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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at Life BPC 8am & 11am service, 2017-05-07

Text: Daniel 8:1-27

The year was 551 BC. The Babylonian Empire was still in power and would continue to be in power for another 12 years. The first verse of this chapter tells us that it was now the third year of King Belshazzar’s reign. It also tells us that this vision was “after that which appeared unto me at the first.” Here Daniel was referring to the vision of chapter 7. Perhaps he did this because of the strong similarities between these two visions. Both of them portray the world empires as ferocious beasts; and both of them also culminate in a tyrant ruler that is described as a “little horn.” In fact the two empires of this second vision are parallel to the 2nd and 3rd empires of the first vision. From this we can draw two conclusions about…

 

1. The Purpose of this Vision

Firstly, since it repeated some prophecies of the first vision, it would serve to confirm the message of the first vision. When God gives the same prophecy twice, its fulfilment is certain and guaranteed. However there is a difference between this vision and the previous one. It ends with the 3rd kingdom – the Greek Empire – and it goes no further than that. The purpose of this vision is therefore to give specific details about the Greek Empire, and especially about the great persecution that God’s people would have to go through during the time of this empire. Why was it so important for Daniel to know all this? So that he could forewarn the Jews of his time about it, and it would benefit the generation of Jews that would live about 250 years later, when the persecution actually came upon them.

 

It is interesting to note that from chapter 8 onwards, Daniel reverts to using Hebrew for writing. In some earlier sermons we saw that chapters 2-7 were written in Aramaic which was the international language of that time. The reason why he chose to write these 6 chapters in Aramaic was because the message of God’s sovereignty over all nations was meant for the Gentiles to know and understand. In chapters 8 to 12 however, he uses Hebrew. This indicates that these prophecies were specifically meant for Israel. Let us begin then to analyse this vision, beginning with…

2. The First part of this Vision: The Medo-Persian Empire (8:2,20)

Look at verses 3 and 4 – “Then I lifted up mine eyes, and saw, and, behold, there stood before the river a ram which had two horns: and the two horns were high; but one was higher than the other, and the higher came up last. I saw the ram pushing westward, and northward, and southward; so that no beasts might stand before him, neither was there any that could deliver out of his hand; but he did according to his will, and became great.” We do not have to guess what this ram stands for, because it is stated very clearly in v.20 – “The ram which thou sawest having two horns are the kings of Media and Persia.”

 

Rams are not gentle like lambs, but are quite aggressive. Some believe that the ram was a national symbol of Persia. In an ancient inscription the ram was used to represent the guardian spirit of Persia. And when the Persian king led his forces into battle, he would wear a helmet shaped like a ram’s head. But the ram is also a symbol of tremendous force. When it charges forward with its horns, it can exert a great impact. That is where the term “battering ram” comes from.

How did Persia become such a formidable power? History tells us that its king at that time was Cyrus. In the same year (551 BC) that Daniel had this vision, Cyrus decided to challenge the neighboring kingdom of Media. This would have seemed to be a rather foolish thing to do because his kingdom was quite small compared to Media. But through a series of plots and intrigues, the best generals of Media defected over to the side of King Cyrus, so that his power increased almost overnight. Cyrus then took control of the whole Media and united its vast military forces with his own Persian troops. This is the reason why the ram is initially pictured in v.3 as having two equal horns. Later on, the Persian faction became stronger and more dominant than the Median faction. This is represented by one horn growing higher than the other.

 

Verse 4 tells us of conquests made by the Persian Kings. On the west, Cyrus defeated the Babylonian Empire in 539 BC. In the north, he defeated the kingdom of Lydia in 547 BC which is in present day Turkey. The southern conquest of Egypt was accomplished by his son, Cambyses in 525 BC. When all these conquests were completed this empire stretched from the Aegean Sea in the west right to the border of India, covering an area three times the size of Europe! It was greater than any other empire that had ruled the world up till that time in history, and it lasted for 207 years. It would have lasted even longer, if not for the emergence of a new power in the west. This brings us now to:

3. The Second part of this Vision: The Greek Empire (8:5)

This second part begins at verse 5 – “And as I was considering, behold, an he goat came from the west on the face of the whole earth...” The identification of this goat with the Greeks is based on the interpretation given in v.21 –“And the rough goat is the king of Grecia: and the great horn that is between his eyes is the first king.” The Greeks might never have conquered the Persian Empire, if they had not first been provoked. Two failed attempts by the Persian kings to conquer Greece caused the many rival city states in Greece to forget all their differences and merge into one formidable force against the Persians. As verse 5 tells us:  “…an he goat came from the west on the face of the whole earth, and touched not the ground: and the goat had a notable horn between his eyes.”

 

That notable horn was Alexander the Great. At the young age of 22 years, he set out of Greece with only 30,000 foot-soldiers and 5,000 horsemen. They were able to move with extraordinary speed, so that the goat in the vision did not even appear to touch the ground at all as it charged into the ram. In this swift lightning war, Alexander toppled the Persians in 3 great battles: at Granicus (334), Issus (333) and Arbela (331). History records that 600,000 Persian soldiers were killed and the Greeks gained about S$300 million worth of spoils from that war!

 

Now, Alexander the Great had a policy that was to have a lasting impact on all the lands he conquered – He brought the Greek language, culture and lifestyle to them. He built 70 cities and turned them into centres of Greek learning and culture. The most famous of all was a port in Egypt called Alexandria, which was named after him.

 

These great accomplishments caused Alexander to be described as the “great horn” in v.8. But this verse also tells us what became of him: “Therefore the he goat waxed very great: and when he was strong, the great horn was broken...” After a short 12-year career, Alexander died at the age of 32. After his death, his empire was divided among his four generals as the end of v.8 says, “…and for it came up four notable ones toward the four winds of heaven.”

 

Ptolemy ruled over Egypt and Israel. Lysimachus ruled over Turkey, Seleucus ruled over Syria, and Cassander ruled over Greece. Out of these four kings, two became very powerful and grew into two rival Greek dynasties: the Ptolemies of Egypt versus the Seleucids of Syria. And this brings us now to…

 

3. The Third part of this Vision: The Little Horn (8:9,22,23)

This is where we begin to see how all these political changes affect Israel. Because of its geographical location in between Egypt and Syria, Israel found itself caught in the intense power struggle between Egypt and Syria. And this led to the persecution of the Jews by a king who is mentioned in verse 9 – “And out of one of them came forth a little horn, which waxed exceeding great, toward the south, and toward the east, and toward the pleasant land.”According to verse 23 this little horn would be “a king of fierce countenance, and understanding dark sentences” (i.e. he would be a master of intrigue). His success would make him so proud that he would even dare to defy the God of Israel, as v.25 says:  “…he shall also stand up against the Prince of princes; but he shall be broken without hand.” The last part of this verse shows that God would finally destroy him.

 

We must understand that this little horn in Daniel 8 is not the same as the little horn which was mentioned in Daniel chapter 7, even though there are many similarities between them. The little horn of chapter 7 emerged from the later stage of the Roman Empire, while this little horn of chapter 8 emerges from one of the four divisions of the Greek Empire. Who then is this little horn of Daniel chapter 8? By looking at history, we now know that he was a king named Antiochus IV Epiphanes.

 

Antiochus was a very wicked, scheming, deceptive and cruel man. He came to the throne by means of flattery and bribery and then launched military campaigns against Egypt (“the south” in v.9), Armenia (“the east”) and Israel (“the pleasant land”). Out of these campaigns, he enjoyed success only in Armenia and Israel. He was so proud that he even claimed to be God incarnate, as the coins from his kingdom testify. However, when he attempted to conquer Egypt he lost and was humiliated because the Romans came and opposed him there. This bad experience frustrated him so much that he vented his anger on the Jews in Israel. And this gave rise to the horrible persecution they suffered under him.

 

Let us see how this persecution is described in vv.10-12 – “And [the little horn] waxed great, even to the host of heaven; and it cast down some of the host and of the stars to the ground, and stamped upon them. Yea, he magnified himself even to the prince of the host, and by him the daily sacrifice was taken away, and the place of his sanctuary was cast down. And an host was given him against the daily sacrifice by reason of transgression, and it cast down the truth to the ground; and it practised, and prospered.”

 

All these were fulfilled when Antiochus did the following: He overthrew the high priest (“the prince of the host”) and replaced him with a Hellenized Jew. He enforced Greek culture and religion and built Greek theatres and stadia in Jerusalem. He made the Jews adopt Greek names and made Judaism illegal. He plundered the Temple at Jerusalem, and then desecrated it by sacrificing pigs upon the altar and erecting a statue of Zeus in it. When the Jews rebelled against him, he slaughtered their women and children burned their Scriptures.

 

This was a really awful time of suffering for God’s people then. And it foreshadows an even worse time of persecution that God’s people will face in the future, under the Antichrist. So we can say that Antiochus is a fore-shadow of the End-time Antichrist. The little horn that persecuted Israel is a fore-shadow of the little horn that will persecute believers in the whole world.

 

Thus we have surveyed all three parts of this vision which Daniel received – the ram, the goat and the little horn. Many important truths (SLIDE46) are revealed in this vision, but this morning I would like to highlight two of them for all of us.

 

4. The Truths revealed in this Vision

 

a. God Sets the Limits for Human Power

 

The first truth can be seen in two recurring words in this chapter: The first is the word ‘great.’ It occurs in verse 4 (concerning the ram) – “…but he did according to his will, and became great.” It occurs again in verse 8 – “Therefore the he goat waxed very great.” Then it occurs yet again in verse 9 – “And out of one of them came forth a little horn, which waxed exceeding great.

 

Now we look at the other recurring word, which is ‘broken.’ This occurs first in verse 7 – “…and smote the ram, and brake his two horns.” It occurs again in verse 8 – “…and when he was strong, the great horn [of the goat] was broken.” It occurs for a final time in v.25 – “but he [that is, the little hornshall be broken without hand.”

 

Can you see the same pattern in each part of the vision? All three of them – the ram, the goat and its horn, and the little horn – first became great, but after that it was broken! This shows that God sets the limits for human power. Nothing can ever stay in power longer than God allows. In the same way, no one can enjoy more success than God allows. The world keeps telling us that we can achieve anything that we want to achieve, if only we set our hearts and minds to pursue it fully. But God keeps humbling us to make us realise how limited our powers and resources are.

 

We may make the greatest plans for our own future and even for our children’s future, but we run into difficulties, and we find that our plans are often frustrated. Then we realise how limited we really are. We can’t do everything that we want to do. This truth is very hard to accept. But the sooner we accept it, the earlier we will start submitting ourselves entirely to God’s will and purpose for our lives – In everything we do we must always seek to do only what God wants us to do. It is only when we accept this truth that we will humble ourselves before God, and be spared from suffering the terrible consequences of selfish pride and ambition.

 

Do you remember what happened in Daniel chapter 4 when King Nebuchadnezzar started having vain thoughts about his own power and greatness? God humbled him to eat grass like a cow for seven years. Do you remember what happened when King Belshazzar defied God by using the Temple vessels to praise his idols in Daniel chapter 5? God immediately gave him notice of his fall in the writing on the wall.

 

Just a while ago we saw what happened when Alexander the Great had reached the height of his life’s achievements. Before he could enjoy any of them, his life was cut short at the age of 33. We had also seen what happened to Antiochus Epiphanes when he became great and claimed to be God incarnate. He died of a mysterious illness. So let us acknowledge that God sets the limits for all human power, and give Him all the glory He deserves!

 

This truth can be a real source of comfort to us even now as we see the things that are happening in the world today. We see powerful leaders advancing their own agenda, and bringing nations to the brink of war. We see men using religion to subvert people to commit unimaginable acts of terrorism in the name of God. One day in the near future, we may even see the Antichrist wielding his great power to turn the world against God and His people.

 

In the midst of all that, let us always keep this truth before our eyes: God has set limits for their power. When they reach that limit, He will bring them down. One day soon, the heavens will open and our Lord Jesus Himself will descend in power and great glory to subdue all of them! Let us all therefore be greatly encouraged by this truth to press on to do His will no matter what happens in the days to come. Besides this, there is another truth from Daniel’s vision that can encourage us…

 

b. God Sends His Word to Warn His People

Earlier on we had seen that Daniel was given this vision so that God’s people of his time could be forewarned about the coming persecution. This would certainly help them to prepare themselves as they drew nearer to the time when the foretold events would take place. Listen to what Daniel was told in v.19– “Behold, I will make thee know what shall be in the last end of the indignation: for at the time appointed the end shall be.” God even revealed how long this persecution would last in vv.13,14 – “How long shall be the vision concerning the daily sacrifice, and the transgression of desolation, to give both the sanctuary and the host to be trodden under foot? And he said unto me, Unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed.”

 

And so when the terrible persecution by Antiochus begins, the Jews would have this prophecy of Daniel to assure them that the Temple would be cleansed and all the sacrifices to God would be resumed after 2,300 days which is about 6 years and 4 months. This would give them all the encouragement that they needed to persevere to the end!

 

All this was fulfilled exactly as foretold. History tells us that in 171 BC Antiochus made Menelaus the high priest of Israel. Menelaus was a Jew who defected to the side of the Greeks. This started a series of events in which the Temple was desecrated and the Jews were severely persecuted. The Jews then started a movement to overthrow the Greeks. The Temple was finally purified and rededicated on 25th December 165 BC, which was about 2,300 days after its desecration began. What a marvellous testimony this is to the accuracy of Bible prophecy!

 

What should our response be to all this? I would like to suggest that we should respond just like Daniel did in the last verse of this chapter:  “…I was astonished at the vision, but none understood it.” (v.27) Let us all be astonished with wonder and excitement at the mysterious workings of God in the affairs of this world. How wonderful it is to know that God is always in sovereign control!

 

But at the same time let us also be more committed to know and understand His written Word well, because it is designed to prepare us to face the uncertain future. God knows everything that we will face in the days to come. He has helped us by giving many warnings in His Word to take heed to, as we live in times like these. If anyone here is not yet saved, please take heed to the warnings God has given to repent of your sins and turn to Christ for salvation while you still have the opportunity to do so. And God has also given us many encouraging promises in His Word to trust in, so that we may persevere to the very end. Let us all live as true disciples of Christ, by making full use of His Word, and by seeking to bring it to others so that they too may find hope in Christ to face the future and to be ready for His return.

 
 
 
 

 

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

December 3 & 10 - Holy Living

Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, 2 Peter 3:11