Daniel 8 –The Ram and the Goat


Daniel 8 is an expansion on the four-kingdom scheme of chapters 2 and 7, expanding on events during the third empire. The vision concerns the fall of Persia and the establishment of the Greek empire. As Miller observes, nearly every commentator agrees this prophecy concerns the events of the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, although they disagree on whether the events are prophetically described by Daniel or current events cast as prophecy by an unknown second century writer (Daniel, 219)

The time is identified as the third year of Belshazzar’s reign, about 550 B.C. About this same time Cyrus the Persian was consolidating his power with the Medes. About twelve years later Cyrus will capture Babylon while Belshazzar held a great banquet (Daniel 5).

Daniel is “in the citadel in Susa” (v.1). The city of Susa was built on the Ulai Canal and was the capitol of the Persian Empire. Was Daniel literally in the city of Susa? He may have been in the city on some business for the government of Babylon, or perhaps he retired to the city.  Josephus (Antiquities 10.11.7) seems to think he was physically in the city. It is more likely Daniel was transported in his vision to Susa. This is similar to Ezekiel’s visionary experience, he is caught up and taken from Babylon to Jerusalem to witness the glory of the Lord departing form the city (Ezek 8-11).

Daniel has an unusual vision of a ram fighting a goat (8:3-14) which is interrupted by an angelic guide in 8:15-26). A ram with two unequally sized horns represents the Medes and Persians (v. 20). This ram begins its conquest in the east and goes in the three other directions just as Persia was in the east and made conquests into the west (literally to the sea, the Mediterranean Sea), then south into Egypt and north into Asia Minor.

The goat with a prominent horn (8:5-8) is interpreted as the king of Greece (8:21), undoubtedly Alexander the Great. Some will point out the first king of Macedon was led to a location by a herd of goats where he founded a city, Aege, or the Goat City. The goat comes out of the west very fast and destroys the ram. This fits well with what we know about the conquest of the world by Alexander.  Alexander may have been motivated to conquest because of Persian invasions of Greece in 490 B.C. by Darius I and 480 by Xerxes.

After the prominent horn is cut off, it is replaced by four horn, likely referring to the Diadochi, the Greek generals who took parts of Alexander’s empire after his death. But they are not the main interest of this vision, Daniel saw a “little horn” (8:9-14), undoubtedly the same as the little horn in Daniel 7. Stephen Miller argues this is not possible, since the little horn in chapter 7 is associated with the blasphemy of the final kingdom prior to the establishment of the kingdom of God.  Chapter 8 concerns the Greek kingdom, the third beast in chapter 7 (Daniel, 225, note 22).

This little horn will cause some of the starry host to fall (8:10). This begins with the assassination of Onias III in 170, the sacking of the temple in 169, and the general persecution of Jews in the period which follows (see also 1 Maccabees 1:41-64; 2 Maccabees 6:1-5).

2 Maccabees 5:11-14 When news of what had happened reached the king, he took it to mean that Judea was in revolt. So, raging inwardly, he left Egypt and took the city by storm. 12 He commanded his soldiers to cut down relentlessly everyone they met and to kill those who went into their houses. 13 Then there was massacre of young and old, destruction of boys, women, and children, and slaughter of young girls and infants. 14 Within the total of three days eighty thousand were destroyed, forty thousand in hand-to-hand fighting, and as many were sold into slavery as were killed.

1 Maccabees 1:29-34 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. 30 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. 31 He plundered the city, burned it with fire, and tore down its houses and its surrounding walls. 32 They took captive the women and children, and seized the livestock. 33 Then they fortified the city of David with a great strong wall and strong towers, and it became their citadel. 34 They stationed there a sinful people, men who were renegades. These strengthened their position.

The little horn sets itself up as the “prince” of that fallen host (11). Antiochus attempted to set himself against God when he forbade the practice of the Jewish Law (1 Maccabees 1:41-50).

The little horn will take away the daily sacrifice and brought low the sanctuary (11). The daily sacrifice (tamid) was to be offered twice each day.  Priests offered sacrifices on behalf of all the people (Exodus 29:38-41, Numbers 28:3-8). In 167 B.C. Antiochus ordered these daily sacrifices to be stopped (1 Maccabees 1:44-45).

The sacrifices are suspended for 2300 days.  There are several schemes for showing paralleling with Antiochus’ suspension of sacrifice. Is this 1150 days, since there 2300 are morning and evening sacrifices?  Keil argues a Jewish reader would never read the text half-days, since a “morning and evening” is a complete day (Daniel, 304). This is a period of three years and 55 days, the period begins on just before the altar is desecrated and ends with the temple is rededicated in 168 B.C. Alternatively, the time from the murder of Onias III (the legitimate High Priest, killed by Antiochus) in 171 and the death of Antiochus in 164.

Does the little horn only refer to Antiochus? Is there any room for “future” fulfillment of these prophecies? Is this an example of multiple fulfillment of prophecy? Did Daniel’s vision only concern events leading up to the Maccabean Revolt, or did the vision concern a time events leading up to the coming of the Messiah in the future?