Scripture Text: Daniel 8
The Ram, The Goat, and The Little Horn (MP3)
The Ram, The Goat, and The Little Horn (Sermon Text)
Last week, I mentioned that the Bible is not only a book of things that have happened, but it is a record of things that will happen. For instance, the prophet Daniel told us in the first six chapters of the book about some of the important events during his life of exile in Babylon. Throughout those chapters we were constantly reminded about God using Daniel to reveal His plan. We were also reminded that no matter the schemes of Satan or man, God is still sovereign! The last half of the book of Daniel, chapters seven through twelve, describe some of Daniel’s visions about what was going to happen in the future. God revealed things to Daniel that He wanted Daniel and His people to know about the future. One might say that God revealed the events in the first few chapters to prove the latter chapters were true. The vision from last week was about things that were future to Daniel, but have already happened from our perspective. It also included things that have not yet happened. The vision from today’s passage, however, is very specific about events that have already occurred after Daniel received the vision.
Daniel received this vision during Belshazzar’s third year as king, which would have been about 550 B.C. Daniel was an elderly man at the time, about seventy years old, yet he was still faithfully serving God. This shows us that God can use us no matter how old we are, if we are willing. You are never too old to serve God! Daniel received this vision several years before the events in chapter five, when Belshazzar saw the mysterious handwriting on the wall and died. The events described in this vision, however, occurred almost four hundred years after Daniel received the vision and was dead. Another thing this vision tells us is that God’s people will suffer, but God is still in control. In the previous chapter, God gave Daniel a preview of world history with an emphasis on the end times. In this vision, God wanted to warn His people in exile of another crisis that was coming. This crisis would be one of the most horrible periods in the history of the Jewish people, a time when their very existence and their religion was threatened. God knew that in those brief but extremely dark days His people would need encouragement. Thus, He gave them this divine prophecy before it happened.
The Ram and The Goat
Like the previous vision, God revealed things about the future using animals to depict kings and kingdoms. Unlike the vision in chapter seven, this vision is precisely interpreted by an angel. In this vision, Daniel saw three main characters: a Ram, a Goat, and a Little Horn. Daniel saw what would happen to several empires in the region. Daniel saw a powerful ram with two horns, one of which was longer than the other. The ram represents the Medo-Persian Empire, with the higher horn representing the stronger, Persian part. Daniel then saw a swift goat that defeated the mighty ram. The goat represents the king of Greece, Alexander the Great, who defeated the Persians and conquered most of the known world at the time. Look at the following verses.
Daniel 8:7–8 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.
Daniel saw a male goat with a single horn come quickly from the west and destroy the ram. This is a strikingly accurate description of Alexander the Great, who came from the west, quickly conquered the Medo-Persian empire, and became exceedingly great. Alexander the Great’s kingdom extended all the way to India, exceeding any kingdom before it in size. The goat charging the ram in a fit of “great rage” 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. Having conquered much of the known world, Alexander suddenly died from a severe fever at the age of thirty-two. When Alexander died, he left the empire to his two sons, but both of them were murdered. After a period of infighting and struggle, the empire was divided among four Greek military leaders, the four prominent horns of the goat. These represent the four divisions Alexander’s empire after his death. This fulfills the prophecy in this vision, where four kingdoms shall arise from his nation, but not with his power. But there was more to come. There was more chaos and evil on the horizon.
A Little Horn Causes Big Trouble
Similar to the vision Daniel had in chapter seven about the four beasts, the most significant portion of the current vision was about a “little horn” that caused big trouble. In this vision, a little horn grew out of one of the previous four horns of the goat and expanded his dominion. Look at the following verses.
Daniel 8:9–11 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.
This little horn grew great, “even to the host of heaven”, and threw “some of the stars” to the ground. He even opposed the “Prince of princes” (v. 25). This was fulfilled about 400 years after Daniel received the vision. This vision describes Antiochus IV Epiphanes who was king of one of the four kingdoms that emerged from Alexander the Great’s former empire. He seized the throne from his nephew and enlarged his kingdom through military power. According to Jewish history, Antiochus IV was a tyrant who tried to unify his kingdom by forcing all of his subjects to adopt Greek cultural and religious practices. Antiochus insisted that the Jews refrain from Jewish religious laws, such as their diet, circumcision, Sabbaths, and feasts. He burned copies of the scriptures, ended sacrifice at the temple in Jerusalem, and deliberately defiled the Temple by sacrificing a pig on the altar and placing an object sacred to Zeus in the Holy of Holies.
When the Jewish people refused to submit to Antiochus’ demands, he then punished them severely. According to another book written about these events, Antiochus then ordered a massacre where eighty thousand men, women, and children, including infants, were killed, and many others were sold into slavery. The “stars” that were thrown to the ground and trampled probably refers to the Jewish people who were killed during Antiochus IV’s reign. It began with the assassination of the high priest in 170 B.C. and continued to the death of Antiochus IV in 164. This was not only an attack on God’s people, but it was also an attack on God Himself. According to Daniel’s vision, this little horn would even rise up against the Prince of princes, a title that refers to God and indicates the rebellion of Antiochus IV against even God’s legitimate sovereignty. This was indeed a dark time for the Jewish people. The upheavals to come would mean terrible times for the people of God. What could they do? What hope did they have?
God Is Still In Control
We can thank God that though we see and experience evil and suffering in this world, it is limited. God is still in control and He limits when and what evil can do. The angel, Gabriel, explained to Daniel that this vision concerned the future of the region, which God still rules over for His purposes. God gave Daniel this vision to prepare His people for the coming events, especially the severe persecutions under the little horn, Antiochus IV. While bad times were coming, Daniel’s vision was a call to God’s people to endure the suffering, knowing that it was temporary and that God is still sovereign. Evil would reign no longer than God allowed. Look at the following verses.
Daniel 8:13–14 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.”
It might be difficult to see any good in the previous verses, but verse fourteen reveals to us that the evil that was coming would exist for no longer than God allows. God sets the boundaries of what people can do. Unlike the less precise time frame God gave Daniel in the previous vision, the time period in this vision was measured in days, suggesting a precise calendar for the times of God’s people’s suffering. 2,300 evenings and mornings was a little over six years, perhaps signifying the period from the death of the high priest to the time when the Temple was cleansed and rededicated. From Daniel’s point of view, bad times were coming but things would eventually be set to their “rightful state”. Today, the Jewish people celebrate the Feast of Hanukkah to commemorate the time when the evil reign of Antiochus IV ended and the Jewish Temple was restored.
How Shall We Respond?
What does this vision have to say to us today? Is it just a prophecy that was fulfilled and has little meaning for us today? We can learn much from the fulfilled events of the past. This vision reveals many things about God and how would ought to respond to Him.
God Knows the Future
The vision in Daniel chapter eight is very specific about events that happened a few hundred years after Daniel received the vision. One thing this tells us is that God knows the future. Nothing surprises Him. The message God has for us is that certain things are going to happen, but even in spite of tough times and persecution, nothing will thwart God’s plan. Nothing will deter His will, therefore we can trust Him.
God’s Word is True
Related to the previous point, this vision and others like it prove that God’s Word is true. The prophecies that God revealed to Daniel came true, proving that His Word is true. In fact, the vision is so accurate that some interpreters, who do not think the Bible can truly predict future events, claim that this material was not written in the sixth century by Daniel, but had to be written after these events occurred. If you find it difficult to trust what God has said, then read the fulfilled prophecies in Scripture. Marvel at the precision with which God has revealed things to His prophets.
God is Sovereign
Another thing this vision tells us is that God has a definite plan and schedule for the world. These visions were meant to reassure God’s people that no matter what happens, no matter what evil things occur on this earth, God is still in control. God will see His plan for the world come to fruition. One of the positive things the upheaval of various kingdoms brought was a common language. Alexander spread the Greek language and culture all over the world, an act that prepared the world for the gospel by giving it a common speech, the language of the New Testament.
God Limits Suffering
Related to the previous point, God limits evil and suffering. They exist for a while, but they do not last forever. When the events described in this vision finally did occur, God’s people would need encouragement. They would need to know that things will be OK. God instructed Daniel to take measures to ensure that the vision’s contents would be available for future generations, to give them encouragement.
This passage also reveals to us how Daniel responded to the vision. It shows us how we can respond to similar situations. Look at the following verse.
Daniel 8:27 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 last verse shows us at least two things about Daniel’s response to the vision:
The Closer We Are to God, the Greater Our Emotional Response to Truth
Sin blunts our natural response to truth. The closer we are to God, the greater our emotional response to the truth. Even though Daniel did not fully understand the vision, he was nonetheless overcome, appalled, and sickened by it. He recognized and understood the severity of the future suffering coming on his own people. Like the other prophets, he identified with his people when they faced the judgment of God.
Religious Concerns Do Not Hinder Our Earthly Work
Despite his deep concern for the future, Daniel went about his business. He continued his work for the king. Daniel did not isolate himself from the culture around him, but he continued faithfully in his service. God’s revelations of the future are given to His people to exhort faithfulness, to encourage during difficult days, and to comfort in suffering. May we never grow weary of doing good while we wait for our blessed salvation, even in the midst of current turmoil and suffering.
In closing, in spite of opposition from the kings of this earth, God shows us in this vision that He is still in control. Daniel’s vision reveals that earthly powers may rule for a time, but no longer than God allows. Evil reigns for a while. Trouble comes for a season. Suffering happens for a time. The good news of the Gospel is that pain and suffering is temporary. When Jesus returns, suffering will cease. Evil will be finally vanquished. God’s people will inherit the kingdom of God. How great a God we serve! How great a Savior we have! This is good news. Thanks be to God. Amen!
This sermon was delivered at Good Hope Baptist Church in Wake Forest, NC. More information about Good Hope may be found at the following site: www.GoodHopeBC.org.