The first and second halves of Daniel are quite different, and in the minds of many the value of a slow study of the second part is doubtful. Why? It is because the first half is narrative and the second half is prophecy. True, there is some overlap. The first half also contains prophecy, as in the case of Nebuchadnezzar’s vision of the great statue composed of different types of metals. The second half also has narrative elements. Still, the value of the first half is in its account of the way in which Daniel and his three friends functioned in pagan Babylon and how God protected them in the midst of that hostile pagan environment. The second half focuses on prophecies of the end times; and not only do we not always see clearly how they relate to us, we do not even fully understand them. How can we relate to visions of animals that represent nations and kingdoms? And what are we to think of little horns that rise up to destroy other horns? We wonder if any of this can be practical.
Well, it is difficult to understand and apply some of these things. But what I hope to show is that the symbolic elements of these visions are not all equally difficult to interpret and that there are practical lessons in them.
We see a shift in emphasis in Daniel 8 where Daniel has a vision of a ram and a goat, which gives additional detail about a period of history that has been described twice already. The initial vision of the statue of various kinds of metals, which Nebuchadnezzar had and which is recorded in chapter 2, spoke of four successive world empires: the empire of Babylon ruled by Nebuchadnezzar, the kingdom of the Medes and Persians that followed it, the Greek Empire established by Alexander the Great, and the final, powerful empire of Rome. The vision we now have, the vision of the ram and goat, corresponds to the second and third parts of that initial vision. That is, the ram represents the Median-Persian Empire; that is why it is described as having two horns, each horn representing one-half of that empire. One horn is described as being longer or more powerful than the other, just as one side of the bear was described as being higher. This corresponds to the dominance of the Persian element in the two-nation coalition.
Similarly, the goat represents the kingdom of the Greeks under Alexander. The goat has one horn, which represents Alexander himself. It is described as “crossing the whole earth without touching the ground,” that is, crossing it quickly, as Alexander did in his remarkable three-year conquest of the entire Persian Empire. The elaboration of this vision shows that the great horn was suddenly broken off and that four other horns replaced it, which is what happened. Alexander died suddenly at the age of thirty-three, and his empire was divided into four parts under Ptolemy, Seleucus, Lysimachus, and Cassander. In other words, chapter 8 focuses on the middle portions of chapter 2 and gives additional details.
The same thing is true when we compare this vision with the four unusual animals of chapter 7. Those were (1) a beast like a lion, representing Babylon; (2) a beast like a bear, representing the Medes and Persians; (3) a beast like a leopard, representing Greece; and (4) a beast unlike any known animal, representing Rome. The ram corresponds to the bear. The goat corresponds to the leopard.
Why is this new vision given? Is it just to add details? Or is there a shift in emphasis or a new purpose? An important clue to Daniel’s purpose in this vision is the fact that the language in which he is writing changes from Aramaic to Hebrew at this point. The opening part of Daniel is in Hebrew, from the first verse of chapter 1 through the third verse of chapter 2. But from Daniel 2:4 through the end of chapter 7 everything has been written in Aramaic.
Chapter 8 switches to Hebrew, and this is the language used through the very end of Daniel. This is unparalleled in any other biblical book, and the only explanation I can think of is that Daniel wrote in the language of the people to whom he primarily wanted these various parts of the book to be directed. Chapters 2–7 concern the predicted flow of the various gentile world empires and concern the gentile world especially. So they are written in Aramaic, the dominant gentile language of that day. By contrast, chapters 8–12, which are written in Hebrew, chiefly concern the Jews.
What we are going to see is that these chapters deal with a particular era in Jewish history. Indeed, they predict the end of this era and thus anticipate a new era of gentile (and Jewish) blessing.
There are difficulties in interpreting this part of Daniel, as we will see. However this little horn is to be interpreted, it is at least clear that he arises from the Roman Empire. Daniel describes the Roman Empire as existing in ten related kingdoms, represented by the ten toes of Nebuchadnezzar’s statue or the ten horns of the fourth terrible beast of Daniel 7. The little horn of chapter 7 uproots and replaces three of these horns. By contrast, the little horn of chapter 8 rises from the kingdom of Greece. He does not replace the other rulers. He merely arises from them in due course (v.9). His destructive energies are directed against the Jewish people and their sanctuary.
There can be little doubt that this is a prophecy of the career of the Greek king Antiochus IV Epiphanes who was one of the greatest enemies of the Jewish people in all history.