Daniel 8 – The Ram with the Two Horns
In Daniel 8, we read about a vision Daniel had in the third year of the reign of King Belshazzar. The vision in Daniel 7 was two years before that. Daniel 7 and 8 should therefore be placed in the time between Daniel 4 and 5.
We don’t have books in the Bible which describe the history of the last few centuries before the coming of the Lord Jesus on earth – the inter-testamentary period. It is clear from the prophecies about that time period which Daniel receives in chapter 7 and 8 that God continues to work in those centuries. These visions are given to Daniel and to God’s people to encourage them. In chapter 7 we already read about the greater view of the period from the time of Daniel to the coming of the Lord Jesus.
Chapter 8 focuses especially on one part of that period. It is a part in which there will be a very hard time for God’s people, a time of persecution and of a vicious attack on the worship service. But this prophecy is meant to encourage God’s people: God allows it to happen, but God remains in control. The main persecutor, who wants to make himself equal to God (see v.11), will come to an end. Daniel 8 describes especially the Medo-Persian Empire, which is being defeated by the Greek Empire, and also the division of this Greek Empire into four parts.
The ram with the two horns
In Daniel 8:3 we read of a ram with two horns. This ram represents the Medo-Persian Empire. The Medes came to this area before Israel’s exile to Babylon. When in 586 BC the main part of the Jewish nation went into exile, Babylonia was still the world power, although the Medes were growing in strength. The Medes and the Persians were two peoples united in one empire, with the Medes dominant over the Persians.
In 550 BC Cyrus, a Persian, defeated his Median overlord and became king of the empire. He called himself “King of the World”. The dual nature of the kingdom is symbolized by the two horns; Cyrus becoming king is indicated by the horn that came up later and grew taller than the other.
The ram was charging westward and northward and southward. He came from the east and was expanding his empire to all sides. Cyrus first took Asia Minor, then northern and southern Mesopotamia. Subsequent rulers extended Medo-Persian control far to the East and the empire became larger than any empire before.
This empire was not destined to exist forever. Under God’s providence an empire from the west would come up. This empire is symbolized by the goat and represents Greece. The king of Greece is Alexander the Great, who is the horn between the eyes of the goat. Alexander reigned from 336 to 323 BC. He is famous for the enormous speed with which he could move his armies and often took his enemies by surprise. The male goat moved over the face of the earth, without even touching the ground, which symbolizes speed. Alexander went with his armies and trampled the Medo-Persian Empire, like the male goat trampled the ram with the two horns. Those who know the history of those days will recognize all the symbolism mentioned here, both of the ram as well as the male goat.
It is also symbolic that the great horn was broken at the climax of his strength. Alexander the Great was victorious in many battles: in 332 BC he defeated the Persian, Darius III; the same year he moved south and defeated the Phoenicians at Tyre, and went through Palestine to Egypt and conquered Egypt in 331 BC. Then he went north again to Nineveh and battled again with Darius III; consequently he moved farther east, all the way to India. Through these conquests Alexander the Great established an empire even greater than the Medo-Persian Empire. In Daniel 2:39 we read that this kingdom, the third kingdom, the one of bronze, would rule over all the earth. In 323 BC, when Alexander the Great was at the highest point of his power, he died in Babylon at the age of 33.
The four horns and the one horn
After Alexander died, his generals divided the empire among themselves into four parts, which are the four horns that emerged from goat. But with that, the time of glory of the Greek Empire started to come to an end. Then we see the little horn coming out of one of these four horns. It grew great, even to the host of heaven (meaning the sun, moon and stars, see Deuteronomy 17:3, but in a secondary sense it can refer to rulers who exalted themselves higher than the stars, see Isaiah 14:13) showing that this horn rises up against heaven. The LORD is God of hosts, He knows all the stars by name. This horn claims to be equal to God, that he can rise up against the host of heaven. But some of the kings before him had done the same and he threw them down and trampled on them (verse 13). This horn rises up from the Greek Empire and is different from the horn mentioned in Daniel 7. There, the horn rose from the ten horns and replaced three of those horns. Here it is from one of the four horns. The horn in Daniel 7 rose in the time of the Roman Empire (see the discussion in Daniel 7). This horn in Daniel 8 rose in the time of the four kingdoms of the Greek Empire and those who know the history of those days will recognize Antiochus IV Epiphanes in this horn.
This horn grew great. The horn threw down some of the host and some of the stars to the ground. It looks like he starts to have success in his rebellion, even against God Most High. It became great, even as great as the Prince of the host. The Prince of the host is God himself. The horn raises himself against God; he wants to show that he is god. He wants to show that he is stronger than God by destroying the worship service of God’s people.
Remember that Daniel received this vision when the people of the Jews were still in exile. The temple was not rebuilt yet. But now already, before the return from exile, before the temple is rebuilt, God shows to Daniel that even after the restoration of the temple and the worship service, the people will go through dark times. Antiochus IV Epiphanes, is known from the history books as a terrible ruler who did much evil to God’s people. In the verses 23-25 he is described as a very evil man. He not only harmed God's people, but he made deceit prosper under his hand. Without warning he destroyed many and he even rose up against the Prince of princes. In verse 11 and 12 we already read that the sacrifices will cease. Antiochus Epiphanes was the man who entered the temple of God, even the Most Holy Place and stole the silver and gold vessels. On the altar of God he erected an altar to the Greek god, Zeus. In the temple court, he even sacrificed pigs (unclean animals!) on the altar. That was an utter desecration of God’s temple.
Then we see in verses 14 and 25 that he will also come to his end. He wanted to be god but yet he remained mortal. He died of a physical/nervous disorder in 164 BC. He was not killed by human hands, but directly by God himself. Finally, in 164 BC, under the leadership of Judas Maccabeus, the temple was cleansed and rededicated.
The transgression that makes desolate
Verse 13 calls these terrible things that were going to happen to the worship service the “transgression that makes desolate”. In Daniel 9:27 and Daniel 11:31 we read again about the abomination and the one who makes desolate. Daniel 8:13 and Daniel 11:31 are initially fulfilled in Antiochus IV Epiphanes and his desecration of the temple and the worship service of God. In Mark 13, when the Lord Jesus speaks about the signs of the end of time, he mentions again the abomination that brings desolation. Read Mark 13:14; he refers back to these texts from Daniel. There the Lord Jesus meant in the first place the destruction of the temple in 70 AD.
Paul mentions in 2 Thessalonians 2 the man of lawlessness. (Read 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12.) What we read there about the man of lawlessness, is completely applicable to Antiochus IV Epiphanes, and we may assume that Paul remembered the prophecies of Daniel when he wrote this. But now Paul applies this to another man of lawlessness who still had to come in his days.
In Revelation 13 we read about the second beast, that very much acts like what is described in Daniel about Antiochus IV Epiphanes, and in 2 Thessalonians 2 about the man of lawlessness. Revelation 13 had a meaning for the Christians in those days, as had Mark 13 and 2 Thessalonians 2. At the same time they also have a message for us.
From this we must conclude that from time to time these prophesies about the man of lawlessness as well as the abomination that brings desolation, are fulfilled in certain specific persons or situations. It was Antiochus IV Epiphanes. It was the destruction of the temple in 70AD. In both instances it was part of the desolation that the temple was desecrated or even destroyed. But after the destruction of the temple, it does not stop. The man of lawlessness will continue to try to destroy the church, which is now the temple of God, and the worship service of God. Therefore also Nero and his ferocious persecution of the Christians can be considered as an abomination that brings desolation (especially the second beast in Revelation 13 is applicable to him). It can be many other powerful people in world history or the present time or the future who will use their power and try to stop, desecrate, mock and ridicule all that is part of the worship of God and all that is related to Christianity. We must see that the driving force behind this man of lawlessness and the abomination that brings desolation, is Satan. He worked in the past and continues to work in the present and the future. We must recognize his work; therefore we must well understand how he works. Too many “Christians” nowadays adore people or things that are being used by Satan to prepare for another man of lawlessness.
Numbers and symbols
Verse 14 speaks about 2300 evenings and mornings. Whether it means days, or evening and morning sacrifices, is not entirely clear. So it might be 2300 days, or 2300 sacrifices, which is 1150 days. It is difficult to say which explanation is correct. If we look at the history in the time of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the beginning of the persecution can be seen in many events, so both numbers are possible.
It is important in reading about numbers and symbols in visions, here in Daniel as well as in Revelation and other books of the Bible, to be very careful in explaining the numbers in a certain way. The numbers can be symbolical, or have a meaning which we don’t recognize anymore but the readers in those days did. It requires a lot of study to come to an understanding of the use of numbers and symbols in apocalyptic literature like the visions of Daniel, Ezekiel, and John in Revelation. Too often these numbers and symbols are explained by modern day Christians in ways that fit their own opinions about the end of times instead of carefully trying to discover what it is that God is telling us. Therefore, be very careful before you accept one explanation of these numbers and symbols as true.
- The transgression that makes desolate (see what is said about it in the outline): can you see the ‘man of lawlessness’ at work in our days? Where and how?
- The book of Daniel was given to Daniel and God’s people, not to tell them what will happen in the future, but to comfort and encourage them. It reveals certain things about the future, but it does not reveal a lot of other things. We can say that we also receive certain revelations about the future, in Mark 13, Matthew 24 and the book of Revelation. But that is not the main purpose of these Bible passages. What is the main purpose of these passages for the church?
- See Daniel 8:27: Daniel was quite upset and sick after he saw the vision. It was not a satisfaction of his curiosity, that he received this vision. Would you like to know more details about your future, or about the future of the church and Christianity? Why (or why not)? What should we know about that future and what does God reveal to us about that in the Bible?
- What should our response be when we see many prophesies of the Bible (Matthew 24, Mark 13, 2 Thessalonians 2, Revelation) being fulfilled in things happening in this world (disasters as well as the growing unbelief and hardening of heart among mankind)? See Matthew 24:36-44; Mark 13:13, 23; Revelation 22:6-16.