Prepare for Trouble

It is always easier to endure hard times if you know there is a time when those hard times will end.

  • The surgery will be over.
  • The sentence will be served.
  • The tour of duty will be completed.
  • The project will be finished.
  • The divorce will be final.

As we move to Daniel chapter 8 we find a vision that tells of a time when hostilities will be over. The vision in chapter 8 sounds much like the vision in chapter 7. If you think about it, there is a good reason for this: future history is not going to change. In this vision Daniel is given additional information and the spotlight focuses on a particular time of conflict to come.

There is an interesting change we don’t readily see here. The book of Daniel from chapter 2 through chapter 7 was written in Aramaic, the language of the people of Babylon. In chapter 8 to the end of the book it is written in Hebrew. This leads us to believe that Daniel was formerly writing to a broad audience and from here to the end of the book he narrows his focus to the Jews.

The chapter is pretty easy to outline. The first part of the chapter (1-14) gives Daniel’s vision of a Ram, a Goat, and a horn that grows large.  In verses 15-26 we are given the interpretation of the vision by the angel Gabriel.

Since we have the benefit of history we know Daniel’s vision revealed the future with an accuracy that is so specific that the cynics (those who do not believe in a God that is involved in our lives) can only try to discredit the authorship of the book to explain it away.

A Strange Ram

The first thing that Daniel saw was a ram with two horns.

I looked up, and there before me was a ram with two horns, standing beside the canal, and the horns were long. One of the horns was longer than the other but grew up later. I watched the ram as he charged toward the west and the north and the south. No animal could stand against him, and none could rescue from his power. He did as he pleased and became great. [Daniel 8:3-4]

Fortunately, we don’t have to guess what this Ram is supposed to represent. We are told by the angel Gabriel in verse 20,

The two-horned ram that you saw represents the kings of Media and Persia.

This vision skips over Babylon because that Kingdom was on its last legs.

Like the bear that was raised up on one side in chapter 7, we are told of the Ram: “One of the horns was longer than the other but grew up later.” The Medo-Persian empire began with the Medes being the dominant partner (the longer horn) but the Persians grew quickly in strength and became the dominant part of the empire under King Cyrus. They conquered the peoples to the west, north, and south to become the world power.

Stop and let this sink in: God not only knows the general course of history, He knows the specifics. He is not surprised by anything that happens . . . including the things that happen in your life and mine.

The Shaggy Goat

The real focus of the vision is the second figure, a shaggy goat. Daniel wrote,

As I was thinking about this, suddenly a goat with a prominent horn between his eyes came from the west, crossing the whole earth without touching the ground. He came toward the two-horned ram I had seen standing beside the canal and charged at him in great rage. I saw him attack the ram furiously, striking the ram and shattering his two horns. The ram was powerless to stand against him; the goat knocked him to the ground and trampled on him, and none could rescue the ram from his power. The goat became very great, but at the height of his power his large horn was broken off, and in its place four prominent horns grew up toward the four winds of heaven.(5-8)

The empire that de-throned the Medes and the Persians was the Greek Empire and the leader of that Empire was Alexander the Great. He is the prominent horn who came out of the west to attack. The phrase “without touching the ground” again underscores the speed of the conquest.

Alexander was born in 356 B.C. His dad, Philip of Macedon was planning to attack Persia when he was murdered.  Alexander, who had been educated under Aristotle, was only 20 at the time. A year and a half later he launched a furious attack against the Persian Empire. Within just three years he had conquered the entire near east and the Greek Empire was born. The Empire consisted of 1.5 million square miles! Alexander’s tactical genius and speed of conquest is unique in military history.

At the height of his career, at only 32, Alexander suddenly died. His two sons were both killed (murdered) and the Kingdom was divided among four different military leaders. Two of those Kingdoms you might have heard about in school, the Selucids and the Ptolemies. We will learn more about them in chapter 11.

In verses 17 and 19 the angel told Daniel that the vision concerned the “time of the end”. Whenever we hear those words we immediately think about the second coming of Jesus. However, it is always right to ask, “What is it that is ending?” Is it the end of the world or is it the end of the time of persecution? In verse 13 a question is asked: “How long will it take for the vision to be fulfilled – the vision concerning the daily sacrifice, the rebellion that causes desolation, and the surrender of the sanctuary and of the host that will be trampled underfoot?” It may be that the “end” referred to regards the question asked here.

All of these details fit the account of one of the Greek Kings. It is possible (perhaps even likely) that he foreshadows the character and behavior of a coming Antichrist. These words however seem to point to a known person of history.

A Vicious King

In verses 9-12 (interpreted for us in 23-26) we get to the real point of the vision,

23 “In the latter part of their reign, when rebels have become completely wicked, a stern-faced king, a master of intrigue, will arise. 24 He will become very strong, but not by his own power. He will cause astounding devastation and will succeed in whatever he does. He will destroy the mighty men and the holy people. 25 He will cause deceit to prosper, and he will consider himself superior. When they feel secure, he will destroy many and take his stand against the Prince of princes. Yet he will be destroyed, but not by human power.

26 “The vision of the evenings and mornings that has been given you is true, but seal up the vision, for it concerns the distant future.” [23-26]

This person is different than the little horn (or Antichrist) we read about in Daniel 7. In chapter 7 the little horn arrives during a fourth Kingdom. The king in chapter 8 is part of the third Kingdom: Greece.

Almost all scholars agree that the person being described here is a King by the name of Antiochus IV better known as Antiochus Epiphanes (the IV is important because there are a bunch of Antiochuses). He is called “a stern faced king, a master of intrigue”. Antiochus was an eighth king removed from Alexander (he lived around 100 years after Alexander). He began his career by stealing the throne from his nephew, the son of his older brother, the King, who had died. Immediately Antiochus launched an aggressive campaign of conquest.

In the lands he conquered he had coins minted inscribed “theos epiphanes” which means “God manifest”. In other words, this guy had a huge ego! He assumed the title “Epiphanes” which means “the manifest or illustrious one.” The text says he “will consider himself superior”. Antiochus IV wanted everyone to conform in worshipping him!

When Antiochus initially conquered Jerusalem he replaced the High priest and with someone who would promote the Greek way of thinking. In 168 BC after Antiochus had been stunningly defeated in Alexandria by the Romans, he returned to Jerusalem and took out his frustration on the Jews.

The book of 1 Maccabees is part of the Apocrypha found in Catholic Bibles. We believe the book is valuable history but not inspired or have the authority of Scripture, which is why it is not in our Bibles. The book of 1 Maccabees tells the story of what happened under Antiochus. This madman tried to eliminate all trace of Jewish faith. He killed the mothers and families of those who had their children circumcised (to claim their Jewish heritage). The books of the Law were burned and anyone who possessed one of these books was also killed. He erected an idol of Zeus in the temple and then desecrated the altar of God by offering swine upon it. This became known as the “abomination of desolation”. Gabriel told Daniel that this King “would destroy many and take his stand against the Prince of princes.”

A family of brothers with the last name Maccabee resisted the work of Antiochus. When Antiochus defiled the temple the Maccabee brothers organized a resistance. These rebels became known as the Maccabees or the Hasmoneans. Three years after the abomination of desolation (the defiling of the temple) this group stormed the temple. They took back the temple for the Jews. They destroyed the idol to Zeus, and removed the altar that had been defiled. They cleaned and purified the temple and erected a new altar.

When the temple was restored, they decided to purify the temple by burning the lamp filled with ritual oil for eight days. Unfortunately the lamp only had oil for one day and it would take eight days to produce more of the oil. They lit the lamp anyway and it didn’t go out for the entire eight days! The Jews viewed this as a miracle from God and a sign of His pleasure. That miracle is the focus of the celebration of Chanukah to this day.

We are told Antiochus would “be destroyed, but not by human power. (25)” Antiochus was not killed in the rebellion. He went on an expedition and developed a nervous disorder and died. He was not killed by any army but was considered stricken by God.

Daniel was told that the persecution under Antiochus would last 2300 evenings and mornings (14). There are three possible understandings:

  1. It refers to 2300 days (taking evening and morning to equal one day) or six years and almost four months. (This would correspond to the time from when the High Priest was removed to the time when the temple was reconstructed)
  2. It refers to 2300 times of sacrifice (once in the evening and once in the morning) or 1150 days a little over three years. (Corresponding to the time from when the abomination took place to the time of the re-consecration of the temple).
  3. The numbers may be symbolic to say that there is a definite stopping point . . . a time has been set.

Most scholars believe it refers to the number of sacrifices: a little over three years.

Driving it Home

The real question in all of this is: how does this apply to us? Let me give you four lessons.

First, we see that the God of the Bible is the True God. Any God that can predict the things revealed to Daniel with the specifics that are included in the visions is a God worth following. He is definitely in control.

We are used to politicians making promises and predictions that never materialize. We have become callous because of secular and religious scam artists.  Don’t let your cynicism cause you to overlook what we have here. We have stunningly accurate prophecies that were uttered hundreds of years before their fulfillment. This is a compelling argument for the genuineness of the God of the Bible.

Second, if God speaks Truthfully about History (and He does), then we can trust Him when He speaks on other matters. We have a tendency to read the commands and guidance of Scripture as if it were delivered to us by our friends.

When we go through a crisis we may ask our friends for advice. The advice we receive varies from friend to friend (in fact, most people turn to people they think will tell them what they really want to hear). Some of the advice is good, some of it is poor. We generally choose the advice that seems best to us.

We tend to read the Bible the same way. We underline verses or commands that “speak to us” (or that we “like”) and we feel free to dismiss everything else. This is why people call themselves believers yet have no problem with abusive behaviors, wild living, gay marriage, adultery, illegal activity, gossip, bitterness or resentment. We read the Bible as if it were giving advice which is an option for us to choose.

God is perfect in wisdom. He understands the course of history. He understands what we were created to be. He understands how things are supposed to work and what will bring us closer to Him. He sees the long term effects and implications of the choices we make every day. He is not giving us His OPINION, He is giving us truth that we can build our lives upon.

When you encounter clear commands in the Bible that run counter to your instinct, your desires, or the opinion of your peer group, remind yourself of the book of Daniel. God knows what is right and true. He guides us out of love and through wisdom. We should trust Him even if we have to stand alone or change the direction we have chosen.

Third, we see that those who are great apart from the Lord will eventually fall. Alexander was a powerful man but he suddenly and unexplainably died. Antiochus IV Epiphanes was a man who seemed to be able to do whatever he wanted and suddenly it all fell apart. The message I believe is simple: No man can stand against the power of God for long.

Think about how much time we spend trying to claw to the top in life. We pursue greater responsibility, more income, greater notoriety, and more influence. And where does all of this get us? It gets us temporary pleasures that are short-lived. All you have to do is look at the lives of celebrities today. People long to be like these people yet they can’t sustain a marriage, they must constantly endure surgeries designed to help them maintain the appearance others expect of them, and many die tragically from drugs or suicide.

What we must understand is that the only life that lasts is the one that is lived in the Lord. As we seek and serve Him we discover: contentment, fulfillment, security, brotherly love, purpose, and hope. As the saying goes, “too many people spend their life climbing the ladder of success only to find when they reach the top that the ladder was resting against the wrong building.”

This vision reminds us to resist being taken in by fame and power. Power is fleeting. Fame is an illusion. We must pursue what is of lasting significance…we must pursue a deep relationship with the Lord.

Finally, remember that there is an end to hostilities. When we go on a vacation we board our dog with the Vet. When we leave her behind I suspect she feels deserted and abandoned. She doesn’t know that we are doing this so that she will be cared for and protected while we are gone. We hope that after she has been boarded several times she will start to realize that the desertion is only temporary. We will come back to get her and take her home.

Sometimes you and I may feel like our dog. It may feel like God has deserted you and left you caged by circumstances you find unpleasant. The message Daniel was given is this: these times are temporary! God has not abandoned you or me even if it feels like it. God sees the end that is hidden from our view. He has not abandoned us; He is working in us, working through us, and is training us for something we do not as yet understand.

The message is simple: Hang On! Though you feel lost, He knows where you are. Though you feel alone, He is by your side. Though you feel rejected or useless, God is guiding your path and will use you in ways you may not yet understand. You can despair and be miserable by what seems to be true or you can hang on and trust the promise of the One who holds the future in His hands.

How the story ends has already been decided. The path the story of life takes to that end is still to be discovered. Daniel reminds us that if we follow Him closely, He will guide us through the maze of circumstances and He will lead us home. Guaranteed!

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