Here is, I. The date of this vision, Dan. 8:1. It was in the third year of the reign of Belshazzar, which proved to be his last year, as many reckon; so that this chapter also should be, in order of time, before the fifth. That Daniel might not be surprised at the destruction of Babylon, now at hand, God gives him a foresight of the destruction of other kingdoms hereafter, which in their day had been as potent as that of Babylon. Could we foresee the changes that shall be hereafter, when we are gone, we should the less admire, and be less affected with, the changes in our own day; for that which is done is that which shall be done, Eccl. 1:9. Then it was that a vision appeared to me, even to me, Daniel. Here he solemnly attests the truth of it: it was to him, even to him, that the vision was shown; he was the eye-witness of it. And this vision puts him in mind of a former vision which appeared to him at the first, in the first year of this reign, which he makes mention of because this vision was an explication and confirmation of that, and points at many of the same events. That seems to have been a dream, a vision in his sleep; this seems to have been when he was awake.
II. The scene of this vision. The place where that was laid was in Shushan the palace, one of the royal seats of the kings of Persia, situated on the banks of the river Ulai, which surrounded the city; it was in the province of Elam, that part of Persia which lay next to Babylon. Daniel was not there in person, for he was now in Babylon, a captive, in some employment under Belshazzar, and might not go to such a distant country, especially being now an enemy’s country. But he was there in vision; as Ezekiel, when a captive in Babylon, was often brought, in the spirit, to the land of Israel. Note, The soul may be a liberty when the body is in captivity; for, when we are bound, the Spirit of the Lord is not bound. The vision related to that country, and therefore there he was made to fancy himself to be as strongly as if he had really been there.
III. The vision itself and the process of it.
1. He saw a ram with two horns, Dan. 8:3. This was the second monarchy, of which the kingdoms of Media and Persia were the two horns. The horns were very high; but that which came up last was the higher, and got the start of the former. So the last shall be first, and the first last. The kingdom of Persia, which rose last, in Cyrus, became more eminent than that of the Medes.
2. He saw this ram pushing all about him with his horns (Dan. 8:4), westward (towards Babylon, Syria, Greece, and Asia the less), northward (towards the Lydians, Armenians, and Scythians), and southward (towards Arabia, Ethiopia, and Egypt), for all these nations did the Persian empire, one time or other, make attempts upon for the enlarging of their dominion. And at last he became so powerful that no beasts might stand before him. This ram, though of a species of animal often preyed upon, became formidable even to the beasts of prey themselves, so that there was no standing before him, no escaping him, none that could deliver out of his hand, but all must yield to him: the kings of Persia did according to their will, prospered in all their ways abroad, had an uncontrollable power at home, and became great. He thought himself great because he did what he would; but to do good is that which makes men truly great.
3. He saw this ram overcome by a he-goat. He was considering the ram (wondering that so weak an animal should come to be so prevalent) and thinking what would be the issue; and, behold, a he-goat came, Dan. 8:5. This was Alexander the Great, the son of Philip king of Macedonia. He came from the west, from Greece, which lay west from Persia. He fetched a great compass with his army: he came upon the face of the whole earth; he did in effect conquer the world, and then sat down and wept because there was not another world to be conquered. Unus Pellaeo juveni non sufficit orbis—One world was too little for the youth of Pellae. This he-goat (a creature famed for comeliness in going, Prov. 30:31) went on with incredible swiftness, so that he touched not the ground, so lightly did he move; he rather seemed to fly above the ground than to go upon the ground; or none touched him in the earth, that is, he met with little or no opposition. This he-goat, or buck, had a notable horn between his eyes, like a unicorn. He had strength, and knew his own strength; he saw himself a match for all his neighbours. Alexander pushed his conquests on so fast, and with so much fury, that none of the kingdoms he attacked had courage to make a stand, or give check to the progress of his victorious arms. In six years he made himself master of the greatest part of the then known world. Well might he be called a notable horn, for his name still lives in history as the name of one of the most celebrated commanders in war that ever the world knew. Alexander’s victories and achievements are still the entertainment of the ingenious. This he-goat came to the ram that had two horns, Dan. 8:6. Alexander with his victorious army attacked the kingdom of Persia, an army consisting of no more than 30,000 foot and 5000 horse. He ran unto him, to surprise him ere he could get intelligence of his motions, in the fury of his power. He came close to the ram. Alexander with his army came up with Darius Codomannus, then emperor of Persia, being moved with choler against him, Dan. 8:7. It was with the greatest violence that Alexander pushed on his war against Darius, who, though he brought vast numbers into the field, yet, for want of skill, was an unequal match for him, so that Alexander was too hard for him whenever he engaged him, smote him, cast him down to the ground, and stamped upon him, which three expressions, some think, refer to the three famous victories that Alexander obtained over Darius, at Granicus, at Issus, and at Arbela, by which he was at length totally routed, having, in the last battle, had 600,000 men killed, so that Alexander became absolute master of all the Persian empire, broke his two horns, the kingdoms of Media and Persia. The ram that had destroyed all before him (Dan. 8:4) now is himself destroyed; Darius has no power to stand before Alexander, not has he any friends or allies to help to deliver him out of his hand. Note, Those kingdoms which, when they had power, abused it, and, because none could oppose them, withheld not themselves from the doing of any wrong, may expect to have their power at length taken from them, and to be served in their own kind, Isa. 33:1.
4. He saw the he-goat made hereby very considerable; but the great horn, that had done all this execution, was broken, Dan. 8:8. Alexander was about twenty years old when he began his wars. When he was about twenty-six he conquered Darius, and became master of the whole Persian empire; but when he was about thirty-two or thirty-three years of age, when he was strong, in his full strength, he was broken. He was not killed in war, in the bed of honour, but died of a drunken surfeit, or, as some suspect, by poison and left no child living behind him to enjoy that which he had endlessly laboured for, but left a lasting monument of the vanity of worldly pomp and power, and their insufficiency to make a man happy.
5. He saw this kingdom divided into four parts, and that instead of that one great horn there came up four notable ones, Alexander’s four captains, to whom he bequeathed his conquests; and he had so much that, when it was divided among four, they had each of them enough for any one man. These four notable horns were towards the four winds of heaven, the same with the four heads of the leopard (Dan. 7:6), the kingdoms of Syria and Egypt, Asia and Greece-Syria lying to the east, Greece to the west, Asia Minor to the north, and Egypt to the south. Note, Those that heap up riches know not who shall gather them, nor whose all those things shall be which they have provided.
6. He saw a little horn which became a great persecutor of the church and people of God; and this was the principal thing that was intended to be shown to him in this vision, as afterwards, Dan. 11:30 All agree that this was Antiochus Epiphanes (so he called himself)--the illustrious, but others called him Antiochus Epimanes—Antiochus the furious. He is called here (as before, Dan. 7:8), a little horn, because he was in his original contemptible; there were others between him and the kingdom, and he was of a base servile disposition, had nothing in him of princely qualities, and had been for some time a hostage and prisoner at Rome, whence he made his escape, and, though, the youngest brother, and his elder living, got the kingdom. He waxed exceedingly great towards the south, for he seized upon Egypt, and towards the east, for he invaded Persia and Armenia. But that which is here especially taken notice of is the mischief that he did to the people of the Jews. They are not expressly named, or prophecies must not be too plain; but they are here so described that it would be easy for those who understood scripture-language to know who were meant; and the Jews, having notice of this before, might be awakened to prepare themselves and their children beforehand for these suffering trying times. (1.) He set himself against the pleasant land, the land of Israel, so called because it was the glory of all lands, for fruitfulness and all the delights of human life, but especially for the tokens of God’s presence in it, and its being blessed with divine revelations and institutions; it was Mount Zion that was beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, Ps. 48:2. The pleasantness of that land was that there the Messiah was to be born, who would be both the consolation and the glory of his people Israel. Note, We have reason to reckon that a pleasant place which is a holy place, in which God dwells, and where we may have opportunity of communing with him. Surely, It is good to be here. (2.) He fought against the host of heaven, that is, the people of God, the church, which is the kingdom of heaven, the church-militant here on earth. The saints, being born from above, and citizens of heaven, and doing the will of God, by his grace, in some measure, as the angels of heaven do it, may be well called a heavenly host. Or the priests and Levites, who were employed in the service of the tabernacle, and there warred a good warfare, were this host of heaven. These Antiochus set himself against; he waxed great to the host of heaven, in opposition to them and in defiance of them. (3.) He cast down some of the host (that is, of the stars, for they are called the host of heaven) to the ground, and stamped upon them. Some of those that were most eminent both in church and state, that were burning and shining lights in their generation, he either forced to comply with his idolatries or put them to death; he got them into his hands, and then trampled upon them and triumphed over them; as good old Eleazar, and the seven brethren, whom he put to death with cruel tortures, because they would not eat swine’s flesh, 2 Macc 6:7. He gloried in it that herein he insulted Heaven itself and exalted his throne above the stars of God, Isa. 14:13. (4.) He magnified himself even to the prince of the host. He set himself against the high priest, Onias, whom he deprived of his dignity, or rather against God himself, who was Israel’s King of old, who reigns for ever Zion’s King, who himself heads his own host that fight his battles. Against him Antiochus magnified himself; as Pharaoh, when he said, Who is the Lord? Note, Those who persecute the people of God persecute God himself. (5.) He took away the daily sacrifice. The morning and evening lamb, which God appointed to be offered every day upon his altar to his honour, Antiochus forbade and restrained the offering of. No doubt he took away all other sacrifices, but only the daily sacrifice is mentioned, because that was the greatest loss of all, for in that they kept up their constant communion with God, which they preferred before that which is only occasional. God’s people reckon their daily sacrifices, their morning and evening exercises of devotion, the most needful of their daily business and the most delightful of their daily comforts, and would not for all the world part with them. (6.) He cast down the place of his sanctuary. He did not burn and demolish the temple, but he cast it down, when he profaned it, made it the temple of Jupiter Olympius, and set up his image in it. He also cast down the truth to the ground, trampled upon the book of the law, that word of truth, tore it, and burnt it, and did what he could to destroy it quite, that it might be lost and forgotten for ever. These were the projects of that wicked prince. In these he practised. And (would you think it?) in these he prospered. He carried the matter very far, seemed to have gained his point, and went near to extirpate that holy religion which God’s right hand had planted. But lest he or any other should triumph, as if herein he had prevailed against God himself and been too hard for him, the matter is here explained and set in a true light. [1.] He could not have done this if God had not permitted him to do it, could have had no power against Israel unless it had been given him from above. God put this power into his hand, and gave him a host against the daily sacrifice. God’s providence put that sword into his hand by which he was enabled thus to bear down all before him. Note, We ought to eye and own the hand of God in all the enterprises and all the successes of the church’s enemies against the church. They are but the rod in God’s hand. [2.] God would not have permitted it if his people had not provoked him to do so. It is by reason of transgression, the transgression of Israel, to correct them for that, that Antiochus is employed to give them all this trouble. Note, When the pleasant land and all its pleasant things are laid waste, it must be acknowledged that sin is the procuring cause of all the desolation. Who gave Jacob to the spoil? Did not the Lord, he against whom we have sinned? Isa. 42:24. The great transgression of the Jews after the captivity (when they were cured of idolatry) was a contempt and profanation of the holy things, snuffing at the service of God, bringing the torn and the lame for sacrifice, as if the table of the Lord were a contemptible thing (so we find Mal. 1:7, 8, and that the priests were guilty of this Mal. 2:1, 8), and therefore God sent Antiochus to take away the daily sacrifice and cast down the place of his sanctuary. Note, It is just with God to deprive those of the privileges of his house who despise and profane them, and to make those know the worth of ordinances by the want of them who would not know it by the enjoyment of them.
7. He heard the time of this calamity limited and determined, not the time when it should come (that is not here fixed, because God would have his people always prepared for it), but how long it should last, that, when they had no more any prophets to tell them how long (Ps. 74:9; which psalm seems to have been calculated for this dark and doleful day), they might have this prophecy to give them a prospect of deliverance in due time. Now concerning this we have here,
(1.) The question asked concerning it, Dan. 8:13. Observe [1.] By whom the question was put: I heard one saint speaking to this purport, and then another saint seconded him. “O that we knew how long this trouble will last!” The angels here are called saints, for they are holy ones (Dan. 4:13), the holy myriads, Jude 1:14. The angels concern themselves in the affairs of the church, and enquire concerning them, if, as here, concerning its temporal salvations, much more do they desire to look into the great salvation, 1 Pet. 1:12. One saint spoke of the thing, and another enquired concerning it. Thus John, who lay in Christ’s bosom, was beckoned to by Peter to ask Christ a question, John 13:23, 24. [2.] To whom the question was put. He said unto Palmoni that spoke. Some make this certain saint to be a superior angel who understood more than the rest, to whom therefore they came with their enquiries. Others make it to be the eternal Word, the Son of God. He is the unknown One. Palmoni seems to be compounded of Peloni Almoni, which is used (Ruth 4:1) for Ho, such a one, and (2 Kgs. 6:8) for such a place. Christ was yet the nameless One. Wherefore asked thou after my name, seeing it is secret? Jdg. 13:18. He is the numberer of secrets (as some translate it), for from him there is nothing hidden—the wonderful numberer, so others; his name is called Wonderful. Note, If we would know the mind of God, we must apply to Jesus Christ, who lay in the bosom of the Father, and in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, not hidden from us, but hidden for us. [3.] The question itself that was asked: “How long shall be the vision concerning the daily sacrifice? How long shall the prohibition of it continue? How long shall the pleasant land be made unpleasant by that severe interdict? How long shall the transgression of desolation (the image of Jupiter), that great transgression which makes all our sacred things desolate, how long shall that stand in the temple? How long shall the sanctuary and the host, the holy place and the holy persons that minister in it, be trodden under foot by the oppressor?” Note, Angels are concerned for the prosperity of the church on earth and desirous to see an end of its desolations. The angels asked, for the satisfaction of Daniel, not doubting but he was desirous to know, how long these calamities should last? The question takes it for granted that they should not last always. The rod of the wicked shall not rest upon the lot of the righteous, though it may come upon their lot. Christ comforted himself in his sufferings with this, The things concerning me have an end (Luke 22:37), and so may the church in hers. But it is desirable to know how long they shall last, that we may provide accordingly.
(2.) The answer given to this question, Dan. 8:14. Christ gives instruction to the holy angels, for they are our fellow-servants; but here the answer was given to Daniel, because for his sake the question was asked: He said unto me. God sometimes gives in great favours to his people, in answer to the enquiries and requests of their friends for them. Now, [1.] Christ assures him that the trouble shall end; it shall continue 2300 days and no longer, so many evenings and mornings (so the word is), so many nychthemerai, so many natural days, reckoned, as in the beginning of Genesis, by the evenings and mornings, because it was the evening and the morning sacrifice that they most lamented the loss of, and thought the time passed very slowly while they were deprived of them. Some make the morning and the evening, in this number, to stand for two, and then 2300 evenings and as many mornings will make but 1150 days; and about so many days it was that the daily sacrifice was interrupted: and this comes nearer to the computation (Dan. 7:25) of a time, times, and the dividing of a time. But it is less forced to understand them of so many natural days; 2300 days make six years and three months, and about eighteen days; and just so long they reckon from the defection of the people, procured by Menelaus the high priest in the 142nd year of the kingdom of the Seleucidae, the sixth month of that year, and the 6th day of the month (so Josephus dates it), to the cleansing of the sanctuary, and the reestablishment of religion among them, which was in the 148th year, the 9th month, and the 25th day of the month, 1 Macc 4:52. God reckons the time of his people’s afflictions he is afflicted. Rev. 2:10; Thou shalt have tribulation ten days. [2.] He assures him that they shall see better days afterwards: Then shall the sanctuary be cleansed. Note, The cleansing of the sanctuary is a happy token for good to any people; when they begin to be reformed they will soon be relieved. Though the righteous God may, for the correction of his people, suffer his sanctuary to be profaned for a while, yet the jealous God will, for his own glory, see to the cleansing of it in due time. Christ died to cleanse his church, and he will so cleanse it as at length to present it blameless to himself.