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Daniel: Prophet of the Ages - Book 2

This is a commentary covering the first three of Daniel's visions in chapters 7-9.

Category - Bible Commentaries

Chapter 9

The Ram and the Goat

Daniel himself makes it clear that his two visions in chapters 7 and 8 are linked in some way. They occurred two years apart. The first vision was seen in the first year of Belshazzar (548 B.C.), and the second was seen in Belshazzar’s third year (546 B.C.).

Daniel 8:1, 2 says,

1 In the third year of the reign of Belshazzar the king, a vision appeared to me, Daniel, subsequent to the one which appeared to me previously. 2 And I looked in the vision, and it came about while I was looking, that I was in the citadel [“castle,” CV] of Susa, which is in the province of Elam; and I looked in the vision, and I myself was [i.e., saw myself] beside the Ulai Canal.

Daniel himself was in Shushan (or Susa) on assignment from the king, because at that time, Shushan was controlled by Babylon, even though it was in Elam. The Babylonian king had a palace there. Shushan was governed by a viceroy named Abradates, whose history is given in Xenophon’s Cyropaedia. Xenophon was a Greek historian from Athens who lived from 430-354 B.C.

Shortly after Daniel’s vision, the Persian army took Shushan (545). Abradates was out of town on a mission, and because Cyrus treated his wife and family with respect, Abradates willingly joined forces with him. Cyrus seemed to reject the policy of punishing his enemies. His generosity won friends and loyalty from those that he conquered. However, Abradates was killed in battle shortly afterward in the conquest of Lydia. Xenophon tells us that his grief-stricken wife committed suicide.

Even so, in Isaiah 21:2 God instructs Elam to help the Medes lay siege to Babylon at the time of its fall (Isaiah 21:9). Elam itself did so, even though Abradates himself did not live to see the fall of Babylon.

No doubt by this time Daniel had evacuated Shushan and had returned to Babylon. By this time the prophet was probably in his 80’s. Whereas the vision in chapter 7 depicts the prophet relating his vision to someone else, the vision in chapter 8 is written by Daniel himself.

Even though chapter 8 is like a continuation of chapter 7, it is also distinct. From Dan. 2:4 until the end of chapter 7 the text is written in Aramaic, the language of Babylon. But chapter 8 to the end of the book reverts to the Hebrew language, as if it was addressed to different people.

The Description of Medo-Persia

Medo-Persia had not yet conquered Babylon when Daniel was given this vision. And yet the prophet already saw two centuries into the future when Medo-Persia fell to the Greek army of Alexander the Great. The revelation in this second vision focused primarily upon the advent of the third world empire, Greece.

Daniel 8:3 begins, saying,

3 Then I lifted my gaze and looked, and behold, a ram which had two horns was standing in front of the canal. Now the two horns were long, but one was longer than the other, with the longer one coming up last.

This “ram” is the beast empire, and its two horns represent the Medes and Persians. As we will see later, the angel explaining the vision told the prophet in Dan. 8:20,

20 The ram which you saw with the two horns represents the kings of Media and Persia.

Daniel saw one horn longer than the other, because the Persian horn was dominant over the horn of Media. The same idea was seen earlier in the first vision, where the Medo-Persian “bear” “was raised up on one side” (Dan. 7:5). It was a lopsided alliance.

Daniel did not ask, nor did he receive, any further revelation about this bear, so this detail remained unexplained in chapter 7. However, the next vision answers many questions and clarifies that portion of prophetic history for us all. The Median king was a generation older than Cyrus, but the power of Cyrus was greater. So Daniel says of the greater horn: “one was longer than the other, with the longer one coming up last.”

Daniel 8:4 continues,

4 I saw the ram butting westward, northward, and south-ward, and no other beasts could stand before him, nor was there anyone to rescue him from his power; but he did as he pleased and magnified himself.

And so, as the Persian army moved to take Shushan, Daniel understood that the city would be taken—and Babylon as well. He saw that “no other beasts could stand before him,” that is, the powerful ram. At the height of the Medo-Persian empire, its territory extended from north India to Ethiopia. However, their attempts to cross into Europe were stopped by the Greeks in some very famous battles.

In spite of their strength, the ram was only the second of four beasts, and its time was limited to about two centuries. Then the Greeks were united under Philip of Macedon, and his son Alexander raised an army that very quickly conquered Persia.

The Greek Goat

Daniel 8:5 says,

5 While I was observing [the ram], behold, a male goat was coming from the west over the surface of the whole earth without touching the ground; and the goat had a conspicuous horn between his eyes.

The angel later identified this goat in Dan. 8:21: “And the shaggy goat represents the kingdom of Greece.” Therefore, there is no doubt about the identity of either the ram or the goat in this vision. The ram was already visible in the time of Daniel’s vision, but the goat was seen long before the rise of Greece. Dan. 8:6 continues,

6 And he came up to the ram that had the two horns, which I had seen standing in front of the canal, and rushed at him in his mighty wrath.

The goat “rushed at him.” This explains the meaning of the goat running “without touching the ground.” The emphasis is upon the goat’s speed. Alexander the Great, who had been tutored by Aristotle, the philosopher, took the throne after his father, Philip, was assassinated in 336 B.C. The next year, Alexander destroyed Thebes in 335. He then defeated the Persians in three major battles in 333, 332, and 331 B.C. By 330 he had occupied Babylon, Shushan, and Persepolis.

He then extended his territory to the Indus River, but his generals and troops forced him to turn back in 326.

It took less than ten years for Alexander to conquer the “known” world. This speedy conquest was described perfectly in the vision of the goat that Daniel saw. But Alexander the Great died in Babylon just three years later (323 B.C.), as Daniel foresaw.

Daniel 8:7 says,

7 And I saw him come beside the ram, and he was enraged at him; and he struck the ram and shattered his two horns, and the ram had no strength to withstand him. So he hurled him to the ground and trampled on him, and there was none to rescue the ram from his power.

We are given the impression that the goat was very angry with the ram. This implies that the Greeks were angry with the Persians for trying to conquer them. If the Persian kings had known or had believed Daniel’s prophecy, they might have made an alliance with the Greeks, rather than making them angry.

Of course, it is possible that the Persian kings did, in fact, know of Daniel’s prophecy. If so, they might have thought that they could prevent the rise of Greece. This may have been their underlying motive for attacking Greece. History does not tell us.

All we know is that Alexander the Great conquered the Persian army is a very short period of time, and “the ram had no strength to withstand him.”

The Conspicuous Horn is Broken

Dan. 8:5 says that “the goat had a conspicuous horn between his eyes.” Obviously, this “horn” was Alexander the Great himself. But Alexander also died in his prime, as we read in Dan. 8:8,

8 Then the male goat magnified himself exceedingly. But as soon as he was mighty, the large horn was broken; and in its place there came up four conspicuous horns toward the four winds of heaven.

The goat is the Greek empire, which was greatly enlarged by its conquests. Hence the goat “magnified himself exceedingly,” or as the CV renders it, “unto excess.” This implies that the empire was too big to defend or to maintain itself. When Alexander died on June 11, 323 B.C., he had no heir to inherit his kingdom, because his son, Alexander IV, was not born until after Alexander’s death. He died when his wife, Roxana, was six months pregnant.

Before his death, Alexander nominated his successor by giving his signet ring to Perdiccas, his bodyguard, who was also the captain of the cavalry. At first there was no intention of dividing the empire, but in the end he could not prevent it. Perdiccas tried to convince the generals that they should wait until the baby grew up, but this strategy found little support.

Neither was there any single leader strong enough to take Alexander’s place. So when they failed to agree, the empire was divided among his four generals. These are the “four conspicuous horns” that rose up in place of the large broken horn.

Antipater was given Greece and Macedonia.

Antigonus was given Asia Minor.

Laomedon was given Syria and Mesopotamia.

Ptolemy Soter was given Egypt, Libya, and Arabia.

There were other, smaller areas toward India that were given to others, but these were not large factors in the history of the beast nations. Scripture deals only with the four main “conspicuous” horns. Of these, this vision focuses primarily on one of these kingdoms, as it affected Jerusalem and Judea. Later, in Daniel 11, we are given a detailed prophetic history of the conflict between two of these kingdoms, one north and the other south of Judea.

The Inferior Horn of the Goat

Daniel says that the great horn (Alexander) would be broken, and that four other horns would rise up in its place. These were Alexander’s four generals, who divided up the Greek empire after his death in 323 B.C. The prophet then says that another horn was to rise up. Dan. 8:9 says,

9 And out of one of them came forth a rather small horn which grew exceedingly great toward the south, toward the east, and toward the Beautiful Land.

This “rather small horn” (NASB) is rendered “inferior horn” in the CV. The similarity of this horn to the “little horn” that was an extension of the fourth kingdom has caused some to argue that they are one and the same. However, it is clear from the text that this horn comes out of the prophetic “goat,” which is the Grecian empire. The other was to come out of the fourth beast, the Roman empire.

In fact, it says that this inferior Greek horn came out of “them,” that is, out of the four horns (Alexander’s generals). The CV renders it, “then from one of these four fares forth one inferior horn.” In other words, this “inferior horn” comes out of “one of these four” (horns). From this we know that the prophet was not skipping some centuries of history, past even the fourth beast itself, to the rise of the little horn.

Daniel’s vision in chapter 8 is a revelation of the goat, that is, the Greek empire. Verse 9 above tells us that this specific horn, though it was inferior to the great horn (Alexander), was still destined to grow “exceedingly great.” And indeed it did, at least for a time.

The Seleucids

In the second division of Alexander’s empire (321 B.C.), Seleucos was given Mesopotamia and the territory all the way to India. For the next twenty years the four new kings quarreled and fought among themselves for a larger share of territory. The Seleucid kingdom was firmly established by 312. This is also when the Seleucid calendar began, which measured time in Olympiads (four-year cycles). It was in use during the time of the Maccabees and well into the Roman era.

At its height, the Seleucid kings ruled from Syria to India, a very large kingdom. Their main competitors were the Ptolemy kings in Egypt, and they usually fought over Judea which lay between them. Hence, in Daniel’s prophecies, the two are presented as the king of the north and the king of the south. Daniel 8:9 says that they would fight to control the “Beautiful Land,” which was a euphemism for Judea.

Dan. 8:10 says of the Seleucid empire,

10 And it grew up to the host of heaven and caused some of the host and some of the stars to fall to the earth, and it trampled them down.

Growing up to the host of heaven means that it was elevated “to the stars,” an idiom showing its greatness. The “stars” in this case also represent the righteous ones in Judea, who were trampled in the wars. It also implies an affront to heaven itself, as if in their pride they think that they can cast God off the throne and rule with impunity. So we read in Dan. 8:11,

11 It even magnified itself to be equal with the Commander of the host; and it removed the regular sacrifice from Him, and the place of his sanctuary was thrown down.

The “Commander of the host” is God Himself, who was described as the King of heaven and the General of the Hosts of heaven—that is, the army of God. The prophecy was meant to reveal the heart of this inferior horn. It was primarily fulfilled by Antiochus Epiphanes (“God Manifest”), who was a Seleucid king from 175-164 B.C.

Antiochus Epiphanes

By the second century B.C., the Seleucid empire was already in decline, as the fourth beast had already begun to rise in power. Antiochus himself spent most of his youth as a Roman hostage. His father, Antiochus III (“The Great”) was the sixth Seleucid king. His ambition was to be “the champion of Greek freedom from Roman domination.” As such, he declared war on Rome in 192 B.C., but was defeated. As a consequence, he was made to pay a huge sum of money and cede territory to Rome.

To ensure the peace treaty, the young prince, Antiochus, was sent to Rome as a hostage, where he remained until he came to the throne in 175. He later invaded Egypt and took all but the city of Alexandria in 169. The next year, however, Rome demanded that he withdraw from Egypt, and Antiochus had no choice but to comply. But as his army retreated in 167, the troops entered Jerusalem under pretense of peace and then began to plunder the city and kill its inhabitants. Antiochus then tried to turn Judea into a Greek colony.

Antiochus’ goal was to change Judean culture itself and de-nationalize it. After securing his position militarily, he turned the temple in Jerusalem into a Greek temple to Jupiter (or Zeus). His intent was to convert Judean religion to Greek Epicureanism. There was already a Hellenist party in Jerusalem, which admired the Greek way of life, and Antiochus had supported this party. But when he plundered the temple of its gold, including the golden altar and the menorah, the people reacted violently against all Hellenization. The Jewish Encyclopedia tells us,

“A royal decree proclaimed the abolition of the Jewish mode of worship; Sabbaths and festivals were not to be observed; circumcision was not to be performed; the sacred books were to be surrendered and the Jews were compelled to offer sacrifices to the idols that had been erected.”

An uprising from 167-164, led by Mattathias and his son, Judas Maccabaeus, was successful in expelling the Greek armies, and they gained independence for the next hundred years.

Those killed in Jerusalem in 167 probably are those that the prophet referred to in Dan. 8:10 as “stars” falling to the earth, where they were “trampled.” Antiochus’ policy of Hellenization, especially his desecration of the temple in Jerusalem, was prophesied in Dan. 8:11, saying, “the place of His sanctuary was thrown down.”

Daniel 8:12 continues,

12 And on account of transgression, the host will be given over to the horn along with the regular sacrifice; and it will fling truth to the ground and perform its will and prosper.

The prophet makes it clear that these events occurred “on account of transgression.” This is not a reference to the sins of Antiochus, but to unnamed transgressions of the Judean people (or their leaders). In other words, God gave Jerusalem into the hands of Antiochus for destruction on account of the transgressions of the people of Judea. Not only the “stars”, but “truth” too was a casualty of war.

Antiochus prospered in doing this until his death in 164.

Antichrist Implications

The acts of Antiochus made him the pariah of history from the Jewish perspective, and Christians too have made him a type of “Antichrist.” The problem is that many have misunderstood the idea of “antichrist,” a term that only John uses. The word does not even appear in the book of Revelation, though many have assumed this to be so.

Once Bible teachers identified Antiochus as “Antichrist,” they made many assumptions, most of which are unwarranted. They have searched for a coming Antichrist from Syria, or perhaps a Syrian Jew. In every war, the propaganda war machines invade Christian literature in order to demonize the “enemy” as the Antichrist. Countless candidates have surfaced only to die or fade from history.

In 1 John 2:21-23 John describes the antichrist:

21 I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it, and because no lie is of the truth. 22 Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son. 23 Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also.

Since John was the one who coined the word antichrist, he had the privilege of defining it as well. It is clear from his description that he had the Jews in mind, those Jews who had denied that Jesus is the Christ. They claimed to know the Father, but unless they confessed the Son, they did not have the Father either. “This is the antichrist,” John says. All other definitions must be subordinated to this.

We note also that in verse 21 above John links this to the knowledge of the truth about Jesus Christ. Perhaps this is also a veiled reference to the pattern in Dan. 8:12, where the inferior horn flung truth to the ground. Antiochus turned the temple into a place where a false god was worshiped. The Jews did the same by rejecting the Messiah, who was rightfully both King and High Priest. In both cases, the temple was usurped.

This was also Paul’s teaching in 2 Thess. 2:3, 4,

3 Let no one in any way deceive you, for it [the day of the Lord] will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed [exposed], the son of destruction, 4 who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God.

Paul says here that the day of the Lord had not yet come, because it had to be preceded by two things. First, “the apostasy” (apostasia) had to come. The Greek word has to do with casting down, rather than passively falling away. (See Acts 21:21, where apostasian is used to mean casting aside Moses.) Secondly, the “unveiling” or exposure of the man of sin had to occur. For the man of sin to be exposed, he had to be on the scene previous to his exposure.

I believe that Paul was writing about the situation that he saw in the first century. The Jewish leaders had usurped the throne of Christ in the same manner that Absalom had usurped David’s throne a thousand years earlier. In fact, the whole story of Absalom’s revolt against David was a prophecy of the conflict between the temple leaders and Jesus. Even as Absalom received assistance from Ahithophel, who was David’s friend that betrayed him, so also did the chief priests receive assistance from Judas, who was Jesus’ friend that betrayed Him.

The point is that the chief priests in effect had seated themselves in the temple of God in Jerusalem, “displaying himself as being God.” The chief priests were the antichrist, collectively speaking, even as Absalom was an anti-David, ruling in place of David.

The problem in Paul’s day was that many in the Church did not understand this issue. For this reason, the Judaizers were able to convince many to continue submitting to the temple leaders in Jerusalem and submit to circumcision, the sign of the Old Covenant. Paul wrote extensively on this problem, especially in his epistle to the Galatians.

In 2 Thess. 2:2, Paul’s reference to “apostasy” (apostasian) might be about Christians casting aside Jesus Christ and the New Covenant by submitting to the temple priests and their Old Covenant. If so, that apostasy was present in Paul’s day as well as in our own time.

This “apostasy” is accompanied by the exposure of the man of sin, “the son of destruction,” (perdition, KJV). It is also a reference to Judas, who betrayed Jesus. In John 17:12 Jesus prays, saying of Judas, “not one of them perished but the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.” Hence, “the son of perdition” (KJV), or “the son of destruction” (NASB) is a prophetic reference to Judas and those believers who would later follow in his footsteps.

The bottom line is that from the divine perspective, the priests in Jerusalem followed the pattern of Antiochus Epiphanes by turning the temple into a shrine to other gods. Each did so in a different way, of course, but the result was the same. Any other god that is placed in the temple is a usurper and an “abomination” that brings desolation. The only solution is repentance, recognizing Jesus as the Christ, so that one may truly have the Father as well as the Son.