Daniel 8: The Vision of a Ram and a Goat

The eighth chapter of Daniel features an astounding vision of a male sheep and a male goat. What did this vision represent, and is it relevant for us today?

The vision recorded in Daniel 8 came to the prophet in the third year of the reign of King Belshazzar of Babylon (553-554 B.C.). This was just two years after Daniel’s vision of four beasts and a little horn recorded in Daniel 7. As was the case with the previous vision, Daniel didn’t fully understand the significance of what he was seeing (Daniel 7:19, 28). This vision concludes with Daniel saying, “I was astonished by the vision, but no one understood it” (Daniel 8:27).

If Daniel didn’t understand it in the sixth century B.C., can it be understood today?

Actually, the meaning of a portion of this vision was revealed to Daniel (Daniel 8:20), but some of it apparently remained unclear to him. The precise details of the future that the vision foretold did not seem to make sense to him in his generation.

Today we can understand the vision more fully since it has been revealed to us by God in three ways: (1) through the archangel Gabriel speaking to Daniel, (2) through other prophecies that speak of the same subject and (3) through historical fulfillment.

As we will see, this vision is similar in some ways to the vision recorded in Daniel 7. But this vision provides additional details, especially regarding the second and third kingdoms of the four described in Daniel 7.

The ram with two horns

Daniel 8:3-4 describes a ram with two horns. Interestingly, one horn grew higher than the other. In verse 20 the archangel Gabriel tells Daniel that the ram with two horns represents the “kings of Media and Persia.” Historically, Persia represented the “higher” horn since it was the dominant power of the Medo-Persian Empire.

This aspect of the vision is a restatement of what had been revealed about the second beast in the previous chapter. Speaking of this second world-dominating power, Daniel 7:5 says, “It was raised up on one side.” The Persian side was higher than the side representing Media. The vision of the second beast in Daniel 7:5 and the ram in Daniel 8:3, 20 both describe the stronger Persian leadership of the Medo-Persian Empire.

In Daniel 8:4 this empire is portrayed as spreading and conquering in three directions from its capital of Shushan or Susa in Persia. Its first king, Cyrus the Great, was prophesied by name in the book of Isaiah, and we are told what he would accomplish 150 years before his birth (Isaiah 44:28; 45:1-4). Persia’s fourth king was Xerxes I, whose queen, as revealed in the Bible, was Esther (Daniel 11:2; Esther 2:16-18).

The goat conquers the ram

In Daniel 8:5-7 a male goat with a large horn between his eyes suddenly arises from the west and smashes both horns of the ram. The angel Gabriel tells Daniel this goat represents the kingdom of Greece and its large horn is its first king, which would be shown by later history to be Alexander the Great (Daniel 8:21). After over 200 years of rule, the Medo-Persian Empire came to an end in 331 B.C.

This prophecy of a male goat, which represents the same kingdom as the third beast of Daniel 7, takes an unusual turn in verse 8. The large horn being broken represents Alexander’s untimely death at the young age of 33. Shortly after conquering all lands from Greece to India, Alexander died. His kingdom was divided into four weaker kingdoms (Daniel 8:8, 22).  

Historically, the four divisions were (1) Greece and Macedonia, ruled by Cassander; (2) Asia Minor, ruled by Lysimachus; (3) Egypt and Palestine, ruled by Ptolemy Soter; and (4) Syria, Babylonia and east to India, ruled by Seleucus Nicator. The remainder of the prophecy then focuses on an event that was fulfilled once before the first coming of Jesus Christ and will be repeated on a far greater scale before His second coming, also described in our article on the "Abomination of Desolation."

The dual meaning of the abomination of desolation

Jesus’ only reference to the book of Daniel is to a future “abomination of desolation” (Matthew 24:15; Mark 13:14). But beginning in Daniel 8:9 we have a prophecy of an abomination of desolation that was historically fulfilled in the 160s B.C. Clearly, there was to be more than one abomination of desolation and the prophetic descriptions given in Daniel were meant to have a dual meaning.

In Daniel 8:9 the first abomination would come from a “little horn” that would arise out of the division of the “large horn” that was broken (verse 8). The “large horn” represented Greece and Alexander the Great (verse 21-22). In contrast to the “little horn” of Daniel 7:8, which accompanied the 10 horns of the fourth kingdom (the Roman Empire), the “little horn” of Daniel 8:9 represents a leader that would come out of one of the divisions of Alexander’s Empire (also compare Daniel 11:15, 21). Even though these little horns of Daniel 7 and 8 are different individuals or leaders, they have one major thing in common: they persecute God’s people.

This “little horn” of Daniel 8:9 would do incredibly evil things to the Jewish people and the temple site in Jerusalem (Daniel 11:29-31). This “little horn” would turn out to be Antiochus IV Epiphanes of the Seleucid Empire, also called “the king of the North.”

The verses that describe this abomination (Daniel 8:9-14) are dual in meaning. For example, verse 11 says, “He even exalted himself as high as the Prince of the host.” Verse 25 adds: “He shall even rise against the Prince of princes.” The “Prince” in both verses is Jesus Christ. Anciently, Antiochus IV fulfilled the first abomination. At the time of the end one who will be a type of the “little horn” of verse 9 will follow in Antiochus’ footsteps (2 Thessalonians 2:4). The latter will actually be a fulfillment of the “little horn” of Daniel 7:8.

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary explains the gravity of Antiochus’ exploits: “It should be observed that the title ‘Epiphanes’ (‘the Illustrious One’) also carries the meaning of ‘very evident’ or ‘manifest.’ From his coins we know that he linked up this Epiphanes with the added title Theos (‘God’). Thus the two in combination meant ‘Illustrious God,’ or else ‘God Manifest.’”

Daniel was praying and seeking the meaning of the vision recorded in Daniel 8 when the angel Gabriel was sent to explain it to him (verses 15-17). Gabriel said he had come to make known to Daniel what would happen in the “latter time of the indignation” (verse 19).The apostle Paul understood from Daniel 8, 11 and 12 that such an individual would also come before Christ’s return (Expositor’s, Vol. 7, p.136, comment on 2 Thessalonians 2:4-12).

He shall take away the daily sacrifices

In the vision Daniel saw that the daily sacrifices would be opposed by the “little horn,” and he was told that this opposition would last for “2,300 days,” which would be 2,300 evenings and mornings (center margin) before it would be cleansed (Daniel 8:12-14). The evenings and mornings represent the evening and morning sacrifices, a total of 1,150 days before the temple would be cleansed.

The Jewish historian Josephus writes, “So on the five and twentieth day of the month Casleu [Kislev], which the Macedonians call Apelleus, they lighted the lamps that were on the candlestick, and offered incense upon the altar [of incense]. … Now it so fell out, that these things were done on the very same day on which their divine worship had fallen off, and was reduced to a profane and common use, after three years’ time; for so it was, that the temple was made desolate by Antiochus, and so continued for three years” (Antiquities of the Jews, 12:7:6).

Josephus goes on to say, “And this desolation came to pass according to the prophecy of Daniel, which was given four hundred and eight years before” (ibid., 12:7:7). Judas Maccabaeus, who led the Jews in the retaking of Jerusalem, celebrated a festival for eight days and “from that time to this we celebrate this festival, and call it Lights” (ibid.). This festival is called Hanukkah today.

The 1,150 days is 70 days longer than three prophetic years (360 x 3 = 1,080). Determining the precise beginning and conclusion of this span of time has proven difficult. The 1,150 days may apply only to the first abomination, or it may have a fulfillment in the end-time abomination as well.

The vision is interpreted for Daniel

Daniel was praying and seeking the meaning of the vision recorded in Daniel 8 when the angel Gabriel was sent to explain it to him (verses 15-17). Gabriel said he had come to make known to Daniel what would happen in the “latter time of the indignation” (verse 19). He then explained the meaning of the ram and the goat, identifying them as the “kings of Media and Persia” and “the kingdom of Greece” (verses 20-21).

Verses 23-26 are a repeat of verses 9-14, but with more emphasis on the final abomination of desolation. There is again a dualism in verses 23-25 that applied to Antiochus anciently, but now points to the final fulfillment spoken of by Christ in Matthew 24:15.

Speaking of this end-time persecutor, Daniel 8:25 notes: “He shall even rise against the Prince of princes [Christ]; but he shall be broken without human means.” This is very similar to the interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream where Christ, “the stone [that] was cut out of the mountain without hands,” destroys the final kingdom and the abomination it will have caused (Daniel 2:44-45).

Though part of the vision of Daniel 8 has been fulfilled historically, Daniel was told to “seal up the vision, for it refers to many days in the future” (Daniel 8:26). He was told to do the same concerning the vision of the Great Tribulation and the time of the end (Daniel 12:1-4, 9). The same command to “seal up the vision” or “shut up the words” given in both chapters indicates that the sections of these chapters are meant for the same end-time period.

“When you see the abomination of desolation”

One of Christ’s important warnings to His disciples and us today is taken directly from the book of Daniel. This warning was to take note of the “abomination of desolation” when it would stand in the holy place (Matthew 24:15; Mark 13:14). Today we find ourselves living in the end times when many of these prophecies will begin to be fulfilled.

About the Author

Jim Haeffele

Jim Haeffele

Jim Haeffele is a church pastor in the Church of God, a Worldwide Association. He currently pastors congregations in Fort Myers, Miami and West Palm Beach, Florida. He has served in the ministry of the Church of God for over 46 years. During those years he and his wife, Lois, have served congregations from Portland, Oregon, where he grew up, to Utah, Ohio, North Carolina, and now Florida.

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