Exposition of Daniel 8:1-8 How ancient events forecast our future

Daniel 8:1-8

1 In the third year of King Belshazzar’s reign, I, Daniel, had a vision, after the one that had already appeared to me. 2 In my vision I saw myself in the citadel of Susa in the province of Elam; in the vision I was beside the Ulai Canal. 3 I looked up, and there before me was a ram with two horns, standing beside the canal, and the horns were long. One of the horns was longer than the other but grew up later. 4 I watched the ram as it charged toward the west and the north and the south. No animal could stand against it, and none could rescue from its power. It did as it pleased and became great.

5 As I was thinking about this, suddenly a goat with a prominent horn between its eyes came from the west, crossing the whole earth without touching the ground. 6 It came toward the two-horned ram I had seen standing beside the canal and charged at it in great rage. 7 I saw it attack the ram furiously, striking the ram and shattering its two horns. The ram was powerless to stand against it; the goat knocked it to the ground and trampled on it, and none could rescue the ram from its power. 8 The goat became very great, but at the height of its power the large horn was broken off, and in its place four prominent horns grew up toward the four winds of heaven.

As we have said previously, the Bible is firmly anchored in history, and yet this history is presented along with its theological implications so that we can understand how our God influences history in both subtle and direct ways. Such is the case in Daniel 8. The revelations given to Daniel in “the third year of Belshazzar’s reign” (551 B.C.) informed him of international developments extending to at least 150 B.C., some 400 years later. That period would end with terrible persecution of God’s people.

While the then-future developments from 551 B.C. to 150 B.C. were certainly of interest to Daniel because of their effect on his people, that is not the main reason the prophetic visions were given. The angel ordered to explain the visions to Daniel said, “Understand that the vision concerns the time of the end” (verse 17). In other words, the events that developed through God’s intervention in the centuries just after Daniel’s time have direct bearing on how things will happen in “the time of the end” still in our future. For this reason, Jesus warned his disciples, “You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour you do not expect him” (Matthew 24:44).

In case we have not been clear, you may live through the still-future events that will resemble the now-past events shown to Daniel. Not because we say so but because Jesus warnned us to stay ready.

Alexander the Great crushes Medo-Persia

As the vision begins (verse 2), Daniel sees himself in Susa, a fortified city located 230 miles east of Babylon and 120 miles north of the Persian Gulf.[1] Susa has an interesting history[2], but we must ask ourselves why Daniel sees himself in a location other than Babylon; commentators essentially ignore the question. Our own theory is that the imagined transfer of Daniel to another place and time is symbolic of the transfer of the events revealed to Daniel to another place and time. What that means is that Daniel is shown events that will unfold over the next 400 years, but those events have implications that must be transferred to the “time of the end.” Examples will be provided below.

Daniel sees a ram with two long horns (verse 3), which we will soon find to represent “the kings of Media and Persia” (verse 20). One horn was longer but grew that way later; Media was initially dominant in the relationship — such as in 539 B.C. when Babylon fell and Darius the Mede took over — but later Persia became the larger and more prominent. The Persian Empire, sometimes called the Achaemenid Empire, existed from 550 B.C. to 330 B.C., a period of 320 years. During that time the Persian armies rolled over their enemies, from India to Greece and from (modern) Turkey to Egypt (verse 4). But these developments were not known in 551 B.C. when Daniel received this vision!

Daniel had not yet digested the vision of the ram when a male goat with a single prominent horn approached swiftly from the west (verse 5). We learn in verse 21 that the goat represents Greece, and the prominent horn is its first king, Alexander the Great, ruling from 336 B.C. to 323 B.C. For a time he simultaneously held the titles King of Macedonia, Pharaoh of Egypt, and King of Persia. Even though the Persian armies always outnumbered Alexander’s forces by a wide margin, he crushed the Persians in every battle. Daniel says, “None could rescue the ram [Persians and Medes] from its power” (verse 7).

Alexander unexpectedly died at the age of 32 in 323 B.C. in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar; “At the height of its power the large horn was broken off” (verse 8). Four of Alexander’s generals divided the vast empire. Chisholm explains: “Cassander ruled Macedonia, Lysimachus controlled Thrace and Asia Minor, Selucus was in charge of Syria, and Ptolemy took Egypt. This geographical diversity explains why the four horns are described as growing toward the four winds of heaven (v. 8b).”[3] Remember that none of this was known in 551 B.C. when Daniel saw the vision.

At this point in his life Daniel has seen Yahweh fulfill every element of the detailed dream given to Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4), including Nebuchadnezzar’s highly unlikely humbling and restoration to power. He knows that Yahweh has all kingdoms in his hands and can turn them as he wishes. The real question raised by these visions in chapter 8, which we know were fulfilled in detail, is this: Will we live our lives in full expectation that Yahweh will bring to pass those visions whose fulfillment still lies in our future? Best decide your answer now because what comes next maps from the past into our unknown future.

Copyright © 2014 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Wood, Daniel, 207.

[2] Miller, Daniel, 221, explains that the famous legal Code of Hammurabi was discovered in the ruins of Susa in 1901. Esther later served as queen in Susa in a palace that has been fully excavated.

[3] Chisholm, Handbook of the Prophets, 311.

Do you have an opinion or a different interpretation? Let me know!