Here we have,
I. Daniel’s earnest desire to have this vision explained to him (Dan. 8:15): I sought the meaning. Note, Those that rightly know the things of God cannot but desire to know more and more of them, and to be led further into the mystery of them; and those that would find the meaning of what they have seen or heard from God must seek it, and seek it diligently. Seek and you shall find. Daniel considered the thing, compared it with the former discoveries, to try if he could understand it; but especially he sought by prayer (as he had done Dan. 2:18), and he did not seek in vain.
II. Orders given to the angel Gabriel to inform him concerning this vision. One in the appearance of a man (who, some think, was Christ himself, for who besides could command angels?) orders Gabriel to make Daniel understand this vision. Sometimes God is pleased to make use of the ministration of angels, not only to protect his children, but to instruct them, to serve the kind intentions, not only of his providence, but of his grace.
III. The consternation that Daniel was in upon the approach of his instructor (Dan. 8:17): When he came near I was afraid. Though Daniel was a man of great prudence and courage, and had been conversant with the visions of the Almighty, yet the approach of an extraordinary messenger from heaven put him into this fright. He fell upon his face, not to worship the angel, but because he could no longer bear the dazzling lustre of his glory. Nay, being prostrate upon the ground, he fell into a deep sleep, (Dan. 8:18), which came not from any neglect of the vision, or indifference towards it, but was an effect of his faintness and the oppression of spirit he was under, through the abundance of revelations. The disciples in the garden slept for sorrow; and, as there, so here, the spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak. Daniel would have kept awake, and could not.
IV. The relief which the angel gave to Daniel, with great encouragement to him to expect a satisfactory discovery of the meaning of this vision. 1. He touched him, and set him upon his feet, Dan. 8:18. Thus when John, in a similar case, was in similar consternation, Christ laid his right hand upon him, Rev. 1:17. It was a gentle touch that the angel here gave to Daniel, to show that he came not to hurt him, not to plead against him with his great power, or with a hand heavy upon him, but to help him, to put strength into him (Job 23:6), which God can do with a touch. When we are slumbering and grovelling on this earth we are very unfit to hear from God, and to converse with him. But, if God design instruction for us, he will be his grace awaken us out of our slumber, raise us from things below, and set us upright. 2. He promised to inform him: “Understand, O son of man! Dan. 8:17. Thou shalt understand, if thou wilt but apply thy mind to understand.” He calls him son of man to intimate that he would consider his frame, and would deal tenderly with him, accommodating himself to his capacity as a man. Or thus he preaches humility to him; though he be admitted to converse with angels, he must not be puffed up with it, but must remember that he is a son of man. Or perhaps this title puts honour upon him: the Messiah was lately called the Son of man (Dan. 7:13), and Daniel is akin to him, and is a figure of him as a prophet and one greatly beloved. He assures him that he shall be made to know what shall be in the last end of the indignation, Dan. 8:19. Let it be laid up for a comfort to those who shall live to see these calamitous times that there shall be an end of them; the indignation shall cease (Isa. 10:25); it shall be overpast, Isa. 26:20. It may intermit and return again, but the last end shall be glorious; good will follow it, nay, and good will be brought out of it. He tells him (Dan. 8:17), “At the time of the end shall be the vision; when the last end of the indignation comes, when the course of this providence is completed, then the vision shall be made plain and intelligible by the event, as the event shall be made plain and intelligible by the vision.” Or, “At the time of the end of the Jewish church, in the latter days of it, shall this vision be accomplished, 300 or 400 years hence; understand it therefore, that thou mayest leave it on record for the generations to come.” But is he ask more particularly, “When is the time of the end? And how long will it be before it arrive?” let this answer suffice (Dan. 8:19): At the time appointed the end shall be; it is fixed in the divine counsel, which cannot be altered and which must not be pried into.
V. The exposition which he gave him of the vision.
1. Concerning the two monarchies of Persia and Greece, Dan. 8:20-22. The ram signified the succession of the kings of Media and Persia; the rough goat signified the kings of Greece; the great horn was Alexander; the four horns that rose in his room were the four kingdoms into which his conquests were cantoned, of which before, Dan. 8:8. They are said to stand up out of the nations, but not in his power; none of them ever made the figure that Alexander did. Josephus relates that when Alexander had taken Tyre, and subdued Palestine, and was upon his march to Jerusalem, Jaddas, who was them high priest (Nehemiah mentions one of his name, Dan. 12:11), fearing his rage, had recourse to God by prayer and sacrifice for the common safety, and was by him warned in a dream that upon Alexander’s approach he should throw open the gates of the city, and that he and the rest of the priests should go forth to meet him in their habits, and all the people in white. Alexander, seeing this company at a distance, went himself alone to the high priest, and, having prostrated himself before that God whose name was engraven in the golden plate of his mitre, he first saluted him; and, being asked by one of his own captains why he did so, he said that while he was yet in Macedon, musing on the conquest of Asia, there appeared to him a man like unto this, and thus attired, who invited him into Asia, and assured him of success in the conquest of it. The priests led him to the temple, where he offered sacrifice to the God of Israel as they directed him; and there they showed him this book of the prophet Daniel, that it was there foretold that a Grecian should come and destroy the Persians, which animated him very much in the expedition he was now meditating against Darius. Hereupon he took the Jews and their religion under his protection, promised to be kind to those of their religion in Babylon and Media, whither he was now marching, and in honour of him all the priests that had sons born that year called them Alexander. Joseph. lib. 11.
2. Concerning Antiochus, and his oppression of the Jews. This is said to be in the latter time of the kingdom of the Greeks, when the transgressors are come to the full (Dan. 8:23); that is, when the degenerate Jews have filled up the measure of their iniquity, and are ripe for this destruction, so that God cannot in honour bear with them any longer then shall stand up this king, to be flagellum Dei—the rod in God’s hand for the chastising of the Jews. Now observe here, (1.) His character: He shall be a king of fierce countenance, insolent and furious, neither fearing God nor regarding man, understanding dark sentences, or (rather) versed in dark practices, the hidden things of dishonesty; he was master of all the arts of dissimulation and deceit, and knew the depths of Satan as well as any man. He was wise to do evil. (2.) His success. He shall make dreadful havoc of the nations about him: His power shall be mighty, bear down all before it, but not by his own power (Dan. 8:24), but partly by the assistance of his allies, Eumenes and Attalus, partly by the baseness and treachery of many of the Jews, even of the priests that came into his interests, and especially by the divine permission. it was not by his own power, but by a power given him from above, that he destroyed wonderfully, and thought he made himself a great man by being a great destroyer. He destroys wonderfully indeed, for he destroys, [1.] The mighty people, and they cannot resist him by their power. The princes of Egypt cannot stand before him with all their forces, but he practises against them and prospers. Note, The mighty ones of the earth commonly meet with those at length that are too hard for them, that are more mighty than they. Let not the strong man then glory in his strength, be it ever so great, unless he could be sure that there were none stronger than he. [2.] He destroys the holy people, or the people of the holy ones; and their sacred character does neither deter him from destroying them nor defend them from being destroyed. All things come alike to all, and there is one event to the mighty and to the holy in this world. [3.] The methods by which he will gain this success, not by true courage, wisdom, or justice, but by his policy and craft (Dan. 8:25), by fraud and deceit, and serpentine subtlety: He shall cause craft to prosper; so cunningly shall he carry on his projects that he shall gain his point by the art of wheedling. By peace he shall destroy many, as others do by war; under the pretence of treaties, leagues, and alliances, with them, he shall encroach on their rights, and trick them into a subjection to him. Thus sometimes what a nation truly brave has gained in a righteous war a nation truly base has regained in a treacherous peace, and craft has been caused to prosper. [4.] The mischief that he shall do to religion: He shall magnify himself in his heart, and think himself fit to prescribe and give law to every body, so that he shall stand up against the Prince of princes, that is, against God himself. He will profane his temple and altar, prohibit his worship, and persecute his worshippers. See what a height of impudence some men’s impiety brings them to; they openly bid defiance to God himself though he is the Kings of kings. [5.] The ruin that he shall be brought to at last: He shall be broken without hand, that is, without the hand of man. He shall not be slain in war, nor shall he be assassinated, as tyrants commonly were, but he shall fall into the hand of the living God and die by an immediate stroke of his vengeance. He, hearing that the Jews had cast the image of Jupiter Olympius out of the temple, where he had placed it, was so enraged at the Jews that he vowed he would make Jerusalem a common burial-place, and determined to march thither immediately; but no sooner had he spoken these proud words than he was struck with an incurable plague in his bowels; worms bred so fast in his body that whole flakes of flesh sometimes dropped from him; his torments were violent, and the stench of his disease such that none could endure to come near him. He continued in this misery very long. At first he persisted in his menaces against the Jews; but at length, despairing of his recovery, he called his friends together, and acknowledged all those miseries to have fallen upon him for the injuries he had done to the Jews and his profaning the temple at Jerusalem. Then he wrote courteous letters to the Jews, and vowed that if he recovered he would let them have the free exercise of their religion. But, finding his disease grow upon him, when he could no longer endure his own smell, he said, It is meet to submit to God, and for man who is mortal not to set himself in competition with God, and so died miserably in a strange land, on the mountains of Pacata near Babylon: so Ussher’s Annals, A.M. 3840, about 160 years before the birth of Christ.
3. As to the time fixed for the continuance of the cessation of the daily sacrifice, it is not explained here, but only confirmed (Dan. 8:26). That vision of the evening and morning is true, in the proper sense of the words, and needs no explication. How unlikely soever it might be that God should suffer his own sanctuary to be thus profaned, yet it is true, it is too true, so it shall be.
VI. Here is the conclusion of this vision, and here, 1. The charge given to Daniel to keep it private for the present: Shut thou up the vision; let it not be publicly know among the Chaldeans, lest the Persians, who were now shortly to possess the kingdom, should be incensed against the Jews by it, because the downfall of their kingdom was foretold by it, which would be unseasonable now that the edict for their release was expected from the king of Persia. Shut it up, for it shall be for many days. It was about 300 years from the time of this vision to the time of the accomplishment of it; therefore he must shut it up for the present, even from the people of the Jews, lest it should amaze and perplex them, but let it be kept safely for the generations to come, that should live about the time of the accomplishment of it, for to them it would be both most intelligible and most serviceable. Note, What we know of the things of God should be carefully laid up, that hereafter, when there is occasion, it may be faithfully laid out; and what we have not now any use for, yet we may have another time. Divine truths should be sealed up among our treasures, that we may find them again after many days. 2. The care he took to keep it private, having received such a charge, Dan. 8:27. He fainted, and was sick, with the multitude of his thoughts within him occasioned by this vision, which oppressed and overwhelmed him the more because he was forbidden to publish what he had seen, so that his belly was as wine which has no vent, he was ready to burst like new bottles, Job 32:19. However, he kept it to himself, stifled and smothered the concern he was in; so that those he conversed with could not perceive it, but he did the king’s business according to the duty of his place, whatever it was. Note, As long as we live in this world we must have something to do in it; and even those whom God has most dignified with his favours must not think themselves above their business; nor must the pleasure of communion with God take us off from the duties of our particular callings, but still we must in them abide with God. Those especially that are entrusted with public business must see to it that they conscientiously discharge their trust.