Daniel Chapter 8
Time moves on and two years after the first vision, we arrive in 551 BC, the third year of the reign of Belshazzar. The setting has moved to around 230 miles east of Babylon to what was to become one of the wealthiest capitals of the Persian Kings: Susa.
In his vision, Daniel is by the Ulai Canal and the vison occurs before the fall of Belshazzar in chapter five. In Egypt, rivers and canals were a sign of agricultural wealth and prosperity. For example the Egyptians deified the Nile whilst Nebuchadnezzar named one Babylonian canal Libil-khigalla meaning, bringer of abundance. It is here, in man’s place of abundance, that the true owner of the heavens and the earth speaks into Daniel’s life yet again and in doing so gives us a picture of a goat and a ram.
In this chapter and the subsequent chapters, diplomatic language is not being used (they are in Hebrew) to point to the fact that the texts now relate more closely to Israel. In taking the chapter as a whole, we see the focus turning to two of the four kingdoms; but why see these kingdoms pictured as a goat and a ram? Before answering this question we look to atonement and sacrifice since it has bearing on the imagery of a goat and a ram.
Atonement and sacrifice
In Judaism, the ram and the goat were associated with the Day of Atonement (Lev 16:5) where both were offered as a sacrifice’ and were a reminder that God provides the way whereby man may find forgiveness and approach Him.
“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
1 John 4:10
In the story of Noah we have a picture of what atonement means. After completing the building of the Ark, Noah was instructed to cover both the inside and outside with pitch. The word ‘cover’ is ‘kopher’, a word more often used for atonement. It is important to understand that this word ‘cover’ does not simply convey the idea of covering and thus concealing. It speaks of imposing something to change the appearance of that which is covered. Concerning the ark, it speaks of overlaying pitch that made the wood waterproof (Gen 6:14); elsewhere the word speaks of God’s covering of sin (Ex 32:30) whereby man comes into the position of a son or daughter of God.
In looking at the events of the Medo-Persian Empire and the Greek Empire under Antiochus 4 Epiphanus, we see that the context is the sacrificial system of Israel.
As already mentioned, in Judaism the goat and the ram are associated with God’s grace and mercy and the Day of Atonement which was a time of both judgement and restoration. In Daniel eight, the camera focuses on that which seeks to destroy the sacrificial system (‘place of restoration’) and therefore we have the imagery of a false ‘goat’ and ‘ram.’
In Leviticus chapter sixteen we read of judgement in the separation of the two goats – one as a scapegoat being presented alive and being sent into the desert (our sin is taken away) with the other goat being used as a sin offering. Therefore, in the picture we have both sins atoned for and removed. (Lev 16:5-12); we have judgement, removal of sin and the cleansing of the sanctuary. In a microcosmic way this foreshadows the future cleansing and purifying of the whole world which is, at present, undergoing birth pangs (Romans 8:23). God is in the business of redeeming His creation and restoring harmony between earth and heaven. God reaches out to us one by one and He reaches out by reaching into where life is lived: in the heart and mind.
“Where does God meet people? Where do people meet God? Where do God and human beings embrace each other in saving, healing and reconciling? This divine-human rendezvous does not take place only in so-called salvation history. It does not happen only in the areas defined by traditional Christian theology, it does not manifest itself only when certain church rules are observed and certain liturgical formulas are recited. The rendezvous between God and human beings takes place in the depth of our spirit where our agonies and expectations lie. It happens in our lives threatened with all sorts of anxiety, doubt, and uncertainty. It occurs when we, like that Syrophoenician woman, throw ourselves on the mercy of God.”
Choan-Seng Song in, ‘The Compassionate God.’ Page 140.
God is in the business of reaching into a fallen world through great cost to Himself – the death of His own Son in our place. God’s journey begins in in the Garden of Eden yet speaks of divine counsel that occurred before this (e.g. Titus 1:2; Rev 13:8).
Before we look at the journey of two empires depicted as a goat and ram, let’s remind ourselves of God’s journey and provision for man the rebel.
God’s Journey: Garden, Tabernacle and Temple
In Genesis, we read of God finishing the work of creation and resting on the seventh day (Gen 2:2). Eden (meaning ‘delight’) speaks of God’s localised presence with man. It was to be a place of learning, growing and maturing and can therefore be seen as a representative of what God desires for the whole world. The angels of heaven rejoiced in the creation of the world as God marked off dimensions and put everything in place. In speaking to Job, God spoke of the world and said...
“…Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy”?
Due to sin, man was put outside of the Garden of Eden but the redemptive work of God - present from the foundation of the world - continued because God’s love was not and is not quenched by our failing. What we quench is our ability to receive.
Man continues to fail yet God continues to reach out, even in the place of judgement. Later, as a flood covers the earth, God takes Noah and his family into an environment of protection and blessing amidst judgement. Noah’s name means ‘rest.’ In the place of judgement there is rest for those who trust God as their Saviour. We are covered in the work of Jesus Christ; we are in a place of rest.
As we move through the history of God’s dealings with man, we come to the Exodus where God takes His people out of the bondage of an illegitimate king (Pharaoh). Then, in the subsequent creation of the Tabernacle, we have a reminder of God as a God of order, precision and perfection.
The word ‘tabernacle’ means, ‘dwelling place’, ‘tent of meeting’ and is from the root, ‘to entwine.’ So the Tabernacle, in its precision and His presence is representative of God’s creation and His desire to be with man.
The tabernacle is constructed in seven stages (Ex 25-40) thus paralleling Genesis 1:1-2:4. When the Tabernacle was finished, the cloud-presence glory of God was so great that Moses could not enter it.
“Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud had settled upon it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. In all the travels of the Israelites, whenever the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle, they would set out; but if the cloud did not lift, they did not set out — until the day it lifted. So the cloud of the Lord was over the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel during all their travels.”
The camera continues to move away and we continue on in history to the construction of the Temple. The word ‘Temple’ means ‘palace of God’ – a ‘royal residence.’ Each of the chief measurements of the temple were twice that of the tabernacle speaking of God’s desire for growth and blessing for His people and all nations (Isaiah 56:7; Mark 11:17).
In the construction of the Temple we also see seven sections of building (mirroring both creation and the Tabernacle). In 1 Kings 6:38 we also see that the Temple took seven years to build. At the time of the Temple’s dedication the priests could not perform their service “because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled his temple” (1 Kings 8:10-13). In this, we have a clear reminder that the work of redemption is God’s alone and that sinful man is like an intruder who brings disharmony. Man’s ability to approach God is totally due to God’s availability and willingness.
The camera continues to span across history and in, Matthew, we read of a King being born in a stable: He is Immanuel - God with us. His glory is veiled, yet something of His sheer power and perfection is captured on what became known as the Mount of Transfiguration.
“There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.” Later we read, While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!"
Through Christ, we are now clothed in the work of God and are able to stand in His strength and grace as we move in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.
In Eden, the tabernacle and the temple we have ‘pictures’ of God’s perfect creation. As believers we are to reflect what man should be like in God’s creation as reconciled sons and daughters of the living God spoken of as ‘living stones’ (1 Peter 2:5). We are the living temple (2 Cor 3:16) and the presence of the Holy Spirit deposit of what is to come (Eph 1:14).
As the reconciled and forgiven ones, we are called to reach out to a hurting world in love and justice. As a University professor once put it, “Justice is what love looks like in action.”
“Doing justice in the world is our calling; loving one another is our responsibility; feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, stopping war, the glorification of violence and senseless killing, is our responsibility. Protecting the weak, aiding the needy, creating communities of love, justice and compassion, is our responsibility. Challenging the loveless powers with God’s truth is our calling. Calling the world to repentance, love and justice is our responsibility. While we are waiting on God to fulfil the promise, God is waiting on us to begin to live as if we believed the promise.”
Allan Boesak in, ‘The Fire Within.’ Page 165.
At the very point of man’s greatest failure in Eden, he was clothed in the work of God (Gen 3:21) signifying that man was able to stand in security and authority over creation insofar as he was touched by God. As mentioned previously, Israel was able to stand by virtue of being clothed in the work of God. This work is depicted in Zechariah in two ways. Firstly we have the removal of the High Priest’s (representing Israel) clothes (Zech 3:1ff), the High Priest Joshua being representative of Israel. Secondly we then have new clothing given, this being indicative of the new position that Israel, as a repentant nation, had with God. Later, in the Newer Testament, we see the imagery of clothing-with-authority in the best robe (Luke 15:22) being given to the prodigal son. We can also note the words of Paul to the Galatians which speak of being transferred into a new environment – His presence – having been clothed in His work:
“…for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ…”
We are called to be fully human – spiritual beings that are redeemed and open to the leading and presence of heaven and engage with heaven through prayer. When we pray, we in a real sense, enter into the environment where God is the absolute centre and everything else, no matter how powerful or destructive, is pushed back. In focusing on Him and how He speaks of our lives, we really are able to partake of the holy.
We are physical and spiritual beings and spirituality is full humanity as we live out our lives in the presence of the King of Kings - whilst in the world, yet not of the world. This place of power and security came to us through the Holy One allowing the judgement we deserved to fall on His Son. He alone restores us to fellowship with God.
The journey of enemies seeking to destroy the place of sacrifice
Let us now move the camera of our mind back to Daniel eight, which prophetically speaks of the invasion of the sanctuary and removal of the sacrificial system by the one who opposed God. In the events we see in a small scale the attempts that the world continually seeks to make in removing Christianity, whether North Korea, or some towns in England where it is considered offensive to other religions to have Christmas mentioned.
In Daniel chapter eight we have the events of chapter seven repeated, yet in a different way. A Ram now appears, representing the Kingdom of the bear – the Medes and Persians. The alliance and unequal strength of these two people-groups is seen in that one of the ram’s horns is longer than the other, ‘speaking’ of the Persians eventually overcoming the Medes. The power of the Medo-Persian Empire is captured in the words, ‘no animal was able to stand before it, and there was none who could deliver from its power.” (8:4-5). However a male goat suddenly comes from the West at great speed, this representing the full power of the Greek Empire (Dan 8:21). Let’s now see how this is worked out on earth.
In 490 BC, the Athenians were to defeat the Persians at the battle of Marathon with the conspicuous horn being, Alexander the Great, who defeated Media Persia at the battles of Granicus 334, Isus 333 and Gaugemela 331. The speed at which Alexander conquers the entire Middle East within three years speaks of his power, yet also his arrogance (v8). During his conquests he gains the equivalent of millions of pounds worth of treasure and amongst other things, sets fires to Xerxes palace. He does this to underline the fact that a new dominant power is in the market-place of life. However at the height of power, the large horn is broken: Alexander becomes ill and dies at the age of thirty-two.
The following horns represent Alexander’s four generals, Cassander (who held Macedonia and Greece), Lysimachus (Thrace and Western half of Asia Minor, Seleucus (Egyptian-Libyan domain) and Ptolemy (Palestine, Cilicia and Cyprus).
The small horn (v9-12) most likely refered to Antiochus 4 Epiphanus, an arrogant King (his coinage bears the title ‘God Manifest’). He was the eighth ruler of the Seleucid Kingdom who ruled from circa 175-64 BC.
Antiochus was a powerful force in battle, yet was eventually turned back by the Roman Commander, Popilius Laenas. This goaded Antiochus and he took out his frustration on Jerusalem and sent his general Apollonius to destroy the temple. Apollonius arrived with 20,000 troops and sacrificed a pig to an idol of Zeus that he placed in the temple. It was this idol that became known as the abomination of desolation. In many respects, it points to the arrogance and pride of a man who seeks to take the place of God as ruler over all. The ‘abomination of desolation’ is a type of the culmination of future anger and hatred towards God’s people...
“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”So when you see standing in the holy place 'the abomination that causes desolation', spoken of through the prophet Daniel — let the reader understand — then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains."
In scripture, the host of heaven probably refers to the Jewish people (spoken of as stars in Gen 12:3) who came against Antiochus as they defended their faith. The result was that they were to be trampled to the ground.
The time scale given by a heavenly being (8:14) concerning the revolt and surrender of the sanctuary is said to be 2,300 evenings and mornings. These evenings and mornings refer to the daily sacrifices made in the Temple, which were seen as a continual recognition of the need for forgiveness and reconciliation with God. In this sense the sacrifices were said to be one. Therefore 2,300 evenings and mornings refers to 1,150 days which is about 3.2 years.
As already mentioned, Antiochus considered himself equal to any god or gods and halts the morning and evening sacrifices. He sacrifices to his gods in the temple on the 25th December 167 and the rededication of the temple took place just over three years later after the Maccabean revolt.
Why bother giving visions that appear to have little bearing on Daniel?
Daniel is exhausted from receiving this vision and is ill for many days. The vision, in many respects was beyond his understanding, so why is it given? To help us see why, think of it this way:
Imagine a parent taking a child to the dentist for a filling and, as a means of placating the nervous child, says that it will not hurt at all. The child trusts the parent but then goes through the shock of finding out that it does hurt. Now think of a parent saying, “Yes it might hurt a little bit, but I will be there and I’m not going away.” The child knows what to expect and knows the presence of the parent throughout the appointment.
As the days, seasons and centuries march on, God’s people were going to go through great hardship and difficulty, however they had the comfort of knowing that God was already aware of this and was the Master of history. We don’t do any of our fellow Christians any favours if we tell them life is always going to be easy and in doing so preach a lie. The reality is that we may go through all manner of hardship but God will never leave us nor forsake us and is always about His work.
In forewarning His disciples of future difficulty (e.g.John 16:1-14), Jesus is strengthening and forearming them. He is also going to send the Counsellor; the Holy Spirit who will take from what is His and makes it known to the disciples (v14).
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
No matter the strength and power of the enemy, the truth remains that God is in overall charge and that ‘this too will pass away.’ The passing away is not simply a fading away like the mist of the river as one departs to an eternal destiny of fellowship or loss. It is a passing away of kingdoms and powers because God brings judgement to bear on His world in His work of restoring harmony. World powers will not last.
“After the execution of Nazi celebrities on 16th October 1946, fourteen bodies, including those of Goering, Ribbentrop, Keitel, Rosenbert, Frank, Streicher, Jodl and Seyss-Inquart, were delivered to a Munich crematorium. That same evening a container holding the amassed ashes were driven through the rain into the Bavarian countryside. After an hour’s drive the vehicle stopped and the ashes were poured into a muddy ditch. Five or six years before, these men could dominate and intimidate. That night a drizzle washed them away.”
D. Davis in, The Message of Daniel p 107 quoted rom A. Read, The Devils’ Disciples, p922-923
As we have already seen, the events of Daniel eight are rooted in the ensuing centuries yet also point to the continuing persecution of God’s people by those who seek to destroy the faith. Yet at no point does God cease to be in control. All men fade like grass with their achievements fading like the flowers of the field; so much so that, “one can no longer even spot the place where it once grew” (Psalm 103:16 Net Bible). However the word of God goes on forever and it is God who will close this scene from history as Antiochus dies in 164 BC at Tabae in Persia.
In the next chapter, we are going to look at Daniel’s prayer and the prophetic words given by Gabriel. Gabriel’s name derives from the verb gbr (to be strong) and stems from the word ‘gibbor’ meaning ‘hero of God’ and he appears as a heavenly messenger between God and men. In the New Testament, Gabriel announces the birth of John the Baptist to Zacharias (Luke 1:11-20) and spoke of the Messiah to the Virgin Mary (Luke 1:26-38).