Have you ever tried to understand what was going on in a dream that you’ve had the night before? You can remember all the different elements that were there, the images that you saw and the words that were spoken. But they rarely fit together in a neat and ordered way, they rarely map out a clear and unbroken chain of events.
Today’s passage centres around a second vision that Daniel had. We’ll see as we look in detail at this vision over the next three days that some parts are fairly straightforward to understand, but others, like our own dreams, are bit harder to pin down!
So, let’s begin by finding out exactly what Daniel saw.
Read Daniel 8:1-14.
Chapters 7-12 of the book of Daniel, along with the book of Revelation and a few other chapters elsewhere in the Bible, can be grouped together as the Apocalyptic writings. And, as we saw with chapter 7, they’re unlike any other kind of writing; we don’t really have an equivalent style today. Often they are visions of the future, sometimes the very far future, the last days of the earth as we know it. And they are filled with pictures of incredible animals and references to lengths of time.
But if we come to these passages expecting to be able to work out exactly what’s going on, to tie the descriptions to individual events, either in history or in the future, to plot out a timeline of what will happen when, then we’ll end up disappointed and confused. You see, that’s just not how Apocalyptic literature works.
It’s far better to approach these passage as we might approach an Impressionist painting – expecting to see something beautiful that gives us an impression of the scene and leaves us in no doubt as to the bigger picture, but accepting that we will not see the details, some of the edges my be a bit blurry and there might be a few parts of the picture that we struggle to work out.
Thankfully, in this case, the Bible gives us an interpretation of this dream. Though, as you’ll see, even some parts of the interpretation are a bit confusing!
Read Daniel 8:15-27.
Does that all make sense now?! Probably not. But before we get tangled up in the trickier parts of this passage, let’s review what’s clear from this interpretation:
Daniel encountered two rampaging animals, first a ram and then a goat. And in both cases, the feature of primary interest is their horns - a symbol of power.
Gabriel tells Daniel that the Ram represents the kings of Media and Persia and the Goat is a symbol for the king of Greece. And, up until verse 22, the picture given is actually relatively straightforward to slot into historical events that happened in the centuries after Daniel’s vision. Alexander the Great, the prominent horn of the Greek goat, did indeed destroy the Medo-Persian Empire before he himself was cut down in his prime, and his kingdom was divided between four of his generals.
As we saw in chapter 7, visions like this remind us that God is in control of the rise and fall of world powers. He is the one who rules forever; earthly powers will all fall one day.
Next we’ll have a look at the more confusing part of the interpretation, the ‘fierce-looking king, a master of intrigue’ but for now, thank God that He’s in charge of all that goes on in our world