The Ram and the Goat – Daniel 8

Read the Passage: Daniel 8

Vision (8:1-14)

In this chapter, which begins the Hebrew portion of this book, we read of a second vision given to Daniel, two years after the vision recorded in Dan. 7. This vision is similar to Daniel’s previous vision, as well as the dream of Nebuchadnezzar recorded in Dan. 2. A notable difference in this chapter is that Daniel’s vision came in the day, whereas his earlier vision, as well as that of Nebuchadnezzar, were at night. Perhaps it is more accurate to call the earlier visions dreams. The vision recorded here occurred in 551 BC, two years after Daniel’s first vision and 12 years before the events reported in Dan. 5. Daniel writes in this vision he was taken to Sushan (or Susa), which became the capital of the Persian Empire, by the river Ulai. This river was actually a 900 foot wide man-made canal built between the Choaspes and Coprates rivers in the northeast of Sushan.

In his vision Daniel first sees a ram, with horns of differing heights, that was freely going in every direction but east. The ram is identifiable as a symbolizing the Medo-Persian empire (cf. Dan. 8:20), as a ram was the symbol of Persia and Daniel was located in Sushan. The two horns of differing heights symbolize the Medes and Persians, as the Persians were the dominant people in the Empire. The ram did not head east, as the Medo-Persians did not have success in spreading their empire eastward. Next Daniel sees a one-horned goat, coming from the west, which attacks and conquers the ram. We learn that this goat symbolizes the Greek Empire (cf. Dan. 8:21), which overcame the Medo-Persian Empire. The horn on the goat represents Alexander the Great, who conquered Medo-Persia with an army of 35,000 men in 331 BC.

Daniel’s vision continues with more information about the goat, which represents Greece. In his dream Daniel sees the goat’s horn broken and four other horns arise in its place. The broken horn symbolizes Alexander’s death in 323 BC. The four horns that arise represent Alexander’s generals who divided his empire: Cassander who ruled Macedonia, Lysimachus who ruled Asia Minor, Seleucus who ruled Syria, and Ptolemy who ruled Egypt. Next Daniel sees a little horn arise out of one of the previous horns. This little horn, which is distinct from the little horn in Dan. 7:8, 20–22, represents Antiochus Epiphanes. Antiochus arose from the Seleucid corner of the Greek Empire, he conquered Egypt and Armenia, and then invaded and oppressed the land of Canaan from 171–165 BC. The 2,300 days is a reference to the 6.5 years of oppression under Antiochus Epiphanes.

Encounter (8:15–17)

Daniel records that he next saw a being “having the appearance of a man” (Dan. 8:15). We learn that this being is the angel Gabriel. This is the first time that Gabriel is called by name in the Bible, although he is likely the interpreter in Dan. 7:16–27. Gabriel is also named at Dan. 9:21; Luke 1:19, 26. The only other named angel in Scripture is Michael (cf. Dan. 10:13, 21; 12:1; Jude 1:9; Rev. 12:7). At Gabriel’s appearance, Daniel fell down, which is a common reaction in Scripture when humans meet heavenly beings (cf. Ezek. 1:28; 44:4; Isa. 6:5; Rev. 1:17). Daniel writes that Gabriel was told to explain the vision to him. Surely, this command came from the Lord, who alone has authority over heavenly hosts (cf. 1 Cor. 15:28). Note that the phrase “times of the end” (Dan. 8:17) used by Gabriel likely refers to the end of the Old Testament era before the arrival of the Messiah.

Interpretation (8:18–27)

Dan. 8:18–27 records Gabriel’s interpretation of the vision for Daniel. While we’ve already covered aspects of the interpretation, there are a few new facts here. It is significant that Daniel is told that the little horn, whom we identified as Antiochus Epiphanes, “shall be broken without human means” (Dan. 8:25). This can also be translated “broken without hand.” This continues a theme began earlier in this book as we saw a stone “cut out without hands” (Dan. 2:34) that toppled the statue in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. Also, it was “the fingers of a man’s hand” (Dan. 5:5) that appeared and wrote on the wall at Belshazzar’s feast. The connection between these references is that the hand of God is sovereignly guiding all of human history. This is meant to be an encouragement to God’s people in midst of their trials and triumphs.

Application Questions:

  1. This narrative mentions four times that Daniel was troubled, grieved, and astonished (cf. Dan. 7:15, 28; 8:17, 27). Why was this Daniel’s reaction to his visions?
  2. Daniel’s two visions occurred over a decade before the events reported in Dan. 5. How do you think these dreams influenced his interaction with Belshazzar?
  3. Why does God allow his people to suffer, especially at the hands of unbelievers (cf. Luke 13:1–5; John 9:1–3; 11:4)?
  4. Gabriel tells Daniel that the vision he received refers to the “times of the end” (Dan. 8:17). What are the times of the end?
  5. Why do you think Daniel was told to “seal up the vision” (Dan. 8:26)? Is this is reference to preserving the vision or keeping it secret?