Ram and Goat - Interpretation

SYNOPSIS – Daniel received the interpretation of the vision of the “ram” being overthrown by the “goat,” and of the image of the “little horn” - Daniel 8:15-27

Acropolis - Photo by Spencer Davis on Unsplash
In the vision of the “
four beasts from the sea,” only the first “beast,” the winged lion, could be identified with certainty - Babylon. Not one of the four “kingdoms” was explicitly named. In contrast, in the interpretation of the “ram and the goat,” two of the previous four kingdoms are identified by name - the kingdom of the “Medes and Persians,” and “Greece” - (Daniel 7:1-8, 8:20-21). - [Acropolis Photo by Spencer Davis on Unsplash].
  • (Daniel 8:15-21) - “And it came to pass, when I, even I Daniel, had seen the vision, that I sought to understand it; and behold, there stood before me as the appearance of a man. And I heard a man’s voice between the banks of the Ulai, which called, and said, Gabriel, make this man to understand the vision.  So, he came near where I stood; and when he came, I was affrighted, and fell upon my face: but he said unto me, Understand, O son of man; for the vision belongs to the time of the end. Now as he was speaking with me, I fell into a deep sleep with my face toward the ground; but he touched me and set me upright. And he said, Behold, I will make thee know what shall be in the latter time of the indignation; for it belongs to the appointed time of the end. The ram which you saw with the two horns, they are the kings of Media and Persia. And the rough goat is the king of Greece: and the great horn that is between his eyes is the first king.”
The interpreting angel is identified by name, “Gabriel,” who was summoned to reveal the meaning of the vision to Daniel. ‘Gabriel’ means, “my man is God.” This is the first time in Scripture an angel is named.

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

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

The “vision is for a time of an end.” The phrase is ambiguous and does not necessarily mean the “last days” at the end of history. This is a generic reference to the “end” of something, whether a period or an event. Most likely, it refers to the “end” of the desecration of the sanctuary. Verse 19 confirms this - The “time of an end” points to the “end of the indignation,” that is, the desecration of the sanctuary by the “little horn.

The shorter horn on the head of the “ram” represented the kingdom of Media – (The “Medes”). Initially, it was stronger than Persia. It emerged as a major 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 what today is central and western Iran. The higher horn symbolized Persia, which, under Cyrus the Great, annexed Media.

Persia became the dominant half of the alliance of the “Medes and Persians,” the higher horn that rose after the first one. This 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, although Persia was the dominate member of the alliance - (Daniel 5:28, 7:4-5, 8:20).

The “ram” that pushed “westward and northward and southward,” and the “bear” with three ribs in its mouth, both portray 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” of the “goat” represented its first “great king,” who conquered the “ram.” The four lesser horns that appeared afterward the first horn was broken point to 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 and attacked 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.). This last battle spelled the end of the Persian Empire.

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

Over the next several years, Alexander consolidated his conquests and established a Hellenic 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 between his generals who were contending to inherit his empire. Finally, his vast empire was divided into four lesser domains ruled by four of his surviving generals.

Corinth - Photo by Constantinos Kollias on Unsplash
Corinth - by Constantinos Kollias on Unsplash

The division into four smaller kingdoms is represented by the four lesser horns of the “
goat,” and by the four heads of the “leopard.” The 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 significant regional powers and played significant roles in the history of Judea - the Ptolemaic kingdom in Egypt (305-30 B.C.), and the Seleucid empire based in Syria (312-63 B.C.).
  • (Daniel 8:23-25) - “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, 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 a later time in the histories of the four Macedonian kingdoms, a 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 - (Syria and Egypt, respectively).

This king’s power was “mighty but not through his own strength,” a likely allusion the purpose of Yahweh at work despite this king’s machinations. The “little horn” had “a mouth speaking great things” in the vision of the “fourth beast.” Likewise, the king of “fierce countenance” was “skillful in dissimulation.”

Alexander_the_Great_mosaic Public Domain
Previously, the “
little horn made war with the saints and prevailed against them,” just as the “king of fierce countenance” destroyed the “people of the saints.” And the “little horn” in chapter 7 spoke “words against the Most-High,” just as the “fierce king” stood up 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 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. This assault was interpreted by the angel as this ruler’s destruction 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, the iniquities of the Jewish nation, or both. The Hebrew term is a participle in the plural number and has a definite article - “the transgressors.” It is related to the noun pesha’ used in verses 12-13 for the “transgression” that desolates.

Most likely, the term “transgressions” refers to the accumulated sin that necessitated the assault by the fierce king - (“when the transgressions have filled up their measure, there will stand up a king of fierce countenance”). Thus, the desecration of the sanctuary was the result of this king’s rise to power, but ultimately, it constituted Divine punishment on Israel for the sins committed by God’s people.

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 were to 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 a determined point of judgment.

The “little horn” is responsible for the removal of the daily sacrifice and the profanation of the sanctuary - (“because of him was taken away the daily burnt offering”). However, in the larger picture, he is a tool of judgment to purify the saints.

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

In short, the “little horn” in chapter 8 is the same figure as the “little horn” of the “fourth beast.” In chapter 7, the “little horn” devoured all the earth, “trampled it down and broke it in pieces.” In an ironic twist, the “king of fierce countenance” was “broken in pieces without hands,” implying Divine judgment. What he inflicted on the Jews, in turn, was inflicted on him.

The interpretation of the vision concludes when Daniel is told to “close up the vision because it is for many days,” a future time. He was confounded by what he saw and heard, and no one was able to decipher it for him. The chapter ends with Daniel “sick for days.”

In the New Testament, the only allusion to this passage is found in Revelation 12:4 - “The Dragon drew the third part of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth.” In the interpretation of Daniel’s vision, the “host of heaven” and the “stars” symbolized saints cast down by the “little horn,” either their physical destruction or their apostasy. This may shed light on the identity of the “stars of heaven” cast down by the “Dragon” in Revelation.



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