King of Fierce Countenance

Daniel received the interpretation of the “ram” that was overthrown by the “goat” and of the “little horn,” the coming malevolent ruler - Daniel 8:15-27

Dark Man - Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash
In the vision of the “
four beasts,” only the first “beast” could be identified with certainty, the “winged lion” that symbolized Babylon. But not one of the four “kingdoms” was identified by name. In contrast, in the interpretation of the “ram and the goat” two of them are identified by name – the “Medes and Persians” and “Greece” - [Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash].

The interpreting was provided by the angel identified as “Gabriel” (meaning “my man is God”). He was summoned to reveal the meaning of the vision to Daniel -(Daniel 8:15-21).

The “ram” with the two horns represented the “kings of the Medes and the Persians.” The ram was common in Persian iconography, and the king often wore a golden crown that resembled a ram’s head.

The large single horn on the “goat” represented the first and greatest king of Greece who overthrew the "kingdom of the Medes and the Persians.” And he can only be Alexander the Great.

The “vision is for a time of an end.” In the Hebrew clause, the phrase is ambiguous and does not necessarily mean the final days or years at the end of history. It is a generic reference to the “end” of something, whether the end of a period or of an event. Most likely, it refers to the “end” of the desecration of the sanctuary. Verse 19 confirms this when it refers to the “end of the indignation,” the desecration of the sanctuary by the “little horn.

The shorter horn on the head of the “ram” represented the kingdom of the “Medes.” Initially in the alliance, it was stronger than Persia. It had emerged as the major regional power after the downfall of the Assyrian Empire, which left four key players in the region, Babylon, Lydia, Egypt, and Media. The Medes were an Indo-European people based in modern-day Iran. The higher horn symbolized Persia, and under Cyrus the Great, it had annexed the Median empire.

Over time, Persia became the dominant half of the alliance, the higher horn that rose after the first one. That historical reality was also portrayed in the image of the “bear” with one side raised higher than the other. Consistently in Daniel, the “Medes and Persians” are named collectively as a single kingdom - (Daniel 5:28, 7:4-5, 8:20).

Both the “ram” that pushed “westward and northward and southward” and the “bear” with three ribs in its mouth symbolize the conquests of the “Medes and Persians” over Mesopotamia (Babylon), Asia Minor (Lydia), and Egypt. Thus, the second “beast from the sea,” the “bear,” represented the kingdom of the Medes and Persians.
  • (Daniel 8:21-22) – “And the rough 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.”
The “prominent horn” on the goal represents the first “great king” of Greece, the one who conquers the “ram.” The four lesser horns that appeared after the first horn was broken represent the “four kingdoms that shall stand up out of the nation, but not in his power”; that is, not in the same power as the first king.

The “first king” can only be Alexander the Great. In 334 B.C., he led a Greco-Macedonian force to the east to attack the Persian Empire. In rapid succession, he defeated several Persian armies; at the battles of Granicus (334 B.C.), Issus (333 B.C.), and Gaugamela, east of the Tigris River (331 B.C.). And the last battle spelled the end of the Persian Empire.

The rapid conquest of Persia is portrayed by the image of the “goat from the west” that rushed swiftly into the “ram and cast him down to the ground.” In the first vision, the same swiftness was represented by the wings of the “leopard” - (Daniel 7:6).

Alexander consolidated his conquests and established the domain that stretched from Greece to the Indus River valley in northern India. He died suddenly in 323 B.C., an event represented by the broken horn - (“when he was strong, the great horn was broken”). His death was followed by twenty years of intermittent civil war over the leadership of the empire. In the end, it was divided into four lesser realms ruled by four of his surviving generals.

The division into four smaller kingdoms is represented by the four lesser horns of the “goat,” and by the four heads of the “leopard.” This fourfold division of the empire is described further in the last vision of the book:
  • (Daniel 11:1-4) – “And as for me, in the first year of Darius the Mede, I stood up to confirm and strengthen him. And now will I show thee the truth. Behold, there shall stand up yet three kings in Persia; and the fourth shall be far richer than they all: and when he is waxed strong through his riches, he shall stir up all against the realm of Greece. And a mighty king shall stand up, that shall rule with great dominion, and do according to his will. And when he shall stand up, his kingdom shall be broken, and shall be divided toward the four winds of heaven, but not to his posterity, nor according to his dominion wherewith he ruled; for his kingdom shall be plucked up, even for others besides these.”
Two of the lesser kingdoms became regional powers that played significant roles in the history of Judea - the Ptolemaic kingdom in Egypt to the south, and the Seleucid empire in Syria to the north.
  • (Daniel 8:23-25) - “And in the latter time of their kingdom, when the transgressors 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 do his pleasure, and he shall destroy the mighty ones and the holy people. And through his policy he shall cause craft to prosper in his hand; and he shall magnify himself in his heart, and in their security shall he destroy many: he shall also stand up against the Prince of princes, but he shall be broken without hand.”
The “latter part of their kingdom” refers to the later years in the histories of the four Greek kingdoms, the time when “transgressions have filled up their measure” and a king of “fierce countenance” appeared. The text does not state from which of the four kingdoms this ruler originated, but he could only be from either the Seleucid or the Ptolemaic kingdom.

Acropolis sunrise - Photo by Cristina Gottardi on Unsplash
Acropolis Photo by Cristina Gottardi on Unsplash

This malevolent king is the figure represented by the “
little horn.” His power is “mighty but not through his own strength.” Most likely, this alludes to the purposes of Yahweh at work behind the historical scene. This ruler is used to accomplish His plans, and his tyrannical reign will only continue only for the time allotted by God (for the “season, seasons, part of a season”).

In the vision of the “fourth beast,” the “little horn” had “a mouth speaking great things.” And so in the interpretation, the king of “fierce countenance” is “skillful in dissimulation.”

Previously, the “little horn made war with the saints and prevailed against them,” just as now the “king of fierce countenance” destroys the “people of the saints.” In chapter 7, the “little horn” spoke “words against the Most-High,” just as the “fierce king” stands against the “Prince of princes.”

The “little horn” strove “to change times and law, and they were given into his hand for a season, seasons, and the dividing of a season,” just as the “little horn” in chapter 8 removed the daily sacrifice and profaned the sanctuary for an “appointed season” - (Daniel 7:21-26, 8:12-14).

In the vision of chapter 8, the “little horn” caused “the host of the heavens” and the stars to fall to the earth, and it “trampled them underfoot.” Human enemies of God do not have access to heaven and are in no position to expel angels. That assault is interpreted by Gabriel as the destruction by this ruler of the “mighty ones and the people of saints.”

The “TRANSGRESSIONS have filled up their measure.” This may refer to the transgressions of the pagan king, to the iniquities of the Jewish nation, or to both. The Hebrew term is a participle in the plural number and with the definite article; it refers to “THE transgressors.” It is related to the noun pesha’ that was used to refer to the “TRANSGRESSION that desolates.”

The term “transgressions” refers to the accumulated sin that necessitated the assault by the fierce king (“then will stand up a king of fierce countenance”). Thus, though the desecration has resulted from this malevolent rulers’ rise to power, ultimately, his assault against the sanctuary and the saints constitutes divine punishment on the Jewish nation for her sins.

This understanding is borne out by the previous question and answer between the two angels. The removal of the daily sacrifice and the profanation of the Temple would continue until the end of the appointed time, then the sanctuary would be cleansed. The filling up of sins to a predetermined level suggests Divine purpose at work. Transgression must run its course until the set “time of the end.”

He will be broken without hand.” This refers to the king’s demise. Implicit in the statement is that he will be removed by divine intervention. This pictures the same reality from the previous vision when the “little horn” was judged – “But the judgment shall be set, and they shall take away his dominion to consume and to destroy it unto the end” – (Daniel 7:26).

The identifications of the “ram and the goat” explain the earlier references to “Susa” and the river “Ulai.” Daniel received this vision during the last phase of the Babylonian Empire, and just prior to its overthrow by the “Medes and Persians.” The center of the World-Power would be transferred to Persia, and then to the Greek world.

In short, the “little horn” in chapter 8 is the same figure as the “little horn” of the “fourth beast.”

The interpretation by the angel concluded when Daniel was told to “close up the vision because it is for many days,” that is, for a future time. He was confounded by what he had seen and heard, and no one could decipher it. The chapter ended with Daniel “sick for days.”

At this point, the reader is further along in understanding the significance of the vision of the four “beasts from the sea,” and of the “little horn” that waged “war against the saints.” Nevertheless, the complete picture has yet to be disclosed.



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