Vision of the Ram and the Goat

SYNOPSIS:  Daniel received a vision of a “ram” overthrown by a “goat.” A “little horn” appeared that attacked the saints - Daniel 8:1-14.

Photo by Paxson Woelber on Unsplash
Photo by Paxson Woelber on Unsplash
Next, Daniel received a vision of a “ram" and a male “goat.” The ram represented the “Medes and Persians.” The goat symbolized Greece and its first great king, who conquered the Persian Empire. This is followed by the interpretation of the vision by an angel. The focus is on a later king who reigned over one of the four lesser kingdoms that arose after the death of the first king of Greece, the “goat” (Daniel 8:1-14, 8:15-27).

The visions recorded in chapters 7 and 8 of the Book of Daniel are related - There are multiple structural, verbal, and conceptual parallels between them. The imagery of Chapter 7 is “apocalyptic,” cosmic, and, therefore, somewhat ambiguous. In contrast, the vision and interpretation in Chapter 8 include clear historical references.

Two of the four kingdoms from Chapter 7 are named explicitly in Chapter 8. Both visions occurred during the reign of Belshazzar, both were interpreted by an angel, and both end with Daniel “troubled” by what he saw. A theme common to both is an assault against the “people of the saints” by a malevolent figure, the “little horn” (Daniel 7:1,7:15, 7:28, 8:1, 8:27).

The vision of the Ram and Goat occurred in 550 B.C. in the reign of Babylon’s last ruler, and approximately at the same time, Cyrus the Great annexed the kingdom of Media to his growing empire. Thus, his realm became the “kingdom of the Medes and Persians”:

(Daniel 8:1-3):
In the third year of the reign of Belshazzar the kinga vision, appeared unto me, Daniel, after that which appeared unto me at the beginning. So then I sawˎ in the visionˎ and it came to passˎ when I saw that Iʹ was in Shusanj the fortress, which is in Persia the province,—yea I saw it in a vision, when I was by the river Ulai. So then I lifted up mine eyes and looked, and lo! a ram, standing before the river, and it had two horns,—and the two horns were high, but, the one was higher than the other, and the higher had come up last.” – (From the Emphasized Bible).

In Verse 1, the original text reverts from the Aramaic language back to Hebrew (Aramaic is used from Daniel 2:4 to 8:1). The change marks the start of the second half of the book. “Shushan” or “Susa” was the ancient capital of the Median province of Elam, between Babylon and Persia. “Ulai” was the name of the waterway along which the city was built. It does not state that Daniel was physically in Susa; possibly, he found himself “in Susa” as part of a visionary experience. Susa became a prominent royal city in the Persian Empire (Nehemiah 1:1, Esther 1:1-2).

Alongside the river, Daniel saw a ram with two horns. One horn came up after the first and grew higher than it. This corresponds to the image of the bear in which one side of the beast was elevated higher than the other. The ram was pushing “westward, northward and southward.” None could stand before it; it did according to its will. The ram with two horns is identified as the “kings of Media and Persia” in the vision’s interpretation (Daniel 7:5, 8:20).

This empire expanded rapidly in all directions but, especially, to the south, west, and north. To the south it conquered Babylonia, Egypt, and Libya, to the west it absorbed Lydia and most of Asia Minor, including its Greek cities, and to the north, it conquered Armenia and the Scythians.

This the ram did “according to his will and magnified himself.” This stresses its belief that its success was due to its own prowess.

(Daniel 8:4-8):
I saw the ram pushing strongly westward and northward and southward so that no wild beast could stand before him, and none could deliver out of his hand,—but he did according to his own pleasure and shewed himself great.
Now, I, was observingˎ when lo! a he-goat coming in out of the west over the face of all the earth, but it meddled not with the earth,—and, the goat, had a conspicuous horn between his eyes. So then he came up to the ram having the two horns, which I had seen standing before the river,—and ran unto him in the fury of his strength. Yea I saw him coming close upon the ram and he was enraged at him and smote the ram, and brake in pieces both his horns, and there was no strength in the ram to stand before him,—but he cast him down to the ground and trampled him underfoot, and there was none could deliver the ram out of his power. But, the he-goat, shewed himself very great,—and, when he had become mighty, the great horn was broken in pieces, and there came up afterwards four in its stead, towards the four winds of the heavens.” – (The Emphasized Bible).

Daniel saw a male goat charging out of the west so rapidly that its feet “touched not the ground.” The goat had a prominent horn between its eyes and rushed headlong into the ram with great fury. It cast the ram to the ground and broke both its horns. The ram was powerless to resist.

Photo by Peter Neumann on Unsplash
by Peter Neumann - Unsplash
The goat is identified as the “king of Greece” in the interpretation. Its prominent horn represents its “first king,” who can be none other than Alexander the Great, the Macedonian warlord who conquered the Persian Empire. At the height of its strength, the prominent horn was broken and replaced by four “notable horns,” which were aligned with the “four winds of heaven” (Daniel 11:1-4, 7:2, Revelation 7:1-3).

There are conceptual links to the third beast from Chapter 7, the leopard with the four wings that symbolized swift conquests. Likewise, the goat moved so swiftly that its feet did not touch the ground. Alexander conquered the entire Persian Empire within three years, an astonishing feat, especially, considering the vast distances his army covered on foot and horseback.

The leopard had four heads, just as the prominent horn of the goat was broken and replaced by four “notable horns.”

(Daniel 8:9-14):
And, out of the first of them, came forth a little horn,—which became exceedingly great against the south and against the east and against the beautiful land; yea it became great as far as the host of the heavens,—and caused to fall to the earth some of the host and some of the stars and trampled them underfoot;
even as far as the ruler of the host, shewed he his greatness,—and, because of him, was taken away the continual ascending-sacrifice, and the place of the sanctuary was cast down; and a host was set over the continual ascending-sacrifice by transgression,—and faithfulness was cast down to the ground, and so he acted with effect and succeeded.
Then heard I a certain holy one speaking,—and another holy one said to that certain holy one who was speaking—
How long is the vision of the continual ascending-sacrifice as taken away and the transgression which astoundeth, for both sanctuary and host to be given over to be trampled underfoot?
And he said unto him,
Until two thousand and three hundred evening-mornings,—then shall the sanctuary be vindicated.” – (From the Emphasized Bible).

The four “notable horns” replaced the prominent one. From one of the four emerged a “little horn,” which “waxed great” towards the south, the east, and the “glorious land.” It is a verbal link to the “little horn” of the previous vision.

The beauty” may mean the “beautiful land,” though “land” is not present in the Hebrew text (See - Daniel 11:16, 11:41). It may refer to Mount Zion where the Sanctuary was situated. The “little horn” waxed great against “the beautyagainst the host of heaven,” and it “removed the daily burnt-offering and cast down the Sanctuary.” This describes an assault against the Temple and its rituals, not Judea or the land of Palestine (Compare - Psalm 48:1-2, 50:2)..

The overthrow of the Sanctuary and assault against the saints are described in mythological terms. The “little horn” waxed great, even to “the host of heaven” - it cast down stars and “trampled them underfoot.” These are additional links to the “little horn” of Chapter 7 where the horn “made war with the saints and prevailed against them…and spoke words against the Most-High to wear out His saints” (Daniel 7:21-25).
The “little horn” exalted itself over against the “Prince of the Host.” Elsewhere in the Old Testament, Yahweh is the Lord of hosts, therefore, this designation probably refers to Him. That is, the “little horn” attempted to trespass on things that are God’s prerogative.
Then Daniel heard one angelic being ask, “How long shall be the vision concerning the daily burnt-offering and the transgression that desolates, to give both the Sanctuary and the host to be trodden under foot?” This introduces a thematic phrase that links this vision with the remaining visions of the book of Daniel - The “transgression” or “abomination that desolates.” “Desolates” translates a participle form of the Hebrew verb shamem, meaning, “desolate, make desolate, devastate, appall” (Compare - Daniel 8:13, 9:27, 11:31, 12:11).

The question of the angel highlights the concern of the vision: The removal of the daily burnt offering and its restoration. In other words, the disruption of the sacrificial system and the desecration of the Temple in Jerusalem.

The “little horn” is a malevolent figure that acts wickedly, however, it does not do so of its own accord. Note the first question: “How long is the vision…for both Sanctuary and host to be given over to be trampled?” This implies a divine purpose in this event. The Sanctuary is given to the “little horn” to be “trampled underfoot.” In part, this is Divine judgment on the Sanctuary and the people of God (Daniel 7:20-22).

A second angel responded, “Until two thousand and three hundred evenings and mornings; then will the Sanctuary be cleansed.” The goal is stated - the cleansing of the Sanctuary. The preposition rendered “until” confirms this profanation is according to a divine decree. The attack of the “little horn” will end at a predetermined time.

The Sanctuary will be vindicated and restored, not destroyed, which points to divinely appointed judgment for a specific period. The purpose is purgation and restoration, not destruction. In the end, the “little horn” is “broken without hand,” but the Sanctuary is to be restored (Daniel 8:25).

The expression, “evening-morning,” is used in the creation story in Genesis to represent a full day. Accordingly, some interpretations conclude 2,300 “literal” solar days are intended. But the phrase has no conjunction between the two nouns; there is no “and,” the two words form a single unit of measure, “evening-morning.” The description in Genesis is fuller and more specific: “So it was evening and it was morning, one day” (Genesis 1:5-31).

The passage concerns the cessation of the daily burnt offering, not the original creation. “Evening-morning” is better explained by the context – it refers to the daily burnt-offering. In the “law of the burnt offering,” sacrifices were laid on the altar “from evening until morning” (Leviticus 6:8-18).

If this is the correct background, the two thousand three hundred “evenings-mornings” equates to one thousand eleven hundred and fifty days (1,150). The vision will be interpreted by an angel in the last half of Chapter 8.

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