The dream of the ram and the goat
Please turn with me in your Bible to Daniel 8:1-27. In Daniel chapter 8, we read about another vision occurring in the reign of Belshazzar. As we aim to look at the big picture of this passage, we are encouraged to recall again that God is clearly concerned not simply to supply Daniel with facts about the future, but to reveal himself to Daniel and to show him the outlines of his great plan in history and to give him encouragement in his own service. While we look at this great plan that God is showing Daniel, there are three things that we observe in particular. First, we see the vision and interpretation of the ram with the two horns.
Secondly, we observe the vision and the interpretation of the goat with the horn between the eyes. Thirdly and finally, we see the vision and interpretation of the little horn.
I. The Ram with the Two Horns: the Persian Kingdom.
In verses 1-4, we read about the vision of the ram with two horns, and in verses 15-20, we are told explicitly the image of the ram represents the Persian Empire. We even know from extra biblical sources that the ram often times depicted Persia in the ancient world. In verse 4, the moving of the ram in all directions indicates the all-embracing expansion of the Persian kingdom. In relation, this vision also explains Daniel's authoritative interpretation of the handwriting on the wall regarding the demise of this kingdom in chapter 5. Daniel knew that the kingdom of Belshazzar was going to be conquered because the Lord had told him it was going to happen.
There is practical application for us even in the vision of the ram and the two horns because we ought to speak and act boldly like Daniel did before the king. What enabled Daniel to speak and act boldly is that he knew that his God was in control of the events of the world. Daniel was able to look Belshazzar in the eye and face him down because he knew his God ruled. We ought to know that also because our God does rule. The key is believing it enough to stand boldly and to act courageously. We are called to believe that God rules the events of history and remember that He rules history in righteousness. If we will believe that truth, we will be able to stand in the day of temptation.
II. The Goat with the Horn between the Eyes: the Greek Empire of Alexander the Great.
In verses 5-8, we read about Daniel’s second vision and then its interpretation in verses 21-22. The conspicuous horn between the eyes of the male goat is a clear reference to Alexander the Great who was a general in the Greek army at the age of 21. He had conquered the world as far as India by the age of 26. In fact, the reference to the goat who covered land without touching it is a reference to the speed of the conquest of the great king. The ram described in verses 1-4 is overthrown by this goat. It is in the complete destruction of the Persian army by Alexander the Great that we see the breaking of the ram's power. But immediately afterwards we are told that the large horn, Alexander, is broken and four horns replace him. These represent the division of Alexander's Greek kingdom. But in this vision immediately the attention shifts to the little horn that grows towards the east and towards the glorious land. This little horn is going to represent one of the small kingdoms that comes out of Alexander's kingdom. This little horn would not have been our interest because of the greatness of Alexander, but from God's perspective, that little horn is the focus of the vision and that reminds us that God views history differently than we do. God measures nations by how they treat His people. And this little horn was going to do great damage to the nation of Israel and to the people of God. And so this little horn is the focus of the vision for the remainder of the chapter. Why? Because what is important in history as far as God is concerned is what is happening to His people.
III. The Little Horn: Antiochus Epiphanes.
In verses 9-14, we read about the third vision which is interpreted in verses 23-27. The little horn represents Antiochus Epiphanes and the Syrian Empire. One of the four divisions of Alexander's Greek empire was Syria, and Antiochus was one of the kings in the dynasty. Antiochus gave himself the name, Theos Antiochus Epiphanes, which translates “The illustrious God, Antiochus.” In Jerusalem, he replaced the high priest, took away the sacrifices, defiled the temple, and executed tens of thousands of Jews. Though these events would not happen in his lifetime, Daniel became sick for days when he heard about these events. This shows you the heart of Daniel. He was a man who was concerned for God's kingdom, and the thought of God's people existing under this type of persecution broke Daniel's heart. Yet, in Daniel 8:27, we read that though Daniel is overwhelmed by this vision, he continues to serve God faithfully. Daniel does not withdraw from the world and wait for the second coming; instead, he goes back to work. Daniel's response to seeing what the future holds is to live a holy life and do his duty.
There are at least three applications that we can learn from this passage. First, we learn that evil always and inevitably tends to overstep itself. We see the fall of great empires in this vision. Thus, we learn that no matter how brilliant, no matter how intelligent, no matter how powerful, evil oversteps itself. Why? Because sin is transgression and transgression is overstepping the law of God. And when you break the law, the law breaks you. Even though it looks like the evil of the world is prospering, it cannot last long. Secondly, we also learn that the strongest and greatest of men are weak without God. Sin and guilt renders them incapable of self-control and their lack of self-control eventually destroys them. Thirdly, we see a consistent pattern of Satan's opposition to God's work in His people's lives. For example, Antiochus Epiphanes removed the regular sacrifice, threw down the temple, disrupted fellowship among God’s people, and introduced false teaching. These are the strategies of Satan. As we face evil in this world today, what should we do? By God’s grace, we are to live holy lives, to do our duty, to remember that God rules in history, and to be on guard for the devices of the evil one. May God apply the truth of His Word to our hearts and enable us to live lives that glorify Him.
The Rev. Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III is Chancellor and CEO of Reformed Theological Seminary. He can be reached at 601-923-1600 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.