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31 December 2018

Interpretation of the Ram and Goat (Daniel 8:15-27)

Antiochus IV
In the vision of the four beasts from the sea, only the first beast can be identified with certainty, Babylon (Daniel 7:1-8). Not one of the four is explicitly named, though each represents a “kingdom.” In the interpretation of the next vision, two of the four kingdoms are identified by name (8:20-21).
The Ram with two horns represents the “kings of the Medes and the Persians.” This sheds light on the symbolism of the ram.
          A ram was used in Persian iconography and at times the king wore a crown with the appearance of a golden ram’s head. The large horn on the goat represents the first and greatest king of Greece who overthrew the "kingdom of the Medes and the Persians."

The previous vision was interpreted by an angel, and so also the present one (Daniel 7:15-27).

The difference is that the interpreting angel is identified by name, Gabriel. Daniel sees a figure in appearance like a man and hears a voice call to the figure identified as Gabriel, who is to reveal the vision. ‘Gabriel,’ the one “like a man,” ironically means “my man is God.” This is the first time in scripture an angel is named.
(Daniel 8:15-20) - “And it came to pass, when I, even I Daniel, had seen the vision, that I sought to understand it; and, behold, there stood before me as the appearance of a man. And I heard a man’s voice between the banks of the Ulai, which called and said, Gabriel, make this man to understand the vision. So he came near where I stood; and when he came, I was affrighted, and fell upon my face: but he said to me, Understand, O son of man; for the vision belongs to the time of the end. Now as he was speaking with me, I fell into a deep sleep with my face toward the ground; but he touched me and set me upright. And he said, Behold, I will make thee know what shall be in the last end of the indignation: for at the time appointed the end shall be. The ram which thou saw having two horns are the kings of Media and Persia.”
The clause, “for the vision belongs to the time of the end,” more correctly reads, “the vision is for a time of an end.” The phrase is ambiguous and does not necessarily mean “last days” or the end of all things. It is a generic description of the end of something, whether a period of time or an event.
In view is the end of the Sanctuary’s desecration and its restoration, which occur after two thousand three hundred evenings-mornings. Verse 19 confirms that “a time of an end” refers to the “end of the indignation,” the attack unleashed by the “little horn.”
The ram’s shorter horn represents the initially stronger kingdom of Media, which emerged as a major regional power after the fall of the Assyrian Empire. The downfall of Assyria left four key players in the region: Babylon, Lydia, Egypt, and Media. The Medes were an Indo-European people based in what is today central and western Iran. At its height, the Median Empire stretched from Iran in the east to the Halys River in Asia Minor.
The Ram’s second and higher horn symbolizes Persia.  The Persians were closely related to the Medes and Persia’s greatest king, Cyrus the Great. He was related to the royal house of Media on his mother’s side. Persia, also known as Anshan, was a small kingdom located near the eastern Persian Gulf.  Cyrus was installed as king in 559 BC as a vassal to the Median king.
In 553 BC, Cyrus rebelled and in 550 achieved a decisive military victory over a much larger Median force. Having defeated Medians, Cyrus assigned himself the title “king of the Medes” and annexed Media to his kingdom. Almost overnight Persia was transformed into a vast regional empire stretching from the Persian Gulf to Asia Minor and the shore of the Aegean Sea.
Cyrus expanded his empire by conquering the kingdoms of Lydia to the north and Babylon to the west (539 BC). He died in 530 BC and was succeeded by his son, Cambyses II, who went on to conquer Egypt and Nubia in the south (8:4, “the ram was pushing westward and northward and southward”).
Persia was the more dominant half of the “Medes and Persians,” the higher horn that rose up after the first one. This is also portrayed in the second of the four beasts from the sea, the bear with one side raised higher than the other (7:5). Consistently in Daniel, the “Medes and Persians” are presented together as a single kingdom (Daniel 5:28; 8:20).
The ram pushing “westward and northward and southward” (8:4), as well as the bear grasping three ribs in its mouth (7:5), portray the conquest by Persia of Mesopotamia (Babylon), Asia Minor (Lydia) and Egypt. This confirms that the second beast or “bear” in Daniel 7:5 represents the kingdom of the Medes and Persians.
(8:21-22) - “And the rough goat is the king of Grecia: and the great horn that is between his eyes is the first king. Now that being broken, whereas four stood up for it, four kingdoms shall stand up out of the nation, but not in his power.”
The Goat is identified as the “king of Greece” and its “prominent horn” its first king. The four lesser horns that stand up after the prominent horn is broken symbolize “four kingdoms that shall stand up out of the nation, but not in his power”, that is, not in the same power or dignity as the first king.
The “first king” can only be Alexander the Great. In 334 BC he led a Greco-Macedonian force east to attack the Persian Empire. In rapid succession Alexander defeated several Persian armies, first at the Battle of Granicus (334 BC), then at Issus (333 BC), with a final victory over an army led by Darius III at Gaugamela east of the Tigris River(331 BC). This last one effectively ended the Persian Empire.
Alexander’s rapid conquest of Persia is portrayed graphically by the he-Goat “from the west” that moves swiftly and rushes into the Ram to “casts him down to the ground.” This swiftness of movement is also represented by the four wings of the beast “like a leopard,” the third beast from the sea (7:6).
Over the next several years Alexander consolidated and expanded his conquests, establishing a Hellenic domain that stretched from Greece in the west to the Indus River valley in northern India in the east. He died suddenly in 323 BC, which is represented by the broken horn, “when he was strong the great horn was broken” (8:8). His death was followed by twenty years of internal conflict and the intermittent civil war fought between contenders for the succession. Finally, this vast empire was divided into four lesser domains ruled by four of Alexander’s surviving generals.
The division into four lesser kingdoms is represented by the four lesser horns of the Goat and the four heads of the leopard, the third beast from the sea (7:1-8). Two of the kingdoms became significant regional forces for the next several hundred years that played significant roles in the history of Judea, the Ptolemaic kingdom in Egypt (305-30 BC) and the Seleucid empire in Syria (312-63 BC).
(8:23-25) – “But in the aftertime of their kingdom, when transgressions have filled up their measure, there will stand up a king of fierce countenance and skillful in dissimulation; and his strength will be mighty but not through his own strength, and wonderfully will he destroy, and succeed and act with effect, and will destroy mighty ones and the people of saints; and by his cunning will he both cause deceit to succeed in his hand, and in his own heart will he show himself to be great, and by their careless security will he destroy many, and against the prince of princes will he stand up, but without hand shall be broken in pieces.”
The “latter part of their kingdom” refers to a later time in the lives of the four lesser kingdoms, a time when “transgressions have filled up their measure.” Then a king of fierce countenance will arrive. The text does not state from which of the four kingdoms this ruler originates, but he could only be from either the Seleucid or Ptolemaic kingdom.

This king’s strength will be “mighty but not through his own strength,” a likely allusion God’s purpose at work despite this king’s machinations.

The “little horn” in Daniel 7:9 has “a mouth speaking great things.” Similarly, this king of fierce countenance is “skillful in dissimulation.” The “little horn” of Daniel 7:21 “made war with the saints and prevailed against them,” just as the “king of fierce countenance” is to destroy the “people of the saints.” The “little horn” speaks “words against the Most High” (7:25), just as the fierce king stands up against “the Prince of princes”.
The “little horn” strives “to change times and law, and they will be given into his hand for a season and seasons and the dividing of a season” (7:25-26), just as the “little horn” in Daniel 8:12-14 was able to remove the daily sacrifice and profane the Sanctuary for an appointed time.
In Daniel 8:8-14, the “little horn” causes “the host of the heavens” and the stars to fall to the earth where it “trampled them underfoot.” Human enemies of God cannot gain access to heaven; they are in no position to expel and cast down angels. This assault against the “host of heaven” is interpreted as the fierce king’s destruction of the “mighty ones and the people of saints.”
The “transgressions have filled up their measure.” This may refer to the transgressions of the pagan king, the iniquities of the Jewish nation, or both. The Hebrew term is a participle form of the verb pasha’(פשע), here plural and with the definite article or “the transgressors.” It is related to the noun pesha’ in verses 12-13 for “transgression,” but in verse 23 the plural participle may not refer to the same thing.
In verses 12 and 13 “transgression” refers to the act of the “little horn” against the daily sacrifice and Sanctuary. However, in verse 23 “the transgressions” refer to accumulated sin that necessitates the assault by the fierce king (i.e., “when the transgressions have filled up their measure there will stand up a king of fierce countenance”). The desecration of the Sanctuary is the result of this king’s rise to power but ultimately constitutes Divine punishment for sin.
This line of interpretation is borne out by the previous question and answer between the two angels (8:13-14). The removal of the daily sacrifice and the profanation of the Temple continue until the end of the appointed time, and then the Sanctuary is cleansed.
The notion of filling up sins to a designated level suggests Divine purpose at work. Transgression must run its course until a determined point of judgment and vindication.
In verses 11-14, the “little horn” is held responsible for the removal of the daily sacrifice and profanation of the Sanctuary (“because of him was taken away the daily burnt offering”). But in the larger picture, it is a tool of judgment for the purpose of purgation, not annihilation.
The identifications of the Ram and Goat also explain the earlier geographical references to Susa and the River Ulai (8:2). Daniel received this vision during the last phase of the Babylonian Empire. The center of world power would soon be transferred to Persia, then to the Greek world.
In short, Daniel 8:23-25 has the same figure in view as the “little horn” of the fourth beast and further explicates it. In 7:23 the “little horn” devours all the earth, “tramples it down and breaks it in pieces.” In an ironic twist, the king of fierce countenance is “broken in pieces without hands,” implying Divine judgment. What he afflicted on Israelites in turn afflicted on him.
The interpretation of the vision concludes with Daniel being told to “close up the vision because it is for many days,” that is, for a time at some distance from his day. Daniel is confounded by what he has just seen and heard, and no one else is able to decipher it. The chapter ends with Daniel “sick for days.”
Daniel 8 the New Testament
The only verbal allusion to this chapter in the New Testament is in Revelation 12:4, “the Dragon drew the third part of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth.” This draws on Daniel 8:10 where the “little horn waxed great, even to the host of heaven; and some of the host and of the stars it cast down to the earth.”
In the interpretation of Daniel’s vision, the “host of heaven” and the “stars” symbolize saints cast down by the little horn, either their destruction or apostasy. This may shed light on the identity of the “stars of heaven” cast down by the Dragon.

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