With Daniel chapter 8 we return to the Hebrew portion of Daniel and the plight of the Jews. We also see a return to the immediate future as Daniel very clearly and accurately prophesizes the rise and fall of two of the world empires seen in Daniel 2 and 7. However, Daniel 8 also introduces us to some very literal historic figures and casts a shadow that stretches to the end of the tribulation. Within this essay we shall describe these figures and also discuss some of the different interpretations placed upon them by expositors such as Matthew Henry (MHC), Adam Clarke (ACC) and Jamieson-Fausset-Brown (JFB).
The task of interpreting this chapter is rendered significantly easier by virtue of the fact that the latter half of it is an interpretation of the first half; rendered by the angel Gabriel and recorded in Holy Scripture. Therefore the easiest route is to start with those parts of the chapter that are explained and then try to work out the remaining pieces with the minimum amount of stretching.
The first figure is the ram that we are told represents the kings of Media and Persia. The two horns thus most naturally represent Media and Persia. The higher horn is Persia, which was a less ancient kingdom than Media but eventually gained the upper hand.
JFB offers two pieces of external evidence for the identification of the ram with Persia. Firstly there are pillars at Persepolis showing that the Persian monarch wore a jewel encrusted ram's head instead of a diadem. Secondly the Hebrew word rendered ram springs from the same root as 'Elam' or 'Persia'.
If the horns are to be equated to people, and certainly some of them are so probably they all should, then Matthew Henry and JFB both suggest the higher horn is Cyrus with JFB considering the lower horn to be Darius the Mede.
The goat is as easy to identify. We are told it represents the kingdom of Greece. Both ACC and JFB add the detail that Caranus the first king of Macedonia was led to Edessa by goats and named the town he founded as 'goat-city'.
The great horn is then unanimously taken to be Alexander the great. Whilst this is probably the correct interpretation it does leave open the question as to why he is described as the first king. Even ignoring some of the earlier kings his father Philip could easily claim to have been a genuine king. Probably the counting is taken from the time that Greece could claim to be the world power, which would make Alexander the first king.
Having established the meaning of the great horn and the four horns we may now proceed to the question of the little horn. All three commentators agree that this at least partially refers to Antiochus Epiphanes. Antiochus was a Greek king of the Seleucid dynasty that reigned during the time of Maccabees. He exhibited many of the characteristics described here: -
Matthew Henry and Adam Clarke both take the 'host of heaven' as meaning a religious hierarchy. Given our interpretation of the little horn we have little choice but to go along with them unless we are to believe that Antiochus has supernatural powers.
However, this use of hyperbolic language leads us towards another meaning, or at least a shadow of a meaning that we can probably glean from this passage.
The saints that speak in v13 are clearly concerned about the desecration of the sanctuary and this provokes the explanation of the earlier part of the chapter. In Verses 17 & 19 Gabriel says that the vision was for the time of the end. Then when the interpretation of the vision continues we find the little horn is not explicitly mentioned; instead we get a 'king of fierce countenance'.
I suggest that what has happened here is that the original vision is strictly historic although some hyperbolic language is used to hint at a future meaning. Then in the interpretation given in the latter part of the chapter the thrust is actually the end times although it is set into an historic context. Put another way, the little horn is a type of the king of fierce countenance, which is still to come.
Perhaps one of the strongest justifications for this double interpretation is that some of the descriptions of the king clearly do not refer to Antiochus, especially the statement in verse 25 that he shall destroy through peace. It is also not clear in which way his power was not his own.
JFB identifies this as a type of the Antichrist, which at its most literal should mean a type of the beast of the earth from Revelation 13. However we see no Jewish origin for this horn and no real interest in words or administration or even the supernatural. What we do see is a foreign power that springs from a line of swift, decisive, effective military generals. It is interesting that in Dan 8:23 it suggests that the previous four kingdoms are still around, suppressed maybe, but still effective. This is clearly true if you look at the Greek influence on scientific thought and philosophy. However the meaning may go further, to suggest that this figure actually arises from one of the regions that were part of the Alexandrian empire. I suggest therefore that the end-time figure that we most likely have pictured here is the 'King from the North'. This would also fit with his push to south and east and his power really belonging to another: satan.
We surely believe the Bible is the word of God, yet it is always a delight to find examples that testify to the fact. In Daniel 8 we find predictive prophesy that details world leaders that then came true with incredible accuracy. That alone would be amazing. But then the spirit managed to weave in predictive truth to give us (and Daniel) an insight into the end times. Daniel didn't have the indwelling spirit and could not fully appreciate all he was writing yet he was moved to his stomach. With the benefit of that spirit let us pray that we are also moved, not with sickness, but with a desire to share this incredible word with a world that doesn't know it: yet will be intimately affected by it.