Beautiful study of the vision of the ram and the he-goat in Daniel Chapter 8. Powerful revelations from the portion of the Book of Daniel that was sealed until the time of the end.
I’m so delighted you’re back with me for this precious, beautiful study on Daniel 8: Eden Restored. We’re truly going to delight ourselves in the Lord as we see Him giving this last generation yet more evidence of His faithfulness toward us.
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Daniel 8 is the first chapter of the portion of the Book of Daniel that was sealed. That is the portion that was written in Hebrew, chapters 8 through 12. In this chapter the Lord gave Daniel a mysterious vision of a ram standing by a river being attacked by a he-goat. The vision is extremely critical as its significance carries through to Daniel chapter 12.
The Archangel Gabriel gave Daniel an interpretation of the vision for the time of the end. Today we’re going to revisit that mysterious vision and discover the precious, encouraging truths that are coded in it for our generation. We had already analyzed this vision in our series on the Book of Daniel and saw that it contained a very serious warning about the manner in which Satan is going to counterfeit Christ’s Second Coming.
But today we’re taking another pass at this vision because there’s even more light and precious revelation that the Lord wants us to have and be encouraged by.
The Vision of the Ram and the He-Goat
To make sure we’re all up to speed on the vision, let’s take a few moments to understand exactly what Daniel saw. The description of the vision is actually quite long, 14 verses, but let’s go ahead and read it so everyone’s equally grounded.
8 In the third year of the reign of King Belshazzar a vision appeared to me—to me, Daniel—after the one that appeared to me the first time. 2 I saw in the vision, and it so happened while I was looking, that I was in Shushan, the citadel, which is in the province of Elam; and I saw in the vision that I was by the River Ulai. 3 Then I lifted my eyes and saw, and there, standing beside the river, was a ram which had two horns, and the two horns were high; but one was higher than the other, and the higher one came up last. 4 I saw the ram pushing westward, northward, and southward, so that no animal could withstand him; nor was there any that could deliver from his hand, but he did according to his will and became great.
5 And as I was considering, suddenly a male goat came from the west, across the surface of the whole earth, without touching the ground; and the goat had a notable horn between his eyes. 6 Then he came to the ram that had two horns, which I had seen standing beside the river, and ran at him with furious power. 7 And I saw him confronting the ram; he was moved with rage against him, [e]attacked the ram, and broke his two horns. There was no power in the ram to withstand him, but he cast him down to the ground and trampled him; and there was no one that could deliver the ram from his hand.
8 Therefore the male goat grew very great; but when he became strong, the large horn was broken, and in place of it four notable ones came up toward the four winds of heaven. 9 And out of one of them came a little horn which grew exceedingly great toward the south, toward the east, and toward the Glorious Land. 10 And it grew up to the host of heaven; and it cast down some of the host and some of the stars to the ground, and trampled them. 11 He even exalted himself as high as the Prince of the host; and by him the daily sacrifices were taken away, and the place of His sanctuary was cast down. 12 Because of transgression, an army was given over to the horn to oppose the daily sacrifices; and he cast truth down to the ground. He did all this and prospered.
13 Then I heard a holy one speaking; and another holy one said to that certain one who was speaking, “How long will the vision be, concerning the daily sacrifices and the transgression of desolation, the giving of both the sanctuary and the host to be trampled underfoot?”
14 And he said to me, “For two thousand three hundred days; then the sanctuary shall be cleansed.”
End of the vision. (Daniel 8:1-14).
At this point, Daniel is a bit bewildered trying to understand the meaning of the vision, that the Angel Gabriel stood before the prophet. Then Daniel heard the voice of a man, and the voice came from between the banks of the Ulai River where Daniel had seen the vision. We know it was Jesus because He’s the only man in scripture who stands on the water. Jesus asked the Angel Gabriel to make the prophet understand the vision.
In the remainder of chapter 8 Gabriel explains to Daniel that the vision is for the time of the end, and that the ram represents the kings of Medo-Persia and the he-goat represents the king of Greece. Gabriel also introduces anti-christ as appearing in the latter days and doing great evil against God and God’s people. However, anti-christ will be broken without hand, meaning that a divine power, not a human power, will defeat him.
Daniel was so astonished at the vision as well as the interpretation of the vision that he fainted and was even sick for a few days. Why did Daniel react so strongly? Because he couldn’t stand the thought that his people might suffer such brutal persecution by anti-christ during what he believed would be 2300 Days, which would’ve been approximately 6.4 years.
Gabriel comes back in the following chapters to further clarify the meaning of the vision, particularly the timeline which he clarifies in Daniel 9.
Main Principle of Bible Interpretation
In order for us to be on sure ground as we take another pass at interpreting this vision, let’s quickly review some principles of Bible interpretation:
The Bible Interprets Itself
For example, we don’t bring in any interpretations for symbols that are not already explained within the Bible. We allow the context and/or a heavenly messenger such as an angel to define any symbols used. The Bible says: “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” (2 Peter 1:20-21).
This means that we don’t apply extraneous, contemporary meanings for the symbols. An example of what we shouldn’t do is to say, referring to the vision Daniel had in chapter 7, that the lion is the UK, the bear is Russia, and the leopard is the alliance between Germany and France.
Instead, we take the interpretation provided by the Bible: the lion is Babylon (corresponding to the head of gold on the statue that Nebuchadnezzar saw in a dream), the bear is Medo-Persia, the leopard is Greece, and the last beast is Rome, the kingdom that was different from and much fiercer than the others.
When studying one passage of scripture, we compare it with different passages and we glean additional information that sheds light on the passage we’re studying.
I stress this point because there are several incorrect interpretations of the prophecies in the Book of Daniel, including by Adventist Bible scholars. None of us is immune to error and we’re all learning together. But if we play by this rule of the Bible being its own interpreter we minimize greatly the risk of error.
The Central Theme of the Bible is the Plan of Redemption
There’s another guideline that will help us to interpret the Bible and Bible prophecy correctly. It’s given by Ellen White in the book “Education” (p. 125.2):
“The central theme of the Bible, the theme about which every other in the whole book clusters, is the Redemption Plan, the restoration in the human soul of the image of God. From the first intimation of hope in the sentence pronounced in Eden to that last glorious promise of the Reveltion, ‘They shall see His face, and His name shall be in their foreheads’, the burden of every book and every passage of the Bible is the unfolding of this wondrous theme – man’s uplifting – the power of God – ‘which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ’”. Unfo
If we keep this in mind we won’t forget that Jesus is the focus of the entire Bible – Old and New Testament – and of all Bible prophecy. Any prophetic interpretations that don’t have Jesus as the center are off-center.
This is why I disagree with some interpretations of the vision of Daniel 8 as referring to Syria, Iran, Iraq and wars in the Middle East. These may very well be happening right now but I don’t believe they’re the fulfillment of this prophecy.
Knowing When to Apply Prophetic or Literal Time
The historicist school of prophetic interpretation, which we Adventists are part of, affirms that when the context is symbolic, we reckon time as prophetic, that is, we apply the year for a day principle. When the context is literal, we reckon time as literal, that is, a day for a day.
I’d like to introduce an exception to this rule. Let’s take Daniel 12 as an example. In Daniel 12:11, the 1290 Day Prophecy has been sealed until the end of time. We’re just now beginning to understand all of the layers of symbols used in this verse. Although there’s a lot of symbolism in the verse, we still apply literal time. Why? Because as we said earlier verse 1 – Michael standing up – sets the context as being the very end of time. Therefore, there’s no more time to apply a year for a day principle.
The Context of the Daniel 8 Vision
What’s so fascinating about the Vision of the Ram and the He-goat in Daniel 8 is that this vision is set in two distinct contexts. We’ll see that they’re not contradictory. The Bible never contradicts itself. Instead, they’re complementary. They’re layered on each other to give richer meaning to each symbol.
The First Context: The Garden of Eden
The first context is given by the prophet Daniel as he begins to write out the vision: “In the third year of the reign of King Belshazzar a vision appeared to me—to me, Daniel—after the one that appeared to me the first time. I saw in the vision, and it so happened while I was looking, that I was in Shushan, the citadel, which is in the province of Elam; and I saw in the vision that I was by the River Ulai.” (Daniel 8:1-2).
There are two things being established here: time and space. There’s a time element and a geographical element in the opening verse of the chapter.
- The easy one first – space: Geographically, the prophet is in Shushan, in the province of Elam. Elam is situated in the territory of the Garden of Eden. Second, Daniel saw himself by the River Ulai. The Greeks called this river the Choaspes, today the Kerkhah, an affluent of the Tigris River. The Tigris River was one of the four rivers flowing out of the Garden of Eden. The Tigris divided into two streams, the eastern stream was the Ulai River where Daniel saw himself. (My reference is Smith’s Bible Dictionary, 1863). So in the same verse we get two witnesses that the geographical context here is the Garden of Eden: Elam, and the River Ulai.
- The more complex element is the timing, so let’s now consider the various time pointers related to the vision.
- First, when Daniel writes in the first verse of the chapter that he saw the vision “In the third year of the reign of King Belshazzar”, this is telling us that the Babylonian kingdom is on the decline and its downfall is near. The dance of the four successive empires is about to begin.
- Second, when Daniel overhears the two holy ones speaking, Jesus and Gabriel, Jesus says: “Unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed.” This prophecy is known as the 2300 Day Prophecy, which has been reckoned in prophetic time because it’s found in a context of heavy symbolism. When we apply the Day for a Year Principle that timeline becomes 2300 years. This prophecy has already been fulfilled. It began in the year 457 BC at the same time as the 70-Week Prophecy of Daniel 9. It ended in 1844 with Jesus moving into the Most Holy Place and the beginning of the Judgment of the Dead. The first “time of the end” starts in the year 1798 when the anti-christ power receives the deadly wound.
- Third, when Jesus asks Gabriel to help Daniel understand the vision, the first thing Gabriel says is: “Understand, O son of man: for at the time of the end shall be the vision” (Daniel 8:17). Then again in verse 19 Gabriel says: “And he said, Behold, I will make thee know what shall be in the last end of the indignation: for at the time appointed the end shall be.”
So here we’re faced with two distinct timeframes for the fulfillment of this prophecy: a first application in prophetic time which has already been fulfilled, and a second application in literal time that is still future. Why in literal time? Because when you get to “the last end of the indignation” there’s no more time for a 2300-Year timeline, regardless of the fact that the context is very symbolic. The other reason why that prophecy should be reckoned in literal time is because in the original Hebrew language the expression used for days is evenings and mornings. This expression does two things: 1) “Evenings and mornings” is Book of Genesis language which refers us back to Creation week and the Garden of Eden. 2) “Evenings and mornings” signals literal days, not prophetic days/years.
For the rest of this study we’ll be focusing primarily on the interpretation, and will address the time element in another study.
The Second Context Is The Sanctuary
We just read about the two holy ones speaking and Gabriel asking “How long will the vision be, concerning the daily sacrifices and the transgression of desolation, the giving of both the sanctuary and the host to be trampled underfoot?” Then Jesus answered “For two thousand three hundred evenings and mornings; then the sanctuary shall be cleansed.” (Daniel 8:13-14).
Clearly then this vision has to do with the Sanctuary. Therefore, the Sanctuary is the other aspect of the context by which the various symbols can be defined.
Layering on of Two Contexts
What we’re going to do today in our study is what the Lord has done in His word. He blended the two contexts, because they’re totally complementary. The Garden of Eden and the Sanctuary contexts are blended or layered on each other.
The Garden of Eden refers to the succession of world kingdoms until the restoration of God’s kingdom. It has a stronger focus on the territory of the kingdom. The Sanctuary on the other hand is about the Plan of Salvation. It has a stronger focus on the subjects of the kingdom. Together, they combine to give us the full view of what will happen at the time of the end when Jesus comes to destroy all world kingdoms and restore the scepter of power to the throne of God, reclaiming both the territory and the subjects of His kingdom.
I have a whole series of podcasts on the Book of Daniel, and two very recent called “Satan’s Appearing” and “The Devil Is In The Detail”, all of which deal with the Book of Daniel and/or this prophecy of Daniel 8. I highly recommend that you listen to those afterwards. It will help you with today’s study.
The Ram and the He-Goat
Let’s interpret the symbolism of the two animals first. Both are Sanctuary animals, used in Sanctuary rituals and services:
The ram was a sacrificial animal. It needed to be without blemish so that it could be offered daily during the morning and evening sacrifice. The ram itself could NOT make atonement for sin. It always pointed to Christ’s propitiation for our sins. Therefore, the ram represents Jesus, “the Lamb that takes away the sin of the world”.
Do we have a second witness that this ram represents Jesus? Yes we do. In the Hebrew Book of Daniel, every single time Jesus appears to the prophet Daniel, Jesus is standing by a river or on a river. We see that in Daniel 8:16, Daniel 10:4-6, and Daniel 12:7. The ram also appears standing beside the river (Daniel 8:3).
The goat had two possible functions in the Sanctuary services. Like the ram it was a sacrificial animal. However, the goat played a very special role in the Day of Atonement ceremony. Once a year in the fall, the High Priest entered the Most Holy Place to cleanse the Sanctuary of sin during the Day of Atonement ceremony. Two goats were involved in this feast or holy day: The Lord’s goat was offered as a sacrifice for the sins of the congregation. The other goat, called Azazel, was chosen to be the “scapegoat” who would bear on its head the sins of the congregation of Israel. At the end of the ritual cleansing of the Most Holy Place, the High Priest would come out and place all the sins of the congregation on the head of this scapegoat. It would then be loosed in the wilderness bearing the symbolic responsibility for all the sins of the congregation. It couldn’t atone for sin, but it bore the responsibility for sin. The scapegoat represents Satan. When Jesus returns to the earth in the anti-typical or real Day of Atonement, He will place all the sins of God’s people upon Satan’s head. This will crush Satan’s head, fulfilling the Lord’s curse upon the serpent in the Garden of Eden.
Do we have a second witness that the goat represents Satan? Yes we do. In Daniel 8:21, when Gabriel is giving Daniel the interpretation of the vision, he uses the word “sayir” to describe the he-goat. The word “sayir” in Hebrew means male or hairy, but it also means “satyr”. A satyr is a demon. Let me read you a definition of satyr provided by Wikipedia: “One of a class of lustful, drunken woodland gods (small “g”). In Greek art they were represented as a man with a horse’s ears and tail, but in Roman representations as a man with a goat’s ears, tail, legs, and horns”. Clearly then the satyr is one of Satan’s many disguises.
The Garden of Eden
Let’s go back to Daniel 8:2: “I saw in the vision, and it so happened while I was looking, that I was in Shushan, the citadel, which is in the province of Elam; and I saw in the vision that I was by the River Ulai.”
Elam means eternity, something that continues forever and ever. The province of Elam was located east of Babylon and northeast of the lower Tigris River. Elam was located in the Garden of Eden. We said earlier that the River Ulai is an affluent of the Tigris River, one of the four rivers of the Garden. The name Elam also appears prominently among many repatriates going back to Jerusalem with Zerubbabel and Nehemiah after the Babylonian exile.
The Rivers in the Garden
Let’s go back to the Book of Genesis chapter 2 and read about the rivers there: “10 Now a river went out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it parted and became four riverheads. 11 The name of the first is Pishon; it is the one which skirts the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. 12 And the gold of that land is good. Bdellium and the onyx stone are there. 13 The name of the second river is Gihon; it is the one which goes around the whole land of Cush. 14 The name of the third river is Hiddekel: it is the one which goes toward the east of Assyria. The fourth river is the Euphrates” (Genesis 2:10-14).
In antiquity, rivers represented power, the power to sustain life. Many large cities were built on or very close to rivers: Egypt on the Nile, Babylon on the Euphrates, Nineveh on the Tigris or Hiddekel River, to name only a few. Rivers are a form of power, and powers in the Bible are also symbolized by horns. Therefore, rivers and horns are both symbols of power. We’ll find this correlation or rivers and horns in Daniel 8.
Rivers have great theological and biblical significance. They represent the river of life flowing underneath God’s throne. They also represent transitions and points of passage for God’s people. Rivers also divide or separate what’s on one bank from what’s on the other.
The Lord placed one river in the Garden of Eden to irrigate the garden, and from there it became four rivers. God knew that man would sin and lose the right to enter the garden. The four rivers represent the four kingdoms which would successively dominate world history until Jesus comes to destroy all kingdoms and establish His everlasting kingdom.
We learn in Genesis 2:8: “The Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed.” This is why the ram comes from the east, pushing in the other three cardinal directions. The ram in the Garden of Eden represents Adam, the son of God who lived in the east. The ram represents Jesus, the Second Adam. It also represents the first Adam. The he-goat came from the west, the opposite direction, because Satan always rises up in opposition against anything and everything that God establishes.
The Horns on the He-goat
The single horn on the head of the he-goat parallels the single river in the Garden of Eden. What does this single horn/single river represent? Let’s read what the Angel Gabriel said to Daniel 8:21: “And the male goat is the kingdom of Greece. The large horn that is between its eyes is the first king.”
Let’s identify who’s the first king, represented by the single horn that is between the goat’s eyes. That first king is no less than Adam himself. In Genesis 1:28 God gave Adam and Eve this instruction: “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
The single horn on the he-goat represents the original, authentic scepter of power given to Adam by God. God gave Adam authority over the earth to be its steward, and to name all the cattle, beasts of the field and fowls of the air. But when Adam sinned, his scepter of power defaulted to Satan or was usurped by Satan.
All genuine authority stems from the throne of God, the only legitimate source of authority in the universe. When Adam sinned, he became Satan’s servant, according to Romans 6:16: “Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?” Thus, Adam lost the scepter of power and gave Satan the legal right to usurp it.
The vision describes how Satan waxed great on the earth after the flood, and these usurper kingdoms began to emerge, starting with Nimrod and followed by Egypt and Assyria. But the chronology of world kingdoms that we find in the Book of Daniel starts with Babylon. The four horns that grew out of the goat’s head represent the same four kingdoms represented throughout the Book of Daniel. They represent Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome. God doesn’t change references midstream. These four horns do NOT represent Syria, Iran, or Iraq. God is consistent in the kingdoms that are represented by the four horns.
Because the transmission line of the usurped scepter of power was illegitimate, the Angel Gabriel says the following: “As for the broken horn and the four that stood up in its place, four kingdoms shall arise out of that nation, but not with its power” (Daniel 8: 22). None of these usurper kingdoms has the authority and power – the notable single horn – that Adam was given by God Himself. This is why in the next verse Gabriel calls them “transgressors” (Daniel 8:23).
Out of the horn that represented Rome stood up the same little horn of Daniel 7, representing the Papacy. The fact that the little horn grows out of the head of the he-goat confirms what we read in Revelation 13:2: “The dragon gave him his power, his throne, and great authority.” The Bible tells us unambiguously that anti-christ receives his power, throne and authority from Satan. What happened in the Dark Ages will be repeated at the end of time.
Emergence of Anti-christ, the Little Horn
Listen to how the Angel Gabriel described the emergence of anti-christ in sequence after these four illegitimate kingdoms:
“23 And in the latter time of their kingdom,
When the transgressors have reached their fullness, (these kingdoms are transgressing because they’re each holding the usurped scepter of power at different moments in history)
A king shall arise, (this is anti-christ)
Having fierce features,
Who understands sinister schemes.
24 His power shall be mighty, but not by his own power; (anti-christ receives his power, seat and great authority directly from Satan as we saw earlier)
He shall destroy fearfully,
And shall prosper and thrive;
He shall destroy the mighty, and also the holy people.” (Anti-christ is subjected to the destroyer himself, Satan. Therefore the anti-christ beast is depicted in Daniel 7 as destroying the whole earth).