The Interpretation of the Ram and the Goat - (Daniel 8:15-27)


The_Punishment_of_Antiochus by Gustave Dore
In the vision of the four beasts from the sea, only the first beast can be identified with certainty, that is, Babylon. None of the four beasts was explicitly named, though each represented a “kingdom.” In the interpretation of the next vision, two of those four kingdoms are identified by name, the “Medes and the Persians” and “Greece” (Daniel 7:1-8, 8:20-21).
The Ram with two horns represented the “kings of the Medes and the Persians.” A ram was common in Persian iconography and the king wore a crown with the appearance of the golden head of a ram. The large horn on the goat from the west represents the first and greatest king of Greece who overthrew the "kingdom of the Medes and the Persians.” The previous vision was interpreted by an angel and so, also, is the present one (Daniel 8:15-27).
The difference is, in this case, that the interpreting angel is identified by name, “Gabriel.” Daniel saw a figure that in appearance was "like a man," and he heard a voice call to the figure who identified him as “Gabriel.” He was summoned to reveal the meaning of the vision. ‘Gabriel,’ ironically, means “my man is God.” This is the first time in scripture an angel is named.
(Daniel 8:15-20) - “And it came to pass, when I, even I Daniel, had seen the vision, that I sought to understand it; and, behold, there stood before me as the appearance of a man. And I heard a man’s voice between the banks of the Ulai, which called and said, Gabriel, make this man to understand the vision. So he came near where I stood; and when he came, I was affrighted, and fell upon my face: but he said to me, Understand, O son of man; for the vision belongs to the time of the end. Now as he was speaking with me, I fell into a deep sleep with my face toward the ground; but he touched me and set me upright. And 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. The ram which thou saw having two horns are the kings of Media and Persia.”
The clause, “for the vision belongs to the time of the end,” more correctly reads, “the vision is for a time of an end.” The phrase is ambiguous and does not, necessarily, mean the “last days” or the end of all things. It is a generic description of the end of something, whether a period or an event.
In view is the end of the desecration of the Sanctuary and its restoration, which occurred after two thousand three hundred evenings-mornings. Verse 19 confirms that “a time of an end” refers to the “end of the indignation,” the assault unleashed by the “little horn” against the Sanctuary.
The shorter horn of the ram represents the kingdom of Media that was stronger than Persia in the first days of the alliance. This empire emerged as a major power after the downfall of the Assyrian Empire; the latter event left four key players in the region: Babylon, Lydia, Egypt, and Media. The Medes were an Indo-European people based in what today is central and western Iran. At its height, the Median kingdom stretched from Iran to Asia Minor.
The second and higher horn symbolizes Persia.  The Persians were closely related to the Medes. The greatest Persian ruler was Cyrus the Great who was related to the royal house of Media on his mother’s side. Persia, also known as Anshan, was a small kingdom near the eastern Persian Gulf.  Cyrus was installed as king in 559 B.C., originally, he was a vassal to the Median king.
In 553 B.C., Cyrus rebelled and, later, achieved a decisive military victory over a much larger Median force (550 B.C.). Having defeated the Medians, Cyrus assigned himself the title, “king of the Medes,” and he annexed Media to his realm. Almost overnight, Persia became a vast regional empire stretching from the Persian Gulf to Asia Minor and the shores of the Aegean Sea.
Cyrus expanded his empire by conquering the kingdoms of Lydia to the north and Babylon to the west (539 B.C.). He died in 530 B.C. and was succeeded by his son, Cambyses II, who later conquered Egypt and Nubia in the south (Daniel 8:4, “the ram was pushing westward and northward and southward”).
Persia became the dominant half of the “Medes and Persians,” the higher horn that rose up after the first one. This is also pictured in the second of the four beasts from the sea, the bear with one side raised higher than the other. Consistently in Daniel, the “Medes and Persians” are presented together as a single kingdom (Daniel 5:28, 7:4-5, 8:20).
The ram that pushed “westward and northward and southward” and the bear that grasped three ribs portray the conquest by Persia of Mesopotamia (Babylon), Asia Minor (Lydia) and Egypt. This confirms that the second beast or the “bear” represented the kingdom of the Medes and Persians.
(Daniel 8:21-22) - “And the rough goat is the king of Grecia: and the great horn that is between his eyes is the first king. Now that being broken, whereas four stood up for it, four kingdoms shall stand up out of the nation, but not in his power.”
The Goat represented the “king of Greece” and its “prominent horn” its first king. The four lesser horns that stood up later symbolized “four kingdoms that shall stand up out of the nation, but not in his power”, that is, not in the same power or dignity as the first king.
The “first king” could only be Alexander the Great. In 334 B.C., he led a Greco-Macedonian army east to attack the Persian Empire. In rapid succession, he defeated several Persian armies; at the battles of Granicus (334 B.C.), Issus (333 B.C.), and Gaugamela east of the Tigris River (331 B.C.). This last battle spelled the end of the Persian Empire.
The rapid conquest of Persia by Alexander is portrayed by the he-Goat “from the west” that moved swiftly, rushed into the Ram, and “cast him down to the ground.” The swiftness of movement was also represented by the four wings of the beast “like a leopard” (Daniel 7:6).
Over the next several years, Alexander consolidated his conquests and established a Hellenic domain that stretched from Greece to the Indus River valley in northern India. He died suddenly in 323 B.C., an event represented by the broken horn (“when he was strong, the great horn was broken”). His death was followed by twenty years of intermittent civil war between the contenders for the succession. Finally, his vast empire was divided into four lesser domains ruled by four of Alexander’s surviving generals.
The division into four smaller kingdoms is represented by the four lesser horns of the Goat, as well as by the four heads of the leopard. Two of the kingdoms became significant regional powers for the next few centuries that played significant roles in the history of Judea; specifically, the Ptolemaic kingdom in Egypt (305-30 B.C.) and the Seleucid empire in Syria (312-63 B.C.).
(Daniel 8:23-25) – “But in the aftertime of their kingdom, when transgressions have filled up their measure, there will stand up a king of fierce countenance and skillful in dissimulation; and his strength will be mighty but not through his own strength, and wonderfully will he destroy, and succeed and act with effect, and will destroy mighty ones and the people of saints; and by his cunning will he both cause deceit to succeed in his hand, and in his own heart will he show himself to be great, and by their careless security will he destroy many, and against the prince of princes will he stand up, but without hand shall be broken in pieces.”
The “latter part of their kingdom” refers to a later time in the lives of the four Macedonian kingdoms, a time when “transgressions have filled up their measure” and a king of fierce countenance arrived. The text does not state from which of the four kingdoms this ruler originated, but he could only be from either the Seleucid or Ptolemaic kingdom.

This king’s strength would be “mighty but not through his own strength,” a likely reference to God’s purposes at work despite the king’s machinations.

The “little horn” had “a mouth speaking great things” in the vision of the beasts from the sea. Likewise, the king of fierce countenance was “skillful in dissimulation.” The “little horn” previously “made war with the saints and prevailed against them,” just as the “king of fierce countenance” destroyed the “people of the saints.” And the “little horn” of Chapter 7 spoke “words against the Most-High,” just as the fierce king stood up against “the Prince of princes.” The “little horn” strove “to change times and law, and they were given into his hand for a season, seasons, and the dividing of a season,” just as the “little horn” of Chapter 8 removed the daily sacrifice and profaned the Sanctuary for an appointed time (Daniel 8:12-14 ).
In Chapter 8, the “little horn” caused “the host of the heavens” and the stars to fall to the earth, and it “trampled them underfoot.” The human enemies of God do not have access to heaven and are in no position to expel angels. This assault against the “host of heaven” is interpreted to be the fierce king’s destruction of the “mighty ones and the people of saints.”
The “transgressions have filled up their measure.” This may refer to the transgressions of the pagan king, the iniquities of the Jewish nation, or to both. The Hebrew term is a participle that is plural in this passage and has the definite article, that is, the transgressors.” It is related to the noun pesha’ used in verses 12-13 for “transgression.”
In verses 12 and 13, “transgression” refers to the act of the “little horn” against the Sanctuary. However, in verse 23, the term “transgressions” refers to the accumulated sin that necessitated the assault by the fierce king (i.e., “when the transgressions have filled up their measure, there will stand up a king of fierce countenance”). The desecration of the Sanctuary was the result of this king’s rise to power but, ultimately, constituted Divine punishment for sin committed by God’s people.
This line of interpretation is borne out by the previous question and answer between the two angels (see Daniel 8:13-14). The removal of the daily sacrifice and the profanation of the Temple continue until the end of the appointed time, then the Sanctuary is cleansed. The filling up of sins to a designated level suggests Divine purpose at work. Transgression must run its course until a determined point of judgment followed by vindication.
In verses 11-14, the “little horn” is held responsible for the removal of the daily sacrifice and the profanation of the Sanctuary (“because of him was taken away the daily burnt offering”). However, in the larger picture, it is a tool of judgment for the purpose of purgation of the holy people, not their annihilation.
The identifications of the Ram and Goat also explain the earlier geographical references to Susa and the River Ulai. Daniel received this vision during the last phase of the Babylonian Empire. The center of world power was about to be transferred to Persia, then to the Greek world.
In short, the “little horn” of Chapter 8 has the same figure in view as the “little horn” of the fourth beast from the earlier vision. In Chapter 7, the “little horn” devoured all the earth, “trampled it down and broke it in pieces.” In an ironic twist, the king of fierce countenance was “broken in pieces without hands,” implying Divine judgment. What he inflicted on the Jews was, in turn, inflicted on him.
The interpretation of the vision concludes with Daniel being told to “close up the vision because it is for many days”; that is, for a future time. He was confounded by what he saw and heard, and no one was able to decipher it for him. The chapter ends with Daniel “sick for days.”
Daniel 8 the New Testament
The only verbal allusion to this vision in the New Testament is found in Revelation 12:4, “the Dragon drew the third part of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth.” This uses language from Daniel 8:10 - “The little horn waxed great, even to the host of heaven; and some of the host and of the stars it cast down to the earth.”
In the interpretation of Daniel’s vision, the “host of heaven” and the “stars” symbolize saints cast down by the “little horn,” either their physical destruction or their apostasy. This may shed light on the identity of the “stars of heaven” cast down by the Dragon in Revelation Chapter 12.

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