Our God Reigns
Reading: Daniel ch.8:1-27
This chapter contains the second vision that Daniel received. He received it a couple of years after seeing the first – and this time it did not come to him in the form of a night vision or dream this time he was wide awake: it was only after Gabriel had spoken to him with an explanation that terrified him that Daniel fell into a deep sleep (v.18).
This simple fact should remind us that God is not obliged to use the same identical means as he deals with his people as if he were unable to do things in any other way. I don’t want you however to go away thinking to yourself that God is likely to speak to you by dreams and visions for his usual manner of speaking to us is by his word, the Bible. But even then he can and does speak to us in a rich variety of ways.
You’re reading your Bible in private and something immediately hits you and you understand that God is speaking
You’re listening to a sermon explaining some aspect of God’s word and suddenly you realise that it is relevant to you and pertinent to your life
You’re talking with a Christian friend and he/she mentions something they’ve been reading and you can’t get the thought out of your head – God is speaking to you
You’re not doing anything in particular and suddenly some Bible truth pops into your mind, a verse that perhaps you’d memorised years ago and then forgotten but suddenly there it is, God is speaking to you
The more you know your Bible the more often you will find God speaking to you. Don’t rely on your feelings and imagine that every random spiritual thought you have is God somehow speaking to you – our feelings often lead us simply to do what deep down we want to do anyway. I know there are people who like to go around saying that God has told them to do this or to do that and you’re impressed because it sounds as if they have a spiritual hotline to God; but be very careful because such folk often don’t bother to read God’s revealed word and in practice end up acting in ways that are contrary to it.
I’m not denying God’s freedom and ability to do as he pleases but I am underlining the very usual way in which he deals with his people: he caused his word to be carefully written down and preserved because he intended to use it to speak to us? Why did he bother if he planned to speak to us today in some other way? The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Christians in Rome, explained it like this:
Rom.15:4 "For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope."
What Daniel wrote down in this chapter would prove to be of great value to those who were to live at least 200 years after Daniel – but we mustn’t get ahead of ourselves.
Where and when and what
This vision that Daniel saw took place in the third year of Belshazzar’s reign. The Babylonian empire was still intact though its end was approaching fast.
In his vision Daniel was transported to Susa. Now Susa was some 200 miles from Babylon – it was a fortress town which was soon to be become the capital city of the next major empire to dominate in the Middle East. At Susa two rivers were linked by an artificial canal some 100 yards wide and it was on those banks of that canal that Daniel was shown a series of striking events.
We have already seen that the Book of Daniel has a lot to say about kingdoms and empires and we are about to find out a bit more. This time just two empires are brought into view and once again animals are used to represent them.
The first animal that Daniel sees is a ram v.3. We don’t have to scratch our heads to wonder what this represents because we are clearly told a bit later in the chapter (v.20) that the ram is the Medo-Persian empire.
This ram had two horns – a horn in Scripture is often used as a symbol of military power – and these two horn refer to the two parts of this empire. The ram wasn’t static but moving, in fact it was charging about and expanding its empire towards, the north, the south and the west. The Persian part of the empire lay to the east of Babylon, so to Daniel, standing in Susa, the empire was seen to be expanding out of the east. Its expansion was impressive and apparently irresistible – the ram "did as he pleased and became great" (v.4).
While Daniel was thinking about what he saw he suddenly saw another animal – it was a male goat and it was racing so quickly that its feet didn’t touch the ground. It was coming from the west and it was on a collision course with the ram.
Again we are left in no doubt as to the identity of this goat – it is Greece which was to conquer and expand so rapidly under the leadership of Alexander the Great.
The Medo-Persian empire had interfered with Greece for some time but now that interference was about to be brought to a violent end. The goat, in a rage, raced at the ram and broke its horns – in the event it took Greece only 2/3 years to complete a total victory over the Medo-Persian empire. However, although Alexander "became exceedingly great... when he was strong, the great horn was broken" v.8 in fact he died only 8 or so years later in 323BC when he was not quite 33 years old.
The immense empire which Alexander had created experienced internal strife and after his death was broken up into four separate sections under the leadership of four of his generals – just as the Word of God said it would be:
v.22 "As for the horn that was broken, in place of which four others arose, four kingdoms shall arise from his nation, but not with his power."
Daniel was not equally interested in each of these four successors of Alexander. His interested focused upon just one of the successors of one of them:
v.9 "Out of one of them came a little horn, which grew exceedingly great toward the south, toward the east, and toward the glorious land."
This "little horn" is not be identified with the little horn of ch.7. In ch.7 that horn emerged from Rome whereas in ch.8 the little horn was to arise in Greece.
The little horn the Greek empire is described in vv.9-12 and again in vv.23-25. Subsequent history reveals him to us as Antiochus Epiphanes.
As a leader, Antiochus would prove to be a proud and arrogant man. He was full of cunning and deceitful ways: he was stern and vicious master of intrigue. He would be a harsh man mercilessly persecuting God’s people and he would show himself to be an enemy and a blasphemer of the Prince of hosts, God himself.
In line with his puffed up arrogance Antiochus gave himself the title Epiphanes – it meant the Illustrious One or god manifest! The Jews preferred another name – they were to refer to him as Antiochus Epimanes – Antiochus, the madmen.
In vv.9-10 Daniel sees this man grow to become great and as he expands he moves towards "the glorious" land ie. Israel and there he begins to wage war on God’s people who are described as "the host of heaven" and "stars". Such language has been used before to describe God’s people: eg.
Ex.12:40-41 "The time that the people of Israel lived in Egypt was 430 years. At the end of 430 years, on that very day, all the hosts of the LORD went out from the land of Egypt."
Now Antiochus, the little horn, begins to kill God’s people:
v.24 "he shall cause fearful destruction and shall succeed in what he does, and destroy mighty men and the people who are the saints."
Antiochus was not only opposed to God’s people he was opposed to God himself. In his blasphemous In his opposition he acted in such a way as to defile the Temple and to render it utterly unusable. The regular burnt offerings that brought honour and glory to God because they were ordained by him could not be offered as Antiochus oppressed and persecuted God’s people.
Now, before we proceed let me draw your attention to something that is easily missed as the suspension of the regular sacrifices took place.
Daniel’s vision concerned the future – some 200 years into the future. Now for the sacrifices to be suspended at that time meant that they were then actually being offered. But Daniel was living with the rest of the people of God in exile and their temple lay in ruins in Jerusalem. Hidden behind the details of this distant vision was the fact that the exile would have come to an end and God’s people restored to their land and enabled to serve in a reconstructed temple!
There was coming a respite for the people of God but it would only be a temporary one – persecution would intervene again and again it would do so because of transgression (v.23).
Small wonder that such a vision should cause Daniel such a degree of distress and prove so difficult for him to get a proper grasp of!
In the great persecution that would follow the rise of this "little horn" there would seem to be no light at all. But amidst the bleakness of the vision Daniel overhears a conversation taking place which indicates to him that the time would be limited to 2,300 mornings and evenings and then the sanctuary would be restored once more. Once again this did happen – it took place under the leadership of Judas Maccabaeus and celebrated by the Jewish Hanukka Festival.
Daniel saw the vision but struggled to understand it. We have already mentioned a good deal of the explanations that were given to him but we should also say something more about how the explanation came to be given to him at all.
A man’s voice cries out instructing Gabriel to help Daniel understand. This is the first time in the Bible that an angel is named but it will not be the last time we meet with Gabriel. In the NT he would repeatedly function as God’s messenger.
We might want to ask a couple of questions about the person who directed Gabriel:
Who can instruct/command an angel?
Who speaks in this way with a human voice?
John Calvin supplied the answer: the Lord Jesus Christ!
The explanation that followed was given because Jesus is a great and thoughtful friend!
The Effect of Gabriel’s Speaking
Daniel weak and fainting.
The Time of the End – not the end of the world but the end of this period of Greek persecution
Antiochus not autonomous – v.22 "but not with his power" – dependent upon the providential permission of God. His power shall end and he will be broken – but v.25 "by no human hand."
The persecution for which he is responsible is real and severe but God’s invisible hand will cut him down just as efficiently and easily as it had Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar.
It was important that all this be recorded even though it was to take place long after Daniel’s day because those who would live through that period would need the comfort of these truths that however bad things might become God was in full and complete control – he’d predicted it all hadn’t he!
A final word about Antiochus: "a little horn" – just a little one. He provides us with a type of the antichrist – one who is wicked and cunning and opposed to God and his people but still just a "little one". The history books don’t pay much attention to Antiochus so, we might ask, why is there so much about him here?
The answer lies in the fact that he set himself against God and persecuted God’s people and God noticed and God cared!! God’s people are the apple of his eye and he knows how to take care of his own!
God is great!
He reveals future history because he is in sovereign control of it all
When evil happens it is not because the world has spiralled out of control but because God has allowed it to happen but remains nevertheless in control
He guarantees the final triumph of Jesus Christ when all evil is put down forever
Rom.8:31 "If God be for us, who can be against us?"