By Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., PhD

Lesson 8: Daniel ch. 8


Understanding the Ironies of History”



      The Aramaic section, which began in 2:4b with a prediction about four world empires that would precede the final kingdom of God, closes the Aramaic portion of Daniel’s book in Daniel 7:28 by presenting the same four earthly empires that will expire before a fifth kingdom from heaven would be set up to last for all eternity. Now writing in Hebrew, for the rest of his book, Daniel 8 begins by tracing and expanding on two of the animals, now pictured in domestic forms, but taken from the previous four animals, namely the second and third kingdoms and Daniel 7.

      His vision shifts from Babylon, where the previous visions had been given. He now pictures himself in the citadel (Hebrew, birah) of Susa (8:2), where he received this new material in the third year of King Belshazzar (ca 551-550 B.C.). This means that this vision actually came to him before the events noted in Daniel 5 had happened. However, the fact that Susa was the ancient capital of Elam and was set to become one of prominent cities in the Persian Empire must not be missed. Neither should the fact that this “vision” (which word occurs six times in this passage, vv, 1, 2 [bis], 13, 15, 26), which was granted to him somewhere around 550 B.C., be missed, for that was the time when Cyrus broke away from Astyages the Mede and established the joint kingdom of Medo-Persia. Also note the repeated rhetorical feature of the “I Daniel” formula that occurs at the start of the vision (2), at the beginning of the interpretation of the vision (15) and at the end of the vision (27).



Title: “Understanding the Ironies of History”

Text: Daniel 8:1-27

Focal Point: v 25b, “When [Israel] feels secure, he [Antiochus/Antichrist] will destroy many, and take his stand against the Prince of princes. Yet he will be destroyed, but not by human power.”

Homiletical Keyword:“Contrasts”

Interrogative: What are the contrasts between the opposites portrayed in this chapter of ironies?

I.  Between Two World Empires: Medo-Persia and Greece (8:1-8)

  1. The Place of the Vision

  2. The Ram and the He-goat


   A. The Fall of Alexander the Great

   B. The Little Horn


   A. Two Appearances

   B. The time of the End

   C. The Stern-faced King








  1. The Place of the Vision

Daniel, now about 69 years of age, was transported in the spirit to the citadel of Susa (also called Shushan), or to be more precise, to just outside the city beside the “Ulai Canal” (2). This city was some 230 miles east of Babylon and about 120 miles north of the Persian Gulf. The Ulai Canal was an artificial canal, which widened at points to some 900 feet wide and is the same as the classical Eulaeus. However, it was large enough canal for Alexander the Great to sail his fleet down this river on the east side of the city, called the Abi-diz.

Later this city was made a royal city by Cyrus (Neh 1:1; Est 1:2), but here it is called a “citadel,” or a “fortress.” It was in this city where the Hammurabi Law Code was discovered and the later palace built by Darius was located, where also the later palace was located in which Queen Esther served.

The word used for “vision” is the same as the Hebrew word for a “revelation,” (Hebrew, hazon). Such a “revelation” came for God himself and not from a human or any secondary beings.

B.The Ram and the He-Goat

Daniel was shown a ram first of all (3). It was standing by the canal with its two horns, one larger than the other, but the lesser of the two grew up later (3b-c). As the prophet watched, the ram charged toward the west, then it went toward the north and finally southward (4a). No other animal could stand up against it, and no one could rescue any from its power (4b-c). It did just what it jolly well pleased and proceeded to become really great (4d).

Meanwhile, a male goat appeared in Daniel’s vision and it had a prominent horn between its eyes (5a). This unicorn-like animal came from the “west” and “crossed the whole earth without touching the ground,” so swift were its movements (5b-c). With such speedy movements, the ram’s two horns were shattered by this buck goat (7b). The ram hardly knew what hit it, for he was absolutely powerless to stand up against this one-horned-goat. Therefore, the ram got trampled to the ground and none came to the ram’s rescue to help him (7b-c). As a result, the goat became exceedingly great. However, at the peak of his successes, all of a sudden the power of his one prominent horn was broken and that horn was replaced subsequently by four horns that spread out to the four points of the earth known in that day (8).


A. The Fall of Alexander the Great

Verse 20 will specifically say that the “two horned ram… represents the kings of Media and Persia.” It will go on to say that “the shaggy goat is the king of Greece and the large horn between his eyes is the first king” (21). That means that that goat was Alexander the Great.

Alexander the Great, with an army of 120,000, had crossed the Indus River, but at the Ganges River, his Greek warriors were fed up with his campaigning and therefore they refused to continue. Therefore, India would not experience Greek culture. However, in twelve years, Alexander had conquered most of the known world of his day. He died, apparently of excessive drinking and his kingdom was subsequently divided into four parts for his four generals: Seleuces, Ptolemaeus, Cassander, and Lysimachus. Cassandra received Macedonia and Greece, Lysimachus got Thrace and much of Asia Minor, Seleucus received Assyria and a huge amount of territory to the east and Ptolemy received mainly Egypt and part of Palestine.

B. The Little Horn

It is from one of these four generals that “another horn” springs up (9a). While this little horn begins in a small way, he quickly grows “in power” and moves southward, eastward, and towards the “Beautiful land” (9-10). The label, “Beautiful land” is also used by the prophet Ezekiel for the land of Israel (Ezk 20:6, 15). This little horn continued to grow until he reached “the hosts of heaven” and [he] threw some of the starry host down to earth and trampled on them” (11). In so doing, he appears to be claiming equality with God, unless the “starry host” alludes to rival earthly rulers. However, no matter which view is correct, this must represent Antiochus IV Epiphanes (the latter word meaning “God manifest”) and his conflict with the Jewish people.

This little horn exalted itself as if he were the “Prince of the host” (11a), an allusion to the Lord as “LORD of hosts.” But this Antiochus IV Epiphanes went on to “take away the daily sacrifice” (11b), which should have been offered to the Lord, and overthrew the place of the sanctuary of the Lord (11c). Surely that was a mistake, for an attack on God’s sacrifice was an attack on God himself. Thus, Antiochus took the daily sacrifice away from the temple and he stole it for himself. A description of what happened is recorded in the “deuteron-canonical” book (not part of the official canon, but so labeled in the Roman Catholic tradition) of 1 Maccabees 1:21-49. Antiochus entered the temple of God and took away the seven-branched golden candlestick and the temple vessels, as he forbade anymore daily sacrifices offered in the temple. Instead, Antiochus IV ordered that the Jews profane the Sabbaths and festival days, leave their children uncircumcised, and worship at idol sites with swine’s flesh.

Verse 12 is very difficult to translate because the grammar and allusions are hard to establish, but this “little horn” gained military support against the offering of the daily sacrifice to God as the transgressions of the people mounted up. Consequently, “truth was cast down to the ground” and error seemed to be given free reign for the moment (12d).

Daniel overheard one holy one speaking to another holy one (13a) as he asked: “How long will it take for the vision to be fulfilled?” This same question occurs fairly frequently in the Psalms and prophets as well (Ps 6:3; Isa 6:11; Zech 1:12). The thought that lies behind the question is that God always will limit the rule and reign of evil. The evil seen here is repeated again (in verse 13 c-f) that this obnoxious horn proposed in verses 9-12.

Antiochus IV represented the “now” aspect of evil that a “not yet” Antichrist would repeat in the future end of days, only in more severe manner, in the last days before Messiah returned to earth. This is because the language moves beyond an Antiochus IV as Antichrist will come when the rebels have become completely wicked (23a; cf. 2 Thess 2:3). Antichrist’s self magnification will exceed all bounds (23; cf. 2 Thess 2:3-5). Both Antiochus IV and Antichrist will cause astounding devastation and they will for the moment succeed in whatever they do (23-24).

When (13) these two holy ones asked each other “how long?” this would take, the answer was 2300 morning and evening sacrifices (14), or 1150 days (by dividing in half this number as the two offerings were offered on the same day), which is 3 years and 2 months. The historian Josephus said that was the exact amount of time that the temple service was interrupted by Antiochus IV Epiphanes (cf. 1 Macc 4:36-61). This was the amount of time that elapsed between the desecration of the Lord’s altar and its reconsecration by Judas Maccabeus on Kislev (our December) 25, 165 B.C.

Likewise, the Antichrist will rage in the future, just as Antiochus IV did in his day, only in the future it will be for three and a half years, i.e. the second half of the seven final years of Daniel’s 70th week in Daniel 9:24-27.

Once again, one of these four new horns sprout “another horn” (9a), which must not be confused with “another horn” that arose out of the ten horns of the fourth kingdom. Instead, this is a ruler who gained control of one of the four horns that came out of the third world kingdom, which was from Alexander the Great’s empire. Yet even after this horn had its most humble beginnings, it grew in power towards the south and toward “the beautiful land,” which points more definitely to Israel.



      A. Two Appearances

     Whether Daniel awoke and was briefly in a state of consciousness to reflect on what he had seen this far or not is not certain, but he was soon back into a visionary state. There he saw a man-like (in Hebrew, geber, a “strong man,” a macho male) figure, or at least he looked like a man (15b). This man spoke from the Ulai River; but who was he? It might have been an angel, such as Gabriel (also meaning “man of God”), or the angel Michael, the only other angel mentioned in the Bible. The one who looked like a man, however, spoke with the voice of a man (16) as he ordered Gabriel to “tell this man the meaning of this vision” (16b).

     A commanding voice to Gabriel, one would think, would need to come from God himself. The angel Gabriel appears only here and in Daniel 9:21 and later in the message delivered to Mary (Lk 1:19, 26). Later “Michael” will appear in Daniel 10:13, 21; 12:1).

      B. The “Time of the End”

As Gabriel came near to the place where Daniel stood, Daniel became terrified and fell into a “deep sleep” with his face to the ground (17a-b). However, the angel “touched him” and raised him to his feet (18). Nevertheless, Daniel’s reaction was very much like the Apostle John’s reaction on the isle of Patmos when he too was approached by an angel (Rev 22:8). But what affected him was not the medium, but the message, for the words also concerned “the time of the end” (17d).

Daniel was then told “what will happen in the time of wrath” (19a). Does this interpretation answer the question in verse 13, “How long will it take for the vision to be fulfilled?” Or is there both a near and a distant joint meaning here? Surely, it means God’s wrath on Israel at the time of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, and that is why verse 19 repeats the vision is about what will happen “in the time of wrath.” That is also why some interpreters justifiably see it as God’s future time of judgment and as a type of the Antichrist, who would come before Christ returns again the second time.

So the whole chapter is fulfilled historically in the decrees and actions of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, but Antiochus IV would foreshadow a future world leader, who like Antiochus, would likewise rule to the disadvantage of the Jewish people in the end times.

Gabriel makes it certain that the two-horned ram represented the kings of Media and Persia (20). Goldingay, in his commentary on Daniel (p 208) noted that the ram was a natural representation for Persia, for in the zodiac Persia was under Aries, the ram. Gabriel also identified the “shaggy goat” as the “king of Greece” with “the large horn between his eyes” as the “first king” (21). Although Alexander was not the “first king,” he was certainly the greatest who was “the large horn between the goat’s eyes” (21). Moreover, the four horns that replaced “large horn” that was broken off would be the four generals who would assume Alexander’s place after his death.      

C. The Stern-faced King

Towards the close of the reigns of these four generals, when the rebels had excelled in wickedness (23a), a “stern-faced king” would arise. This would be Antiochus IV Epiphanes (who would later rule from 175-164 B.C.). In 169 B.C. Antiochus IV invaded Egypt and was very successful at first (Dan 11:25-30; and the apocryphal 1 Macc 1:16-20; 2 Macc 5:1-14).

Antiochus’ absence from Jerusalem gave an opportunity for those in Jerusalem, who resented Antiochus’ interference with the High Priestly office, when this stern-faced king would place his appointee, who turned out to be Menelaus as High Priest. Antiochus’ surprise return to Jerusalem caught the insurgents off guard and led to a number of reprisals including: the plunder of the temple, the installation of an altar to the god Zeus (a real abomination) and the offering of a sow in temple of God (an equally great insult).

Both Antiochus and the king who is to come are predicted to be “stern-faced,” or better translated as “defiant, shameless” or “insolent.” The same word was used on the ‘impudent looks” of harlot in Prov 7:13. They also will be “master[s] of intrigue” (23b), cause “astonishing desolation” (24b), and “succeed in whatever” they try (24d). Accordingly, the two of them will have a propensity for double-dealing, and being cunningly adroit. As supermen, they will be admired by the whole world, but their power will not come from themselves, but from the energy Satan himself will give them (2 Thess 2:9). But above all, his most despicable feature will be that both of them acted as persecutors and destroyers of the Holy people (24).

It appears that Antiochus was destroyed, “but not by his own power” (24). If that is the correct rendering of verse 24, then I Maccabees 6:8-13 explained that Antiochus was not slain in battle, but he received word in Babylon that the Maccabees had defeated his army and won control over Israel once more. At that, Antiochus fell sick and called his friends to tell them he was going to die. For he explained to them, according to this record, that “I remember the evils that I did at Jerusalem…., therefore for this cause I perish.”

Daniel was told to “seal up the vision” (26), not because of the vision’s incomprehensibility or some hidden code it contained, but rather because it was sure to take place and because its word should be preserved against the day of its fulfillment.

This vision left Daniel “exhausted … and ill for many days” (27). These predictions he had seen and had explained to him were clear, but how could that all take place when the world had never seen a Medo-Persian or a Greek empire, never mind all the detail about a stern-faced king of the future and the like. But history is the final interpreter of prophecy, as Jesus reminded us in John 13:19 and it finally points to the fact that God, not these nations, is in control.


  1. While we are given more detail on the second and third empires mentioned in chapters 2 and 7 of Daniel, the identities of the second and third empires are set forth in great detail.

  2. God is still sovereign over mortals and nations, for the plan of history is not theirs, but God’s.

  3. If God gave this prophetic word so clearly in the 6th century B.C. that most all agree with its meaning, which was fulfilled from the sixth century B.C. to the second century B.C., why are critical and mainline scholars so slow to acknowledge the prophetic nature of Scripture and its truthfulness?






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