The Fierce King

In the second half of Chapter 8, Daniel receives the interpretation of his vision of the “Ram and the Goat.” In Chapter 7, only the first “Beast from the Sea,” the lion-like creature, could be identified with certainty, namely, the Neo-Babylonian Empire. In contrast, in the interpretation in Chapter 8, two of the four kingdoms are identified by name, the “Kingdom of the Medes and Persians” and “Greece.”

Acropolis - Photo by Cristina Gottardi on Unsplash
[Photo by Cristina Gottardi on Unsplash]

The interpreting angel is also identified by the name, “
Gabriel,” meaning, “my man is God.” This is the first time in Scripture that an angel is named. He will appear again in Daniel’s later visions and is one of several connecting links between the visions of chapters 8 and 10-11.

  • (Daniel 8:15-21) - And it came to pass, when I 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 who called and said, Gabriel, make this man to understand the vision.  So, he came near where I stood; and when he came, I was afraid 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 you* know what will be in the latter time of the indignation; for it belongs to the appointed time of the end. The ram which you saw with the two horns, they are the kings of Media and Persia. And the rough goat is the king of Greece: and the great horn that is between his eyes is the first king.”

THE RAM

The “Ram” represents the “Kingdom of the Medes and the Persians.” The symbol of a ram was common enough in Persian iconography, and Persian kings wore golden crowns resembling the head of rams.

The large single horn on the “Goat” represents the first great king of Greece who overthrew the "Kingdom of the Medes and the Persians,” and that could only be Alexander the Great.

The “vision is for a time of an end.” The phrase does not necessarily mean the end of history. It is a generic reference to the “end” of something, whether an era or an event. Most likely, in this context it refers to the “end” of the Desecration of the Sanctuary, the “end of the Indignation.”

The Ram’s shorter horn represents the Kingdom of the “Medes.” Initially, it was stronger than Persia. It emerged as a major power after the downfall of the Assyrian Empire which left four key players remaining in the region - Babylon, Lydia, Egypt, and the Medes.  The higher horn symbolizes Persia. Under Cyrus the Great, it annexed the kingdom of the Medes.

Persia became the dominant half of that alliance. This historical reality is also portrayed in Chapter 7 by the image of the “Bear” with one side raised higher than the other. Consistently in Daniel, the Medes and Persians are named together as a single realm, the “Kingdom of the Medes and Persians” - (Daniel 5:28, 7:4-5, 8:20).

The “Ram” that pushed “westward and northward and southward” and the “Bear” that had three ribs in its mouth both symbolize the conquests of the “Medes and Persians” over Mesopotamia (Babylon), Asia Minor (Lydia), and Egypt. Thus, the second “Beast from the Sea” in Chapter 7, the “Bear,” is the Kingdom of the Medes and Persians.

  • (Daniel 8:21-22) – “And the rough goat is the king of Greece: and the great horn that is between his eyes is the first king. And as for that which was broken, in the place whereof four stood up, four kingdoms shall stand up out of the nation, but not with his power.”

GREECE

The “prominent horn” of the Goat represents the first “great king” of Greece who conquered the “Ram.” The four lesser horns that appeared after the first horn was broken represent the “four kingdoms that shall stand up out of the nation, but not in his power.”

As stated previously, this “first king” is Alexander the Great. In 334 B.C., he led a Greco-Macedonian force against the Persian Empire and struck the fatal blow that brought down the Persian kingdom at the battle of Gaugamela in 331 B.C.

His rapid conquest of the Persian Empire is portrayed by the “Goat from the west” that rushed swiftly into the “Ram and cast him down to the ground.” The same swiftness was represented by the two pairs of wings seen previously on the “leopard” with four heads - (Daniel 7:6).

Alexander established a Hellenic domain that stretched from Greece to the Indus River valley in India. He died suddenly in 323 B.C., an event represented by the broken horn (“when he was strong, the great horn was broken”). After his death, the Empire was divided into four lesser kingdoms ruled by four of his generals.

The division into four smaller domains is represented by the four “lesser horns” that rose up after the Goat’s great horn was broken, and by the four “heads” of the “leopard” in Chapter 7. The fourfold division of the Greek empire is described again in the last vision of Daniel - (Daniel 11:1-4).

EGYPT AND SYRIA

Two of the lesser kingdoms played significant roles in the history of Judea: The Ptolemaic kingdom in Egypt (305-30 B.C.), and the Seleucid empire based in Syria (312-63 B.C.) - (Daniel 8:23-25).

The passage refers to the “latter part of their kingdom.” This describes a later time in the histories of the four “lesser” kingdoms when “transgressions have filled up their measure” and a “king of fierce countenance” appeared. The text does not state from which of the four kingdoms this ruler originated, but he could only be from either the Seleucid or the Ptolemaic kingdom - (Syria and Egypt, respectively).

His power was “mighty but not through his own strength,” a likely allusion to the purpose of Yahweh at work behind the scenes. The “Little Horn” in Chapter 7 had “a mouth speaking great things,” and similarly, the king of “fierce countenance” was “skillful in dissimulation.”

Previously, the “little horn made war with the saints and prevailed against them.” In Chapter 8, the “king of fierce countenance” destroyed the “people of the saints.” In Chapter 7, the “Little Horn” spoke “words against the Most-High,” just as the “fierce king” stood against the “Prince of princes” in Chapter 8.

The “Little Horn” strove “to change times and law, and they were given into his hand for a season, seasons, and the dividing of a season,” and so, the “Little Horn” in Chapter 8 removed the daily sacrifice and profaned the Sanctuary for an “appointed season” - (Daniel 7:21-26, 8:12-14).

And in Chapter 8, the “Little Horn” caused “the host of the heavens” and the stars to fall to the earth and “trampled them underfoot.” Human enemies of God do not have access to heaven and are in no position to expel angels. This assault is interpreted by Gabriel as the king’s destruction of the “mighty ones and the people of saints.”

WHEN TRANSGRESSIONS ARE FULL

The “transgressions have filled up their measure.” This refers to the iniquities of the Jewish nation. The Hebrew term is a participle in the plural number and has a definite article - “the transgressors.” It is related to the noun pesha’ used in verses 12-13 of Chapter 8 for the “Transgression that Desolates.”

The “transgressions” refers to the accumulated sins that necessitated judgment in the form of the assault on the saints by this fierce king (“When the transgressions have filled up their measure, there will stand up a king of fierce countenance”). Thus, the desecration of the Temple was the result of this king’s rise to power, but ultimately, it constituted divine punishment on the Jewish nation for its sins.

This understanding is borne out by the preceding question and answer between the two angels. The removal of the daily sacrifice and the profanation of the Temple would continue until the end of the appointed time, then the “Sanctuary” would be “cleansed.” The filling up of sins to a predetermined level suggests divine purpose was at work. Transgression must run its course until a determined point of judgment.

The “Little Horn” was responsible for the removal of the daily sacrifice and the profanation of the “Sanctuary” (“because of him was taken away the daily burnt offering”). However, in the larger picture, he was a tool of judgment for the purification of the saints.

The identifications of the “Ram and the Goat” explain the earlier references to “Susa” and “Ulai.” Daniel received the vision during the last stages of the Babylonian Empire prior to its overthrow by the “Medes and Persians.” The center of the World Empire would shift to Persia, and then to the Greek world.

Thus, the “Little Horn” in Chapter 8 is identical to the “Little Horn” of the “Fourth Beast.” In Chapter 7, it devoured all the earth, “trampled it down and broke it in pieces.” Ironically, the “king of fierce countenance” himself was “broken in pieces without hands,” implying divine judgment. What he inflicted on the “saints” was inflicted 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, a future time. He was confounded by what he saw and heard, and no one was able to decipher it for him. The chapter concludes with Daniel being “sick for days.”


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