corner graphic

Bible Commentaries

Ironside's Notes on Selected Books

Daniel 8

 

 

Verses 1-27

Chapter Eight The Grecian Little Horn

In beginning this chapter I call your attention to a most interesting fact regarding the structure of the book of Daniel. It was originally written in two languages. The first chapter and verses 1-3 of chapter 2 are in Hebrew. But from 2:4 to the end of chapter 7, the language employed is Chaldean, or Aramaic. The balance of the book is in Hebrew. There seems to be a very simple and yet significant reason for this. The first section was for the special help and encouragement of the faithful among the scattered Jews, so it was written in their own language. But in the second section, God is tracing out the course of the times of the Gentiles. He led Daniel to write the record of it in the popular language of the day so the Chaldeans might read it and profit from it.

The portion of the book of Daniel beginning with the eighth chapter and going on to the end concerns the Jews in a very special way, so it was written in Hebrew, as was the first part. It is of importance to see the different applications of each of these sections. God has nothing to say about the course of the church of this dispensation either in Daniel or elsewhere in the prophetic books. He is giving us the truth both in regard to Judah and Israel and to the Gentiles as such. If we fail to observe this our apprehension of Scripture will be in confusion. The principle is a simple one, but if kept in mind will aid greatly to a proper understanding of the Word of God. When in the prophetic books we read of Judah, or Zion, or Jerusalem, we are not to suppose the church is meant. Judah means Judah, Zion means Zion, Jerusalem means Jerusalem, Israel means Israel, and the Gentiles have no part in what is written concerning these. The church, which is the body of Christ, is something very different. There are three, not merely two, classes of people in the world today-all contemplated in Scripture. “Give none offence,” says the apostle Paul, “neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God” (1 Corinthians 10:32). These are the three classes. If the various passages of Scripture referring to each are rightly divided and not all mixed up together in the mind of the reader, he will get a proper understanding of what is commonly called dispensational truth. It is nothing more nor less than giving to each dispensation, or period of God’s special dealings with men, the portions that apply particularly to each.

In studying the Chaldean part of Daniel (2:4-7:28) we have noticed how the omniscient God has traced for us the course of the great empires of this world. We have had outlined for our learning their rise, progress, decline, and fall, emphasizing the truth that “righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people” (Proverbs 14:34). All this was written in the language spoken by the Gentiles at that time. But now we are to be largely occupied with that race long-despised and hated, but ever watched over by Jehovah-His covenant people of old, beloved for the fathers’ sakes, no matter how great their failure and sin. That is why the last part of the book is written in Hebrew. It is true that we will still read of some of these world powers (we are largely occupied with two of them in this chapter), but this is only to clear the ground for better understanding of God’s plan for the future of the Jewish nation.

A careful study of the book of Revelation will show you that it is very similar in structure to the book of Daniel. The first part (Revelation 1-3) is devoted to the prophetic history of the church. From chapter 4 to 11:18 we see the judgments that are to fall on apostate Christendom and the powers connected with it. Their history is traced right on down to the end, closing with “the time of the dead that they should be judged.” But the Lord had said to John, “Thou must prophesy again” (10:11), so he begins to take things up once more from the 12th chapter on, but it is all connected with God’s earthly people, the nation of Israel. Thus the first part of Revelation has chiefly to do with the course of the world as such; it turns the divine searchlight on the great movements among the nations. But the second half has to do with the same people (the Jews) that we have before us in the last part of Daniel. As remarked in the previous chapter, the one book dovetails into the other. Daniel cannot be understood apart from the book of the Revelation; and Revelation itself is in many places only intelligible because of what had previously been made known to the prophet in Babylon. Let us remember then that our present chapter is the first of the Hebrew section; the previous chapters were in Aramaic and especially concerned the Gentiles.

Daniel 8:1 shows us that two years elapsed between the visions of chapter 7 and 8. In the third year of the reign of King Belshazzar Daniel was given the vision of the ram and the he-goat. Either physically, or in spirit, he was in the palace in the province of Elam by the river Ulai. Elam was the ancient name of the highlands east of Babylon, stretching from India to the Persian Gulf. It was in this very region that Cyrus was to obtain his first great victories. It was fitting that in his vision Daniel should be in the land soon to be completely dominated by the Persians because that which he saw had largely to do with Persia in her early triumphs and subsequent defeat.

He tells us that he lifted up his eyes:

And saw, and, behold, there stood before the river a ram which had two horns: and the two horns were high; but one was higher than the other, and the higher came up last. I saw the ram pushing westward, and northward, and southward; so that no beasts might stand before him, neither was there any that could deliver out of his hand; but he did according to his will, and became great (3-4).

In verse 15 we have the interpreting angel drawing near, whose mission it was to explain the meaning of the vision. We will notice each part separately, connecting it with the interpretation given. In verses 19-20, the angel says: “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 sawest having two horns are the kings of Media and Persia.” Thus we are not left to form our own judgment as to what the ram might represent. We are distinctly told by the angel that the ram stands for the same dominion as the breast and arms of silver in Nebuchadnezzar’s great image and the bear that was lifted up on one side in the previous vision. It is as though God would give us symbol after symbol to impress on our minds the events to follow one another on the earth prior to the establishment of the kingdom of His Son. The fact that we are given three symbolic images to teach us this lesson reminds us that “a three-fold cord is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12).

Remember that when Daniel had the vision Babylon was still the supreme power, though already in its decline. But Daniel was given this revelation as to the ram of Persia when no human mind could possibly have predicted the place it was to take in the affairs of men. It is rather interesting to know that, according to standard authorities, the ram was the symbol of Persia; a picture of one was carried on her banners before her armies. The two horns, the higher of which came up last, clearly connect with the bear lifting itself up on one side. They illustrate the fact that the Medo-Persian empire was composed of two nations-the ancient and venerable kingdom of Media and the then modern kingdom of Persia. Later, after the confederation, Persia became by far the more powerful of the two; thus the horn that came up last was higher. Daniel saw this ram pushing westward, northward, and southward; this indicates exactly the course of Persian conquest. The armies of Cyrus did not turn eastward to conquer those barbarous tribes, but pressed toward the Mediterranean and Black seas, and the Persian Gulf. They continued their conquests until all western Asia and Egypt were subject to them.

While Daniel was considering what the ram could mean, he saw a he-goat come from the west and cross the face of the whole earth. It ran so swiftly that it did not touch the ground. This goat had a notable horn between his eyes. He came to the ram that had the two horns and charged him in the fury of his power. Daniel vividly described the terrific onslaught:

And I saw him come close unto the ram, and he was moved with choler against him, and smote the ram, and brake his two horns: and there was no power in the ram to stand before him, but he cast him down to the ground, and stamped upon him: and there was none that could deliver the ram out of his hand (7).

Again we do not need to try to discern the meaning of the vision; God Himself has revealed it through His angel. The interpretation is given in verse 21: “The rough goat is the king of Grecia: and the great horn that is between his eyes is the first king.”

At the time that Daniel prophesied, Greece consisted of a number of independent and often warring states, yet bound together by ancestral ties. It remained for Alexander in, commonly called the Great, the remarkably gifted son of Philip of Macedon, to consolidate these separate kingdoms into one loyal, united power destined to rule the world for a season. The vision in Daniel 8, as all those in the book, exactly agrees with later history. I do not want to occupy you too much with history; a knowledge of human records is certainly not necessary to enable one to understand the Word of God. On the other hand nothing is gained by ignorance; faith is confirmed and God is glorified when we see how the wonderful exactness of His holy Word is witnessed to by the annals of uninspired men.

The first thing of note I would have you observe is this: the he-goat came from the west. According to history, we know that an altogether new thing appeared in the rise and progress of Alexander the Great. Previous to that time, power had always risen up in the east and reached out toward the west. The East was the cradle of the human race, and the most ancient civilizations existed there. The nations of the East thought of all the rest of the world, especially the distant lands of the west, as “barbarians,” for whom they entertained a haughty contempt. But the he-goat came from the despised west with great anger. In great passion, he did not touch the ground in the swiftness and the fury of his onslaught. This is a fitting symbol of the whirlwind campaign of the army of the west headed by its intrepid commander. The overrunning of Asia by Alexander was not merely to gratify his ambition for world empire; it was also to pay off old scores. The Greeks had never forgotten the disgrace and shame of earlier Persian conquests. Nor could they forgive the Persians for their unsuccessful attack, under Xerxes, on the Hellenic states. For years they had brooded over these things and had nursed the desire for a bloody and triumphant revenge; at last they realized that the time had come to gratify their passion. Therefore, it was with more than usual alacrity that they sprang to arms at Alexander’s beck and call. They rushed on the Persian hosts in angry mood, eager to settle up these old scores and execute vengeance on their ancient enemies. So Daniel saw the he-goat moved with anger, and charging the ram in the fury of his power. By this terrific attack, the ram was cast to the ground and his two horns broken. All this was fulfilled when Alexander met the armies of the last Darius and completely defeated them. By this he became ruler of the world.

But Daniel continued: “The he goat waxed very great: and when he was strong, the great horn was broken; and for it came up four notable ones toward the four winds of heaven” (8). In the interpretation, the angel explained that the great horn was the first king of Grecia; then he says: “Now that being broken, whereas four stood up for it, four kingdoms shall stand up out of the nation, but not in his power” (22). Alexander’s day of power was brief; his early death testified to his inability to control his appetites and passions. Thus the great horn was broken.

None of his own house succeeded Alexander. After his untimely decease, his dominions were divided among his four leading generals: Ptolemy, who was acknowledged as king of Egypt and the adjacent countries; Seleucas, who took Syria and Asia Minor; Lysimachus, who had the sovereignty of Thrace (modern-day Turkey) and the contiguous territory; and Cassander, to whom fell Macedonia and all Greece. Thus was the empire divided and there was never again a masterhand commanding until the Roman conquest in the last century before Christ.

Two of these divisions occupy a large place in prophecy; but Scripture never again deals with Thrace, and only once directly with Greece (Zechariah 9:13). But Syria and Egypt are the powers known in the book of Daniel as the “king of the north” and the “king of the south.” Unless otherwise specified, directions in Scripture are always to be understood as having Jerusalem as a center; so, when the Bible speaks of the north and the south, it is north or south of Jerusalem. Unless this is kept in mind, one may easily become confused. Up until fifty years before the coming of the Lord Jesus, Syria and Egypt existed as independent powers, with the land of Palestine between them. The Holy Land thus became a veritable battleground for the opposing armies, and was torn by dissension for over two hundred years. The wretched history of those two centuries of horror is given us prophetically in Daniel 11. We will take them up in detail when we come to consider that portion of the book.

The chief reason for introducing all this was that we might be enlightened in regard to one who is to play a very important part in the time of the end; he is destined to arise out of the Syrian division of Alexander’s empire. For the present and ever since the Roman conquest, the goat with the four horns has been apparently destroyed. But just as the Roman empire is to be revived in the last days, so we learn that two of the four horns of the divided Grecian dominion will reappear on the prophetic map in that time of trial. Out of one of them that little horn will arise who will be the bitter enemy of the returned Jews in that day.

And out of one of them came forth a little horn, which waxed exceeding great, toward the south, and toward the east, and toward the pleasant land. And it waxed great, even to the host of heaven; and it cast down some of the host and of the stars to the ground, and stamped upon them. Yea, he magnified himself even to the prince of the host, and by him the daily sacrifice was taken away, and the place of his sanctuary was cast down. And an host was given him against the daily sacrifice by reason of transgression, and it cast down the truth to the ground; and it practised and prospered (8:9-12).

I do not question for a moment that all this has had a fulfillment in the atrocities of that monster of wickedness, Antiochus Epiphanes. His persecutions of the Jews and desecration of the temple are described in these verses. But a comparison with the interpretation of the vision makes it equally clear to my mind that there remains another and more complete fulfillment yet to take place.

Many confuse the little horn here spoken of with the little horn of chapter seven. But we have already noticed that he who rises up in the western ten-horned kingdom is the same as the beast of Revelation 13 and 17. He is a Roman, not a Grecian offshoot. In this chapter of Daniel we see one arising out of the old kingdom of Seleucas-a king of the north, not of the west. Antiochus in his bloodthirsty career was the type of one who will be Jerusalem’s bitter enemy in the time of the Lord’s indignation. For centuries the Turks were in possession of the lands once dominated by Seleucas. The future king of the north will in all likelihood be the fierce leader of whatever power controls Turkey in Asia at that time.

The Roman little horn will be an apostate Christian in league with the personal antichrist; he will take unbelieving Israel under his wing so long as it suits his purposes. The Grecian little horn is likely an utter infidel, the successor to Mohammed, motivated by inveterate hatred to the Jews, and probably the bitter foe of the future emperor of the west. The angel tells Daniel:

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. And 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. And 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 (8:23-25).

It is evident that much that is written in these verses cannot possibly apply to Antiochus. He answers quite fully to the vision, but he does not meet the requirements of the interpretation. In the first place, the prophecy is to have its complete accomplishment “when the transgressors are come to the full.” This expression might refer to the ripening of iniquity in ancient Syria except that the kingdom was not destroyed on the death of Epiphanes; it would have been if its sins had reached the limit set by the moral Governor of the universe. It seems far more likely that the expression refers to the time of the end, when the whole world will be ripe for the judgment of God.

This interpretation also agrees with the angel’s words, “I will make thee know what shall be in the last end of the indignation” (19); this is undoubtedly the end of the times of the Gentiles. In that time, then, this predicted little horn will stand as a man of great intelligence and diplomacy; but we read that “his power shall be mighty, but not by his own power” (24). Now these words could hardly be applied to the “little horn” of the past; he reigned as an independent monarch, prosecuting his purposes as his own will dictated, until in measure thwarted by the interference of Rome. But there is a leader who occupies a large place in prophecy; he is called “the Assyrian” by Isaiah and will be Israel’s enemy in the last days. He will be destroyed by the personal appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ. Isaiah connects Israel’s blessing and restoration with his downfall. He seems clearly to be the same as the little horn depicted here, for he too apparently relies on some other ally. The power that will back him is prophesied of in Ezekiel 38. Then again the little horn is to stand up against the Prince of princes and be broken without hands. The Prince of princes can be none other than the Messiah; consequently these words were not fulfilled in the life and death of Antiochus. But they point us on to the time of the end, when Messiah Himself will appear in person on behalf of oppressed Israel and will overthrow the Assyrian.

What is said of the little horn as an individual is largely applicable to the Ottoman empire as a whole. Fierce and relentless, it has ever been the enemy of Judaism, and has existed for centuries, not because of any inherent power of its own, but because of the jealousies of the nations of Europe. Were the Turk driven out of Constantinople, all Europe would be thrown into war, each great power anxious to possess the dominions over which the Crescent now floats. Hence the abominable horrors of Armenian and Jewish massacres are permitted by civilized and so-called Christian nations because they do not dare to interfere, lest by so doing they jeopardize the peace of the world. (Editor’s note: This was written before World War I began. See the Preface.) It is said of the little horn that he shall cause craft to prosper, and by peace shall destroy many. This too has been characteristic of the “unspeakable Turk,” especially in his dealings with the Jews. The monotheism of Islam naturally appeals to the Jew; and the false prophet himself made marked advances to the seed of Israel, hoping thereby to win them over to Islam. But behind all the fair words and goodly promises of the sultans, the poison and the sword have ever lurked. The little horn of the latter times will embody in himself the spirit of the Ottoman empire.

But we have not yet finished with the vision. Daniel said:

Then I heard one saint speaking, and another saint said unto that certain saint which spake, How long shall be the vision concerning the daily sacrifice, and the transgression of desolation, to give both the sanctuary and the host to be trodden under foot? And he said unto me, Unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed (13-14).

The word for days is really “evening-mornings” and refers, not to lengthened periods, but clearly and distinctly to twenty-four-hour days. It is a time-prophecy that has to do with the defilement of the temple by Antiochus. From the time that he polluted the sanctuary by sacrificing a sow on the altar and setting up a statue of Jupiter in the holiest of all, twenty-three hundred literal days elapsed until it was again purified and dedicated to the service of Jehovah. As if to warn us of the danger of allegorizing this period, the angel said to Daniel, “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” (26).

It was the failure to apprehend this that led the Millerites into their great blunder in the early part of the last century. The same error has blinded their successors, the Seventh-Day Adventists and resulted in the blasphemous sanctuary-theory which they hold. According to them, the Lord Jesus never entered the holiest until a.d. 1844, being twenty-three hundred year-days from the time when Cyrus issued the decree to build the temple. But it is all utterly unsupported by Scripture. The twenty-three hundred days have long since been fulfilled in the history of Daniel’s people, the Jews. It was literally fulfilled after the desecration of the holy places by the Syrian tyrant. There is no hint that there remains another twenty-three hundred days to be fulfilled in the future, though the characters of the little horn of the vision and the last great Assyrian of Isaiah 14:24-27, are so very much alike. The latter will undoubtedly be a man of great ability, but cunning, crafty, and deceitful-a worthy successor to the Ottoman rulers of the past. But he is to be broken in Immanuel’s land, and all his army will be destroyed on the mountains of Israel, when he dares to stand up against the Prince of princes. This Prince will come forth in glorious majesty for the deliverance of the faithful remnant whose hearts will cling to Jehovah in that dreadful time of Jacob’s trouble. Already we can see events shaping themselves for the fulfillment of these things. The end cannot be far off. “Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame” (Revelation 16:15).

The effect of the vision on Daniel was that he fainted and was sick several days. “Afterward,” he said, “I rose up, and did the king’s business; and I was astonished at the vision, but none understood it” (27). The centuries since have borne witness to the truth of much of it, and the days to come will demonstrate the rest. May our hearts be so impressed by these things that we too are deeply exercised before God about them. May we be found in a very real sense doing the King’s business while we wait for His personal return from Heaven!

Nor would I close without once more warning the Christless to flee from the wrath to come. The black and ominous clouds of doom are gathering over this poor world. Soon the lightning of wrath, the thunder of judgment, and the storm of vengeance will break forth. How unspeakably sad will be your condition if exposed to the full fury of the tempest of divine indignation without Christ and without refuge! Trust Him now while grace is offered to each sinful soul; else “What wilt thou say when he shall punish thee?” (Jeremiah 13:21)

 

 

 

 


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Daniel 8:4". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/isn/daniel-8.html. 1914.

Commentary Navigator
Search This Commentary
Enter query in the box below
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology