Elements of Prophecy: 4. The Vision of the Ram and the He-Goat

Daniel 8  •  6 min. read  •  grade level: 13
The dream of Nebuchadnezzar, as the vision of the prophet in the first year of Belshazzar (Dan. 7:11In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon Daniel had a dream and visions of his head upon his bed: then he wrote the dream, and told the sum of the matters. (Daniel 7:1)), embraced the entire circle of the four world-powers. The vision of Dan. 8 stands strikingly contradistinguished in this that here we have only to do with the second and third of these empires, though (as it will be shown) we are brought down to the time of the end in an off-shoot of the third empire. No grave Christian doubts, what every dispassionate reader of the prophet must see, that the ancient Medo-Persian and Macedonian powers are set before us.
It seems surprising that any one should make more than their worth of the singular speculations of the late Dr. Todd. For who can fail to see the unusual distinctness in the interpretation supplied by the Holy Spirit Himself? One need not reason on the date or the scene of the vision: verses 20, 21 are decisive to any simple mind. On the one hand the final superiority of the Persian over the Median is evident when we compare verse 3 with verse 20; the Eastern source of it on its course of conquest westward, northward, and southward, being marked in verse 4. On the other hand the Macedonian conqueror and his overthrow of the great king appears most graphically in verses 5-7 as compared with verse 21. History may and does illustrate; but no believer needs more than is here given to have a clear intelligent certainty of conviction as to the prophecy and its application. Verses 8, 22 plainly point to a fourfold division after the death of Alexander the Great (not by defeat or when internal discord dissolved the kingdom, but, contrariwise,” when he was strong, the great horn was broken"), “four notable horns;” and so there were as is commonly known. It was absurd therefore to argue from verse 17 in Gabriel's explanation that all the vision related to “the time of the end,” or that the powers represented by the ram and he-goat are future.
But it is a characteristic and all hut universal error of the historical school that they enfeeble and lose sight of the truth that the main object and interest of the vision hinges on “the time of the end,” the end of the indignation which rests on the Jewish people. There ought to be no need of proof that the end of the divine displeasure with the ancient people is certainly yet future. It is in vain to refer to Dan. 9:2626And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined. (Daniel 9:26), or 1 Cor. 10:1111Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. (1 Corinthians 10:11), to turn aside the phrase from its bearing on the end of the age. For the prophet in the one expressly limits the end to the city and the sanctuary, and brings in a definite subsequent period before the way is open for blessing; and the apostle means in the other that the ends of the ages are come, or met, on us, Christians. Matt. 24:1414And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come. (Matthew 24:14), which is also appealed to, really confirms the future view; for “the end” there spoken of is assuredly not yet come.
It may be added that there is really no difficulty in the way of applying the host of heaven and the stars to the Jewish system and its rulers, though at this time supposed to be subject to the Gentile beasts politically. The people may be Lo-Ammi; but such a designation, though it be not the figure of the day of Jehovah but rather from the night during which they feebly shone, was at any rate a testimony to their hopes whilst it acknowledged their true estate meanwhile. The last king of the north finds himself in collision with Christ, the Prince of princes, and perishes by divine judgment. But this king of the north is as distinct from the willful king who will reign in Palestine as from the last head of the Roman empire, though all of them daring enemies of the Lord at the same, epoch, as will be shown presently at greater length. Ancients and moderns have generally confounded all three.
Observe again the fact that the very language is changed, which from chapter 2 was Chaldee. Now from chapter vii., as bearing on that which, while connected with the Gentile powers, specially touched the ancient people of God, Hebrew is employed. Were it the design to draw particular attention to Cyrus and the details of that victorious career in which he had just entered when the vision was given, the propriety of this would be by no means apparent. Nor is it at all convincing that the reason for representing the second and third empires by the ram and goat (that is, not beasts of prey, but animals of sacrifice) is their favoring Israel, when both had been represented in the chapter before to the same prophet under the symbol of the bear and the winged leopard; yea, when in this very chapter the grand point is a king mighty, but not by his own power, who shall destroy the Jews, but himself be broken without hand—a vision which affected the seer yet more deeply than that of chapter vii. No one denies the admirable symbols employed to depict the comparatively slow and heavy aggressiveness of the Medo-Persian, and the amazing rapidity and impetuous force of the spirited Greek; also the subsequent division of the Syro-Greek kingdom of the north. But all this, however full of interest, is preparatory to the main design for the latter day, when a mysterious king shall meddle with the Jews to the hurt of many among them, but to his own destruction. That Antiochus Epiphanes answers in part to the little horn in the vision (ver. 10) I do not for a moment doubt.
Only it is well to remark three points: first, the parenthesis consisting of verse 11, and the first half of verse 12, in which “he” takes the place of “it,” apparently looking onward to the great personage of the close rather than to the horn of the part that typified him; secondly, that verses 13, 14, do not necessarily go beyond the defilement which has already taken place; thirdly, that the interpretation concerns itself with the crisis at the end, only linking on the proximate Medo-Persian and Greek empires with that tremendous issue, but with an enormous gap manifestly between the circumstances then at hand and the last end of the indignation of God against Israel. To deny the all-importance of the crisis in order to eke out a case of continuity here would be mere infatuation, the effect of a blinding system.