Commentary on Daniel 8

Last updated: March 9, 2010

English Translation (ESV)

1 In the third year of the reign of King Belshazzar a vision appeared to me, Daniel, after that which appeared to me at the first. 2 And I saw in the vision; and when I saw, I was in Susa the capital, which is in the province of Elam. And I saw in the vision, and I was at the Ulai canal. 3 I raised my eyes and saw, and behold, a ram standing on the bank of the canal. It had two horns, and both horns were high, but one was higher than the other, and the higher one came up last. 4 I saw the ram charging westward and northward and southward. No beast could stand before him, and there was no one who could rescue from his power. He did as he pleased and became great.

5 As I was considering, behold, a male goat came from the west across the face of the whole earth, without touching the ground. And the goat had a conspicuous horn between his eyes. 6 He came to the ram with the two horns, which I had seen standing on the bank of the canal, and he ran at him in his powerful wrath. 7 I saw him come close to the ram, and he was enraged against him and struck the ram and broke his two horns. And the ram had no power to stand before him, but he cast him down to the ground and trampled on him. And there was no one who could rescue the ram from his power. 8 Then the goat became exceedingly great, but when he was strong, the great horn was broken, and instead of it there came up four conspicuous horns toward the four winds of heaven.

9 Out of one of them came a little horn, which grew exceedingly great toward the south, toward the east, and toward the glorious land. 10 It grew great, even to the host of heaven. And some of the host and some of the stars it threw down to the ground and trampled on them. 11 It became great, even as great as the Prince of the host. And the regular burnt offering was taken away from him, and the place of his sanctuary was overthrown. 12 And a host will be given over to it together with the regular burnt offering because of transgression, and it will throw truth to the ground, and it will act and prosper. 13 Then I heard a holy one speaking, and another holy one said to the one who spoke, “For how long is the vision concerning the regular burnt offering, the transgression that makes desolate, and the giving over of the sanctuary and host to be trampled underfoot?” 14 And he said to me, “For 2,300 evenings and mornings. Then the sanctuary shall be restored to its rightful state.”

15 When I, Daniel, had seen the vision, I sought to understand it. And behold, there stood before me one having the appearance of a man. 16 And I heard a man’s voice between the banks of the Ulai, and it called, “Gabriel, make this man understand the vision.” 17 So he came near where I stood. And when he came, I was frightened and fell on my face. But he said to me, “Understand, O son of man, that the vision is for the time of the end.”

18 And when he had spoken to me, I fell into a deep sleep with my face to the ground. But he touched me and made me stand up. 19 He said, “Behold, I will make known to you what shall be at the latter end of the indignation, for it refers to the appointed time of the end. 20 As for the ram that you saw with the two horns, these are the kings of Media and Persia. 21 And the goat is the king of Greece. And the great horn between his eyes is the first king. 22 As for the horn that was broken, in place of which four others arose, four kingdoms shall arise from his nation, but not with his power. 23 And at the latter end of their kingdom, when the transgressors have reached their limit, a king of bold face, one who understands riddles, shall arise. 24 His power shall be great—but not by his own power; and he shall cause fearful destruction and shall succeed in what he does, and destroy mighty men and the people who are the saints. 25 By his cunning he shall make deceit prosper under his hand, and in his own mind he shall become great. Without warning he shall destroy many. And he shall even rise up against the Prince of princes, and he shall be broken—but by no human hand. 26 The vision of the evenings and the mornings that has been told is true, but seal up the vision, for it refers to many days from now.”

27 And I, Daniel, was overcome and lay sick for some days. Then I rose and went about the king’s business, but I was appalled by the vision and did not understand it.

Notes

1 In the third year of the reign of King Belshazzar a vision appeared to me, Daniel, after that which appeared to me at the first.

The text of Daniel now reverts back to Hebrew from Aramaic and continues in Hebrew until the end of the book. This vision occurred two years after the previous vision (ch 7), which is referred to by the phrase “after that which appeared to me at first.”

2 And I saw in the vision; and when I saw, I was in Susa the capital, which is in the province of Elam. And I saw in the vision, and I was at the Ulai canal.

The phrase “in the citadel of Susa” may mean either that Daniel saw himself in Susa merely in vision or that he was present physically in that city when he received the vision. Josephus and some modern commentators follow the latter view. Most, however, think that the prophet was described as being in Susa only in vision, and the latter part of the verse supports this idea. Moreover, v. 27 relates that Daniel was able to go “about the king’s business” after a few days’ rest, which also suggests that he was in Babylon, over two hundred miles away. Ezekiel had similar visionary experiences in which he was physically present in Babylon and yet was transported in spirit to the land of Israel (cf. Ezek 8-11; 40-48).

In the Old Testament, Hebrew bira (“citadel”) may denote a palace (1 Chr 29:1, 19), a fortress within a city (Neh 2:8), or most commonly the city itself as a fortress. Goldingay points out that the term is in apposition to Susa, thus denoting Susa as a fortress-city (cf. Neh 1:1; Esth 1:2).

Susa (Heb. susan, called Susa by the Greeks) was located about 220 miles east of Babylon and 150 miles north of the Persian Gulf. At the time of Daniel’s vision it was the capital of Elam and later became one of the Medo-Persian royal cities (cf. Neh 1:1 and 2:1; Esth 1:2). Susa was used as a winter residence by the Persian kings and was made the administrative capital of the empire by Darius I in 521 B.C. Darius also built a beautiful palace there. In 1901 archaeologists discovered the famous Code of Hammurapi in Susa. This outstanding find had been taken from Babylon to Susa by the Elamites probably in the thirteenth century B.C. According to Scripture, both Esther and Nehemiah lived in Susa, and Daniel probably had visited the city on official business. Some have located Daniel’s tomb in Susa, but there is no evidence to support this claim.

Elam, later called Susiana, was northeast of the Lower Tigris area in what is now Iran. The Ulai Canal, known classically as the Eulaeus, was about nine hundred feet wide and passed close to Susa on the northeast. Today the canal is dry.1

3 I raised my eyes and saw, and behold, a ram standing on the bank of the canal. It had two horns, and both horns were high, but one was higher than the other, and the higher one came up last.

The ram represents the kings of Media and Persia (v 20). “Persia entered the world stage later than Media but ultimately played a more major part.”2 “Before Cyrus came to power, Media already was a major force, while Persia was a small country holding less than fifty thousand square miles of territory. But Cyrus succeeded in gaining control of powerful Media to the north (ca. 550 B.C.) and then made Persia the more important of the two states. With these nations united, he established the vast Medo-Persian Empire.”3

4 I saw the ram charging westward and northward and southward. No beast could stand before him, and there was no one who could rescue from his power. He did as he pleased and became great.

The Medo-Persian Empire conquered to the west (Babylonia, Syria, Asia Minor, raids in Greece), to the north (Armenia, Scythia, Caspian Sea region), and to the south (Egypt, Ethiopia).4

5 As I was considering, behold, a male goat came from the west across the face of the whole earth, without touching the ground. And the goat had a conspicuous horn between his eyes.

The goat represents the Greek Empire and the horn represents its first king, Alexander the Great (vv 8, 21). That the goat moved without touching the ground symbolizes the speed with which Alexander conquered.

6 He came to the ram with the two horns, which I had seen standing on the bank of the canal, and he ran at him in his powerful wrath.

The goat charging the ram in a fit of “great rage” (v. 6) aptly describes Alexander’s assault on the Persian Empire. Hatred for the Persians had grown steadily since the time of Cyrus due to constant quarreling and fighting between Persia and Greece, and the Greeks were especially bitter over the invasions of Darius I (490 B.C.) and his son, Xerxes I (480 B.C.). Alexander determined to avenge the assaults on his homeland, and v. 7 graphically portrays the utter defeat of the Persian armies at the hands of the Greek forces.5

7 I saw him come close to the ram, and he was enraged against him and struck the ram and broke his two horns. And the ram had no power to stand before him, but he cast him down to the ground and trampled on him. And there was no one who could rescue the ram from his power.

Alexander the Great was one of the great military strategists of history. He was born in 356 B.C., the son of the great conqueror in his own right, Philip of Macedon. Philip had united Greece with Macedonia and was planning to attack Persia when he was murdered. Alexander, educated under the famed Aristotle, was only twenty in 336 B.C. when he succeeded his father as king. A year and a half later (334 B.C.), he launched his attack against the Persians. In that same year Alexander won the Battle of Granicus in Asia Minor, thereby bringing to an end the dominance of the Medo-Persian Empire. With his subsequent victories at Issus (333 B.C.) and Arbela (331 B.C.) the conquest of Medo-Persia was complete. Incredibly within in only three years Alexander had conquered the entire Near East.6

8 Then the goat became exceedingly great, but when he was strong, the great horn was broken, and instead of it there came up four conspicuous horns toward the four winds of heaven.

The breaking of the great horn refers to the untimely death of Alexander the Great on June 13, 323 BC. He was succeeded, after infighting and struggle, by the Diadochi (“successors”).7 As verse 22 states, these four kingdoms were never as strong as Alexander’s kingdom.

9 Out of one of them came a little horn, which grew exceedingly great toward the south, toward the east, and toward the glorious land.

The little horn refers to Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who was king of the Seleucid Empire from 175 to 163 BC. He made conquests to the south (Egypt), to the east (Persia, Parthia, Armenia) and to the glorious land, Israel.8

10 It grew great, even to the host of heaven. And some of the host and some of the stars it threw down to the ground and trampled on them.

In the case of the host of heaven and the stars in chap. 8, there is a dispute as to the kind of symbolism involved . . . . By analogy with the ram and the he-goat, they might be read allegorically. Already 2 Macc 9:10 contrasts Antiochus’s condition at his death with his earlier state when he “thought he could touch the stars of heaven,” which is simply a metaphor for hubris. Many commentators have assumed that the stars are an allegorical representation of the persecuted Jews, but the use of this language to refer to human beings would be highly exceptional. In contrast, the “prince of the host” in v 11 is clearly believed to exist in his own right. Given the traditional usage of “host of heaven” and “stars,” it is more likely that they too are mythic-realistic symbols. The ambiguity as to whether the stars are the angels themselves or their visual representation facilitates the transition from the allegorical imagery of the he-goat to the realistic account of v 11.9

It is noteworthy that from 169 BC Antiochus’ coins “picture his head surmounted with a star, and he entitles himself King Antiochus God Manifest.”10 Antiochus’ persecution of the Jews started in 170 BC with the assassination of the high priest Onias III. Thousands of Jews died at his hands (1 Maccabees 1:20-24; 2 Maccabees 5:1ff).

11 It became great, even as great as the Prince of the host. And the regular burnt offering was taken away from him, and the place of his sanctuary was overthrown.

The “Prince of the host” is God. Antiochus forbid burnt offerings (1 Maccabees 1:44-45, 59). He did not destroy the Jerusalem Temple but he did desecrate its altar in December 167 BC (1 Maccabees 1:20-23, 47, 54; 2 Maccabees 6:2-5). “Its overthrowing consists in its being prevented from functioning as a place of worship of the true God.”11

12 And a host will be given over to it together with the regular burnt offering because of transgression, and it will throw truth to the ground, and it will act and prosper.

The meaning of the first half of this verse is unclear. John J. Collins thinks it most likely means that the host of heaven (v 10) and the regular burnt offerings (v 11) come under the power of the little horn.12 The “transgression” in question is not the transgression of the Jewish people but of the little horn (v 13). The truth thrown to the ground refers to the Jewish law (1 Maccabees 1:56-57).

14 And he said to me, “For 2,300 evenings and mornings. Then the sanctuary shall be restored to its rightful state.”

Commentators are divided on whether the “2300 evenings and mornings” refer to 2300 days or to 1150 days. The second number is arrived at by noting that the regular burnt offering was offered in the evening and in the morning and that 2300 offerings would be offered over 1150 days. The suggestion that the phrase refers to 1150 days should be rejected for a number of reasons: (1) the Hebrew text literally reads “until evening morning, 2,300”; (2) in the Hebrew Bible, an evening and a morning specifies a day (e.g., Genesis 1); (3) when the Hebrews wished to distinguish between the parts of a day, the number of both was given (e.g., “forty days and forty nights” in Genesis 7:4, 12); (4) this verse does not mention sacrifices at all, it has to be imported from verse 13, which mentions more than just the sacrifices; and (5) when two daily sacrifices are specified in the Hebrew Bible, the order is always morning and evening, not evening and morning.13 Two thousand three hundred days is a period of about six years and four months. It refers to the time when the Jews were trampled underfoot (v 13), between the assassination of Onias III (170 BC) and the purification of the temple (164 BC).

19 He said, “Behold, I will make known to you what shall be at the latter end of the indignation, for it refers to the appointed time of the end.

The period of “indignation” refers to the persecution under Antiochus. This chapter does not speak of the end culminating in the kingdom of God. The end merely refers to the end of Antiochus’ persecution.14

23 And at the latter end of their kingdom, when the transgressors have reached their limit, a king of bold face, one who understands riddles, shall arise.

The phrase “one who understands riddles” refers to Antiochus’ hubris (vv 24-25).

24 His power shall be great—but not by his own power; and he shall cause fearful destruction and shall succeed in what he does, and destroy mighty men and the people who are the saints.

The phrase “but not by his own power” is not found in the LXX. If it is original, it could refer either to God permitting Antiochus to act or to Satan empowering Antiochus. Through wars and persecution, Antiochus caused much destruction and death.

25 By his cunning he shall make deceit prosper under his hand, and in his own mind he shall become great. Without warning he shall destroy many. And he shall even rise up against the Prince of princes, and he shall be broken—but by no human hand.

Antiochus made a surprise attack on Jerusalem: “Two years later the king sent to the cities of Judah a chief collector of tribute, and he came to Jerusalem with a large force. Deceitfully he spoke peaceable words to them, and they believed him; but he suddenly fell upon the city, dealt it a severe blow, and destroyed many people of Israel.” (1 Maccabees 1:29-30). The “Prince of princes” refers to God. Antiochus died from a disease.15

27 And I, Daniel, was overcome and lay sick for some days. Then I rose and went about the king’s business, but I was appalled by the vision and did not understand it.

This statement indicates that Daniel, at least on occasion, must have engaged in some kind of work on the government’s behalf during the time of Belshazzar. His assignments evidently were not by Belshazzar but by his father, Nabonidus, who had served with Daniel in Nebuchadnezzar’s administration. The old prophet obviously was not the leader of the wise men at this time since Belshazzar did not seem to be familiar with him later (cf. 5:11-14).16

Bibliography

Baldwin, Joyce G. Daniel. InterVarsity Press, 1978.

Collins, John Joseph, Frank Moore Cross, and Adela Yarbro Collins. Daniel: A Commentary on the Book of Daniel. Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 1994.

Goldingay, John. Daniel. Dallas Tex.: Word Books, 1989.

Miller, Stephen R. Daniel. Holman Reference, 1994.

Walvoord, John F. Daniel: The Key to Prophetic Revelation: A Commentary. Moody Publishers, 1971.

1Miller, Daniel, 220-221.

2Goldingay, Daniel, 208.

3Miller, Daniel, 222.

4Ibid.

5Ibid., 223.

6Ibid.

7Collins, Cross, and Collins, Daniel, 331.

8Miller, Daniel, 225.

9Collins, Cross, and Collins, Daniel, 333.

10Goldingay, Daniel, 210.

11Ibid., 211.

12Collins, Cross, and Collins, Daniel, 334-335.

13Miller, Daniel, 229.

14Baldwin, Daniel, 159.

15Walvoord, Daniel, 197.

16Miller, Daniel, 236-237.

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