations, treating it as authoritative about everything on which it pronounces. Has much of the professing church done that ? Has it rather not put it alongside other documents, the alleged “assured results of modern criticism,” the books of psychiatry, hand-books of sketches and dramas, the scientific manuals on human origins, and New Age meditations on ‘spirituality’ ? Has it not lost the revealed ‘vision’ in the clutter of many other conflicting voices ? Seal up the vision, Daniel is told.

[4] The fourth use is what we are told of Daniel’s response to this vision. He was utterly “exhausted and lay ill for several days” (8:27). The great Word of God had come to him with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven, and Daniel wasn’t jumping and laughing, he was thoroughly overwhelmed and “appalled by the vision; it was beyond understanding” (8:27). When the people listened to the apostle Peter’s word to them at the feast of Pentecost they were cut to their hearts at what they heard. We pray for a religious awakening, and so we must. We long for the gospel to come not in word only, but with power and with the Holy Spirit and with much assurance. Yet how demanding that can be upon those whose burden and gift it is to take that Word to the world, as well as to those who hear them. Think of the evangelist George Whitefield, the day before he died, while yet in his mid-fifties. Someone said to him, “Sir, you are more fit to go to bed than to preach.” “True, Sir,” he said, and then, clasping his hands together he prayed, “Lord Jesus, I am weary in thy work, but not of thy work. If I have not yet finished my course, let me go and speak for thee once more in the fields, seal they truth, and come home and die.” Within hours Whitefield was dead. For Jeremiah the Word of revelation that came to him was as a fire burning in his bones. If he would not speak it would still burn, but if he spoke there would be other burnings. There could be no escape from the fires.

[5] The fifth use is seen in the prophet’s response to the vision. What did Daniel do? “Then I got up and went about the king’s business” (8:27). That is, he went about his lawful calling and he did his duty day by day. The king might have no awareness at all of his existence but Daniel knew his duty. That is a great word to every one of us. One Sunday we were in church and this mighty shattering Word of God came to us. It so overwhelmed us that we almost felt destroyed by what we saw of the plight of man, and our own guilt. Our only hope lay in this mighty God, his Son Jesus Christ and what he had done for sinners. Then on Monday morning we got up and went about our employer’s business. We did it with that word still burning in our lives, but as new men doing the old work. Paul write to slaves living in revival times and tells them, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favour, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men” (Cols.3:22&23).