Sheep vs. Goat: Prophecies in Daniel Chapter Eight, by John M. Oakes
Two years after the vision recorded in chapter seven, Daniel has another vision
?in the third year of King Belshazzar?s reign? (Daniel 8:1). The Babylonian
Chronicle implies that Belshazzar began to rule as regent in 553 BC, so this
year of the vision in Daniel eight is 551 BC. This is twelve years before the
feast recorded in Daniel chapter five. There are many similarities between the
visions in Daniel seven and eight, but the subject is quite different. In Daniel
seven, God provided much detail about the fourth beast: Rome. In the vision at hand,
God will reveal, again in vivid, apocalyptic detail, much of the history of
the second and third beasts: Persia/Media and Greece. Together, these two visions
describe the historical setting of the two greatest periods of persecution the
people of God have ever had to endure. Of course, unlike other history books,
Daniel?s visions tell about the events before they happen.
Figure 29. Griffinfrom Susa.
In Daniel chapter seven, God prepared the first, second and third century disciples
for the persecution they would experience under the Romans by giving very specific
details about the nature of those persecutions over six hundred years before
they happened. The fact that the Christians could read an historical account of what
they were to go through before it happened, prepared them for the actual events,
and gave them solid reason to believe the encouragement contained in the vision.
The same prophecy which told them details of the Roman persecutions reminded
them that God is in control. It encouraged them with the knowledge that God
will ultimately judge both the men and the nation that were persecuting them.
God had told them beforehand that ultimately their faith would be vindicated if they
did not give in to fear.
God certainly had the early Christians in mind when he revealed the message
of Daniel. However, even more so, God had in mind preparing his people?the Jewish
nation?for the persecutions they were to suffer under their Greek overlords
in the second century BC. Chapters eight and ten through twelve of Daniel will provide
strong support for this claim.
Daniel seven provides details about the Roman persecution of the Church, but
in chapters eight and ten through twelve, one will find even more detailed future
history: prophesying both the political background and the details of actual
events of the anti-Jewish persecutions under the Seleucid Greeks.
The readers will most likely find themselves less familiar with the historical
background to the Greek world of Daniel chapter eight than with that of the
Roman world of Daniel seven. An introduction to the required background was
given in chapter two. More of the details needed to understand the historical
context of Daniel chapter eight will be given presently.
One of the similarities between the visions of chapters seven and eight is that
in both cases, Daniel is given the interpretation of the dream by an angel.
The vision of the ram and of the goat must have been an overwhelmingly intense
experience. After seeing the vision and hearing the interpretation, Daniel ?was
exhausted and lay ill for several days? (v. 27). Daniel was appalled at the
fearful nature of what he had seen. It would appear that one of the jobs of
the angel sent to Daniel to interpret this vision was to give him the emotional
and physical support needed to handle the mind-blowing nature of the vision.
In the vision, Daniel is transported to Susa(Daniel 8:2). This is the capital
of the province (and former kingdom) of Elam. Cyrus eventually made it one of
the two capitals of his empire. The fact that Daniel was carried to Susapro
vides a hint to the reader that the initial part of the prophecy deals with Pers
Figure 30. Glazed brick, Susapalace. Two winged lions with human heads.
Daniel sees a ram with two horns, ?standing beside the canal? (Daniel 8:3).
As stated previously, in apocalyptic writing, horns are symbolic of kings or
national powers. The ram standing beside the canal creates the impression of
an animal about to charge. The ram, of course, is the Persian/Median Empire. In
fact, the Persians took the ram as their guardian spirit. The Persian kings
wore a ram?s head rather than a diadem when marching at the head of their armies.
Danies sees the ram charging across the UlaiCanal. This canal lies just to the
West of Susa. And charge across the UlaiCanal(from east to west) is exactly
what the Persian armies did. From their homelands in the mountainous areas of
modern-day Iran, the Medes and Persians under Cyrus charged to the West in just
a few short years to conquer almost the entire Near East.
The next detail provided to Daniel is that one of the ram?s horns will grow
up later, but will become longer than the other. This refers to Persia, which
?came to power later than Media but which eventually became by far the dominant
power in the dual empire. Media is the larger horn, while Persiais the horn
which started smaller, but eventually outgrew its partner ?horn.? As mentioned
in the historical introduction, Persiawas a relatively small and weak province
within the Median Empire before Cyrus the Great rose up and through his ability
as a general and as a political leader, took the leading role in establishing
the great Persian/Median Empire. Daniel gets a detail of future history right
According to the vision that Daniel sees, the ram will charge ?to the west and
the north and the south? (v. 4). Given Daniel?s track record, would anyone be
surprised at this point if that was exactly what happened? The three ribs revealed
in Daniel 7:5 were Lydia, Babylon, and Egypt. Cyrus began his great campaigns
by first conquering Lydiaand Babylonin the west. After these great successes,
he traveled to the north of Persia, conquering Dragiana, Arachosia, Bactriaand other
areas, all the way to the Oxus and Jaxartus rivers (the area of present-day Afghanistan, Kazakhsta
n, Tajikastan and Uzbekistan). Cyrus died before he could round out the Medo/Persian
Empire (535 BC). His son, Cambyses ate the third rib by charging to the south;
conquering Egyptin 525 BC.
Last, Daniel hears in the vision concerning the two-horned ram that ?no one
could stand against him, and none could rescue from his power? (v. 4). For the
first three generations of Persian/Mede power this proved true. Eventually,
though, the power of the Greek city-states proved to be too great for the Persians
to completely break. This brings one to the second beast in Daniel eight: the
Now Daniel says, ?As I was thinking about this? (v. 5). Apparently, Daniel is
fully aware that this is a prophetic vision, and he is considering how to interpret
the meaning of what he is seeing. While he is taking in the vivid vision, and
thinking about its meaning, ?suddenly? a goat with a prominent horn appears. Unlike
the ram, which charged from the east, this goat charges from the west. The goat
is Alexander ?the Great?.
Figure 31. Elamite soldier in the Persian guard, Louvre, Paris.
Who is the greatest general and empire-builder in the history of mankind? Possible
nominees include Genghis Khan, Napoleon and Alexand
er. Experts in history would
probably choose Alexander. Historians have written volumes about what made Alexander
great. They mention his unique background. On the one hand, Alexander was the
son of King Philip, from the warlike and semi-barbaric nation of Macedon. On
the other hand, he was sent by his father Philip to Athensto be tutored by Aristotle,
perhaps the greatest intellectual figure in all of Greek history. His preparation,
therefore, included the greatest possible military and intellectual tools of
his day. In order to explain his greatness, historians also mention his extraordinary
human courage, his amazing faith in his own abilities, his love of his men which
inspired the unparalleled loyalty of his troops.
All of these and other factors could be mentioned in an attempt to explain what
made Alexander great. However, we know who made Alexander great: God gets the
credit! God told Daniel in the year 551 BC about the plans he had for Alexander.
That was almost two hundred years before Alexander was born (356 BC). God rules
the nations, and God raises up great men and women as he pleases.
There is an interesting parallel between what God did to prepare the way for
Alexander, the conqueror of Persia, and what he did to let his people know about
Cyrus, the conqueror of Babylon. In both cases, God revealed to Israeltwo hundr
ed years before the actual events what these men would do. God is proving to
the Jews that it is his work in raising up Alexander to rule almost the entire
?known? world in his day. When the Greek dynasties ultimately bring intense
persecution to the Jews, God is hoping that his people will still remember that,
?in the words of Nebuchadnezzar, ?He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven
and the peoples of the earth? (Daniel 4:35). God rules the nations.
Consider how God describes the career of Alexander to Daniel in the vision.
This ?prominent horn? (and Alexander certainly was a prominent horn!) did indeed
charge from the west. In fact, Alexander crossed the straits of the Dardanelles
(the narrow waterway which separates Europe from Asia), from west to east, with
his relatively small army in the year 334 BC. Alexander?s army appeared ?suddenly?
in Asia(v. 5). Persiahad been the almost unrivaled power in the entire Near
East for two hundred years. At first, the king of the Persians, Darius III,
did not take Alexander?s invasion seriously. Who would have guessed that four
years after Alexander crossed the Dardanelles, the upstart general from Greecewould have
conquered the entire Persian/Median Empire! It must have appeared to his contemporaries
as if Alexander was ?crossing the whole earth without touching the ground? (v.
5). Exactly as Daniel saw it in the vision, the goat (Alexander) attacked th
e two-horned ram (Persia/Media and its king Darius III) as it lay in wait across
the UlaiCanal. Just as Daniel prophesied, Alexander did indeed ?attack the ram
furiously, striking the ram and shattering his two horns? (v. 7).
?The goat became very great? (v. 8). That is unquestionably true. Over a twelve-year
period, Alexander followed one victory with another. After defeating the remnant
of the Persian/Mede Empire, a protracted siege resulted in the destruction of
the city of Tyre. Next, Alexander took Palestine, including Jerusalem. It
is difficult to confirm the story, but Jewish historians have claimed that when
Alexander came to Jerusalem, they showed him a copy of Daniel, telling him that
the God of Israel had prophesied his greatness.
What we do know is that Alexander spared Jerusalem. After taking Palestine,
?Alexander attacked and conquered Egypt. Almost without pause, Alexander returned
to the north and east, finishing off Darius III and conquering Bactria (more
or less present-day Afghanistan), followed by a great victory over Indian power
in the valley of the Indus River. Finally, after twelve years of nearly constant war,
Alexander?s troops refused to go any farther into the unknown, and Alexander
was forced to turn back. Yes, it would be fair to say that the prominent horn
became very great.
However at the height of his power, soon after returning from India, Alexande
r died in 323 BC. As Daniel sees it ?at the height of his power his large horn
was broken off? (v. 8). Over two hundred years before the event, Daniel gets
it right again. Feel free to compare the specific nature of this prophecy to
the vague supposed prophecies of Nostradamus.
Alexander married a Bactrian princess named Roxanna. She gave birth to a son
soon after Alexander?s death. Since the boy was so young, there was no obvious
successor to Alexander. This led to a dynastic struggle and to the death of
Roxanna and her son. To summarize a complicated series of events, within seven
years, as Alexander?s generals fought it out among themselves, four generals
were left to found four dynasties. These were Antigonus, who ruled most of the
Asian Greek territory, Cassander, who ruled Macedoniaand much of Greeceitself,
?Lysimachus, who ruled Thrace(northeastern present-day Greeceand western present-day Tu
rkey) and Ptolemy, who ruled Egyptand Palestine.
As Daniel describes it, ?at the height of his power, his large horn was broken
off, and in its place four prominent horns grew up toward the four winds of
heaven? (v. 8). The Bible says that four kings will succeed to the power of
Alexander, and that is exactly what happened. Not three, not five, four! In
case there is any question about how to interpret the four prominent horns,
consider the interpretation of the vision given to Daniel in 8:21,22.
The shaggy goat is the king of Greece, and the large horn between his eyes is
the first king. The four horns that replaced the one that was broken off represent
four kingdoms that will emerge from his nation but will not have the same power.
Could God have been any more specific than this? The four winds of heaven refer
to the four cardinal points of the compass: Antigonus to the east of the Promised
Land, Cassander to the west, Lysimachus to the north and Ptolemy to the south.
And, as related in the vision, none of these successors had the same power as Alexander.
The vision continues, ?Out of one of them came another horn, which started small
but grew in power to the south and to the east and toward the BeautifulLand? (v
. 9). The reader may ask himself/herself ?What in the world could he be talking
about now? What is this Beautiful Land Daniel is talking about?? We know Daniel
and his prophecies well enough by now to expect that there will be a very good
The Four Horns of Daniel Seven
??????????????? Territory Ruled
??????????????? The East. from Syriato India.
??????????????? The West. Macedoniaand Greece.
??????????????? The North. Thraceand Asia Minor.
??????????????? The South. Egyptand Palestine.
As mentioned previously, one of the successors to Alexander was Ptolemy Lagi.
Ptolemy and his successors were to rule Egyptfor just under three hundred years.
Ptolemy?s greatest general was Seleucus. In 312 BC, Seleucus, under orders from
Ptolemy, attacked Antigonus, seizing from him the city of Jerusalem, along with
most of the provinceof
Syria. At this time, many Jews were taken to Alexand
ria, the new capital of Ptolemaic Egypt, a detail of great importance to later
Jewish history. Later, Antigonus retook most of Syria, but lost Babylonto Sele
This brings the story back to the vision of Daniel. Seleucus was so successful
that he was able to set up his own independent kingdom, centered in the pro
vinceof Babylon. So out of the Ptolemaic Dynasty came a separate dynasty; the Seleucids.
In the words of Daniel?s vision, ?Out of one of them (Ptolemy) came another
horn (Seleucus), which started small? (v. 9). And guess how this ?horn? grew.
It grew from Babylon, first ?to the south,? retaking Syria, this time from
the Ptolemies. In addition, Seleucus and his successors grew ?to the east,?
filling a power vacuum in the former provinces of Elam, Persiaand Media. Finally,
in 198 BC, the Seleucid king Antiochus III took Palestineand the city of Je
rusalemfrom the Ptolemies. So this late-coming horn came to occupy ?the BeautifulL
and,? in other words the Promised Land. Daniel recorded this vision in 551 BC.
The prophecy was finally fulfilled to the letter in 198 BC.
Figure 32. Antiochus III the Great, king of Syria, father of Antiochus IV Epiphanes.
Next, Daniel?s vision turns to even more vivid, apocalyptic language. ?It? (i.e.
the Seleucid kingdom) ?grew until it reached the host of the heavens, and it
threw some of the starry host down to the earth and trampled on them. It 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 his sanctuary was brought low? (v. 11, 12). The Seleucid
kingdom clearly never literally threw any of the stars in the sky to the ground.
This is symbolic language which God is using to point out the spiritual battle
going on behind the scenes. This is typical of apocalyptic speech. Stars falling
to the ground are used to symbolize God?s coming in judgment.
What Daniel?s vision is referring to (hundreds of years before it happened)
is the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Seleucid king who reigned from 175
to 163 BC. The vision in Daniel chapter eleven will supply much more detail
about the reign and the persecutions of Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Suffice it to say
for now that Antiochus did in fact ?set himself up to be as great as the Prince
of the host,? taking on many of the trappings of deity. Exactly as Daniel saw
in his vision, Antiochus did ?take away the daily sacrifice,? and bring low
?the place of his sanctuary.? He desecrated the temple in Jerusalemand outlawed
?all sacrifices from 167 to 164 BC.
Now comes the key verse in Daniel chapter eight. ?Because of rebellion, the host of the
saints and the daily sacrifice were given over to it.? ?It? again refers to
the Seleucid power; specifically to Antiochus IV Epiphanes. God is telling his
people about the greatest persecution that will come upon them during the time ?
between the Testaments.? He tells them about these persecutions almost four
hundred years before they happen. The Lord tells ?the host of the saints? that
he will allow them to be persecuted, not because he has stopped loving them,
but rather because of their rebellion against him. This is bad news for Israel. One
would not expect that the faithful Israelites would be encouraged to know that
Antiochus, their greatest enemy will have ?prospered in everything he did,?
or that ?truth? would be ?thrown to the ground? (v. 12).
But, as in Daniel seven, God leaves those who will remain faithful to him a
cause for great hope, even in the midst of the most intense suffering and persecution.
At the end of the vision, as well as in the part of the chapter where the angel
Gabriel gives the interpretation, we see God?s promise that those who remain faithful
to the end will be vindicated. An angelic voice asks, ?How long will it take
for the vision to be fulfilled?the vision concerning the daily sacrifice, the
rebellion that causes desolation and the surrender of the sanctuary and the host
that will be trampled underfoot? (v. 13)? In other words, how long will the
extreme persecution of the Jews under Antiochus continue? The answer is given.
?It will take 2,300 evenings and mornings; then the sanctuary will be reconsecrated? (v.
14). The Biblical pattern is that God will allow his people to be persecuted,
but only for a limited time.
The duration of the persecution will be 2300 evenings and mornings. That is
1150 days, or just over three years. The Jehovah?s Witness religious group interprets
the 2300 evenings and weekends as 2300 years. From this assumption, and using
the date of Antiochus? desolation of the temple, they calculated the end of the
persecution to occur in 1914 AD. From this, they predicted that Jesus would
return to the Earth in the year 1914. How the Jehovah?s Witnesses dealt with
the apparent failure of this prediction is one of the interesting episodes in the
history of Christianity.
But returning to the 1150 days, the vision of Daniel is almost certainly referring
to the desecration of the Templein Jerusalemwhich was perpetrated by Antiochus
IV Epiphanes. This horrific event in the history of the Jews is recorded in
the apocryphal books of First and Second Maccabees, as well as by the Jewish historian
of the first century AD Josephus. More on this will be said later, but it will be
helpful to briefly summarize the events relevant to the vision of Daniel chapter
Unlike his predecessors, the Seleucid monarch Antiochus IV Epiphanes set out
on a policy of systematic persecution and Hellenization of the Jewish people.
As part of the attempt to suppress the unique Jewish culture and religion, Antiochus
had the temple in Jerusalemdesecrated in December 167 BC. He erected an idol
in the temple and even had a pig sacrificed there in the most blatant imaginable
affront to Jewish sensitivities. Sacrifice to God was specifically outlawed
during this time. Gross acts of immorality and drunkenness were committed on
the temple grounds. All this continued until the (partially) successful revolt
led by Judas Maccabeeus resulted in the retaking of the temple by Jewish rebels.
The temple was reconsecrated on December 25, 164 BC. The reconsecration of the
temple is one of the greatest moments in Jewish history. Jews remember it annually
everywhere in the festival known as Chanukah.
Returning to the vision, yes, the daily sacrifice was taken away, (v. 11,12),
but the desecration of the temple and the trampling of God?s people only lasted
for just over three years (2,300 evenings and mornings). Isn?t that amazing!
In the year 551 BC, God revealed to Daniel specifics of a persecution which occurred
in the years 167-164 BC. He even told Daniel how long the desecration of the
temple would last. Most often, a temporary persecution is described in the Bible
as lasting three and one-half years (time, times and half a time), but this
one is described as lasting just a bit more than three years. It just so happens
that Antiochus defiled the temple for just over three years. The desecration
of the temple began in early December 167 BC, while the reconsecration occurred on
December 25, 164 BC.
In the interpretation given to Daniel by the angel Gabriel, God provides a little
more information about the end of the persecution under Antiochus. While Daniel
was taking in the vision, a voice came from across the Ulai canal, saying ?Gabriel,
tell this man the meaning of t
he vision? (v. 16). Whose voice is this? Is it God
speaking? We do not know, but we do know that Gabriel obeyed the order. Daniel
is absolutely terrified at the sound of this awesome voice, so much so that
he falls to the ground, prostrate.
Gabriel tells Daniel that ?the vision concerns the time of the end? (v. 17).
The end of what? The end of the world? From the context, apparently not. Most
likely Gabriel is referring to the judgment of Antiochus IV Epiphanes and the
Greek persecutors. It is a common thing in apocalyptic language for God to refer
to a judgment on a people as an ?end.? In fact, Gabriel reveals to Daniel concerning
…a stern-faced king, a master of intrigue, will arise. He will become very
strong, but not by his own power. He will cause astounding devastation and will succeed
in whatever he does. He will destroy the mighty men and the holy people. He
will cause deceit to prosper, and he will consider himself superior. When they
feel secure, he will destroy many and take his stand against the Prince of princes. Y
et he will be destroyed, but not by human power (Daniel 8:23-25) (emphasis added).
So God reveals to Daniel through Gabriel that the Lord himself will allow Antiochus
to come to power and to use that power in an attempt to destroy the mighty men
of God and his holy people. However, that same God will rise up and destroy
the persecutor Antiochus. Here the theme of Daniel is graphically revealed once
again. God rules the nations: do not fear.
Three purposes of this vision come to mind. First, God is preparing his people
specifically to remain faithful under the persecution of Antiochus. When the
Jews during the time of the desecration of the temple read the account in Daniel,
they will see that the persecution will ultimately come to an end, and Antiochus
will be judged.
Second, God intends the message of faithfulness under the pressure of the world
to have a general application to all the readers of the Bible. The message to
us is that no matter what the outward appearance is, no matter the difficulty
encountered, no matter how much it may appear that God is not working in a particular
situation, God is in control. God may allow us to suffer. We might experience
suffering as a direct result of our own sin. In some cases, God will allow his
children to suffer in order to be tested and to grow. Perhaps both causes may
be involved. However, in the end, if we will remain faithful regardless of the
circumstances, God will vindicate us. In his love, he will never abandon his
Third, God is providing us with unassailable evidence that his Word is inspired. When
Daniel receives a vision which describes in great detail the future of the Persian/Median
Empire, of Alexander the Great, his empire and its successors, and most significantly
of the Seleucid persecutors, he leaves behind marks of inspiration which only the
most hardened skeptic can ignore.
Here is where the cynics and many theologians will step in. If there is one
thing they do not want to allow to enter our minds, it is the possibility that
the Bible is what it clearly says it is? the inspired Word of God. They simply
must come up with an explanation for all this. How could Daniel have known hundreds
of years beforehand about Alexander the Great, about the four dynasties which
succeeded him, and about the fifth dynasty which came up later out of the Ptolemaic
Dynasty? How could he have known so much about ?the distant future?? (v. 26)?
It is well beyond natural explanation that Daniel could have known about the
desecration of the temple and even the length of time it lasted. The prophecy
is simply too specific to ignore. No one can maintain their credibility and deny
that it is accurately describing the future history of Persia, of Alexander?s
empire and of Antiochus IV Epiphanes? persecution. So what can these people
The only logical alternative left to the Bible critic is to assume that Daniel
was written after the event. That is exactly what has been claimed. As mentioned
previously, theologians have attempted to demonstrate that the book of Daniel
was written about 150 BC. It has already been pointed out that their principal argument,
involving the language of the book, is fallacious. The language of Daniel strongly
supports the claim that it was written before 400 BC. In Daniel 8:26