The Greek Goat Versus the Prince of Princes

The Greek Goat Versus the Prince of Princes Daniel 8 sermon notes I. Intro: Why Fulfilled Prophecy Still Matters Why does reflecting on a prophecy that has been completely fulfilled within history matter? Pretty much everyone agrees that the prophetic vision recorded for us in Daniel chapter 8 has been completely fulfilled well over 2,000 years ago. So, why shouldn’t we just skip over it? First, in a book like Daniel, where controversy and disagreement abound among students of Scripture throughout history, wherever there is abundant agreement, we should celebrate and enjoy! Second, having a visionary prophecy completely fulfilled in history can shape our expectations for how to understand what the fulfillment of other prophecies should look like. Third, we can have our convictions about God’s faithfulness strengthened when we study the historical fulfillment of prophecy. Have you ever struggled believing some of God’s promises? Is he really always with you, even when you don’t feel it? Will he really protect you from Satanic attack and oppression? Will he really enable you to please him in your life by overcoming sinful patterns and attitudes and by actually obeying his Word? Will he really send his Son to return to set all things right? Will he really resurrect the dead and bring in the New Creation? Will he really wipe all my tears away? Seeing that he has fulfilled his prophetic Word in the past strengthens our convictions and our faith that he will fulfill all his promises. Finally, as we consider how this passage might’ve impacted God’s people who lived through the fulfillment, we might find that the message of the vision is not simply about the facts of what will happen. Rather, the vision was given ahead of time to enable those who read the prophecy ahead of time and believed the prophecy ahead of time to respond properly when the fulfillment was unfolding. It may be also, in this particular case, that the specific historical events being prophesied and depicted in visionary form also reflect a historical pattern that God’s people throughout the ages would face in various times and places. It may be that this prophetic vision, depicting events that would culminate around 380 years after Daniel saw this vision, events that occurred more than 2,180 years ago from our vantage point, contains a very important message for followers of Jesus in the church today. Here’s the way I summarize this message from Daniel 8: God establishes decisive limits on the oppression of his people by wicked rulers. From Daniel 7 through the end of the book, there is a greater focus on the suffering of God’s people, and, in chapter 8, Daniel returns to writing in Hebrew for the rest of the book. The stories of the first six chapters depicted the suffering of God’s people in exile, but the focus of those chapters was to highlight God’s presence with his faithful people and his provision of relief in the midst of the exile. But in chapters 7 through 12, the visions given to Daniel make it clear that things are going to get much worse. The purpose of these visions, then, is to comfort readers ahead of time, to let them know that they’re going to suffer, but none of it is outside of God’s control. That’s the main point of this vision especially: God limits the suffering and oppression of his people. Thus, this message can apply to any situation of suffering that we face as Christians. No one and nothing—not the devil, not demonic powers, not wicked rulers, not sinful people, not disease or disaster—nothing can go beyond the limits that God has set on the oppression and suffering that we experience in this world. We should take comfort that nothing is outside of God’s control. So, with all that in mind, let’s begin looking at the passage. Let’s first consider the setting and also Daniel’s response to the vision. I’m not going to read the entire passage, but I’ll summarize and we’ll dive in at certain points. I hope you’ll follow along in your own Bible. II. Setting and Daniel’s Response to the Vision (Dan. 8:1-2, 15a, 27) In verse 1, we find that we’re back in the reign of Belshazzar, the final king of the Babylonian Empire. He’s been the vice-regent of Babylon, with his father, Nabonidus, living abroad but still the true king, for about three years. Daniel’s first vision came two years earlier, in the first year of Belshazzar. So, about two years have passed since Daniel received his vision of the four beasts and the “one like a son of man,” which we looked at for three weeks, up through Easter Sunday. Now, in chapter 8, the year is roughly 547 BC. Daniel connects the visions of chapter 7 and chapter 8. In chapter 7, Daniel had seen four beasts which represented four historical kingdoms, which we identified as Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. In chapter 8, Daniel sees a vision of two beasts, a ram and a goat, and they will be explicitly identified as representing Medo-Persia and Greece, respectively. So, in a sense, this vision zooms in on a particular historical period of time in the midst of the sequences of empires he had seen two years earlier. In verse 2, Daniel describes where he was when he saw this vision. He was in a city called Susa in the Babylonian province of Elam. Many years later, Nehemiah will spend some time at that same location, and the events of the book of Esther unfold there as well. However, in Daniel’s day, during the days of the Babylonian Empire, Elam was merely a province of Babylon, and Susa was one major city, where the Babylonian kings established a fortress, and Daniel seems to be there at this time. But later, during the Medo-Persian Empire, Susa became one of the capital cities, one of the most important cities in the kingdom, where Persian kings would live during the winters. So, he’s in the fortress when God gives him this vision, but, in the vision itself, he sees himself at the Ulai canal, a waterway just outside the city. Before we look at the details of Daniel’s description, I want to consider briefly his response to what he sees. In verse 15, he expresses his desire to understand the meaning of the vision. This implies that he doesn’t get the point! But, as he’s pondering, the angel Gabriel shows up. This is probably the same angel who appeared to Mary to instruct her about the birth of Jesus. Gabriel is instructed to help Daniel understand the meaning of the vision. Well, after Gabriel explains, we read these words in verse 27, “And I, Daniel, was overcome and lay sick for some days. Then I rose and went about the king’s business, but I was appalled by the vision and did not understand it.” I suppose Gabriel gave it his best effort, but Daniel the prophet just doesn’t get it! Not only does he remain in suspense about the meaning, but he is also upset and physically ill because of what he saw and what he heard. Some of you have been worn out by our look at the book of Daniel; maybe that’s my fault: in attempting to be exhaustive, I’ve actually been more exhausting for my listeners. But, I’m kind of not sorry. I think it’s good when we feel the same emotional impact that the original recipient of these visions felt! I hope you’ll hang in there with me a little while longer. Moreover, we can sometimes kid ourselves into thinking that, if we knew what would happen in our future then we’d be able to cope better. But Daniel gets just a tiny glimpse of the future, and not even future events that he’d be alive to experience himself, for the most part, and he is left debilitated and discouraged. Regarding the future, both of our lives and of the world, how kind of God to call us to walk by faith and not by sight! Also, I wanted to draw your attention to a detail here that corrects something I mistakenly said several weeks ago. In Daniel 5, I had assumed that perhaps Daniel had been retired when Belshazzar came to power in Babylon. Here, we see that, at least in the third year of Belshazzar’s decade-long reign, Daniel is still employed in “the king’s business.” Perhaps old-man Daniel had been shuffled off to Susa, filing paperwork in an insignificant corner of the Babylonian Empire, long forgotten by those in power for his excellent spirit and great wisdom, so that Belshazzar treats him with such disdain when they have their ill-fated meeting in chapter 5, some seven years after Daniel sees this vision. Well, now, let’s consider Daniel’s description of the vision in verses 3-14. III. Daniel’s Description of the Vision (Dan. 8:3-14) First, Daniel sees a ram with two horns, but he notices that one horn extended higher than the other. This is similar to the lopsided bear in the vision of chapter 7. Apparently, he watched the two horns grow from the ram’s head, because he says that the horn that ended up extending higher grew after the first one. Then, he observes the movement of the ram. He charged to the west, to the north, and to the south, which probably indicates that it originated from the east. This ram is depicted as attacking and overcoming all manner of other beasts. He seems unstoppable. The last line of verse 4 says, “He did as he pleased and became great,” or he magnified himself. Then, from the west, Daniel observes a weird male goat coming as a challenger against the ram. This goat is weird; he’s got a single horn between his eyes and he seems to hover above the ground. He charges the ram and butts the ram, head on, shattering both horns, and then he stomps him into the ground. Look at verse 8: “Then the goat became exceedingly great”—or “magnified himself exceedingly”—“but when he was strong, the great horn was broken, and instead of it there came up four conspicuous horns toward the four winds of heaven.” Note the passive voice. The huge horn between the eyes of this male goat “was broken,” and Daniel would’ve recognized the action of God here. But then, on the goat’s head, four new horns began growing, one in each of the four compass directions. But then, as if the goat’s not already weird enough, he just gets weirder! Somewhat like antlers, rather than horns, a little horn begins growing out of one of the four new horns. Look at verse 9: “Out of one of them came a little horn, which grew exceedingly great toward the south, toward the east, and toward the glorious land.” This is a weird little horn! Daniel apparently sees it splitting off into two directions, jutting out toward the east and toward the south. More specifically, Daniel mentions that it pointed toward “the glorious land,” probably a reference to the land of Israel. Now, at verse 10, the action really begins and goes in a wild direction. This little horn “grew great, even to the host of heaven. And some of the host and some of the stars it threw down to the ground and trampled on them.” Remember, Daniel is describing what he saw in the vision. Don’t try to substitute the interpretation too quickly. He sees this little horn become gigantic; it reaches all the way up into the night sky, slams some of the stars down on the ground, and thrashes the stars. What a wild vision! In verse 11, there’s a shift, but you don’t see it clearly in English. Verse 11 returns to discussing the goat. The goat “became great”—or “magnified itself”—“even as great as the Prince of the host.” Pause there for just a moment. Who is this “Prince of the host”? Most of the time elsewhere, this Hebrew phrase is usually translated “the commander of the army.” The “host” in the previous verse seems to refer to the stars, perhaps along with the sun and moon. Or, sometimes the word “host” refers to angels. Could the goat have thrown down some stars and some angels in Daniel’s vision? And here, the goat exalts himself to become as great as the commander of the heavenly hosts, commander of the angelic armies? Who is the commander of the angelic armies? We’ll come back to this question. Back in verse 11, the goat’s actions seem focused again on earth, particularly in Jerusalem. “And the regular burnt offering was taken away from him, and the place of his sanctuary was overthrown.” So, as a result of the goat’s self- exaltation against “the Prince of the host,” the commander of the army, the regular burnt offering was taken away from this heavenly commander, and this heavenly commander’s sanctuary was overthrown. Now we begin to see the identity of this heavenly commander more clearly. The sanctuary is surely the temple in Jerusalem, and the regular burnt offering is a part of Israel’s sacrificial system. Now, just to raise a question for a moment, consider Daniel and the setting of this vision again. Daniel is in Babylon, in exile with the rest of the Jewish people. The temple and the city of Jerusalem are in ruins. No one is offering sacrifices at this time. This might’ve been a clear indicator to Daniel that this vision is for the future, but I wonder if he’s already got God’s promises of the temple’s rebuilding and the people’s restoration to the land dancing around in his mind at this point. But the ominous reality before him suggests already that, even when the people are restored, even when the temple is rebuilt, trouble for God’s people isn’t over. Something is wrong with this picture. We’ll come back to this in a bit. In verse 12, there’s more bad news and the focus shifts back to the little horn. “And a host will be given over to it”—to the little horn—“together with the regular burnt offering because of transgression, and it”—the little horn—“will throw truth to the ground, and it will act and prosper.” Another “host” is mentioned here, but, in connection with the regular burnt offering, we’re probably to recognize the host of God’s people in view. Why is all this going to happen? Daniel perceives the ultimate explanation for this: “because of transgression.” Because of rebellion. Now, this is disturbing on a number of levels. Daniel and the Jews are currently in exile, under the judgment of God, because of their transgressions, because of their rebellion. Daniel’s vision indicates a future where the temple has been rebuilt and the people have returned to the land, but God is still giving his people over—did you notice the passive voice? The host will be given over to the little horn, by God! So, after the people have returned to the land, after the temple has been rebuilt, after the fulfilment of these promises from the Lord, he will again be handing them over to judgment? God is going to hand his people over to the oppression of this little horn after fulfilling his promises to return them to the land and enable them to rebuild their temple. How could this be? As we see clearly in the books of Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, even though God returns the people to the land, even though the people rebuild the temple in Jerusalem, the Jewish people remain in rebellion against their God. They deserved to remain in exile! God mercifully brings them back to the land, prospers them, enables them to build their temple, and they continue in their rebellion against him. He hasn’t yet fulfilled all of the promises of the New Covenant. He hasn’t yet given them a heart to obey him. He hasn’t yet given them his Holy Spirit to live within them. But, in verse 13, Daniel overhears an interesting conversation between two angels. The angel seemed to raise a question actually for Daniel’s benefit, since verse 14 has the first angel answering the question but directing that answer to Daniel himself. The question goes like this: “For how long is the vision concerning the regular burnt offering, the transgression that makes desolate, and the giving over of the sanctuary and host to be trampled underfoot?” How long will the burnt offering be taken away? How long will the sanctuary be overcome? How long will the host be trampled underfoot? How long will God bring desolation and destruction in judgment against the people’s transgression and rebellion? The answer, addressed to Daniel, is quite cryptic, but it contains good news. Look at verse 14: “And he said to me, ‘For 2,300 evenings and mornings. Then the sanctuary shall be restored to its rightful state.’” The angel’s assumption is that God must have a limit to this. God has got to put a stop to this, and the angel wants to know how long will God allow it to go on. He seems to be asking for Daniel’s benefit. What’s going to happen at the end of the time frame? The angel says that the temple will be “restored to its rightful state.” That’s an appropriate paraphrase, but the Hebrew verb used is literally the righteous word, the word that means to be justified or vindicated. So, the temple will be vindicated, which, in this context, probably means it will be cleansed from its defilement and restored to its proper functioning. We’ll come back to address the time frame specified here, but just notice the odd way that the angel puts it. Why doesn’t he speak of a certain number of years, or months, or days? Why the language of a certain number of “evenings and mornings”? Let that question hang, as we move into Gabriel’s explanation of the vision. IV. Gabriel’s Explanation of the Vision (Dan. 8:15-26) Daniel now sees a figure that he describes as looking like a man, but then he hears another human voice that seemed to be coming from between the banks of the river. Well, that must mean that the source of the voice was either standing in the river or somehow suspended above the river. Daniel hears the human voice command Gabriel to “make this man understand the vision,” or seek to help Daniel understand. As we’ve already observed, Gabriel will provide the explanation, but, at this point, Daniel doesn’t come away with a clear understanding of what he’s seen. I want to hone in on what Gabriel says about the time frame for just a moment. Look at the end of verse 17, where Gabriel says to Daniel, “Understand, O son of man, that the vision is for the time of the end.” What does “the time of the end” mean? We have to be careful about reading this phrase outside its context. When we see references to “the end,” especially in the book of Daniel, we need to ask the question: “the end of what”? We have to be careful not to assume that every reference to “the end” means the absolute end of all things. Let context be your guide! In verse 19, Gabriel somewhat clarifies what he means here. He said, “Behold, I will make known to you what shall be at the latter end of the indignation, for it refers to the appointed time of the end.” What is “the indignation”? It’s another word for “wrath” or “fury,” and most often it refers to God’s wrath, and I think that is what is intended here. Gabriel is indicating that this will last until God has finished pouring out his wrath during this season of history. One last point about the time frame: in verse 26, Gabriel concludes, saying, “The vision of the evenings and the mornings that has been told is true, but seal up the vision, for it refers to many days from now.” The things Daniel sees will not begin happening in history until “many days from now.” We’ll consider the historical fulfillment in just a bit. Now, let’s back up and pull in the details of Gabriel’s explanation, beginning in verse 20. He identifies the two-horned ram as representing “the kings of Media and Persia,” and, as in chapter 7, the beasts represent both kings and the kingdoms as a whole, and the interpretation goes back and forth between particular kings and the empires as a whole. In verse 21, he identifies the goat initially as the king of Greece, but we should view this as the dynasty or the line of kings, because he’s going to also identify the horns of the goat as the kings. The large horn Daniel saw at first represents the first king of Greece, and, in context, this means specifically the first king to conquer Persia and establish a dominant empire. He is not identified by name, but we will name him when we discuss the actual historical fulfillment. Then, we recall from the vision, that Daniel saw this large horn suddenly broken, and four new horns grew up in its place, and Gabriel indicates that this represents how four kingdoms will arise from within the goat representing Greece. This division of the empire will result in four lesser kingdoms, four inferior kingdoms. Verse 23 is where we need to zoom in a bit. “And at the latter end of their kingdom, when the transgressors have reached their limit, a king of bold face, one who understands riddles, shall arise.” Who are the transgressors? These are the rebellious Jews, rebels against God, and here Gabriel speaks of them reaching the limit of their rebellion. This should remind us of an interesting comment the Lord made to Abram way back in Genesis 15. The Lord tells him that his descendants are going to number as many as the stars and that they are going to possess the land of Canaan, but before they take possession of that land, they will be enslaved for 400 years. Why must they wait so long? In Genesis 15:16, the Lord promised, “And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” So, we are to understand that one of the reasons that the Jews were enslaved in Egypt for 400 years was so that the Amorites, and probably the rest of the Canaanites in the land, would continue to get more sinful and more sinful and more sinful until they crossed a certain line when God would finally say, “Enough!” And then, and only then, he would send in his chosen people as his agent of judgment to pour out his wrath upon the Amorites. That is what is going on here. The wickedness of the Jews will reach such a point during the days of the Greek Empire when God is going to say, “Enough!” And then he’s going to send in a new agent to bring judgment against the Jews, the Greek king represented by this little horn in Daniel’s vision. Gabriel gives a vague time reference, toward the end of the Greek kingdom, and gives a couple of vague clues as to this king’s identity: he comes from one of the four kingdoms divided up from the unified Greek Empire, and he’ll be characterized by boldness or mercilessness and a kind of twisted wisdom, “to understand riddles,” which was a phrase used to describe Daniel himself back in chapter 5. Then, in verses 24-25, the terrible actions of this Greek king are sketched out. First, Gabriel says, “His power shall be great—but not by his own power,” an intriguing description, which doesn’t really tell us much about how he rises to power. He’ll be successful in causing lots of destruction, including against God’s people, the saints. Deceit will be one of his most effective tools, and “in his own mind he shall become great,” or, more literally, “in his own heart he shall magnify himself.” Then, as Daniel saw the little horn of the goat extending up in verse 10 and the whole goat magnifying himself in verse 11, “even as great as the Prince of the host,” or the commander of the army, so Gabriel explains, toward the end of verse 25, that this king “shall even rise up against the Prince of princes.” I want to slow down here and take a look at this title. When you have a phrase like this in Hebrew, “prince of princes” or “king of kings” or “lord of lords” or “holy of holies,” this is the normal way of communicating the best of a particular class. So, “king of kings” is the greatest of all kings, “holy of holies” is the most holiest person, place, or thing. Here, the word translated “prince” is a very flexible term. It sometimes refers to a royal figure, as in the son of a king. On a few occasions, the word refers to a king. But most often it refers to some kind of authority figure, a ruler, or a commander or general in an army, or even a religious leader. So, we need to be careful not to overread what’s being communicated here in this title. The word “prince” probably shouldn’t be pressed into its common English meaning, specifically a son of a king. As we looked at earlier, the phrase in verse 11 is most often translated “the commander of the army,” and it’s usually referring to a specific commander in a human army, such as Abner or Joab in First and Second Samuel. However, it is the phrase we find in Joshua 5:14-15 referring to the mysterious figure who appears to Joshua prior to him leading the people into Jericho. There, the phrase is expanded to read “the commander of the army of Yahweh.” In Daniel 1, this was the word used to refer to the chief of the eunuchs. In Daniel 10, we are going to find this word translated “prince” applied to angelic and demonic figures connected somehow to specific nations. In Daniel 12, this word will refer to Michael, described as “the great prince.” Here, it seems most likely to me that we are to understand this as a title for God himself, the greatest of all “princes,” the greatest of all rulers. This seems to be the case as verse 11 spoke of “his sanctuary” and the regular burnt offering being taken away “from him,” which seems only appropriate of God himself. So, Gabriel indicates that this Greek king will oppose God himself, but notice there in verse 25 that “he shall be broken—but by no human hand.” That last phrase surely implies the action of God, though his end, his demise may seem mysterious to human observers. In verse 26, as Gabriel brings his explanation to a close, he refers to “the vision of the evenings and the mornings,” but he doesn’t elaborate on the cryptic figure 2,300 the angel spoke of in verse 14. Instead of explaining further, he tells Daniel to “seal up the vision.” Daniel has recorded what he saw and what Gabriel told him, now Gabriel tells him to roll up the scroll he’s been writing on, wrap it up, stamp it with a wax seal, and then lock it away for a little while because it’s not for Daniel’s time. It’s for later, “many days from now.” So, when does Daniel unroll this scroll? Well, I think he unrolls it when he writes and compiles what we have now as “the Book of Daniel.” He received this vision somewhere around 547 BC; the last date we’re given in the book of Daniel is 536 BC. So, at least 12 years later, Daniel pulls all of his records together and shapes them into this final form that we know of as “the book of Daniel.” Why does Gabriel want him to seal the scroll and lock it away until later? Well, I think no one should read this vision by itself. It won’t make sense without the context of the rest of the book of Daniel. Daniel didn’t understand the vision when he saw it, but, perhaps when he experienced the events recorded in chapters 5 and 6, perhaps when he received the vision of chapter 9 and then the vision of chapters 10-12, perhaps he understood more of it when he pulled all of this material together. But, when he does pull it all together, this scroll, this document will be circulated among the Jews, both those who remained scattered in exile throughout the Medo-Persian Empire and those who returned home to the land of Judah. And the book would be read, recognized as God’s Word given to the prophet Daniel, and the book would be shared with children and grandchildren, who would grow up to experience the historical outworking, the fulfillment of the visionary prophecy about the ram and the goat. This record should’ve prepared them for what was coming; it should’ve helped them to know, from Scripture, that God establishes decisive limits on the oppression of his people by wicked rulers. Let’s now consider the historical fulfillment of this vision, which, I remind you, pretty much everyone agrees about. V. The Historical Fulfillment of the Vision Now, if you’ve been paying attention, you may notice that Gabriel doesn’t comment on every detail that Daniel mentioned seeing in his vision. For example, he doesn’t elaborate on the goat’s attack on the ram, which Daniel described in verses 6-7. However, since Gabriel identifies the ram as the Medo-Persian Empire, which we know from history was dominant in that part of the world for almost 200 years from 539-330 BC, and since he identifies the goat as the line of kings from Greece and the prominent single horn as the first king of the Greek Empire, we can confidently say the goat’s attack on the ram signifies Alexander the Great’s leading his Greek armies to conquer the Medo-Persian Empire in 330 BC. The goat’s swiftness reflects the quick dominance of Alexander as he expanded his territory rapidly and powerfully. But, the horn was broken, and, as Gabriel explained, four kingdoms would arise in his place. Now, it’s at this point that we have to be very careful as we trace the fulfillment, and we have to temper our expectations about what the fulfillment of prophecy must look like in history. Daniel uses the passive voice to imply that God broke the large horn; thus, we are to credit God for the demise of Alexander the Great. From history, we know Alexander fell ill or he might’ve been poisoned, but he got sick and died. He wasn’t beaten by another military force; no obvious coup occurred to strip him of his power. The Bible doesn’t really care about Alexander; as much as our history books speak of him, the Bible makes nothing of him, and that may be, in part, due to his stance toward God’s people. He essentially left the Jews alone; he didn’t persecute them; he wasn’t hostile to them. Nevertheless, whether disease or poison, God oversaw the judgment and defeat of Alexander the Great. But then, Daniel saw four new horns grow on this Greek goat, and Gabriel indicates that these are four new kingdoms that arise from within the Greek Empire. Historically, there’s a 20-year process reflected in verse 22. The vision doesn’t intend to give the precise historical progression, one event right after the other necessarily; rather, it intends to jump in at a particular point and focus on what matters for God’s people. This map highlights the four eventual successors of Alexander’s Greek kingdom in 301 BC. So, eventually the four kingdoms represented by the four horns would be established, but it would be about 23 years after Alexander’s death before that would take place, with a lot of changes and developments happening in those two decades that the prophecy doesn’t care to depict or mention. Where’s “the glorious land” in all of this? Just south of Syria, the land of Israel sits in between Seleucus and Ptolemy, and for the next 150 or 200 years, Seleucus and his descendants and Ptolemy and his descendants will be fighting over Israel, back and forth, back and forth. Sometimes the Seleucids—the descendants of Seleucus—will rule Israel, and sometimes the Ptolemies will rule Israel. We’re going to see more of this in chapter 11 of Daniel, in the mysterious kings of the north and kings of the south. But, here, the vision focuses on one particular king, one represented by a little horn, one who would arise “at the latter end of their kingdom,” as Gabriel says in verse 23. Pretty much everyone agrees that this represents the Seleucid king called Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Antiochus is either his real name or his throne name, a special name Greek kings would take when they took the throne. He comes to power in 175 BC, while the Seleucid kingdom is ruling over Israel. Now, Gabriel said that he would rule “at the latter end of” the Greek Empire. Historically, this is about 30 years before the Greek Empire was absorbed into the Roman Empire. Gabriel indicates, in verse 24, that “his power shall be great—but not by his own power.” Many interpreters jump to interesting conclusions here, assuming that he must be inspired by Satan, which deepens his connection to the little horn of chapter 7 and the antichrists of the future, right? Can I just plead with everyone to stop reading Satan into places where he doesn’t belong? As we talked about a few weeks ago, the little horn of Daniel 7 refers to a ruler within the Roman Empire who would oppose God and his people, one of the many antichrists the New Testament speaks of. Since this ruler in the Greek kingdom is depicted as a little horn, it’s probably correct to see him as a precursor to that pattern, an “antichrist before Christ.” While I agree that Satan was surely involved in the atrocities that Antiochus IV Epiphanes committed against the Jewish people, the Bible makes nothing of that. Historically, there’s probably something else going on, something that God’s people might’ve been able to notice, so that they might be able to identify this figure when he rose to power. Historically, Antiochus didn’t seize the throne; he wasn’t next in line for the throne; he didn’t assassinate the previous king and take his place. We know from history that he received some outside assistance to take the throne. In about 175 BC, the King of Pergamum exercised his influence to get Antiochus on the throne of the Seleucid kingdom, ahead of his older brothers and a couple of nephews who were actually rightful heirs to that throne. This detail might help thoughtful Jews reading Daniel’s record perk up and take notice when a new king comes over the land of Judah who was installed with a little foreign influence. Daniel saw the little horn throw stars to the ground in verse 10. Gabriel indicates that this represents the king destroying the saints in verse 24. Furthermore, Daniel saw the goat with the little horn becoming dominant rising up and opposing God in verse 11, and his opposition results in sacrifices being stopped and the temple being overthrown. What does this all look like historically? First, Antiochus IV is the first Seleucid king to claim divinity for himself. Look at this next slide. Here we have a coin, lots of which have been dug up by archaeologists over the years. Antiochus IV had these coins minted and distributed throughout his kingdom, including in Israel. This is the money that Jews of his time period would have had to use. It’s got his face on the front, which you can see on the left. On the back, the right image on the slide, you see what looks like someone sitting on a throne, and that is a representation of the Greek god Zeus, the head of the Greek pantheon. So, Antiochus IV is pictured on the front, and Zeus is pictured on the back. But then there are Greek words stamped into the coin. If you turned the coin around, so that you read the words on the right side of Zeus first, we read Basileōs Antiochou—King Antiochus; then, you’d read the words on the left side of Zeus: Theou Epiphanous—God Manifest. Finally, there’s a single, compound Greek word underneath Zeus’s throne: Nikephorou—VictoryBearer. Put it all together, and we have “King Antiochus, God Manifest, Victory-Bearer.” This is the propaganda Antiochus IV promoted for himself; he wanted to be known as the earthly manifestation of Zeus, God in the flesh! What blasphemy! He is the one who would bring victory for the Greeks. This is what magnifying oneself against the one true God looks like. When you go around claiming to be the high god of the Greek pantheon, but you’re not really a god, then you’re an opponent of the one true God, an anti-God, or could we even say an antichrist figure? As he exalted himself in this way, the vision and Gabriel’s explanation indicated that he would somehow remove the regular burnt offering and overthrow God’s sanctuary. “The regular burnt offering” refers specifically to a pair of offerings that were to be sacrificed at the temple in Jerusalem by the Jewish priests every day, one in the morning and one in the evening, according to Exodus 29:38-41 and Numbers 28:3-8. If he stops the daily sacrifices from being offered, then he stops all sacrifices from being offered. Now, as I mentioned earlier, Daniel would’ve probably noticed the significance of this. When Daniel sees this vision, the temple and the city of Jerusalem are both in ruins, and the Jewish people are in exile, under the judgment of God for their idolatry and rebellion against God. Daniel knows from reading his Bible, the prophecy of Isaiah especially, that God promised to return the Jews to the land and to enable them to rebuild the temple, and Daniel even knows from Isaiah’s prophecies that a Medo-Persian king named Cyrus would be the pagan king Yahweh would use to fulfill these prophecies. When we come to Daniel 9 next Sunday, we’ll see how important Daniel’s Bible reading is for his prayer life and for his understanding of prophecy. But he has got to be confused at this point. The prophecies of Isaiah, and also those of Daniel’s contemporaries Jeremiah and Ezekiel, clearly showed that God would bring the Jews out of exile to return to living in the Promised Land, and that God would enable them to rebuild their temple. But in those prophets, these promises are connected to promises that God would establish a New Covenant, forgive all their sin, enable the people to obey God, eliminate their oppression, and even bring in a New Creation. Here, Daniel sees a vision of the Jews being in their land with a fully functioning temple, but still in rebellion against God and God still pouring out his wrath on the Jewish people. What in the world?? So, what happened? What did Antiochus IV do? He invaded the land of Judah on two different occasions and just massacred Jewish people. He even came in once on the Sabbath day, knowing that the Jews would not defend themselves. Mostly, he seems to have been motivated simply by prejudice, racism, but, ultimately God was using him to bring judgment against his people. Even as he opposes God, God uses him for his own purposes, as we’ve seen with Nebuchadnezzar and all other rulers in the Bible and throughout history. Everything that transpired under Antiochus IV was the outworking of God’s judgment against his own people for their transgression, their rebellion. What did their rebellion look like? God endured their rebellion, up to a point. What was the line they crossed? As the Greek Empire spread and the influence of Greek culture spread, many Jewish leaders began wanting to embrace Greek culture, and so they began buddying up to the Greek leaders in their land. They approached their Greek overlords and said, “Why don’t you guys build a gymnasium in Jerusalem next to the temple? We’d like to participate in the Greek athletic competitions.” Well, these Greek games were played in the nude. That was something that a Jewish man shouldn’t and wouldn’t do, but they wanted to fit in and play along and have these games that are dedicated to the Greek gods, by the way. But, when Jewish men took off their clothes in public, they became embarrassed about the fact that they were circumcised. So, the Jewish leaders developed a surgical procedure to make it look like they hadn’t been circumcised. I don’t know what that means, and I don’t want to think about it! But the point is that these Jewish leaders were embarrassed by the sign of their covenant relationship with God, and they were ready to get rid of it in order to fit in with the culture. I suspect this was the straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak; the line of rebellion had been crossed and God was ready to pour out his wrath on his people once again. Daniel had seen the little horn throwing truth to the ground, and Gabriel said that this king would make deceit prosper. Antiochus IV would forbid the Jews to obey the Mosaic Law, to circumcise their sons, to read their Scriptures. If he found scrolls of the Torah, he destroyed them. That’s a pretty accurate reflection of “throwing truth to the ground.” The overthrow of the rebuilt temple happened in 167 BC. He marched into Jerusalem, killed all the priests, brought in a pig to slaughter, built an altar to Zeus on top of the altar that sits in front of the Holy of Holies, and sacrificed that unclean swine and poured its blood on top of the altar for Zeus, which then dripped down onto the altar of Yahweh. He desecrated the temple in every conceivable way. As if this weren’t enough, he also brought in idolatrous banners and idolatrous coins. When you bring something unholy into the temple like this, it nullifies the temple’s functionality; it cannot be used according to its design. So, the temple would be shut down, and the Jewish sacrifices would have to stop. God’s people cannot offer sacrifices in an unclean temple. The Jerusalem temple remains unusable for a bit longer than three years. Finally, in 164 BC certain Jews from the Maccabean family had enough, and they led a little band of Jewish rebels to stand up to Antiochus IV, and they started a revolt. They fought on the Sabbath, and they defeated Antiochus IV’s armies. They returned to the temple, purified it, destroyed the altar to Zeus, cleaned it all out, brought back in the holy vessels that had been removed, and they got the temple operational again. You can read this history in the Jewish books called First and Second Maccabees. The Jewish people suffered terribly, and these books tell the gory details, but they also tell the beautiful story of how some faithful Jews were seeking to do God’s will during this period and took back what Antiochus IV had ruined. They rededicated the temple, and this event started a 100-year period of basic independence for the Jewish nation. Most people forget about this because the Bible curiously never mentions it directly. For 100 years, the Jews were not under the oppression of any empire. Daniel doesn’t see that in his visions, but that’s what happened, and this event is celebrated every year to this day in the holiday called Hanukkah, a word which means “dedication,” referring to the dedication of the temple at the end of this rebellion. Gabriel had also noted God’s elimination of this Greek king; in verse 25, he simply says, “and he shall be broken—but by no human hand.” Historically, Antiochus IV Epiphanes wasn’t killed in battle or assassinated, and he didn’t die of old age. I’ll read a paragraph from 2 Maccabees 9, which records a Jewish recollection of the demise of Antiochus: “But the all-seeing Lord, the God of Israel, struck him an incurable and invisible blow. As soon as he ceased speaking”—Antiochus was just quoted as saying, “I will make Jerusalem a cemetery of Jews”—“As soon as he ceased speaking he was seized with a pain in his bowels for which there was no relief and with sharp internal tortures—and that very justly, for he had tortured the bowels of others with many and strange inflictions. Yet he did not in any way stop his insolence, but was even more filled with arrogance, breathing fire in his rage against the Jews and giving orders to hasten the journey. And so it came about that he fell out of his chariot as it was rushing along, and the fall was so hard as to torture every limb of his body. Thus he who had just been thinking in his superhuman arrogance that he could command the waves of the sea and imagining that he could weigh the high mountains in a balance was brought down to earth and carried in a litter, making the power of God manifest to all. And so the ungodly man’s body swarmed with worms, and while he was still living in anguish and pain, his flesh rotted away, and because of his stench the whole army felt revulsion at his decay. And when he could not endure his own stench, he uttered these words: ‘It is right to be subject to God, and no mortal should think that he is equal to God.’” Then, the record has the contents of a letter he sent to the Jewish people, not quite apologizing for his treatment of them, but promising that his successor would treat them more kindly. And then the Jewish historian adds a final word: “So the murderer and blasphemer, having endured the most intense suffering, such as he had inflicted on others, came to the end of his life by a most pitiable fate, among the mountains in a strange land.” We will revisit Antiochus IV Epiphanes, as he will be depicted again in Daniel’s final vision, toward the end of chapter 11. Now, there’s one last loose end to tie off, and we’ll close this morning. What about the 2,300 evenings and mornings an angel mentions as part of the vision? Should we take this literally? For those who say, “yes, we should take it literally,” pinning down how this time span should fit with the historical fulfillment becomes really tricky business. He says, “2,300 evenings and mornings.” Okay, so is that talking about 2,300 days, recalling how each day of creation was defined as evening and then morning? If so, that’s about six years and four months. Now, we know historically when this all ends. It’s possible from historical records to suggest that Antiochus IV’s oppressive focus on the Jews lasted almost seven years, but it’s hard to force the history to line up with precisely 2,300 days. Others have seen the reference to “evenings and mornings” connecting to “the regular burnt offering” which was “taken away” when Antiochus IV desecrated the temple. If so, then 2,300 evening and morning sacrifices would equal 1,150 days, which is pretty close to the time frame that the pagan altar remained in the temple, 3 years and 10 days. But, in either view, it’s hard to make the number of days line up precisely with the historical data. But I’m happy to see 2,300 as a round number. Here’s the thing: there’s no evidence that the Jews looked at this passage from Daniel as these things were unfolding and had any ability to predict the date of the ending, as though this were a clue that readers were supposed to figure out. As Alistair Begg has said, these things are given to us for our comfort, not for our calendars. VI. Conclusion: Encouragement for Christians So, as Christians, reading this as part of the book of Daniel, and part of the whole Bible, what are we supposed to take away from this? At the beginning of our time this morning, I suggested a few lines of application for prophetic passages like this. Without even knowing about the way the historical fulfillment unfolded, we should be able to draw out some larger significance, right? As I’ve summarized the message of Daniel 8, we should see that God establishes decisive limits on the oppression of his people by wicked rulers. Sometimes, passages like this from the prophets don’t seem very encouraging. But they are intended to strengthen us and even to encourage us, just maybe in a way that we’re not expecting. I’m reminded of the way the apostle Paul and his companion Barnabas— whose name means “son of encouragement”—strengthened and encouraged believers in the early church. We read of their encouragement ministry in Acts 14:21-22: “When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” The way they strengthened the disciples, the way they encouraged them to keep on believing, was to remind them “that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” The path to the kingdom of God is paved with many tribulations. Be encouraged! Jesus spoke of the way leading to eternal life being full of tribulation as well. In Matthew 7:13-14, he instructed his disciples about “the way.” He insisted that we all must “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” The Greek word translated “hard” there is a verb that literally refers to being squeezed, crushed, or pressed, as in a vice. It is also the root of the word translated “tribulations” in Acts 14:22 and everywhere else in the New Testament. This is the way. The way of tribulation is also the way of salvation, the way that leads to eternal life. So, the encouragement that we must draw from Daniel 8 is the encouragement that says to Christians, because you are in Christ, because you are connected to the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53, the man who walked the Via Dolorosa, to take up his cross to die for his sinful, rebellious people, so we too must and will take up our crosses, enduring faithfully along Tribulation Trail all the way to Resurrection Ramp, which ends at our final destination, New Jerusalem. As Paul says in Romans 8:17, we must suffer with Christ in order to be glorified with Christ. Our faithful endurance of tribulation and suffering in this life can demonstrate to the world our connection to Jesus, our likeness to Jesus even. As Peter says, in 1 Peter 2:21, “…Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” Every moment of misery you experience as a Christian, whether as a result of the attacks of sinful people or as a result of the brokenness of nature, is full of meaning and purpose in the hands of a loving God who is your good Father. I close with Paul’s words from 2 Corinthians 4:17, words that very truly saved my life from despair several years ago: “For this light momentary affliction”—that’s the same word for “tribulation”—“For this light momentary tribulation is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”
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