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Relevant Verse: Daniel 8

Theme: The divine touch

Leading Question: Where is God in a world overcome by horror?

In this lesson study, we look into Daniel 8 from a dual perspective. First, we recognize in Daniel’s vision how God’s sanctuary has become the target of the attacks by anti-God powers. Second, we will be introduced to the divine hero who comes to comfort and rescue the holy ones of God.

Sanctuary perspective

With regard to the first perspective, the question must be placed, what is the sanctuary? In the Bible, the sanctuary was a structure or a building on earth that marked the place where God came to meet with his people. Since God is holy, and the human beings are sinful, in the sanctuary the sins of the people are cleansed, so that they can be acceptable in God’s presence. Sanctuary services in Bible times had the purpose to show how eager God was to do away with the sins of His people so that they could be one with Him. Thus, the sanctuary was central in the life and worship of God’s people. Some life-death issues were resolved in that place. In the Hebrew mind the world could not exist without God’s temple on earth. The Bible says that God led the Israelites out of Egypt so that they could worship him in the sanctuary (Exodus 4:23 and 15:13, 17). At the time of Babylon’s fall, King Cyrus is going to set the captives free so that they would go back home and rebuild the temple (Ezra 1:1-4). In Jesus’ time the destruction of the temple and the end of the world were two concepts that were inseparable in the mind of the Hebrew people (Matthew 24:1-3).

The Jewish work known as the Mishnah or “the second law” contains a number of oral laws. In the tractate named Yoma that speaks of the holy days, the Book of Daniel is tied to Yom Kippurim or the Day of Atonement. In that text the person whose duty was to read selected biblical passages before the High Priest on the eve of the Day of Atonement, most important festival celebrated in the sanctuary, says the following: “Many times I read before him [the high priest] out of Daniel.” Thus, we find an interesting link between the book of Daniel and the sanctuary on the Day of Atonement. In fact, a good number of sanctuary terms and symbols are scattered throughout this chapter showing that the sanctuary is the central concept of Daniel 8. For example, the GC Sabbath School Lesson mentions the symbols of “a ram and a goat [that] are used because of their connection with the Day of Atonement sanctuary ritual, a time of judgment for ancient Israel. Rams and goats were used as sacrificial offerings in the sanctuary service” (Sunday lesson).

Questions: What is the essential message of the Sanctuary? What are the dangers in making the sacrifice system too objective? What of the concept of ceremonial defilement? How is this relevant today? How is “truth cast down to the ground”? In examining all this material, how can focus be kept on the real issues? What does this all say about God?

Scholars of the Biblical Research Institute of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists offer the following interpretation of the animals, the little horn, and other elements in Daniel 8:

  • The ram with the two different horns represents the empire Medo-Persia (see the bear that is raised up on one side in Daniel 7). This empire expands toward the west, north, and south, conquering other powers. Reaching the Aegean Sea it attempts to enter Europe.
  • The he-goat represents Greece, and the first horn is Alexander the Great. With 21–22 tremendous speed (“without touching the ground”) he comes from the west and defeats the Medes and Persians (compare with the leopard with four wings in Daniel 7). However, in 323 BC, at the age of thirty-three and at the peak of his power and success, Alexander died. His generals divided the empire among themselves (see the four heads of the leopard). The four kings were Ptolemy, Cassander, Lysimachus, and Seleucus.
  • The little horn comes out of one of the points of the compass and becomes a new world empire representing both the pagan and the papal Rome. It attacks the beautiful land which is most likely Palestine. Rome conquered Palestine as well as Egypt in the south and Syria in the east, becoming the new world empire.
  • According to the interpretation provided in verse 24, the host of heaven is the true people of God. Stars may point to their leaders and teachers (Dan 12:3). The people of God are being persecuted (see the persecutions of Christians through the Roman Empire and later the Inquisition of the Roman Church).
  • The Prince of the host of God is Jesus Christ. The little horn rebels against Him. Rome crucified Jesus. In the Roman Church the preeminence and supremacy of Jesus is limited (due to the worship of Mary and the supposed intercession of the saints).
  • In the Old Testament sanctuary system there existed a daily ministry and a yearly ministry. This dual ministry is a type and foreshadowing of the daily and “yearly” ministry of Jesus as our High Priest in the heavenly sanctuary. The daily ministry of Jesus is being undermined through additional mediators that the Bible does not know, such as the saints, Mary, priests, and the pope. It is undermined through unbiblical doctrines, such as the confession of sins to a priest and absolution granted by him, the mass as a non-bloody sacrifice, etc.
  • The heavenly sanctuary, Christ’s ministry there, and God’s authority are negatively affected through papal Rome. False teachings are introduced. Scripture is supplemented and sometimes, if not oftentimes, eclipsed by the authority of tradition.
  • In Daniel 2 the stone comes without involvement of human hands and destroys all powers. So also the little horn will be destroyed.
  • The entire vision, which begins in Medo-Persian time (vs. 2–3) and lasts till the end, includes 26 2,300 evenings and mornings. These 2,300 evenings and mornings are 2,300 years. Daniel does not receive further information and therefore does not understand the time element. After the 2,300 years the heavenly sanctuary will be cleansed. From verse 10 onward the chapter deals with the heavenly dimension. Also, after AD 70 the earthly sanctuary no longer existed. The cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary corresponds with the Day of Atonement of the earthly sanctuary (verbal and thematic parallels between Daniel 8 and Leviticus 16). The sanctuary and God’s people are finally freed from sin; at the same time the Day of Atonement is a period of judgment (see Lev 16 and Dan 7). After the end of the 2,300 years begins the second phase of Jesus’ ministry as our High Priest in the heavenly sanctuary. After its completion He will come again and erect His kingdom of glory. However, based on Daniel 8 we are not able to date the 2300 years. Daniel 9 will furnish more information. In any case: We live in the last time of earth’s history, and Jesus is involved in a special ministry on our behalf. Soon he will come again. We want to be ready.

Daniel 8 concludes with the prophet in such great confusion that he became weak and sick, and completely devastated, because there was no one who could explain to him the appalling things he had seen and heard in the vision (Dan 8:27).

Divine Hero Perspective

The time of the vision is the third year of Belshazzar (547 B.C.E.); the location, Susa, a long-established imperial place, capital of the Persian Empire. Both, time and location are provided to signal the imminent change of empires.Amy C. Merrill Willis, Dissonance and the Drama of Divine Sovereignty in the Book of Daniel (The Library of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies Book 520; New York: T & T Clark, 2010), 97. The broad flow of history including decline and dissolution of world powers was already revealed to the prophet in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream image in Daniel 2. At the end, the stone crashed the statue and a kingdom emerged, so different from the one established by Nebuchadnezzar’s military forces as only ancient prophetic language was able to convey, “a stone was cut out — but not by hand” — a Hebrew synonym for the intrinsic powerlessness of that kingdom’s realm (Dan 2:34, 45). For, “A principle other than power is at work in history, an elusive principle that is not of this world. . . . God’s ‘hand’ represents a different mode of action.”Sigve K. Tonstad, “Timeout: From Daniel to Revelation,” in Spectrum Magazine, 01 February, 2019.

In the realm of the beast of Daniel 7 and 8 a different picture emerges. The sea beasts in Daniel 7 as well as the ram and the goat in Daniel 8, recognized as sacrificial animals of the Temple, escalate their destructive forces. The goat turned unicorn transitions into a four-horned beast, which eventually ends up as a small horn growing large and high with some abnormal features. No wonder, then, Daniel’s horror at the end of the vision. Why would temple animals act so out of place? Why would the ram and the goat, whose lives should be exchanged for the lives of people according to the soteriological exposition of the ancient Israelite sacrificial system, become beasts of aggression and instead destroy God’s people? How can it be that sacrifices turn into mythical creatures, even become representatives of powers such as Media, Persia, and Greece (Daniel 8:20, 21)? And what about the little horn?

Is it conceivable that the ram, the goat, and the little horn in Daniel 8 are not as much symbols of godless world empires—as the mythical sea beasts were (Daniel 7), but that the vision of Temple animals tells a far more distressing story: Sacrifices, set apart to for offerings on the altar, have turned into power-hungry, violent, destructive empires. A careful examination of the Temple animals’ characteristics and actions suggests that the vision in Daniel 8 reframes words, concepts, and symbolic figures in such a way that the prophetic text creates narrative extensions about counterfeit theology and fake philosophical ideas. Daniel’s world is in a cataclysmic mode, and the prophet is horrified.

Daniel and his exiled community would have been familiar with the ram not just as an animal raised and dedicated for sacrifices at the Temple but also as a symbolic figure of political leadership, dignitaries, military leaders, and advisers (Exodus 15:5; 2 Kings 24:15; Ezekiel 3:11; 34:17). When the ram was “butting” or “goring” and destroying other animals, it surely did not function as a Temple sacrifice, but it imitated the actions of an ox goring men, women, and children to death with its horns (Exodus 21:28, 31, 32).

In the same way, the goat is not just a sacrificial animal but also an image of kingship familiar from the prophetic books (Isaiah 14:9; Jeremiah 50:8; Ezekiel 34:17; Zechariah 10:3). The goat’s violent actions of “trampling” and destruction in Daniel 8 are much closer to the aggression of the Babylonians when they fight and devastate their enemies (Ezekiel 26:11).

Moreover, the little horn, when it “trampled” some of the heavenly host and the stars to the ground, it acts in the way of the rebellious kings of both Babylon and Tyre (Isaiah 14:4-20 and Ezekiel 28:1-19). The motif is characterized by hubris leading the king to elevate himself to the clouds of heaven, even as far as the divine throne, and claim for himself divine power.

There is significant overlap in language and thematic motifs between Daniel 8 and the famous taunt against the king of Babylon in Isaiah 14:4-20. Both passages use the term “goat” to refer to earthly leaders, both share the language and motif of hubristic thinking, both employ the concept of self-exaltation up to the host and the stars, and both utilize the motif of casting down to the earth.Willis, Dissonance, 100. From the angelic interpretation in the vision, Daniel learns that the little horn is “a king . . ., insolent and skilled in intrigue” (Daniel 8:23). He acts like the king of Babylon in Ezekiel 17:2. When he uses power, which is not his own, to destroy to an extraordinary degree the mighty ones and the holy people (Daniel 8:24), he acts like Assyria, God’s servant, but then became a perpetrator against the downtrodden (Isaiah 10:5-14).

“Nothing counterfeit can endure forever,” states Abraham Joshua Heschel. There should never be a ram with long-grown horns, one longer than the other; it would be a defect of the animal, not acceptable as a sacrificial animal in the Temple. There should never be a goat with one horn between its eyes; it would be an aberration for sacrifice in the Jerusalem Temple, unthinkable in the Hebrew prophet’s mind. There should never be a small horn exalting itself even to the Prince of princes, casting down stars and the heavenly host, destroying God’s people, throwing truth to the ground. Daniel knew well that a king after God’s heart would not build military might, would not expand his kingdom by destroying other people’s lives, would not be of great wealth, with storehouses filled with silver and gold, and would never set himself above his people (Deuteronomy 17:14–20). Nevertheless, such “abomination of desolation” has made its throne in the center of the holy place (Daniel 9:27; cf. Matthew 24:15). The vision in Daniel 8 then, is not as much a counter-imperial text as chapter 7 was, speaking out against world empires from Babylon to Rome, as it is a counter-religious prophetic outcry.

“The prophet is an iconoclast, challenging the apparently holy, revered, and awesome. Beliefs cherished as certainties, institutions endowed with supreme sanctity, he exposes as scandalous pretentions. . . The prophet knew that religion could distort what the Lord demanded of man, that priests themselves had committed perjury by bearing false witness, condoning violence, tolerating hatred, calling for ceremonies instead of bursting forth with wrath and indignation at cruelty, deceit, idolatry, and violence” (Heschel, The Prophets)

Where is the Ancient of Days when such horrific things happen inside God’s own house, done by his own people, to his own people? Where is God in Daniel 8? Some interpreters hold that the character of God seems to disappear in the second half of the book of Daniel.Willis, Dissonance, 118; Niditch, Symbolic Vision, 247; Towner, Daniel, 117-18; Fishbane, Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel, 508-9. However, a closer study into Daniel’s varied visionary modes will help us gain insight into some unexplored spheres of divine presence.

Daniel uses two words to identify visions in both the Hebrew and the Aramaic parts of the book. One is a mareh-vision, which is actually an appearance of a human being or one who looks like a human being, the other is a chazon-vision often referring to beasts.“Prophetic texts use ra’a for visionary experiences, often parallel with chaza. In most cases this parallelism does not suggest synonymy (as in, e.g., Isa. 30:10) but signals a significant semantic distinction, which should always be observed. While chaza is a technical term originally denoting a specific form of revelation, which appears to have been associated with the prophetic seers (Nu. 24:4,16; cf., Isa 1:1; Am. 1:1; Mic. 1:1) and later came to be used as a general term for receiving a revelation (Isa. 13:1; 29:10; Ezk. 12:27), ra’a belongs to the language of vision accounts.” See H. F. Fuhs, “ra’a,” TDOT, 237. Whereas the chazon-visions filled with ferocious beasts have often caught the attention of interpreters and contributed to elaborate interpretations, the mareh—the appearance of a human-like being—may well be the more captivating but also mysterious one. Note how Daniel 8 speaks of such a visionary appearance in the following verses (my translation with emphasis):

“When I was watching the vision (chazon), I, Daniel, was trying to understand, and look! standing in front of me it was like the appearance (mareh) of a mighty man/strong man/warrior/king (gebher)” (Daniel 8:15)

“And I heard the voice of a human between the banks of Ulai, and he called out and said, “Gabriel, give to this an understanding of the appearance (mareh)” (Daniel 8:16)

“The appearance (mareh) of the evening and the morning, which has been told, is true; But you, conceal the vision (chazon), for it is for many days” (Daniel 8:26)

“I, Daniel, was exhausted/weak and sick for days. Then I arose and did the king’s work; but I was horrified of the appearance (mareh), and I had no understanding” (Daniel 8:27)

The first appearance is “as the likeness (I) of a man (gebher).” The Hebrew gebher does not simply mean a man in general like adam, ish, or enosh. The word gebher contains the element of hero-like strength. A gebher without power is a self-contradiction and is as good as dead (Psalm 88:5f.).H. Kosmala, “gabhar,” TDOT, 377. The appearance of a man in Daniel 8:15 refers to his strength both physically and in his moral stand. He is a powerful warrior, a personified king, a strong one in divine deeds and justice.H. Kosmala, “gabhar,” TDOT, 368-69.

The mighty warrior does not carry a weapon, which may come as a surprise to Daniel. Whereas the ram, the goat, and the horn fight violently, destroying the holy place, taking the perpetual offerings and services down, flinging truth to the ground, and prosper in in the midst of destruction, the human-like mighty warrior stands firm without fighting against the evil forces. As Daniel hears celestial voices shout frantically, “Until when is the vision (chazon)?” “How long lasts the rebellion, the horror?” (Daniel 8:13), he hears the words, “until 2300 evenings and mornings, and the holy will be made right” (Daniel 8:14). Through it all, the mighty one is just standing. Why doesn’t he fight of the evil beasts? Is he a powerless gebher, an anomaly?

As the mighty man came near to comfort, Daniel became even more terrified, and fell into a deep sleep. Vaguely, the divine words reach the prophet’s ear, but it was the divine touch that set Daniel upright (Daniel 8:17–18). This daring assertion in Daniel 8 about the tender touch and presence of the mighty divine being is woefully neglected in various interpretations (including Adventist interpretations), charts, maps, and time settings about the 2,300 evenings and mornings. It is truly significant to recognize the irony so obviously displayed in the text: violence has overtaken the holy place from within, but God does not respond with violence. Instead, He passionately cares for and revives a terrified elderly captive. Yet, the people of prophetic calling of the twentieth century have tried to find the Truth in determining time and space settings, but have too often missed the divine touch, the heart of divine pathos.

Question: How does Daniel 8 tell “the things concerning Himself” (Luke 24:27) so that you recognize Jesus even in Daniel’s most terrifying vision?

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