In this episode we look at the prophetic vision of Chapter Eight. There is a pattern that is beginning to emerge in Daniel’s visions, and this one follows suit. History and myth, past and future, kingdoms and civilizations, all swirl within Daniel’s vision. It invites us to see the patterns of sin, human effort, and God’s Sovereign intervention – inviting us to trust and obey Him as the events of world history continue to unfold.
The Abomination of Desolation
We’re in Daniel chapter 8. Dave took you through Daniel chapter 7, and you saw what’s about to unfurl, once again, using different symbols than what we saw in chapter 2.
We saw in chapter 2—we had the statue with the head of gold, which is Babylon, the silver chest, which is the Medo-Persian empire, the bronze torso, which is the Greek empire, and the legs of iron and clay, which is the Roman empire, and then the rock that is hewn out of the mountain not made by hands. It comes down and smashes the statue, and that’s the kingdom of God that will then last forever.
We saw that in chapter 2. And then last week we saw a different manifestation of those same events.
And today, we’re going to see yet another manifestation of those same events except we’re not really going to focus in on Rome this time. We’re just going to be looking at the kingdoms leading up to Rome. And, in particular, we’re going to be looking at the Greek kingdom and this character that is a presaging of the antichrist. So we’re going to look at Antiochus Epiphanes who is a picture of the antichrist that is yet to come.
This particular chapter is almost like an illustration or a rehearsal, a practice, of what is yet in front of us.
So 8:1. In the third year of the reign of King Belshazzar a vision appeared to me—to me, Daniel—after the one that appeared to me the first time.
In chapter 7, we moved from these stories where Daniel’s interpreting dreams of other people to Daniel’s firsthand accounting: “I saw this dream myself.”
And the chapter 7 vision—in the first year of Belshazzar. And this one happens in the third year of Belshazzar. So it appears that we’re going chronologically now in the visions that Daniel saw himself and testifies of himself.
King Belshazzar, you’ll remember, is the king that saw the handwriting on the wall. He’s the one that loses the Persian empire. So this is the third year.
The ram ( the Medo-Persian empire)
Verse 2. I saw in the vision, and it so happened while I was looking, that I was in Shushan, the citadel, which is in the province of Elam; and I saw in the vision that I was by the River Ulai.
Then I lifted my eyes and saw, and there, standing beside the river, was a ram which had two horns, and the two horns were high; but one was higher than the other, and the higher one came up last.
I saw the ram pushing westward, northward, and southward, so that no animal could withstand him; nor was there any that could deliver from his hand, but he did according to his will and became great.
This vision will be explained, and we’ll see it again, but it doesn’t hurt to hear the answer multiple times.
This ram represents Medo-Persian empire. And Medo-Persian empire started off with the Media part being the ascendant part and then the Persian part grew past it, and it became the bigger part. That’s what these two horns represent.
This is interesting that he says “I was in Shushan, the citadel, which is in the province of Elam… by the River Ulai.” What significance does that have?
People who make comparisons with secular history and geography and so forth and the commentaries I read about, they said that this particular spot became a very prominent city in the empire that’s to come in the Medo-Persian empire because here we’re still in King Belshazzar— we’re still in the Babylonian empire. So perhaps it’s presaging that the importance of Babylon is going to diminish, and it’s going to move to some other place because the Persians are going to come in and change what’s important.
But you can see that the Medes and Persians really spread out. And we talked about this earlier that the Medo-Persian empire was vast. It covered about half of the people on earth at the time. It was one of the largest empires that has taken place. So it did become amazingly great. But it didn’t stay that way.
By the way, just to go to some dates, we started this story in 605 B.C. when Daniel is immigrated forcefully out of Judah into Babylon. And Babylon falls in 539 B.C. That’s then the handwriting on the wall happens, and the Persians dam up the river, come under the wall and take Babylon with not that much fighting, actually.
So then the Medo-Persian empire goes from 539-330. Now this is very significant because Cyrus is called “my shepherd.” Cyrus is called “my agent.” He’s the king, probably, the same as Darius the Mede. Darius the Mede and Cyrus, probably the same person. And he’s the one he’s the one who said go back and repopulate Jerusalem.
So now we have a scenario where, if you’re a typical human, you start off with, well, wait a minute. Why are we exported from Israel? Doesn’t God care for us? How can this happen? You go to Babylon. God has promised in 70 years, I’ll take you back. So you start going back and say, everything’s okay now. It’s going to be just business as usual. Not only that, we have the promises of the king sitting on the throne of David, and God’s blessing, and all that sort of stuff.
Well, yeah, but you’re not reading the other part. You’re just reading the “blessing” part, which is pretty typical for humans.
What’s about to happen is a lot more turmoil coming in the world, and it’s going to land on Israel. And God is telling people, look, there’s going to be a lot of stuff that’s going to happen that you’re not going to like, again. But you know what? Just like I had everything under control under the Babylonian problems, I’m going to have everything under control under the Persians and under the Greeks too.
So that’s what the message here is, I think, in large part.
The goat (Alexander the Great)
So, verse 5. And as I was considering, suddenly a male goat came from the west, across the surface of the whole earth, without touching the ground; and the goat had a notable horn between his eyes.
Then he came to the ram that had two horns, which I had seen standing beside the river, and ran at him with furious power.
And I saw him confronting the ram; he was moved with rage against him, attacked the ram, and broke his two horns. There was no power in the ram to withstand him, but he cast him down to the ground and trampled him; and there was no one that could deliver the ram from his hand.
Therefore the male goat grew very great; but when he became strong, the large horn was broken, and in place of it four notable ones came up toward the four winds of heaven.
This is now Alexander the Great coming from the west, and the Greeks then came in and just in very short order dispatched the Persians. It was an overwhelming defeat in really short order. And it’s interesting, this goat comes; he’s not even touching the ground he’s going so fast. It’s giving you the notion that this happens really, really fast.
When we get to the very end, verse 27 says And I, Daniel, fainted and was sick for days; afterward I arose and went about the king’s business. I was astonished by the vision, but no one understood it.
And it’s interesting to think about. Why couldn’t anybody understand this? I think, in part, at this point in time, the idea that any power from the west could come and vanquish Persia in this short order at a time when Babylon is the ascendant power on earth, is probably incomprehensible to them. Because Greece was just kind of a backwater at this point in time, based on what I understand.
So it’s God telling people stuff that doesn’t make any sense to them. But it’s going to happen anyway. Just because something doesn’t seem plausible doesn’t mean anything in God’s economy. Things become plausible.
The horns, Alexander’s generals
You’ve got this one horn. The large horn was broken; that’s Alexander dying. And in place of it four notable ones came up toward the four winds of heaven. North, south, east, and west.
And out of one of them came a little horn which grew exceedingly great toward the south, toward the east, and toward the Glorious Land.
And it grew up to the host of heaven; and it cast down some of the host and some of the stars to the ground, and trampled them.
Now let me just give you the introduction of this. When Alexander died, he was only 32 year old. He was 20 when he became king.
His dad suffered the main occupational hazard of rulers in those days. He was murdered.
And so Alexander took over, conquered the Persians in really short order. And just a few years into his reign, he died of malaria or something. He’s 32 years old.
He had a couple of little kids, and his generals, of course, took care of the little kids, as you would expect they would. But in this case but in this case, “took care of” means they killed them because then there would be no heir, and they could be the recipients of the kingdom.
And they divvied it up among four of his generals. One took Macedonia, and one took Greece. Remember they’re Greeks. Philip of Macedon is Alexander’s dad, so they’re Macedonians. And Greece and Macedonia had kind of become one kingdom under Philip. And then Alexander goes and conquers the world. So one takes Greece, one takes Macedonia, one takes Egypt—which is, of course, an historical power—and one takes the rest—Syria and so forth.
And the Macedonian Greeks, we don’t hear much about them. They pretty well got absorbed by Rome pretty quickly. But the other two, if you study history, you’ve read about them: the Ptolemys in Egypt and the Seleucids in Syria.
So the Ptolemys have one ruler who’s really, really, well known. It’s a queen of Egypt, a Greek queen of Egypt. Cleopatra. Cleopatra was the Ptolemaic queen of Egypt. So the Greeks are ruling Egypt. And she has the tryst with Mark Antony, and they come together; and they have the war with Rome, and all that sort of thing. And that becomes a part of that future.
But the Ptolemys and the Seleucids also battled with each other.
Let me just tell you this history, and we’ll review it multiple times; but without this in your mind, it’s kind of hard to follow what’s going on here because this horn that grows is one of these rulers of the Seleucid empire, and it’s a guy named Antiochus Epiphanes.
Antiochus Epiphanes is so called—it appears—because on his coins there was an inscription under his picture, Theos Epiphanos. So Theos, theology, it means God; and epiphanos—does that sound like an English word to anybody? Epiphany, which means a vision. So it’s the representation of God. Antiochus had his coins like “I am the representation of the Greek Gods,” Hercules or Zeus or whatever. So he’s appropriately called Antiochus Epiphanes.
So Antiochus comes to power in about 175 B.C. His dad was the Seleucid ruler that had the battle with the Ptolemaic kingdom.
Egypt actually ruled Israel until 200 B.C., and Antiochus III had a war with the Ptolemys and took over Israel. That was one of the outcomes of that war. Now the Seleucids take over Israel.
Under Antiochus III, the Seleucid that takes over Israel and then comes in and says, “The Jews should live according to their own customs.” So there’s a time of peace.
And then Antiochus IV, who is Antiochus Epiphanes, comes in. And Antiochus Epiphanes invaded Judah in 175, so about 25 years after the switch from Egypt to Syrian rule, from the Ptolemys to the Seleucids. Then Antiochus IV comes in. He invaded Judah in 175. He was encouraged to do that by, guess who? Some Jews.
There was a group called the Sons of Tobias. And the Sons of Tobias had been expelled to Syria about 170 B.C. by the priest Onias. The priest Onias was pro-Egyptian. So even though it’s 25 years later, there are still factions of I-prefer-Egypt, I-prefer-Syria.
Now it’s very fascinating that that happened this way because it sets up like a disaster of disasters because Rome took over Israel, and I think that happened like 60 B.C. or something like that—because there were factions among the Maccabees who were ruling at the time; and they were trying to—who should win, me or you? And they invited the Romans in and said, “Why don’t you kind of arbitrate between us?” And Rome said, “Yeah, that’s a good idea. We’ll pick us to be the ruler!”
So people don’t learn.
But anyway, Antiochus came in, and this is what Josephus said. Josephus is the historian. It says, “The king, being thereto disposed—”
So in other words Antiochus was invited by these Sons of Tobias to come in and attack Israel, and he said, “Yeah, that’s a good idea.”
So, “The king, being thereto disposed beforehand, complied with them, and came upon the Jews with a great army, and took their city by force, and slew a great multitude of those that favored Ptolemy—”
So you know you’ve got an us-versus-them thing, so this is a chance to get rid of all those guys.
“—and sent out his soldiers to plunder them without mercy. He also spoiled the temple, and put a stop to the constant practice of offering a daily sacrifice of expiation for three years and six months.”
That’s what Antiochus Epiphanes does.
Then he followed on and outlawed Judaism about 167 B.C. He erected an altar to Zeus in the temple. He ordered pigs to be sacrificed on that altar.
The Maccabean Revolt and Hanukkah
And then in 165 B.C. there was a Maccabean revolt that was successful by 165.
The festival Hanukkah, the festival of the lights, commemorates the rededication of the temple after it had been “Zeusified.” And they took it in and rededicated it.
In the festival of lights, they light the Menorah. If you’ve been anywhere where there’s a Jewish population, they’ll put their Menorahs in the windows.
There’s a legend—it’s not in the book of Maccabees, so nobody’s sure whether it really happened or not—but they looked around for the special olive oil blessed by the high priest to burn in this Menorah. They only found one flask. They put it in. It was enough for one day; it burned for eight days.
But nobody’s really sure whether that’s a legend or a reality. But what is known is that it’s an eight-day festival. That was the Maccabees’ order. And it’s lasted ever since.