Reading Daniel, the fundamental lesson seems to flip back and forth between an encouragement to be faithful, and prophecy to prepare God’s people for the future. Daniel 8 is firmly focused on the future, at least the next few hundred years of future from Daniel’s day.
In chapter 8, the language shifts from Aramaic (the language of the Babylonians) back to Hebrew (the language of the Jews) and the focus from this point on, is all-future. This seems to be because God is now focused on preparing his own people to be able to live through the troubled years ahead. In fact, if God didn’t warn them, the next few hundred years would seriously confuse and dismay His children, but God did prepare them. Daniel 8 is a precious gift to the believers today, since we can look back (knowing the subsequent history) and learn from how God prepared his people to live through it.
Another remarkable thing about Daniel chapter 8, is that the key features of the future God was preparing the Jews to live through, is strikingly similar to the future promised to Christian believers in the New Testament. Given the parallels, I’ll unpack things here to try to show four things God wants believers today to know about the future, and in this post, we’ll just look at the first of these:
#1 The Future is Planned
Daniel had his vision “In the first year of the reign of King Belshazzar” (Daniel 8:1) which was about 551BC, but what he saw covered future history from that time right up to December 25 165BC, giving them a prophecy that covered the next 386 years!
The Immediate Future: The Ram (Daniel 8:3-4)
Thankfully we know exactly what the ram refers to, since the angel Gabriel interpreted it as “the kings of Media and Persia” (Daniel 8:20). In Daniel’s vision, he found himself in the city of Susa, in the Babylonian province of Elam (Daniel 8:2), and the Ram appears standing on the bank of the Ulai canal (Daniel 8:3). It would be about another 10 years before this prophecy would be fulfilled and Susa would fall to Cyrus the Great, the Persian king and overall head of the now-combined Medo-Persian empire.
The details here in Daniel 8:3 are striking: one (horn) was higher than the other (Persia dominated the partnership of these two kingdoms) and the higher one came up last (Persia rose to prominence later than Media).
The conquests predicted here are in themselves remarkable, even if it’s not that far distant from Daniel’s prophecy. At it’s greatest extent, the Persian (Achaemenid) empire stretched from what it now the NE of Greece, through Bulgaria, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, down into Egypt, not to mention Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Kuwait, Iran, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Pakistan. The ram really did do “as he pleased and became great,” (Daniel 8:4).
The Later Future: The Goat (Daniel 8:5-8)
As I was considering, behold, a male goat came from the west across the face of the whole earth, without touching the ground. (Daniel 8:5) (Pic:https://www.pinterest.ca/pin/31806741088145326/)
Again we know exactly what’s referred to here, since Gabriel interprets this as the king of Greece (Daniel 8:21) which can be none other than Alexander the Great. The thing is that Alexander wasn’t born until 356BC, and began his conquests in 334BC, a full 217 years after the vision.
If you’re sceptical, it’s conceivable that Daniel could have taken a look at the world scene, and made a stab at which nation was going to rise to prominence next, and guessed at Medo-Persia. To suggest that Daniel got lucky guessing Greece 217 years ahead, however, is just crazy (which is why sceptics have to deny Daniel is authentic and suggest it was written after the event. In the 550s BC Greece was just a collection of warring city states discovering democracy, but busily embroiled in their own squabbles for the next 200 years, and certainly no threat to the world stage. It would be akin to me predicting that Belgium will rule the world by 2220!
What’s even more amazing is to accurately predict the manner of Alexander’s conquest: “from the west across the face of the whole earth, without touching the ground,” (Daniel 8:5). Within just 10 years, Alexander had conquered the world. He figuratively flew at Darius III of Persia, and decimated him repeatedly on the battlefield (Daniel 8:6-7). Some of the historical details here are remarkable considering the language used in this prophecy. When it says he “came close to the ram” — you can literally read accounts of Alexander getting into close combat with Darius’ bodyguard at the Battle of Issus, and then capturing Darius’ wife and daughter, and Alexander with only 35-40,000 men managed to inflict devastating defeat to the whole of the Persian empire, despite repeatedly being opposed by armies with vastly superior numbers.
Note on the interpretation of prophecy:
According to the prophecy, if you were a believing Jew watching the world news, you’d be expecting Alexander to be cut down in his prime, and he was (Daniel 8:8). At just 33 years old, Alexander was dead, and every prophecy watching Jew would have been expecting the kingdom to divide immediately into four powers, to the N, S, E, and W.
Instead of immediate fulfilment, there was about 20 years of struggle in which it might have appeared that the prophecy wasn’t going to be fulfilled, since multiple power centres existed with a great deal of infighting, until finally (exactly according to God’s plan for the future) the goat kingdom was divided into four: Lysimachus in the North, Ptolemy in the South, Seleucus to the East, and Cassandra in the West. All that was needed to see God’s plan for the future fulfilled, was to wait.
How could you use Daniel 8 to encourage another believer who was struggling with trust in the accuracy of the word of God?
How does it help us practically as believers to know that the future is planned? (What difference SHOULD it make to the way we handle daily situations, and also the way we respond to world events, etc.)
From Daniel 8 (and other vision prophecies in Daniel) we can see that God gave the Jews certain prominent features of the political “beasts” they would face in the future, presumably in order to enable them to identify them when they emerged on the world stage. What difference does this make to the way we should interpret prophesies that seem remarkably similar in Revelation 13 and 17 (for example)?
In the fulfilment of Daniel 8:8 there was a delay of about 20 years in history after Alexander’s death, before a great deal of infighting finally resulted in four distinct powers to match the prophecy. What significance does this have for the way in which we handle prophecies concerning our future that don’t seem to have accurate fulfilment yet?