The Second Vision: The Ram, Goat, & Little Horn
In the 8th chapter of Daniel, we find a vision of much tamer animals (a ram and a goat), but the beasts may be said to be even more savage in their acts. Yet the people of God are given tremendous assurances that their God is superior and worthy of our trust.
Message starts at approx. the 42 min mark.
When I was young and looking to determine which college I was going to attend, I visited Grove City College. There was a lunch where the students and parents got to hear from the esteemed leaders of the institution speak and promote the school. After lunch those attending broke up into two groups. The science and engineering students were dismissed from the hall and were to gather in another place. After they left, a man got up from the business department in order to give a talk. He said, “They don’t know it, but many of those who just left are Business majors. We call the Engineering the Pre-business major.”
What he was saying is that the engineering courses are incredibly difficult. The rigor of them makes many bail out. They eventually convert because the difficulty is too much for them.
If only they knew. If only they knew how difficult it would be. Would that have affected what course of life they would choose? Would it make them prepare better? Would it make them able to endure if they had that foresight?
The Lord wishes to build in us persevering faith. Faith that will follow through the thick and thin. Faith that will remain steadfast, unmovable to the very end.
And that is partly why I believe that Daniel 8 was written. God has given Daniel another vision of the future. And in this vision Daniel gets even more detail about what will take place in the coming years. And what we find is that there are many ups and downs. The animals that we find in this chapter are much more tame (a ram, goat), but the hostility that we see is certainly not tame. There’s a sense in which this passage has much more conflict than the preceding one.
But these things are revealed to give us hope. These events are passed on so that we might never waiver in our when it comes to our faith in Christ. As we have seen so many times already, we are here reminded that we should remain faithful because God is sovereign over the nations.
And there are 4 ways his sovereignty over the nations is see. His sovereignty over the nations is seen in that he predicts what powers will arise.
I. He predicts what powers will arise [1-14; 18-26]
Here in Chapter 8 we have yet another prophecy of the coming history leading up to the New Testament times. We’ve seen this before, but this time we are given even more information. The book of Daniel is organized in such a way that we keep getting more visions and with each succeeding vision we get more detail concerning the history.
The passage begins by telling us about a ram that comes charging across the earth. And we are told that it has two horns, one of which is bigger than the other. This reminds us of the bear raised up on one side from the previous chapter. And in verse 20 we are told that this represents the Medes and the Persians. Again, the one horn is bigger because the Persians were the dominant force within that empire.
Then in verses 5-8 we see a vision of a goat. This goat has a single horn jetting out of its head. One pastor called it a “uni-goat.” This goat is described as floating across the land. It is coming with such force and speed that it doesn’t even seem to touch the ground. This may remind you of the flying leopard from chapter 7.
This goat is not a happy goat though. It is described as being infuriated with wrath. And in that wrath it charges into the ram and completely decimates it. We are told that the ram is thrown to the ground and trampled. (It’s kind of odd if you think about it. A ram would be the stronger of the two animals, but it’s the goat that wins out).
Verse 21 tells us this goat represents the kingdom of Greece. Again, Alexander the Great swept across the Persian territory and conquered the whole of that land in less than 4 years. But no sooner had he done so than he died. He passed away at the young age of 32. And this fits with the testimony of our Scripture because it tells us in verse 8 that when the goat had become strong the great horn was broken.
This brings us then to verses 9 and following, which talk about another little horn that arises. After the first big horn is broken, four horns grow up in its place. This again represents the fact that Alexander’s empire was broken up into 4 different realms. Each of these 4 regions was ruled by his 4 different generals.
But verse 9 tells us that out of one of these horns grew up another little horn. Now this little horn is different than the little horn of the previous chapter. Chapter 7 talks about a little horn that grows up during the 4th kingdom (the empire of Rome). This little horn comes up during the 3rd empire (i.e. the Greek).
This passage tells us that his power became exceedingly great and he has commits savage acts against “the glorious land,” which is the land of Israel. Verse 10 tells us that some of the host and stars are thrown down to the ground and trampled – that refers to the people of God. Verse 11 mentions the fact that he contends with the Prince of the host (i.e. God himself) and takes away the burnt offering. Then it mentions how the sanctuary is overthrown. Verse 13 mentions that there is a “transgression that makes desolate.”
What is all this? This is likely referring to Antiochus Epiphanes. Antiochus came from the Seleucid Empire (one of those 4 Greek realms) and he made war upon many, but specifically upon the Jewish people in the land of Israel. His name even means “God manifest.” So you see his ego and how he sizes himself up against the Prince of the Host (or God himself).
Antiochus is said to have killed 80,000 Jewish people, including the High Priest Onias. But Antiochus is famed in history for his desecrating the temple. He set up a statue to the Greek god Jupiter and he sacrificed a pig on the temple alter. This is no doubt the transgression that makes desolate.
Furthermore, Antiochus forbade the Jewish sacrifices from being offered and he sought to Hellenize the Jews (by that I mean he sought to force them to become Greeks and practice pagan lifestyles). This is what the text means when it says he throws truth to the ground (12) and that he will cause deceit to prosper by his cunning (25).
All in all, what you have in Daniel 8 is yet another perfect rendering of events that would transpire over the next 400 years. God gives Daniel yet another understanding of history with such radical specificity. And we are reminded once again that it all unfolds according to the exact plan of God. We have powers and devastating forces, but all of these are not outside God’s control. As a matter of fact, they are directly under God’s control, having been obviously ordained from the beginning.
In seeing this we recognize that this God is the God we ought to follow. Nothing is left to Karma. Neither is it an empty occurrences of one thing happening after another. All of the world is governed by the hand of our Daniel’s God. And because it is, we recognize that he is the one and only true God. What’s more, we recognize that He is the God that is to be followed.
Don’t be fooled. There may seem like there are other competitors. There may seem like there are other great powers. But this prophecy reminds us that there is only one God who is worthy of our worship. And since he is able to predict all, we must commit to following him.
But not only do we see that these powers are predicted, we also see how these powers are limited.
II. He limits what those powers can do
It’s interesting how the passage is developed. There’s a rise and fall to each nation and you feel the ebb and flow. The ram appears, is shown to be threatening, trampling down many, but then he himself is trampled by the goat. The goat becomes exceedingly great and terrorizes, but it is quickly broken.
Then you have the little horn. He may be small, but he too becomes exceedingly great. As a matter of fact, his villainy is described in greater detail. But his rage comes to a definite end too. In verse 13 they ask, “How long will this last?” And the response comes back as 2,300 evenings and mornings (i.e. days). In other words, it may seem like a long time (almost 7 years), but the Lord has ordained that there will be a definite end to the despotism.
And that certainly did occur. If you are familiar with the book of Maccabees it tells the story of how the Jews under the leadership of the Maccabees rose up and fought against Antiochus’ armies. They were able to overthrow Antiochus’ armies and gain some degree of independence. And they rededicated the temple around 165 BC, which was not quite 7 years from the time it had been interrupted. As a matter of fact, this is why Jews today celebrate Hanukah.
But you even see in our passage other indications of God’s control over the evil. Not only does each empire fall, but Antiochus himself comes to power only because the Lord lets him. Look at verse 24. It says, “His power shall be great—but not by his own power.”
Then at the end of verse 25 it says he shall be broken—“but by no human hand.” In other words, his end was not due to the masterful work of the Maccabees or any other human might. He came to power and lost power because the Lord is the one who sets them up and brings them down.
So we get many different glimpses at the history again, this time from the prospective of God restraining and taking down those powers. The Lord wants to assure us that he is sovereign over the powers of evil and does not allow their reigns to go unchecked. We may look around and see all kinds of horrible things: death, destruction, cruelty, oppression, tyranny and despotism. And it may seem like it is running rampant. But the Lord wishes to assure us that no matter how dismal it may seem, it does not go any farther than he deems it appropriate. Evil may appear to thrive, but it always is you may rest assured that it is not unmitigated. Our God has them all on a very short leash. And we may rest assured that no earthly power that stands against him will endure forever.
So when you come to choose who you would follow, the answer should be obvious, shouldn’t it? You don’t want to follow the team that surges for a while but then doesn’t even get into the playoffs, right? You want to follow the team that wins it all. You want to affiliate with the champion.
That’s our God. Really, we have to remember that appearances can be deceiving. Our God may not look like he’s in control at times—he may not feel like he’s all powerful, but Scripture is clear. All are restrained by His sovereign hand.
Now, the third point I want you to understand is that the Lord utilizes these powers. He not only sets them up and brings them down, his sovereignty is seen in that He employs them as servants who accomplish His own ends.
III. He utilizes those powers for his own ends
This may seem odd. For we’ve been talking about how evil these nations are and how ruinous they are. But I want you to understand that these nations are not acting autonomously. They are God’s vessels and they are accomplishing more than their own selfish ends.
Look at verse 12. Notice what it says. It says that “A host will be given over to [this little horn] together with the regular burnt offering because of transgression.”
Now there are two different ways of taking this. Some say it is the transgression of Antiochus. He, in his rebellion against God, will cause the offerings in the temple to cease. I prefer to take it as referring to the transgressions of the Jews.
The terrible things that Antiochus does in Israel are due to the sins being committed by the covenant community. During this time period the people of God are tested. Will they remain faithful to the Lord? When the going gets tough, will the people of God continue to cling to their identity as God’s people or will they give up their practices for comfort and ease?
In the book of Maccabees we read about this kind of thing. People did throw truth to the ground. We are told that the people of God renounce many of their customs. They sacrificed to idols. They profaned the Sabbath. They ate unclean foods. They even went so far as to disguised their circumcision and abandoned the practice altogether for their sons who were born to them.
And it is my belief that the Lord saw how they fell into disobedience and then he used Antiochus as His means of judgment upon them. Thus you can say that the difficulties they endured were much because of the faithlessness they showed.
It is the same thing that God had done with them previously. When Israel in the north turned from the Lord, He brought Assyria against them. When Judah went after other gods, he brought Babylon against them. Later on, after the Jews rejected Jesus, the Lord would bring in the Romans to ransack their land and destroy their temple.
This is perhaps an even greater reason why we need to remember the Lord and be faithful to him. It may seem so much easier just to capitulate and compromise with those around us. But we must remember that the Lord does not allow such sins to go unpunished. There are consequences for breaking the covenant we have with him.
I agree that this motivation is much more negative. It is a fearful thing to consider. But we must always recognize that there is a negative side. And while we may recognize that there are many evils in the world, the evil of God’s people turning away from him is the most depraved act of all. And the Lord will use whatever tool he has at his disposal to bring about his judgment of those sins.
Take this to heart: fear is an idol and we must never allow it to compete with Christ. It is better to die for Christ than wade into the paths of sin. Or, if you really need something to fear, remember that it is much more fearful to fall into the hands of the living God than into the hands of men. Jesus tells us not to fear only those who can kill the body, but fear him who after killing the body has the power to cast into hell.
Seeing that this is so, we have a good reason to remain faithful.
IV. He makes those powers come to an end
The passage can be divided into three parts. First you have the vision, then you have an intermission where Daniel interacts with some celestial beings, then Daniel is given the interpretation of the vision. And it’s that central part that I want you to notice.
In verse 15 Daniel desires to understand the vision. And in verse 16 he hears a voice of a man calling out to Gabriel, telling him to help Daniel understand the vision. Then in verse 17 Gabriel comes to Daniel and says, “Understand o son of man, that the vision is for the time of the end.”
The same sort of thing is repeated in verse 19. It says, “Behold, I will make know to you what shall be at the latter end of the indignation, for it refers to the appointed time of the end.”
Now again, there’s a bit of debate as to what this means. And there are different ways you can read the Hebrew. Some of you, if you have a different version, may have something that reads a little differently. I want to give you my take on it.
This is a vision of history that takes us up to the time of the end. Not necessarily the end of time, but the end of a time. It’s the end that all the Old Testament had been pointing. In sum, we come to the end of the time of Antiochus and all the Greeks and the beginning of the Roman period. And it is during that period that Jesus comes. The Old Testament has been pointing to this very moment and therefore the old covenant period comes to an end and we are on the precipice of the Savior’s birth.
It’s my personal opinion that Daniel is telling us what he has been telling us previously: A new era will begin. In chapter 2 it was described as a stone that grows into a mountain. In chapter 7 it was described as a kingdom that would be an everlasting kingdom. Here it is simply described as the end that we’ve been waiting for.
And this is why the New Testament talks about how we live in the end times. For instance, Hebrews 1 says, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” (Heb. 1:1). 1 Peter 1:21 says that Jesus
“was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for [your sake].” And again, 1 Corinthians 10:11 says, “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, upon whom the end of the ages has come.”
There are other Scriptures that speak to this, but I merely point this out by way of further motivation to trust the Lord. All other nations are coming to an end. They are subservient to God’s kingdom and they will give way to God’s kingdom. There is but one kingdom that will stand in the end.
I recognize that the kingdom of God continues to suffer great tribulation. And that’s the irony of it. We have entered the end, but we have not seen the full realization of it. The kingdom has come and it is advancing, but it has not yet reached the fullness of what it is to be. So, there ends up being a great deal of suffering and trials that we face—even as we see great advancement.
But from Daniel’s perspective, it is seen as the end. Nothing more needs to be said. This is the time of God’s victory in the earth.
Even though we still wait for this final end to come, we have the assurance that it will. Jesus Christ will come again. And since the end is at hand, we have all that much more reason to abide in him.