“Gabriel Interprets Daniel’s Vision”
Lesson Text: Daniel 8:1, 15-26
Background Scripture: Daniel 8
Devotional Reading:Psalm 91:1-12
Daniel 8:1, 15-26 (KJV)
1In the third year of the reign of king Belshazzar a vision appeared unto me, even unto me Daniel, after that which appeared unto me at the first.
15And it came to pass, when I, even I Daniel, had seen the vision, and sought for the meaning, then, behold, there stood before me as the appearance of a man.
16And I heard a man’s voice between the banks of Ulai, which called, and said, Gabriel, make this man to understand the vision.
17So he came near where I stood: and when he came, I was afraid, and fell upon my face: but he said unto me, Understand, O son of man: for at the time of the end shall be the vision.
18Now as he was speaking with me, I was in a deep sleep on my face toward the ground: but he touched me, and set me upright.
19And he said, 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.
20The ram which thou sawest having two horns are the kings of Media and Persia.
21And the rough goat is the king of Grecia: and the great horn that is between his eyes is the first king.
22Now that being broken, whereas four stood up for it, four kingdoms shall stand up out of the nation, but not in his power.
23And in the latter time of their kingdom, when the transgressors are come to the full, a king of fierce countenance, and understanding dark sentences, shall stand up.
24And his power shall be mighty, but not by his own power: and he shall destroy wonderfully, and shall prosper, and practise, and shall destroy the mighty and the holy people.
25And through his policy also he shall cause craft to prosper in his hand; and he shall magnify himself in his heart, and by peace shall destroy many: he shall also stand up against the Prince of princes; but he shall be broken without hand.
26And the vision of the evening and the morning which was told is true: wherefore shut thou up the vision; for it shall be for many days.
To understand the interpretation concerning Daniel’s second vision.
To seek to remain faithful in the present as we trust God with the future.
To pray daily for understanding of God’s Word and bear witness that God is in control.
Every once in a while a book series comes along that captures the imagination of millions of readers. What the Harry Potter series did for young people in the general public (secular), the Left Behind series did for a broad range of Christian readers back around the turn of the millennium. That series is an imaginative account of the end of the world revolving around apocalyptic portions of Revelation. The events of Revelation are interpreted as if they were meant to give a literal play-by-play account of end-times tribulation.
This kind of interpretation draws a crowd partly because it plays off of the difficulty that readers have with apocalyptic texts such as the book of Revelation. The symbolic language of such texts is perplexing, and an interpreter who “connects the dots” in a way that seems fairly plausible can gain a wide hearing.
Daniel 8is an apocalyptic text that can cause similar consternation since it involves key historical events represented symbolically by animals. This chapter is different from other apocalyptic texts, however, in that it also includes an angelic interpretation. We are not left guessing what the animals represent; we are told. Readers are led to understand better both the meaning of the animals in this chapter and the nature of apocalypse as a type of literature. This gives us clues for the proper reading of apocalyptic texts for which interpretations are not so obvious.
Time: 551 B.C.
Daniel 8 contains a vision of two animals and an interpretation of what they represent. The interpretation points to a future time long after the death of Daniel. Rather than focus on the Babylonian empire against which Daniel and the Jews of his time struggle, the vision focuses on the times of the Persians and Greeks that followed. A brief introduction to the Jewish encounter with these nations is therefore in order.
The Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem in 586 B.C., carrying many Judeans into exile. Yet Babylon’s dominance as a world power did not last much longer after that. With little struggle, Cyrus of Persia conquered Babylon by 539 B.C.
Cyrus had come to power initially under the authority of the more powerful Median Empire. The Medes controlled a vast amount of territory north and east of the Babylonian Empire. Within roughly a decade, however, Cyrus conquered the Medes, assumed their territory, and declared himself king of Persia (modern Iran). His empire is thus referred to as either the Persian Empire or the Medo-Persian Empire.
The Persians ruled over the Judeans in a much more benevolent manner than the Babylonians had. The Persians sponsored the Jews’ return to Jerusalem of 538 B.C., allowing the Jewish people to rule themselves by their own laws. There were, of course, strings attached. Should the Jews rebel or withhold tribute, the Persians would beat them into submission.
This arrangement lasted until the 330s B.C. At that time, Alexander the Great of Greece subdued the Persians and took control of Palestine. Alexander died in 323 B.C., and his kingdom was divided among his generals. These Greek rulers continued Persia’s more benevolent foreign policy for the most part. This lasted until about the middle of the second century B.C., when the tide changed for the worse for God’s people. Daniel’s vision in the lesson text provides an important glimpse into some terrifying periods and God’s decisive response.
Daniel’s Vision of a Ram and a Goat (Daniel 8:1-14)
1. When does the second vision of the Prophet Daniel occur? (Daniel 8:1)
Daniel 8:1 describes a second vision received by the prophet Daniel. Daniel had received a previous vision of four beasts in Daniel 7 and that is likely the one described here as that which appeared unto me at the first.
This second vision occurs in the third year of the reign of King Belshazzarof Babylon, which computes to 551 B.C., about 36 years after the fall of Jerusalem. Belshazzar was a wicked ruler who made sport of the sacred vessels that were confiscated from the Jerusalem temple (Daniel 5). It is thus fitting that this particular vision, which concerns a future arrogant king who also makes sport of the Jewish faith (see Daniel 8:23-25, below), takes place during the reign of Belshazzar.
2. Although not included in the lesson text, the substance of Daniel’s second vision is presented in Daniel 8:3-14. Describe what Daniel saw in this second vision.
In Daniel’s second vision, he saw a ram with two horns. Both horns were high but one was higher than the other; the higher one came up last. Daniel saw the ram charging in three directions - west, north, and south. The ram was powerful and did what he pleased. No one could stand against the ram, and he became great. (Daniel 8:3-4)
Daniel then saw a male goat with one large horn come from the west. The goat crossed the earth without touching the ground. It attacked the ram, broke its two horns, knocked it down to the ground, and stamped on him. But at the height of his power, the goat's horn is broken and in its place, four horns grew toward the four winds of heaven. (Daniel 8:5-8)
One of the horns is small but grows great, like the prince of host. It prospers in everything, throws stars down to the ground and tramples on them. It stopped the daily sacrifice and destroyed the sanctuary. Daniel is told that after 2300 evenings and mornings the sanctuary would be cleansed. (Daniel 8:9-12)
Daniel Meets Gabriel (Daniel 8:15-18)
3. Who is appointed to help Daniel understand the vision? (vs. 15-16)
In the earlier part of the book, Daniel was able to interpret and explain the dreams and visions of others; but here an angel had to interpret the meaning of the goat defeating a ram and the little horn becoming a mighty kingdom. As Daniel tries to understand what he has seen thus far (v. 15); the vision is not yet ended. Explanation begins to come with the appearance of a man. This figure should not be confused with the one who looks “like the Son of man” in Daniel 7:13. The word used here for man in the original language is different. It is a technical term meaning “mighty one” (example: Isaiah 42:13), and it is nearly identical to the name of the vision’s interpreter (given in verse 16).
Daniel is still near the Ulai River, the place where he saw himself at the beginning of his vision (Daniel 8:2). In this part of the vision, Daniel hears an unidentified voice calling to the one who looks like a man in verse 15. This man is named Gabriel, which means “mighty one of God” in the original language. Gabriel is appointed to help Daniel understand the vision. Gabriel will make another appearance about 28 years later, in Daniel 9:21 (compare Luke 1:19, 26).
Gabriel is an angelic being who delivered messages from God to humans. He is considered an archangel or an angel of high rank. He is mentioned in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. In addition to appearing to Daniel, as noted in the lesson text, Gabriel appeared to Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, to foretell of John the Baptist’s birth (Luke 1:5-20). He also appeared to Mary, the mother of Jesus, to foretell of the birth of Jesus (Luke 1:26-38).
4. How did Daniel respond to the appearance of Gabriel? (vs. 17-18)
Daniel is terrified as Gabriel approached him (v. 17). Reverence and fear are common reactions throughout the Scriptures when humans encounter angelic beings (examples: Numbers 22:31; Joshua 5:14; Luke 1:12; Acts 10:3, 4; Revelation 19:10).
The appearance of Gabriel so startled Daniel that he fainted or is otherwise knocked out cold! (Daniel 8:18.) But Daniel needs to be prepared to hear the message, so Gabriel revives him and sets him on his feet. Though God’s messengers are frightening to behold, humans can nonetheless handle being in their presence. Angels are to be respected as God’s messengers, but they are not to be worshipped (see Revelation 19:9, 10 and 22:8, 9).
The Interpretation of the Vision (Daniel 8:19-26)
5. According to Gabriel, what does the vision pertain to? (v. 19)
When Gabriel first speaks to Daniel in verse 17, he tells him that the vision pertains to “the end.” Gabriel’s decision to repeat that here may indicate that Daniel did not hear him the first time, having lost consciousness.
Daniel must understand that the vision concerns not the time of his own day in the mid-sixth century B.C., but the time atthe end. The phrase the end can be interpreted in more than one way, depending on context.
Sometimes the end means “the end of history as we know it,” which comes about when Jesus returns. In other instances, the end refers to the end of a specific time period in history (example: Ezekiel 7:1-7). In still other cases, it seems to be both, as if the events of the somewhat near future are only the beginning of a long string of events that find their fulfillment in the final judgment and reign of Christ.
Regardless, Gabriel adds at this point that the end being discussed is appointed, presumably by God. This means that as disturbing as the events may be, God remains in control. He knows what is going to happen, and He will somehow bring events in line with His plans. This does not mean that God will cause the events to happen or is pleased by them. His power is demonstrated in the fact that He takes disordered human decisions and orders them for His own saving purposes.
Some Things Can’t Be Rushed
For every expectant mother who patiently contemplates the new life growing inside her, there are a dozen others who are ready for their baby to be born now! Folk advice abounds on how to hurry labor. My wife’s aunt had her husband drive over bouncy country roads in an attempt to initiate labor, to no effect. A wise grandmother gave probably the best advice: “That baby will come when she wants to come.”
We easily imagine Daniel’s mixed emotions at the troubling visions and interpretations. Yes, his people would be delivered, but their salvation would involve further suffering first. Like receiving news of a needed surgery, this message must have brought a mixture of dread and anticipation. Gabriel’s words brought reassurance that everything was going according to plan; Daniel had only to wait.
Finishing school, paying off debt, recuperating from illness—such things can make us feel like something is holding us back from achieving our goals. Modern technology allows us to speed many things up, but some things simply can’t be rushed. Strained relationships can take a long time to heal. Non-Christian friends aren’t always receptive to our witness. God will work all our experiences together for good (Romans 8:28), but we dare not try to rush His timing.—A. W.
What Do You Think?
When was a time you resisted (or failed to resist) the temptation to try to rush God’s timing? How did things turn out?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
In making a vocational choice | In making a church decision | In making a personal commitment | Numbers 14:40-45 | Other
6. What do the ram and goat in Daniel’s vision represent? (vs. 20-21)
The first thing Daniel saw in his vision, back in verse 3, was a ram standing beside the Ulai River. One of its two horns is “higher” than the other. The ram moves relentlessly in triumph “westward, and northward, and southward” (v. 4). These details align perfectly with Gabriel’s statement that the ram represents Media and Persia. The facts of history affirm that the Medo-Persian kingdom expanded in these three directions.
The ram is depicted fittingly in Daniel 8:3 as a single animal with two horns of unequal length since Media and Persia are two kingdoms that collapse into one, with Cyrus of Persia becoming prominent (see the Lesson Background). The disproportionate horn length may be parallel to the image of the bear in the previous vision that was raised up on one side (Daniel 7:5).
The goat of Daniel 8:5-7 is a one-horned goat that charges from the west, tramples the ram, and shatters the ram’s two horns. Gabriel now identifies this animal as the king of Grecia (Greece). The record of history informs us that the great horn... the first king is Alexander the Great, who was born about 194 years after this vision. After coming to power, Alexander moves quickly from west to east to take control of the Medo-Persian Empire.
7. What did the four horns represent? How does history confirm this? (v. 22)
According to Daniel 8:8, the greathorn is broken as it becomes strong, being replaced with four horns pointing “toward the four winds of heaven.” Gabriel clarifies here that these horns are four kingdoms that lack Alexander’s power.
This is exactly what ends up happening historically. Alexander dies at age 33 in 323 B.C., and His kingdom eventually is divided among four of his generals: Cassander rules over Macedon and Greece (west); Lysimachus rules Thrace and Asia Minor (north); Seleucus rules Syria and Babylon (east); and Ptolemy rules Egypt (south). Since each of these kingdoms receives only a portion of Alexander’s empire, none of them matches his power.
8. How does Gabriel describe the “king of fierce countenance” (vs. 23-24)?
The interpretation in verses 23-24 focuses on the “little horn” described in verses 9-12. It wreaks havoc in the south and east and “toward the pleasant land” (v. 9). It wages war against “the host of heaven,” “the prince of the host,” and even “the place of his sanctuary” (vs. 10, 11). Gabriel described this person as a “king of fierce countenance.” No one seems able to stop this rampaging king.
Gabriel clarifies here that this king comes later than the others and that he stands out in ferocity and darkness. In particular, this king seeks to destroy the holy people. This is Gabriel’s way of identifying “the pleasant land” of verse 9. That land is Judah. The Greek king most known for attacking God’s people in their homeland is Antiochus IV, also known as Antiochus Epiphanes. He ruled from 175 to 164 B.C.
It is not clear what it means that this king’s prosperity is not by his own power. The book of Daniel makes no reference to satanic influence. If the reference is to God, the point is that Antiochus can have power over God’s people only as God allows it. Any power Antiochus is to have will be on loan from God. This does not mean that God is the cause of this king’s wicked deeds. But it does mean that God can easily take that man’s power away.
What Do You Think?
What are some ways that Christians should respond and not respond to an oppressive government?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Matthew 5:39 | Mark 12:17 | Luke 2:1-4 | Acts 4:19; 5:29; 16:35-37; 22:25
Romans 13:1-7 | Ephesians 6:12 | 1 Peter 2:17
9. Who, according to the prophecy, would bring on destruction? (v. 25)
Antiochus was not the lawful successor to the Seleucus throne. Verse 23 describes him as “understanding dark sentences,”which suggests he was deceitful and adept in devising sinister schemes. That is why, as Daniel 8:24 predicted, he used underhanded techniques to obtain control of the empire. His tumultuous reign resulted in extraordinary amounts of death and destruction. In fact, he ended up slaughtering many who were oblivious to his ploys (v. 25).
Wickedness thrived during the reign of Antiochus. Jews with money and a willingness to abandon faith could rise to prominence within his corrupt regime. Jews who resisted his policies were persecuted from 170 to 164 B.C. Antiochus ends up being so arrogant that he rises up against God himself by defiling the Jerusalem temple in 167 B.C. Jews were killed for reading Scriptures, honoring the Sabbath, abstaining from unclean food, etc.
Some think the description of Antiochus prefigures the Antichrist, who will arise in the end times to oppose God and persecute His chosen people (compare Daniel 8:9-14 with verses 23-26; 2 Thess. 2:34; 1 John 4:3).
This period proved to be one of the most distressing eras in Jewish history. Yet God was still in control. Verse 25 ends with a clear and simple statement that Antiochus shall be broken, although not by human agency (without hand). God was the one who brought him to justice. When God decided that the time was right, He destroyed Antiochus as easily as he did the ferocious beast in Daniel 7:11. This remarkable prophecy was given over 380 years before it came to pass!
10. What is meant by the command given to Daniel to “shut up the vision”? (v. 26)
Gabriel affirmed that the “vision” (Daniel 8:26) concerning the two thousand and three hundred days (see v. 14) was correct. Moreover, what this celestial messenger declared about the “distant future” (v. 26; at least from Daniel’s perspective) proved to be historically accurate. For the time being, though, Daniel was directed to “shutup the vision” he had written on a scroll. In ancient times, seals often were in the form of signet rings or cylinders and inscribed with the owner’s name or with a distinctive design.
On some occasions, a seal authenticated or certified an item (such as an official, royal document). On other occasions, a seal was used to keep an item fastened shut because it was confidential and needed to be preserved. In keeping with the second usage, Gabriel explained that the vision Daniel recorded needed to remain a secret, for it concerned a series of events occurring centuries after his lifetime.
The purpose of this advance notice is not to keep certain things from happening, but to help the reader develop a “God’s-eye view” of these events when they do happen. Those faithful to God must trust that God is in control; in the midst of persecution, God’s people are to bear witness to their trust in that fact.
Understandably, Daniel was emotionally and physicallyexhausted(v. 27) from his visionary experience. Indeed, he felt sick for several days after that astonishing episode. Nevertheless, once Daniel felt better, he resumed his official duties in service to the king.
What Do You Think?
How do you resist the danger of becoming overly fascinated with the intricacies of prophecy?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Ways to achieve balance in Bible study | Counsel from spiritually mature Christians
Prayer | Other
POINTS TO PONDER
1.God sometimes gives revelation through dreams and visions. (Daniel 8:1)
2. We should look to God and seek Him for understanding of His Word. (Dan. 8:15-16; John 14:26)
3.God gives strength and comfort when we are afraid. (Daniel 8:17-18)
4. God is Sovereign, and regardless of what happens on earth, He is always in control! (vs. 19-22)
5.We can trust that God’s Word will always come to pass. (vs. 23-26)
If Daniel 8 is an indication of how biblical apocalypses function, then there are a few lessons that we learn about how to read them. We learn about the nature of symbolic language. We learn that God does not give us glimpses into the future so we can use that knowledge to take control of how things turn out. We learn that sometimes God gives us only enough knowledge of the future to embolden us to remain radically faithful in the present.
Yet not all apocalyptic texts are the same. Daniel 8is different in many ways from Daniel 7 and Daniel 10-12. The book of Daniel as a whole is different from the book of Revelation, which in Greek is called Apocalypse. Yet these differences are not so great that a proper reading of Daniel cannot prepare us for a proper reading of Revelation. Though some of the events foretold in Revelation pertain to the end of time when Jesus brings His kingdom in its fullness, much of that book also pertains to events of the first-century church. In all this, one thing remains clear: God is in control. May we approach God’s Word with that fact in mind! Our side wins!
Lord God, we confess that You are Lord over world history. Deliver us from the temptation of trying to seize control. Give us eyes to see the bigger picture and to embrace a future that ultimately is in Your benevolent arms. In Jesus’ name, amen.
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER
God is faithful and able to deliver His people.