Interpretation of the Ram and the Goat

SYNOPSIS:  Daniel next received the interpretation of the vision of a “ram” overthrown by a “goat,” and of its “little horn” - Daniel 8:15-27.

Photo by Clark Van Der Beken on Unsplash
Clark Van Der Beken on Unsplash
In the vision of the four beasts from the sea, only the first beast can be identified with certainty, namely, Babylon. Not one of the four is explicitly named, although each is said to represent a “kingdom.” In contrast, in the interpretation of the vision of the Ram and the Goat, two of the four kingdoms are identified by name, the kingdom of the “Medes and Persians” and the kingdom of “Greece” (Daniel 7:1-88:20-21).

(Daniel 8:15-21):
And it came to pass when I, Daniel had seen the vision,—and had sought discernment, that lo! there was standing before me as the appearance of a man. Then heard I a human voice between the banks of the Ulai,—which cried out and said,
Gabriel! cause this man to understand the revelation.
So he came near where I stood, and when he came I was terrified, and fell upon my face,—but he said unto me,
Understand, O son of man, that to the time of the end belongeth the vision.
And when he spake with me I fell stunned upon my face to the earth,—but he touched me, and caused me to stand up where I was. Then said he,
Behold me! causing thee to know, that which shall come to pass in the afterpart of the indignation,—for at an appointed time shall be an end.
The ram which thou sawestˎ having the two horns representeth the kings of Media and Persia; and the he-goat is the king of Greece,—and the great horn which was between his eyes the same is the first king.” – (From the Emphasized Bible)

The previous vision, likewise, was interpreted by an angel. However, in this next one, the interpreting angel is identified by name, “Gabriel.” Daniel saw a figure in appearance like a man, and he heard a voice call this figure “Gabriel.” He was summoned to reveal the meaning of the vision to Daniel. ‘Gabriel’ means, “my man is God.” This is the first time in Scripture an angel is named.

The Ram with the two horns represents the “kings of the Medes and the Persians.” A ram was common in Persian iconography and the king wore a crown that appeared to be the golden head of a ram. The large single horn on the goat represents the first and greatest king of Greece who overthrew the "kingdom of the Medes and the Persians.”

The “vision is for a time of an end.” The phrase is ambiguous and does not, necessarily, mean the “last days.” It is a generic reference to the end of something, whether a period or an event. More likely, it refers to the desecration of the Sanctuary. Verse 19 confirms this. The “time of an end” points to the “end of the indignation,” that is, the assault unleashed by the “little horn” that desecrated the Sanctuary.

The shorter of the two horns of the ram represents the kingdom of Media. Initially, it was stronger than Persia in the new alliance. It had emerged as a major power after the downfall of the Assyrian Empire, which 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 of the Ram 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, 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 in 550 B.C. Having defeated the Medians, he assigned himself the title, “king of the Medes,” then annexed Media to his realm. Almost overnight, Persia became a 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 after the first one. This historical reality 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 the book of Daniel, the “Medes and Persians” are named collectively as a single kingdom, although Persia dominates (Daniel 5:28, 7:4-5, 8:20).

The ram that pushed “westward and northward and southward,” and the bear that grasped three ribs in its mouth portray the conquests by the “Medes and Persians” of Mesopotamia (Babylon), Asia Minor (Lydia), and Egypt. This confirms that the second beast from the sea, the “bear,” represents the kingdom of the Medes and Persians.

(Daniel 8:21-22):
And the he-goat is the king of Greece,—and the great horn which was between his eyes the same is the first king. Now as for its being broken in pieces, whereupon there stood up four in its stead four kingdoms out of his nation shall stand upˎ but not with his strength.”

The Goat represents the “king of Greece” and its “prominent horn” its first king. The four lesser horns that come up afterward symbolize “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.

Alexander_the_Great_mosaic Public Domain
The “first king” can only be Alexander the Great. In 334 B.C., he led a Greco-Macedonian force 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. The fourfold division of the empire is described again the last vision of the book:

(Daniel 11:1-4):
I thereforeˎ in the first year of Darius the Mede was at my station to strengthen and embolden him; 2 and now the truth I will tell thee:—
Lo! there are yet three kings to arise—belonging to Persia, and the fourth will amass greater riches than they all, and when he hath strengthened himself in his riches the whole will stir up the kingdom of Greece. And so a hero king will arise,—and wield great authority, and do according to his own pleasure; but when he hath arisen his kingdom shall be broken in pieces, and be dividedˎ toward the four winds of the heavens,—but not to his own posterityˎ nor according to his own authority which he wielded, for his kingdom shall be uprootedeven for others besides these.” – (From the Emphasized Bible).

Two of the lesser kingdoms became significant regional powers for the next few centuries and played significant roles in the history of Judea - the Ptolemaic kingdom in Egypt (305-30 B.C.) and the Seleucid empire based 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 mighty presence and skilful in dissimulation; and his strength will be mighty, but not through his own strength, and wonderfully will he destroyˎ and succeed and act with effect,—and will destroy mighty ones and the people of holy ones; and by his cunning will he both cause deceit to succeed in his hand, and in his own heart will he shew himself to be greatˎ and by their careless security will he destroy many,—and against the ruler of rulers will he stand up, but without hand shall be broken in pieces. – (From the Emphasized Bible).

The “latter part of their kingdom” refers to a later time in the histories of the four Macedonian kingdoms, a time when “transgressions have filled up their measure” and a king of fierce countenance appears. The text does not state from which of the four kingdoms this ruler originated, but, historically, he could only be from either the Seleucid or the Ptolemaic kingdom (Syria and Egypt, respectively).

This king’s power would be “mighty but not through his own strength,” a likely allusion the purpose of Yahweh at work despite this king’s machinations. The “little horn” had “a mouth speaking great things” in the vision of the beasts from the sea. Likewise, this king of “fierce countenance” is “skillful in dissimulation.”

Previously, the “little horn made war with the saints and prevailed against them,” just as the “king of fierce countenance” destroyed the “people of the saints.” Likewise, the “little horn” in Chapter 7 spoke “words against the Most-High,” just as the fierce king now stands 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” in Chapter 8 removes the daily sacrifice and profanes the Sanctuary for an “appointed season” (Daniel 7:21-26, 8:12-14 ).

In Chapter 8, the “little horn” causes “the host of the heavens” and the stars to fall to the earth, and it “tramples them underfoot.” Human enemies of God do not have access to heaven, and they are in no position to expel angels. This assault against the “host of heaven” is interpreted as 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 both. The Hebrew term is a participle that is plural here and has a 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, the “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”). Thus, the desecration of the Sanctuary was the result of this king’s rise to power but, ultimately, constituted Divine punishment for the sins committed by God’s people.

This line of interpretation is borne out by the previous question and answer between the two angels (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.

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, just prior to its overthrow by the “Medes and Persians.” The center of the World-Power was about to be transferred to Persia, then, later, to the Greek world.

In short, the “little horn” in Chapter 8 has the same figure in view as the “little horn” of the fourth beast from the sea. 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, in turn, was inflicted on him.

The interpretation of the vision concludes when Daniel is told to “close up the vision because it is for many days,” 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.” The language is 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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