Two "Little Horns"?

SYNOPSIS  The “little horn” appears in two of Daniel’s visions – Is it the same figure in each case or two different individuals? - Daniel 7:7-8, 8:9-14

Athens - Photo by Arthur Yeti on Unsplash
The figure called the “
little horn” figures prominently in the visions of the “four beasts ascending from the sea” and of the “ram and the goat.” In the context of the two visions, both descriptions of the “little horn” are located close to one another. Unless there is information provided to the contrary, it is reasonable to assume the two visions refer to one and the same. However, there is an issue that can cause confusion - The historical references in the first vision are enigmatic; in the second, they are explicit. - [Athens - Photo by Arthur Yeti on Unsplash].

In the vision of the “ram and the goat,” the “little horn” is a ruler from one of the four kingdoms that descended from the conquests of Alexander the Great, the “prominent horn” of the “goat.” And regardless of which of the four domains was ruled by this figure, the last of the four Greek kingdoms fell in 30 B.C. when Egypt became a Roman province - (Ptolemaic Kingdom, 305-30 B.C.). Thus, at least in the vision of chapter 8, the “little horn” cannot refer to any historical figure later than 30 B.C.

However, if an interpreter assumes the “fourth kingdom” from the vision of the “four beasts from the sea” refers to a later empire – for example, the Roman Empire – then the “little horn” in chapter 7 cannot refer to the same figure as the “little horn” in chapter 8, and the interpreter must then present arguments why the two are not identical.

Again, the issue is caused by the ambiguities in the vision of the “four beasts.” While there is a consensus that the first “beast from the sea” represents the Neo-Babylonian Empire, opinions vary on the identities of the other three “beasts.” For example, does the “bear” represent the “kingdom of the Medes and the Persians,” or the empire of the Medes before it was annexed by Persia, which would make the third “beast,” the “leopard,” the subsequent Persian Empire.

Compounding the problem is our tendency to read history into the book of Daniel. While the book certainly does include many historical references, Daniel was not writing a textbook on history - his agenda was theological. The book is a well-structured work that consistently reflects those theological views, with verbal links provided that link its several chapters.

The best way to resolve the issue is by examining what the book of Daniel itself has to say about the figure and related matters – To interpret the “Little Horn” within the context of Daniel. For example, in the book, Daniel refers several times to the “kingdom of the Medes and the Persians”; he never views them as two different and successive kingdoms. Thus, the second and third “beasts” cannot refer to the kingdoms of the Medes and of Persia. What counts is how Daniel interprets history in light of his theological outlook.

The earlier dream of Nebuchadnezzar and its interpretation provide the fourfold structure that informs the later visions. The Babylonian ruler saw a “great image” comprised of four sections with each composed of a different material. Thus, the first section was the head of “fine gold,” the second, the arms and breast of “silver,” and so on.

In the interpretation, Daniel left no doubt as to the identity of the “head of gold” – “You, O Nebuchadnezzar, are the head of gold.” The information about the next two sections is brief – (“After you will arise another kingdom inferior to you; and another third kingdom of brass, which will rule over all the earth”). The description of the fourth kingdom is more detailed but enigmatic:
  • And the fourth kingdom shall be strong as iron, forasmuch as iron breaks in pieces and subdues all things; and as iron that crushes all these, shall it break in pieces and crush. And whereas you saw the feet and toes, part of potters’ clay, and part of iron, it shall be a divided kingdom; but there shall be in it of the strength of the iron, forasmuch as you saw the iron mixed with miry clay. And as the toes of the feet were part of iron, and part of clay, so the kingdom will be partly strong and partly broken. And whereas you saw the iron mixed with miry clay, they shall mingle themselves with the seed of men; but they shall not cleave one to another, even as iron doth not mingle with clay. And in the days of those kings will the God of heaven set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed, nor shall the sovereignty thereof be left to another people; but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever. And in the days of those kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed, nor shall the sovereignty thereof be left to another people; but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever. Forasmuch as you saw that a stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it broke in pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver, and the gold; the great God has made known to the king what will come to pass hereafter: and the dream is certain, and the interpretation thereof sure.” – (Daniel 2:40-45).
If this fourfold structure is reflected in the vision of the “four beasts from the sea,” then the “fourth beast with ten horns” is identical to the fourth kingdom that was composed of “partly iron, partly clay.” And there are verbal links between the two visions:
  • (Daniel 7:7-8) – “After this I saw in the night-visions, and behold, a fourth beast, terrible and powerful, and strong exceedingly; and it had great iron teeth; it devoured and broke in pieces and stamped the remnant with its feet: and it was diverse from all the beasts that were before it; and it had ten horns. I considered the horns, and there came up among them another horn, a little one, before which three of the first horns were plucked up by the roots: and in this horn were eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking great things.”
  • (Daniel 7:21-27) – “Then I desired to know the truth concerning the fourth beast…I beheld, and the same horn made war with the saints, and prevailed against them; until the ancient of days came, and judgment was given to the saints of the Most-High, and the time came that the saints possessed the kingdom. Thus, he said, the fourth beast shall be a fourth kingdom upon earth, which shall be diverse from all the kingdoms, and shall devour the whole earth, and shall tread it down, and break it in pieces. And as for the ten horns, out of this kingdom shall ten kings arise: and another shall arise after them; and he shall be diverse from the former, and he shall put down three kings. And he shall speak words against the Most-High and wear out the saints of the Most-High; and he shall think to change the times and the law; and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and half a time. But the judgment shall be set, and they shall take away his dominion, to consume and to destroy it unto the end. And the kingdom and the dominion, and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most-Highhis kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.”
The verbal links connect the two. Moreover, the interpretation of the “fourth beast” provides more details than the earlier dream of Nebuchadnezzar and its interpretation. For example, in the earlier interpretation, the kingdom was given to “another people,” whereas, in chapter 7, the kingdom is given to the “people of the saints of the Most-High.” In both visions, the fourth kingdom is characterized by “iron” and its ability to “break in pieces” and “trample” on others.

Goat - Photo by Ray Aucott on Unsplash
Goat - Photo by Ray Aucott on Unsplash

Likewise, the vision of the “
goat” and its interpretation have verbal links to both the dream of Nebuchadnezzar and the “fourth beast from the sea”:
  • (Daniel 8:9-10) – “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 glorious land. And it waxed great, even to the host of heaven; and some of the host and of the stars it cast down to the ground and trampled upon them.
  • (Daniel 8:21-25) – “And the goat is the king of Greece: and the great horn that is between his eyes is the first king. And as for that which was broken, in the place whereof four stood up, four kingdoms shall stand up out of the nation, but not with his power. And in the latter time of their kingdom, when the transgressors are come to the full, a king of fierce countenance and understanding dark sentences will stand up. And his power shall be mighty, but not by his own power; and he shall destroy wonderfully and prosper and do his pleasure; and he will destroy the mighty ones and the saints. And through his policy he will cause craft to prosper in his hand; and he will magnify himself in his heart, and in their security, he will destroy many; he will also stand up against the prince of princes; but he shall be broken without hand.
In the dream of Nebuchadnezzar, the fourth kingdom was compared to iron and noted for its ability to “break in pieces and subdue all things; and as iron that crushes all these, shall it break in pieces and crush.” While we naturally assume this refers to its ability to subdue other nations, the passage did not say who or what it “broke in pieces and crushed.”

However, the object of this kingdom’s wrath was indicated at the end of the interpretation where God judged the “kingdom” in an ironic fashion – “The God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will its sovereignty be left to another people; but it will break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms…and the stone that was cut out of the mountain without hands broke in pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver, and the gold.”

This suggests that the fourth kingdom that “broke in pieces” and trampled targeted the group identified as “another people,” the same group that inherits the “kingdom that will not be destroyed.”

Likewise, in the visions of the “four beasts” and the “ram and the goat,” the “little horn” used its “iron teeth” to “break in pieces” and “trample the remnant,” which is identified in both interpretations as the “saints of the Most-High” – (“The little horn made war with the saints and prevailed over them”).  Just as the last kingdom in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream was crushed by the stone cut from the mountain “without hands,” so the “little horn,” the “king of fierce countenance,” would be “broken without hands.”

There are too many verbal and conceptual parallels to be coincidental. The same four kingdoms portrayed in the dream of Nebuchadnezzar are represented by the “four beasts from the sea.” Likewise, the links between the “little horn” of chapter 7 and the “little horn” of chapter 8 are too close not to conclude that the same figure is pictured in both visions.

And the interpretation of the vision of the “goat with one prominent horn” is quite explicit. The “goat” represented Greece, and its great “horn” its first great king who overthrew the “kingdom of the Medes and Persians.” This can only refer to Alexander the Great. The “little horn,” the “king of fierce countenance,” came out of one of the four Greek kingdoms that succeeded his empire and cannot refer to any historical character that arrived on the world scene centuries after the fact, at least, not in its initial application in Daniel.


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