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Book of Daniel
Chapter 8

Daniel Chapter 8
Commentary by Ron Beckham

Verse 1. "In the third year of Belshazzar the king a vision appeared to me, Daniel, subsequent to the one which appeared to me previously."

The focus of these writings in Daniel now shifts dramatically, and is marked by a change in original language, from the Aramaic of Babylon, back to the Hebrew of Daniel’s boyhood. The Aramaic usage started in Daniel 2:4 and has continued through 7:28, and during this time the book was centered upon Babylonia. The scene now shifts to visions in relation to the land and people of Israel, and the language changes accordingly.

It’s interesting that the New Testament was written (mostly) in a form of Greek widely known and used by the people of the time, just like that which was pertinent to the people of Babylonia was written in a language they could understand. God comes right into our cultural setting and COMMUNICATES to us. He wants us to hear and to understand.

There are fascinating exceptions. The introductions to Luke and Acts, for example, were written in CLASSICAL Greek, which identifies the author as an educated man, such as Dr. Luke would have been, in relation to his profession. The very words of Scripture communicate that Daniel wrote Daniel, and that Luke was a doctor who was also a New Testament author.

We now look at visions of Daniel. Can we experience visions today? Probably, because God uses every method possible to speak to His people. I have seen that Scripture touches my heart and mind, deeply and thoroughly, so that I am informed and content in Him. He has given what is needed.

Verse 2. "And I looked in the vision, and it came about while I was looking, that I was in the citadel of Susa, which is in the province of Elam; and I looked in the vision, and I myself was beside the Ulai Canal."

It should be noted that the various chapters of Daniel are not written in chronological order. If they were, it would be: 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 5, 9, 6, 10, 11, and 12.

The prophet Daniel had two years to think about the visions of the 4 beasts of chapter 7 (compare 7:1 and 8:1) and now he is given much more to consider. It’s interesting that the visions of chapter 8 were given before the handwriting on the wall in chapter 5. Daniel’s interpretation of the words on the wall was effortless for him, because he already knew the national events of several hundred years into the future. As reflected in 8:20-21, he knew precisely who the next two kingdoms would be.

Daniel had been transported, in some form or another (8:2), to Susa, the capitol of Persia, which is the place where Nehemiah and Esther lived (Neh. 1:1 and Esther 1:2-5, 2:3-5).

I’m fascinated that there really are no boundaries in space and time for God, or for His people (as He wills for them). Ezekiel was taken (in the body or in visions) here and there, including a trip to Israel and the temple (8:3, and chapter 40, among other places). Phillip (Acts 8:39 & context) was suddenly 25 miles away, after he completed bringing the Ethiopian Eunuch to the Lord. The wording of Genesis 11:8 suggeststhat OTHER people have been suddenly moved by the Spirit from one place to another, at various times in history.

Verse 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 which had two horns is carefully identified as the Empire of Mede-Persia (in verse 20). The "longer" horn is Persia, while the shorter one represents Media. As Dr. Lehman Strauss put it, "Media enjoyed supremacy before Persia, but of the two, Persia became the greater power; Cyrus the Persian was mightier than Darius the Mede." It was Gobyras the Median General who took Babylon, but the strength of the Medes began to fade, and the Persians became dominant.

The ram, by the way, was the national emblem of Persia. The symbol was on all Persian coins, and on the headdress of Persian emperors.

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

It has been pointed out there is no "east" in this verse. That’s because they were pretty much in the east already, and to attack toward the east would be to invade India, which they never did. Alexander the Great would later do just that, but Daniel’s prophesy was true in every way. The energy of Mede-Persia would be toward the west, north, and south, but not the east. In these other directions, they would be successful in battle for the next 200 years.

Media-Persia succeeded, and all were helpless before them, not because they were wise or worthy, but because God decreed it so. Solomon pointed out that "the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, or bread to the wise, nor wealth to the discerning" etc. (Ecclesiastes 9:10). We need to recall that if we succeed in life, wedo well to give the praise to God and not become proud. Before us in these verses is a vast tapestry of nations and time, which is being woven by God, and we are within the cloth, unable to see from the perspective of the Weaver.

Why specifically did Persia succeed(?), is not the question, for we really need to ask, "Why am I here and what does God want of me?" The Answer, the whole of life is found in Christ Jesus. It is enough to know Him, for He is good and He will satisfy you.

Verse 5. "While I was observing, 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 goat represents Greece (see verse 21) and the horn is symbolic of Alexander the Great. "Without touching the ground" reminds us of the beast like a "leopard" (or panther) in Daniel 7:6 & context; the one that had the four wings. Both the wings and the airborne status of this goat, speak of the great speed of Alexander.

Alexander the Great was astounding in battle. He was an extremely bright and handsome man, one who has been admired for centuries. Yet, let’s do something different - let’s compare him with Paul the Apostle. Paul, from a human standpoint, doesn’t compare very well. As he points out in 2 Corinthians 11, he was beaten up a number of times, he went to dank prisons, and was a victim of all sorts of calamities, which left marks on his body, his life. Yet Paul knew the grace of God in abundance, and still leads many to Christ.

Alexander conquered the world, but Paul did something better: He became weak (1 Corinthians 12:9 and context) that the power of Christ might live in him. Alexander was never content and he died in an alcoholic stupor. Paul was "well content with weaknesses…for when I am weak, then I am strong." We need to give up and let God do His will - we will never find satisfaction any other way.

Verse 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."

You’ve probably seen, as I have, that a smaller man can beat a larger man in a fight (and the Greece of that time was much smaller than Persia). "Smaller" can be in stature, or if the "fight" consists of words, the less eloquent can be victorious. Solomon agreed with this assessment (Ecclesiastes 9:11) - the strong don’t always win. Confidence is an important factor, and we see the very confident Alexander (in the imagery of the goat), rushing headlong at the Medes and Persians, who were not ready yet to do battle.

We should always be ready to fight (Ephesians 6:10-19) in the service of our King. The "weapons" we use are spiritual and not like Alexander’s, but his example is valuable for us - He was courageous and confident, and in those areas, he had much in common with the Apostle Paul. We have every reason for confidence in our Lord, Who is strong and mighty, loves us without limit, and will defend us. If you read to the end of God’s Word, you will find that Christ has already won the war. Our lives should be FULL of praise and confidence in Him.

Verse 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."

To be in a fight of one kind or another and discover you are losing is disheartening. There is a loss of adrenaline that accompanies a loss of belief in your position, which is fatal to your cause. Jesus tells us to have FAITH, to BELIEVE (after all, we have the VICTORY in Him), unlike the armies of the Medes and Persians of that time. The heart was taken right out of the armies of Xerxes, the last great ruler of Persia, when Alexander defeated him at Thermopylae. Xerxes had 300,000 men but Alexander of Macedonia selected a narrow pass, where the Persian superiority in manpower was overshadowed because the Greeks were trained and disciplined soldiers (the Persians were not). One Greek of that time could defeat at least 10 Persians when fought one at a time.

Then, at Salamis, Xerxes’ fleet of 300 ships was destroyed by a storm. J. Vernon McGee relates that Xerxes went down to the sea and beat the waves with his belt, when he learned his navy was gone (an enthusiastic but ineffectual individual). There was none to rescue the ram (Persia) from Alexander’s power. The larger was defeated - the battle is not always to the strong.

Verse 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."

Once again we see that pride is a killer. Just as we learned in chapter 5, when we saw pride and foolishness destroy Belshazzar, Alexander "magnified himself exceedingly" and was soon a dead General. Solomon said "a live dog is better than a dead lion" (Ecclesiastes 9:4) and it would be interesting to see what Alexander might think of that verse right now. I want this for you and me, that we might not be dogs or lions but instead living sheep in the sheepfold of our Lord Jesus Christ; so that whether we live or die in this world, we will faithfully live for Him.

We discussed the "four conspicuous horns" in chapter 7. After the sudden, inglorious death of Alexander, four of his generals took over and divided his empire. Cassander took Macedonia; Lysimachus got Asia Minor, Ptolomy acquired Egypt, and Seleucus inherited Syria.

Verse 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."

The "beautiful" or "pleasant" land is Israel. This "small horn" is not the same as the one in the last chapter. That one grew out of the fourth kingdom, whereas this one came from the third. Both were future to Daniel. As to our perspective, this one from chapter 8 is historical, whereas the horn in chapter 7 is still in the future.

This little or small horn was Antiochus Epiphanes, son of Antiochus the Great of Syria, who ruled from 175-164 BC. This man simply and literally hated God and the people of God. As told in the 1st Book of Maccabees, he stopped circumcism, ordered the destruction of Jewish writings, sacrificed a pig on the temple altar, and killed 100,000 Jews at one time. This man, known (but not to his face) as "Epiphanes the Madman" was written about here in Daniel, hundreds of years before he was born or any of this happened.

Verse 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."

Antiochus Epiphanes challenged God, and for awhile, he was PERMITTED to capture Jerusalem and the temple. I think this verse is an interesting suggestion that human events such as warfare, tend to be waged in the spiritual realm as well. The one is perhaps a reflection of the other. Yes, human soldiers are waging battles and dying here on earth, but there are hefty battles also going on in the spiritual realm.

In human wars, people often lose parts of their bodies and/or their lives. Spiritual fights involve faith and its opposite, unbelief. It’s difficult for us to see, but the loss of faith on this planet is far worse than the loss of human life, no matter how upsetting the latter may seem at the time. To die as a human being is to pass from one place to another, whereas to not have faith is to be permanently lost.

Verse 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."

I knew a man one time who was flirting with religion as we understand it, but attempted to be an aggressive sinner at the same time. The last I heard of him, the combination had apparently sent him over the edge, for he ended up with mental problems, claiming he was "God the Father." The real God is not pleased with imitations, and the combination of sin and false religion is not recommended because it does drive people "nuts".

Antiochus Epiphanes was a follower of the "god" Jupiter and he may have decided he was some kind of incarnation of Jupiter. This is seen because he chose for himself the title "Theos Epiphanes," which means "God manifest."

Verse 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."

Why was Antiochus allowed to do all that he did? God will allow sin for a time, but only for a time, and will suddenly end the life of the sinner, for the good of His people. Sometimes deadly poisons are effectively used as medicines, and in precise quantities can stop the course of disease. Unbelief (lack of faith) is a disease of the soul, and Antiochus Epiphanes, monster that he was, was the medicine God allowed for treatment of His people’s unbelief, for just a time.

The Jews, though they had returned to the land, had not come back to God. Their hearts needed to be changed (as do ours). The nation Israel is again back in the land, and apparently they still lack a heart for God. Jesus cares for them "like a hen gathers her chicks" (Matthew 23:37) but He reluctantly judges those who reject Him. We must pray for the people of Israel.

Verse 13. "Then I heard a holy one speaking, and another holy one said to that particular one who was speaking, ‘How long will the vision about the regular sacrifice apply, while the transgression causes horror, so as to allow both the holy place and the host to be trampled?’"

One of the most popular questions in history has been "How long will this (whatever it is) last?" Our capacity to endure stress and trouble IS limited, and like the "holy one" in this verse, we need to ask for assistance about our concerns. And PRAYER is our place of answers.  Only God knows "how long(?)." This verse would suggest that angels assigned on our behalf experience great concern at the trouble in our lives (and our responses to that trouble). Especially, as is indicated here, they are troubled by that which tends to mar the holy work God is performing within us.

We have essentially no idea at all of holiness and cannot really understand the horror we must constantly present to those who care for us. A great function of angels must be prayer, for we certainly need it.

Verse 14. "And he said to me, ‘For 2,300 evenings and mornings; then the holy place will be properly restored.’"

Dr. Wilbur M. Smith is among those who present a convincing argument that these are 2,300 literal 24-hour days. The length of time is between 6 and 7 years, and is approximately the length of time Antiochus Epiphanes reigned (from 171 to 165 BC). Judas Maccabeus (his name translates as "the hammer") was a Jewish priest who took his people to war and eventually drove out Antiochus’ Syrian army. After that, the temple (which was polluted as described in verse 9) was cleansed and rededicated.

This event is the origin the Jewish Feast of Lights, mentioned in John 10:22. It was established between the Old and new Testaments, was celebrated at the time of Jesus, and is still remembered today.

Verse 15. "And it came about when I, Daniel, had seen the vision, that I sought to understand it; and behold, standing before me was one who looked like a man."

The "one who looked like a man" was an angelic being sent by God. "Why doesn’t God help me?" you may be asking right now. The correct answer is that He IS helping you, as to every need. He is continually dispatching His messengers and you (like Daniel) receive a lot of help.  The difference between you and Daniel is not the amount of assistance you receive but simply that Daniel had superior "vision" to appreciate what was being done.

The account of Elisha and his servant is an excellent illustration of this. Elisha (who was NOT afraid) saw that a veritable army of God’s servants was protecting them (1 Kings 6:15-17). His servant (who WAS afraid) could not see them until after Elisha prayed for him. Then he saw and his fear went away. The problem is not in God helping us (He’s always delivering us); the trouble is in our perceptions. Open our "eyes" Lord, that we may "see." (And in the meantime, Father, let us TRUST in You).

Verse 16. "And I heard the voice of a man between the banks of Ulai, and he called out and said, ‘Gabriel, give this man an understanding of the vision.’"

"Ulai" refers to the Ulai Canal, at Susa (or Shoshan), capitol of the Persian Empire. Daniel is at that place in a vision.

This is the first appearance of Gabriel in Scripture, at least referred to by name. This is the same messenger who will appear again to Daniel (9:21), and centuries later, to Zacharias and Mary (Luke 1:19, 26). Gabriel and Michael are the only ones called "archangel" (chief messenger) and part of this office (archangel) may be that they have more information than other angelic beings.

Note he (Gabriel) is sent that Daniel (and you and I) might UNDERSTAND. Daniel was (and is) God’s friend. Friends trust each other and friends share. When you give yourself to God, He will give Himself to you. And He has already demonstrated His love for you, by giving you: 1) Jesus Christ to die in your place, 2) the Bible, the written Word of God, and 3) the Holy Spirit, sent to make all this real and understandable to you.

Verse 17. "So he came near to where I was standing, and when he came I was frightened and fell on my face; but he said to me, ‘Son of man, understand that the vision pertains to the time of the end.’"

Ezekiel lost consciousness and so did John the Apostle, under similar circumstances. I’ve thought for a long time that if you meet an archangel, it’s OK to pass out.

Note again in this verse that God longs to give understanding to His people. This angelic being was sent by God for just that purpose, and He wants to address your deepest concerns. What do you wonder about?  He will answer you.  25 years ago, I had many questions, and I asked all of them. Some He answered then; some later, and some He is answering now. A few I still wonder about. But I can assure you He does respond to the needs of His people. He does answer prayer.

This section is going to become even more exciting, by the way, for as it is stated, this vision "pertains to the time of the end" - an area of interest to many.

Verse 18. "Now while he was talking with me, I sank into a deep sleep with my face to the ground; but he touched me and made me stand upright."

Have you ever been so stunned emotionally, that you just can’t stay awake? That’s where Daniel was, right then. I don’t think Daniel was necessarily depressed at that moment, just overwhelmed, but depression causes many to experience an overwhelming need for sleep. Are you depressed? Charles Stanley presents a very convincing argument that the basis of much depression is anger. Daniel’s reaction was due, I think, to love for his people.

We often cannot change circumstances that are unpleasant, which tends to produce in us, first anger, and then depression, as we face our utter helplessness to change things for the better. The good news is that God intends to reach out and touch both you and your problem. There is no need to continue in anger or discouragement, because even though you really are helpless, God is not (and He loves you).

Verse 19. "And he said, ‘Behold, I am going to let you know what will occur at the final period of the indignation, for it pertains to the appointed time of the end.’"

Many of us have an intense preoccupation with the end of all things - the end of time. "What will become of me; what will become of those I love" is at the bottom of many of these concerns. All this is fine, because the LORD is also concerned about what will happen to you and yours. Again, He loves you, He died for you, His Holy Spirit is given to you, and His Word is opened to your understanding. He wants you to be equipped and prepared for whatever might come.

Should you be worried about the end times? Not really, for just like Noah was safe in the ark, so you are safe in Jesus Christ. He loves you and you need not be afraid.

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

Notice how clear these verses are. We don't have to wonder about these visions seen by the prophet Daniel, for the ram with two horns simply represents the kings of Media and Persia. By the way, how do we know Daniel is a prophet (of God)? In Deuteronomy 18:22, Moses related God's words, that if a prophesy of the future does not come true, it is not of God. That's why the "critics" insist this book was written much later (and by someone other than Daniel). It was future to Daniel and it ALL came true. Every word about Babylonia, Persia, Greece, and Rome has happened, just as he said. If Daniel wrote these things (and he did), then he is a true prophet of God and we should listen to him.

Some of these prophesies are still future to us. Since the rest of it came utterly true and we can trust that Daniel is therefore a prophet of God, we can look with great excitement for the completion of all of it. We rely on Daniel because of the intense accuracy of his words, and (1st Peter 1:21) we also know by the Holy Spirit of God.

Verse 21. "And the shaggy goat represents the kingdom of Greece, and the large horn that is between his eyes is the first king."

This surprising nation of sailors and philosophers (Greece) produced some of the most amazing men of history. Success tends to generate pride and when Paul spoke to the Greeks at Mars Hill (Athens - Acts 17:22-34), only a few (vs. 32-34) were willing to receive him (and the Lord Who sent him).

Greece was taken over by a related but separate group to the north, the Macedonians, under King Phillip, father of Alexander. Young Alexander was tutored by Aristotle the philosopher, who demanded and received a surprisingly large sum of money to live in the Macedonian court. This boy, Alexander, became a wild, intelligent general, who performed unexpectedly, essentially conquering the "world."

Verse 22. "And the broken horn and the four horns that arose in its place represent four kingdoms which will arise from his nation, although not with his power."

We have seen that four of his generals would divide up the empire of Alexander, and it is clear that none of them fought or ruled with his power. Power is a gift of God (more like a "loan" actually). The lack of it is also a gift. Paul thanked God for his "weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:9-10) for "when I am weak I am strong" so "that the power of Christ may live in me." The key to life is not our strength but rather that Christ Jesus might rule and reign in us. A pastor, the other night, expressed that the underlying motives of most people can be summed up in the phrase "Look at me." How much more appropriate to express HIM through our lives, instead of ourselves.

Verse 23. "And in the latter period of their rule, when the transgressors have run their course, a king will arise, insolent and skilled in intrigue."

This king is Antiochus Epiphanes, from the line of the general who inherited Syria from Alexander. Dr. J. Vernon McGee described him as "demon possessed" and I agree. Dr. Lehman Strauss reminds us "a prophesy may have both a first and fragmentary fulfillment centuries before it comes to full and final completion." This is certainly true here, for not only is this man an actual historical figure, but he is also a precursor of the Antichrist who is to come.

Verse 24. "And his power will be mighty, but not by his own power, and he will destroy to an extraordinary degree and prosper and perform his will; he will destroy mighty men and the holy people."

This guy slaughtered many, many people in the land of Israel. I recently toured the holocaust museum in Los Angeles, and conclude that both Antiochus and Hitler were cut from the same cloth. They were monsters of the first order, each destroying people on a large scale,and for very base motives. Many of those destroyed are viewed as "holy" by God and we can be assured that such men as Hitler will receive a very severe punishment. There is JUSTICE in our Lord.

Verse 25. "And through his shrewdness he will cause deceit to succeed by his influence; and he will magnify himself in his heart, and he will destroy many while they are at ease. He will even oppose the Prince of princes, but he will be broken without human agency.

Antiochus is like a picture, a moving film clip of the Antichrist who is to come. As in Revelation 13:17, he controlled the economy of those he victimized. He came in like a lamb initially, but quickly was revealed as a wolf in disguise. Both Antiochus and the Antichrist, like Hitler, are against Christ (the "Prince of princes" in this verse). This man, these men, are all energized by Satan, and only God can destroy them.

In that context, Who won the Second World War? Was it the Allies? No, it was God, Who ended that atrocity by utterly defeating those who harmed His little ones. We should recognize HIS victory and praise Him for all He has done.

Verse 26. "And the vision of the evenings and mornings which has been told is true; but keep the vision secret, for it pertains to many days in the future."

Dr. Strauss says "keep the vision secret" or "shut up the vision" is better rendered as "preserve it," which Daniel did. Our English language understanding of "keep it secret" is not what is meant here, for these Scriptures have always been open for all to see. It does pertain to "many days in the future" and anything about the future is always confusing because we are attempting to understand situations that have not yet happened. If you tried to explain TV or computers to a man of the 11th century, he would likely not understand. With prophesy, it is good to trust in God and wait.

Verse 27. "Then I, Daniel, was exhausted and sick for days. Then I got up again and carried on the king's business; but I was astounded at the vision, and there was none to explain it."

Daniel was astonished at these series of visions. A future had been portrayed for him that he never expected. For one thing, he would naturally expect and hope for a future Israel which had a heart for God. He might have expected that a restored, repentant Israel would be world dominant. This did not seem to be the case at all. Even after a return to the land, Israel would still have great problems, and the future seemed to contain a great number of gentiles in positions of world dominance.

I still think the most striking information about Daniel is that no matter what happened, he continued to be a man of love, a man of God. He suffered so much, especially as a young man, and this is OUR test in life, isn't it? Life is not that we have happy circumstances, but that we have FAITH in God.

This is expressed so well in Habakkuk (3:17-18). "Though the fig tree should not blossom, and there is no fruit on the vines, though the yield of the olive should fail, and the fields produce no food, though the flock should be cut off from the fold and there be no cattle in the stalls, yet I will exult in the Lord; I will rejoice in the God of my salvation."

Ron Beckham, Pastor
Friday Study Ministries

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