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Daniel 8: God of the Big and the Small Print E-mail
Sunday, 28 October 2012

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Any reputable book on ancient history will cover the life of Alexander the Great. He became the King in Macedon after his fatherís death in 336 BC. He was twenty years old at the time. By the time he was thirty he had established the largest kingdom in the known world. He is most known because he was able to accomplish this through repeated military victories that demonstrated his genius on the battlefield. Even today, his strategies and tactics are studied as models of military conquest. He only enjoyed his new kingdom for only a few years, because he died shortly thereafter at age 32 or 33. He was the first, and greatest king, of the Greeks.

Why am I talking about Alexander the Great this morning?  Because Daniel wrote about him a few hundred years before he was born.  Most commentators agree that the vision that Daniel is given in Daniel 8 speaks of Alexander.  He is the conspicuous horn of the goat that Daniel is later told represents Greece.  What is interesting is that he is not the central figure of the vision.  There is a king who comes after him that receives more attention than Alexander.  What in the world is going on and what does any of this have to do with God and the story of our redemption?  We will return to this question at the end of the sermon, but to begin we need to first look at Danielís vision and the interpretation that is offered.

The Vision (v.2-14)

We are told in verse 1 that Danielís second vision takes place during the third year of the reign of King Belshazzar.  Once again Daniel has a vision in Babylon about what is going to take place in the future.  Unlike the vision of chapter 7, which took place next to the sea, Daniel tells us that this vision takes place in Susa, a city that would later be prominent during the reign of the Persians.  So then, what does he see? 

The vision begins with a ram.  The ram is described as having two horn and one being higher than the other.  The ram is able to defeat anything around it and Daniel notes that it became great.  Then the vision shifts to a goat.  The goat has one horn and proceeds quickly in defeating the ram.  He breaks the two horns of the ram and trampled on him.  Daniel notes that the goat became exceedingly great.  Yet, even while the horn was strong, it is broken and replaced by four other horns.  At that point, the vision then focuses on a horn that came out of one of the four horns.  This little horn became exceedingly great toward the south, toward the east, and toward the glorious land, which to Daniel would have been Israel.  Then Daniel describes this little horn making war on God (the Prince of the host) and preventing the regular sacrifices from being offered in worship.  Finally, Daniel hears a voice that basically asks the question: how long will this take place?  The answer that is given is 2,300 evenings and mornings, which ends the vision.

The Interpretation (v. 15-26)

It should not surprise to see that Daniel is asking for some help in understanding this vision.  Look at what he is told in verses 15-17.  For the first time in the Bible, we are introduced to the angel Gabriel.  He is told to explain the vision to Daniel.  How does he begin the interpretation?  Understand, O son of man, that the vision is for the time of the end.  When I first read that this week, I immediately assumed that Gabriel was talking about the very end, like we saw with the vision in Chapter 7.  Yet, as we will see, this vision is only about two kingdoms: Media-Persia and Greece.  Thus, instead of seeing this reference to the end as talking about the very end, I think it makes more sense to see it as an answer to the Ďhow longí question in verse 13, which is what Gabriel says that it is about in verse 19. 

Gabriel goes on in verses 18-21 to interpret the vision of the ram and the goat.  Look at those with me.  Verse 20 states plainly that the ram with the two horns represents the kings of Media and Persia.  Thus, there is no mystery about who the ram is.  Likewise, in verse 21 we are told that the goat represents Greece and that its horn is the first king, which as we have said was Alexander the Great.  Again, what is interesting is that Alexander only gets a mention.  Yes, he is described as becoming great, but so are the other kings, and just like them, his reign only lasts for a short season.  Also, the first horn of the goat is not the focus of Danielís vision in chapter 8.  Rather, the focus is clearly the little horn which comes after Alexander.  One of my commentaries notes: ďAlexander the Great was one of the greatest military strategists, one of the pivotal men in world history.  Yet in Daniel 8 he is a mere footnote, meriting barely a mention before the vision moves on to the more important matter of the little horn and his assault on Godís people, and even on God himself.Ē 1  The focus of the text is not so much on world history as it is the history of Godís people in the midst of world history.

So then, what is the interpretation of the little horn?  We are told in verse 22 about the four horns that come from the Kingdom of Greece.  Look at that with me.  So then, according to the interpretation of Gabriel, Alexanderís kingdom will be divided into four and none of those kingdoms will have the power of Alexander.  Is this accurate?  After Alexander died at 32-33, neither of his sons was old enough to reign.  Thus, the power in Greece was divided among his four generals.  And from one of these divisions will come the little horn.  Gabriel tells us more about him in verses 23-25a.  Look at those with me.  The little horn will also be a king who will arise from one of the four kingdoms and he will make war on Godís people and even on God himself.  As we saw earlier, he will bring temple sacrifice to an end for a season.  So then, who is this?  Almost all interpreters agree that this refers to Antiochus IV, who came to power in 170 BC.  He took over in Jerusalem, the glorious land, and persecuted the Jews for refusing to be Hellenized, or to take on the culture of the Greeks.  He refused to allow them to sacrifice and even sacrificed a pig in the temple as well as setting up a sacred object to the god Zeus.  Many interpreters see in him a foreshadowing of the spirit of the antichrist which is spoken of by the New Testament writers (see 2 Thessalonians 2:1-11, 1 John 2:18ff). 

Yet, as with all rulers, Antiochusí time was limited.  Look at verses 25b-27.  Antiochus will be brokenóbut by no human hand.  He will be brought low and removed from power.  This too is historically accurate.  A group of Jewish freedom fighters (known as the Maccabeans) rose up and by Godís power was able to restore the Temple and the sacrifices.  Thus, all of the vision that Daniel has in chapter 8 will be fulfilled before the time of Christ.  The Medes and the Persians (the ram with two horns) will become great for a season to be replaced by the Alexander the Great and the Greeks.  Alexander will reign for a short time and then his kingdom will be divided into four smaller kingdoms.  From one of these will come Antiochus, who will war against God and His people and desecrate the Temple in Jerusalem.  But his reign will be ended and the Temple will be restored after a season.

So then, is there anything that we can learn from this vision?  I mean, it has already been fulfilled and it did not have anything to do with us.  Thus, what possibly can we learn from this passage?  Let me close with a couple of important lessons.

First, we learn more about Godís enemies.  As we have already seen in Daniel, we see again that they will be great and that they will persecute Godís people for a season.  We see in this passage that they will use deception and destruction to gain power (v. 4, 6, 10, 12, 24-25), which means that Godís people must hold fast to the truth in the face of such persecution.  Yet, we see again that their reign will be limited.  Daniel is even given a number of days for this vision (2,300 evenings and mornings, v. 14).  Interpreters are unsure about what this number actually represents, but the main point is clear, namely that the enemiesí terror will only last for a season, even a season that can be numbered in days.  Thus, we should never be surprised by the greatness and the power of Godís enemies.  They will continue to come, as we saw in chapter 7 and in the rest of the Bible.  They will continue to make war against God and His people.  They will continue to use deception and destruction as a means to power.  And they will continue to be defeated by the hand of God.  We can find hope even in the worst of persecution because we know that it will only last for a season.  God will win in the end.  He will deliver His people.

Second, we learn that God is faithful in the big and small things.  Daniel 7 tells us the story of four kingdoms and deals with matters that will impact all of world history.  It points us at least to the time of Christ and even past that to the time of His return.  Thus, it is a vision of all of history.  The vision in chapter 8 deals with a relatively small amount of time in comparison.  It covers less than 500 years of history.  Also, we see that the focus of the vision is not the great Alexander, but the wicked ruler who will persecute Godís people.  Historians may be fascinated by the great military leader and his accomplishments, but Godís focus is the deliverance of His people.  Yes, He is the God of the big story, the God of all of history, the sovereign ruler over all.  But He is also the God of the small story, the God of our history, the caring King over our individual lives and struggles.  This is the God of Daniel.

And it is the God who takes on flesh in the New Testament.  Christ came to deal with the greatest of our enemies by dying for our sins and being raised from the dead.  He came to win salvation for all nations and all peoples and all languages (even as we saw last week).  Yet, while He was here, He took the time to heal the blind and visit the sick.  He put His hands on lepers and cured them of their terrible disease.  He had time for children and tax collectors and prostitutes.  The God we serve is not some far off being who refuses to get His hands dirty or have anything to do with our small lives.  No, He is the God who loved us so much that He was willing to send His Son in the flesh to walk our streets, smell our air, face our temptations, and feel our pain.  He is the God who sent Phillip into the middle of nowhere so that he could tell the good news to an Ethiopian eunuch.  And He is the God who is here with us even this morning, listening to our prayers and praise, understanding our weaknesses, forgiving our sins, strengthening us for battle against all our enemies.  He is with us, just as He has always been with His people.  Take hope in the fact that He is both the God of the big and the God of the small.  Amen.

1 Iain M. Duguid, Daniel REC (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2008), p. 128

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Monday, 12 November 2012 )

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