Because the Bible is true, even the parts that are confusing or hard to understand are good news.
You’ve probably heard us say this before at She Reads Truth, but do you think we can find it to be true in today’s difficult-to-understand passage? Is there good news in Daniel chapter 8?
Again today, we’re talking visions. And again today, we’re pulling our reading from the “apocalyptic literature” shelf (a real crowd-pleaser!). This time, the vision is focused on a ram, a goat, and more horns than a marching band. (I couldn’t help myself, you guys.)
One fascinating little side note: in Biblical literature, a horn almost always has to do with power, dominion, and authority. Consider:
- the horns blown to take down Jericho’s walls (Joshua 6:5).
- the ram’s horns caught in the thicket to be Abraham’s sacrifice instead of Isaac (Genesis 22:13).
- David calls the Lord the horn of his salvation (Psalm 18:3).
The horns in Daniel’s vision are no exception, but they’re still a little tricky to make sense of.
Fortunately for us, Gabriel appears to Daniel in verse 15 to explain what he saw. Here is the gist of the angel’s explanation:
- The two-horned ram represents the kings of Media and Persia (v. 3-4, 20).
- The shaggy goat represents the king of Greece (v. 5-7, 21).
- Specifically, the large horn between his eyes is understood to be Alexander the Great (v. 8, 21).
- Historically, after Alexander the Great’s death in 323 B.C., four smaller rulers (horns) rose in his place, but none were as powerful as him (v. 8, 22).
Gabriel goes on to talk about the little horn, “an insolent king, skilled in intrigue,” who causes “deceit to prosper.” This horn is widely believed to be Antiochus Epiphanes (who reigned much later, from 175–164 BC). A wicked ruler and persecutor of the Jews, he is historically renowned for desecrating the temple by sacrificing pigs on the altar and setting it up as a shrine to Zeus. He was a bad guy after a long string of bad guys, in what amounted to a prophetic foretelling to Daniel of centuries of persecution ahead for the Jews.
To be honest? This is a whole lot of crazy awful. And, I imagine, it was the last thing Daniel hoped to learn in a vision. He’d been praying for deliverance, something this dream promised he’d never see in his lifetime. You know those “good tidings of great joy” the same Gabriel would later deliver to Mary? This was not that. Not even close.
Terrible leaders and violent conquerors lay ahead, and things are going to get a whole lot worse for God’s people before they get better. No wonder verse 27 tells us Daniel “was overcome and lay sick for days.”
Maybe you feel like Daniel today. Maybe you’re also learning firsthand that God’s deliverance is rarely quick or tidy. Perhaps you’re beginning to understand, like the Israelites learned, that God doesn’t always take us out of pain or heartache. Instead, He gives us the grace and everything we need to persevere in heartache (2 Peter 1:3).
In one sense, our world is not what it used to be; in another, it’s exactly as bad as it’s always been. Headlines leave us confused and distraught like Daniel, knowing things may very well get worse before they get better.
Our omnipotent God is able to turn nations on a dime, just as He mercifully and quickly delivered Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednago from the flames. But even if He does not, He is able to preserve His people in the midst of their persecution.
I suppose Daniel 8 is good news then, isn’t it? Because the Bible is true, we can look all manner of persecution in the face and have confidence that nothing in the present or future can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:38-39).
And so, as believers who suffer or endure persecution, we can rise up and go about the King’s business just as Daniel did. Even when we don’t understand. Even when we are overwhelmed. Because the greatest evils in the world will come face to face with the Prince of princes and “will be shattered—not by human hands” (Daniel 8:25).
Thanks be to God.