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Daniel 8: The Vision of the Ram and Goat, Part 1

Jun 22, 2015

Daniel himself makes it clear that his two visions in chapters 7 and 8 are linked in some way. They occurred two years apart, the first vision seen in the first year of Belshazzar (548 B.C.), and the second seen in Belshazzar’s third year (546 B.C.).

Daniel 8:1, 2 says,

1 In the third year of the reign of Belshazzar the king, a vision appeared to me, Daniel, subsequent to the one which appeared to me previously. 2 And I looked in the vision, and it came about while I was looking, that I was in the citadel [“castle,” CV] of Susa, which is in the province of Elam; and I looked in the vision, and I myself was beside the Ulai Canal.

Daniel himself was in Shushan (or Susa) on assignment from the king, because at that time, Shushan was controlled by Babylon, even though it was in Elam. The Babylonian king had a palace there. Shushan was governed by a viceroy named Abradates, whose history is given in Xenophon’s Cyropaedia. He was a Greek historian from Athens who lived from 430-354 B.C.

Shortly after Daniel’s vision, the Persian army took Shushan (545). Abradates was out of town on a mission, but because Cyrus treated his wife and family with respect, Abradates willingly joined forces with him. Cyrus seemed to reject the policy of punishing his enemies. His generosity won friends and loyalty from those that he conquered. However, Abradates was killed in battle shortly afterward in the conquest of Lydia. Xenophon tells us that his grief-stricken wife committed suicide.

Even so, Isaiah 21:2 gives prophetic instruction to Elam to help the Medes lay siege to Babylon at the time of its fall (Isaiah 21:9). Elam itself did so, even though Abradates himself did not live to see the fall of Babylon.

No doubt by this time Daniel had evacuated Shushan and had returned to Babylon. By this time the prophet was probably in his 80’s. Whereas the vision in chapter 7 depicts the prophet relating his vision to someone else, the vision in chapter 8 is written by Daniel himself.

Even though chapter 8 is like a continuation of chapter 7, it is also distinct. Daniel 2:4 until the end of chapter 7 is written in Aramaic, the language of Babylon. But chapter 8 to the end of the book reverts to the Hebrew language, as if it was addressed to different people.

The Description of Medo-Persia

Medo-Persia had not yet conquered Babylon when Daniel was given this vision. And yet the prophet already saw two centuries into the future when Medo-Persia fell to the Greek army of Alexander the Great. The revelation in this second vision focused primarily upon the advent of the third world empire, Greece.

Daniel 8:3 begins, saying,

3 Then I lifted my gaze and looked, and behold, a ram which had two horns was standing in front of the canal. Now the two horns were long, but one was longer than the other, with the longer one coming up last.

This “ram” is the beast empire, and its two horns represent the Medes and Persians. As we will see later, the angel explaining the vision told the prophet in Daniel 8:20,

20 The ram which you saw with the two horns represents the kings of Media and Persia.

Daniel saw one horn longer than the other, because the Persian horn was dominant over the horn of Media. The same idea was seen earlier in the first vision, where the Medo-Persian “bear” “was raised up on one side” (Daniel 7:5).

Daniel did not ask, nor did he receive, any further revelation about this bear, so this detail remained unexplained in chapter 7. However, the next vision answers many questions and clarifies that portion of prophetic history for us all. The Median king was a generation older than Cyrus, but the power of Cyrus was greater. So Daniel says of the greater horn: “one was longer than the other, with the longer one coming up last.”

Daniel 8:4 continues,

4 I saw the ram butting westward, northward, and southward, and no other beasts could stand before him, nor was there anyone to rescue him from his power; but he did as he pleased and magnified himself.

And so, as the Persian army moved to take Shushan, Daniel understood that the city would be taken—and Babylon as well. He saw that “no other beasts could stand before him,” that is, the powerful ram. At the height of the Medo-Persian empire, its territory extended from north India to Ethiopia. However, their attempts to cross into Europe were stopped by the Greeks in some very famous battles.

In spite of their strength, the ram was only the second of four beasts, and its time was limited to about two centuries. Then the Greeks were united under Philip of Macedon, and his son Alexander raised an army that very quickly conquered Persia.

The Greek Goat

Daniel 8:5 says,

5 While I was observing [the ram], behold, a male goat was coming from the west over the surface of the whole earth without touching the ground; and the goat had a conspicuous horn between his eyes.

The angel later identified this goat in Daniel 8:21: “And the shaggy goat represents the kingdom of Greece.” Therefore, there is no doubt about the identity of either the ram or the goat in this vision. The ram was already visible in the time of Daniel’s vision, but the goat was seen long before the rise of Greece. Daniel 8:6 continues,

6 And he came up to the ram that had the two horns, which I had seen standing in front of the canal, and rushed at him in his mighty wrath.

The goat “rushed at him.” This explains the meaning of the goat running “without touching the ground.” The emphasis is upon the goat’s speed. Alexander the Great, who had been tutored by Aristotle, the philosopher, took the throne after his father, Philip, was assassinated in 336 B.C. Alexander destroyed Thebes (in Egypt) in 335. He defeated the Persians in three major battles in 333, 332, and 331 B.C. By 330 he had occupied Babylon, Shushan, and Persepolis. He then extended his territory to the Indus River, but his generals and troops forced him to turn back in 326.

It took less than ten years for Alexander to conquer the “known” world. This speedy conquest was described perfectly in the vision of the goat that Daniel saw. But Alexander the Great died in Babylon just three years later (323 B.C.), as Daniel foresaw.

Daniel 8:7 says,

7 And I saw him come beside the ram, and he was enraged at him; and he struck the ram and shattered his two horns, and the ram had no strength to withstand him. So he hurled him to the ground and trampled on him, and there was none to rescue the ram from his power.

We are given the impression that the goat was very angry with the ram. This implies that the Greeks were angry with the Persians for trying to conquer them. If the Persian kings had known or had believed Daniel’s prophecy, they might have made an alliance with the Greeks, rather than making them angry.

Of course, it is possible that the Persian kings did, in fact, know of Daniel’s prophecy. If so, they might have thought that they could prevent the rise of Greece. This may have been their underlying motive for attacking Greece. History does not tell us.

All we know is that Alexander the Great conquered the Persian army is a very short period of time, and “the ram had no strength to withstand him.”

The Conspicuous Horn is Broken

Daniel 8:5 says that “the goat had a conspicuous horn between his eyes.” Obviously, this “horn” was Alexander the Great himself. But Alexander also died in his prime, as we read in Daniel 8:8,

8 Then the male goat magnified himself exceedingly. But as soon as he was mighty, the large horn was broken; and in its place there came up four conspicuous horns toward the four winds of heaven.

The goat is the Greek empire, which was greatly enlarged by its conquests. Hence the goat “magnified himself exceedingly,” or as the CV renders it, “unto excess.” This implies that the empire was too big to defend or to maintain itself. When Alexander died on June 11, 323 B.C., he had no heir to inherit his kingdom, because his son, Alexander IV, was not born until after Alexander’s death. He died when his wife, Roxana, was six months pregnant.

Before his death, Alexander nominated his successor by giving his signet ring to Perdiccas, his bodyguard, who was also the captain of the cavalry. At first there was no intention of dividing the empire, but in the end he could not prevent it. Perdiccas tried to convince the generals that they should wait until the baby grew up, but this strategy found little support.

Neither was there any single leader strong enough to take the place of Alexander. So when they failed to agree, the empire was divided among his four generals. These are the “four conspicuous horns” that rose up in place of the large broken horn.

Antipater was given Greece and Macedonia.

Antigonus was given Asia Minor.

Laomedon was given Syria and Mesopotamia.

Ptolemy Soter was given Egypt, Libya, and Arabia.

There were other, smaller areas toward India that were given to others, but these were not large factors in the history of the beast nations. Scripture deals only with the four main “conspicuous” horns. Of these, this vision focuses primarily on one of these kingdoms, as it affected Jerusalem and Judea. Later, in Daniel 11, we are given a detailed prophetic history of the conflict between two of these kingdoms, one north and the other south of Judea.


This is part 36 of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Daniel." To view all parts, click the link below.

Studies in the Book of Daniel


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Category: Teachings

Dr. Stephen Jones


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