THE PROPHECY OF DANIEL 8
A HISTORIC OUTLINE AND A VITAL QUESTION
Another view of the history of empires and kingdoms was brought before the prophet Daniel in the vision of the eighth chapter. In this vision a great prophetic period is given, the end of which reaches to the latter days, touching events of our own times that are of direct interest and importance to every one today.
The vision was given in the third year of Belshazzar, the last king of Babylon. Again, as in moving panorama, there passed before the prophet's vision the scenes of history. Earthly kingdoms were represented under the symbols of beasts.
We shall find the prophecy and the history corresponding in every detail, revealing the overruling hand of God, who knows the end from the beginning, and whose living Word of truth bears its witness through all the ages.
"Truth never dies. The ages come and go;
The mountains wear away; the seas retire;
Destruction lays earth's mighty cities low,
And empires, states, and dynasties expire;
But caught and handed onward by the wise,
Truth never dies."
The opening scene of this vision, given by the river Ulai, in Persia, is thus described:
Prophecy.—"Then I lifted up mine eyes, and saw, and, behold, there stood before the river a ram which had two horns: and the two horns were high; but one was higher than the other, and the higher came up last. I saw the ram pushing westward, and northward, and southward; so that no beast might stand before him, neither was there any that could deliver out of his hand; but he did according to his will, and became great." Verses 3, 4.
In the angel's interpretation of the vision Daniel was told: "The ram which thou sawest having two horns are the kings of Media and Persia." Verse 20. "The higher came up last."
The two horns represented the dual character of the empire: first the Medes in ascendancy, then the Persians rising to yet greater power. "So that no beast might stand before him," says the prophecy.
History.—Xenophon says of Cyrus the Persian:
"He was able to extend the fear of himself over so great a part of the world that he astonished all, and no one attempted anything against him."—"The Cyropædia," book 1, chap. 1.
The line of Medo-Persian conquest was "westward, and northward, and southward," just as the prophet saw the ram pushing its way. As one pen wrote in the days of Persia's supremacy:
"He [Darius] showed the world arms glory-crowned."
"Towns untold before him fell."
"Burgs over sea ... heard from his lips their fate."
—"The Persians," by Æschylus.
But the ram pushing westward stirred up an antagonist that was eventually to overcome him. The prophet continues:
Prophecy.—"As I was considering, behold, a he goat came from the west on the face of the whole earth, and touched not the ground: and the goat had a notable horn between his eyes. And he came to the ram that had two horns,... and ran unto him in the fury of his power.... And there was no power in the ram to stand before him, but he cast him down to the ground, and stamped upon him: and there was none that could deliver the ram out of his hand." Verses 5-7.
The angel's interpretation continued: "The rough goat is the king of Grecia: and the great horn that is between his eyes is the first king." Verse 21.
History.—This "first king" of united Grecia was Alexander the Great.
"With Alexander the New Greece begins."—Harrison, "Story of Greece," p. 499.
"And it happened, after that Alexander ... had smitten Darius king of the Persians and Medes, that he reigned in his stead, the first over Greece." 1 Maccabees 1:1.
Under Alexander, the Grecian goat ran upon the Persian ram "in the fury of his power." At Arbela, wrote Arrian, the Macedonians charged "with great fury." None was able to deliver the Persian ram. "Wherever you fly," wrote Alexander to the retreating Darius, "thither I will surely pursue you." (See "Anabasis of Alexander the Great," by Arrian, book 2, chap. 14.) Medo-Persia fell before Grecia, as this sure word of prophecy had foretold two hundred years before Alexander's day.
Grecia's expansion and its later history were next unfolded before the prophet's vision:
Prophecy.—"Therefore the he goat waxed very great: and when he was strong, the great horn was broken; and for it came up four notable ones toward the four winds of heaven." Verse 8.
Of the ram (Persia) it was said it became "great;" of the goat (Grecia); that it became "very great."
History.—Justin, the Roman, wrote of Alexander:
"So much was the whole world awed by the terror of his name, that all nations came to pay their obedience to him."—"History of the World," book 12, chap. 13.
"Vain in his hopes, the youth had grasped at all,
And his vast thought took in the vanquished ball."
—Lucan's "Pharsalia" (Nicholas Rowe's translation), book 3.
But the unerring prophecy had said that "when he was strong, the great horn was broken." Suddenly the youthful conqueror was cut down by death, just as he was preparing to celebrate at Babylon a "convention of the whole universe,"
"being thus taken off in the flower of his age, and in the height of his victories."—Justin, "History of the World," book 13, chap. 1.
The ancient pagan writers, in telling the story, make use of language very similar to that used by divine prophecy in foretelling it. Following Alexander's death the empire was divided "toward the four winds of heaven." Myers says:
"Four well-defined and important monarchies arose out of the ruins.... The great horn was broken; and instead of it came up four notable ones toward the four winds of heaven."—"History of Greece" (edition 1902), p. 457.
As the prophet watched these four kingdoms of divided Greece, he beheld another power coming into the field of his vision through one of the four kingdoms, and extending its authority more than any before it:
Prophecy.—"Out of one of them [one of the four kingdoms] came forth a little horn, which waxed exceeding great, toward the south, and toward the east, and toward the pleasant land." Verse 9.
History.—Medo-Persia was "great," Grecia was "very great," but this power was to be "exceeding great." Rome followed Grecia. Polybius, the Roman, says:
"Almost the whole inhabited world was conquered, and brought under the dominion of the single city of Rome."—"Histories of Polybius" (Evelyn Shuckburgh's translation), book 1, chap. 1.
One of the odes of Horace tells how the name of Rome grew to might:
"Till her superb dominion spread
East, where the sun comes forth in light,
And west to where he lays his head."
—Ode 15, "To Augustus," book 4.
Lucan's lines measured its exceeding greatness from the other points of the compass:
"Though from the frozen pole our empire run,
Far as the journeys of the southern sun."
—"Pharsalia," book 10.
"The empire of the Romans filled the world," says Gibbon. It was "exceeding great," according to the prophecy. In the vision the little horn that grew so great came into the prophet's view as proceeding out of one of the four horns that he had been watching. Rome rose to unquestioned supremacy out of its conquest of Macedonia, one of the four notable kingdoms into which Grecia was divided. It spread forth toward the south, and toward the east, and "toward the pleasant land," Palestine becoming a province of the empire in the century before Christ. And it was a Roman force that destroyed Jerusalem and devastated the pleasant land.
Thus the "sure word of prophecy," with exactness in detail, carries the history through the centuries to the last great universal monarchy, Rome.
But this prophecy does not deal so much with the earlier history of Rome as with the developments of later times. It was the same in the prophetic outline of Daniel 7. After briefly identifying Rome as the last universal monarchy, the vision of the seventh chapter dealt with the rise of papal Rome, described its exaltation of itself against God, and its warfare against the truth and the saints of God. And here again, in the eighth chapter, the same persecuting power is seen developing, exalting itself, and persecuting the saints of God. The prophecy says that "it cast down the truth to the ground; and it practiced, and prospered." Dan. 8:12. The papal history, as given in the study on Daniel 7, need not be repeated here.
As the prophet watched the work of this lawless power, his heart must have cried out to know how long it was to be allowed to prosper in its evil way; for next he heard the voice of a holy one asking the question for him,
"How long shall be the vision concerning the daily sacrifice, and the transgression of desolation, to give both the sanctuary and the host to be trodden underfoot?" Dan. 8:13.
The answer was,
"Unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed." Verse 14.
In symbolic prophecy a day stands for a year. Eze. 4:6. This is a long period, therefore, of 2300 years. It reaches to the latter days; for the angel said of it, "At the time of the end shall be the vision." Dan. 8:17.
The question was, "How long?" or literally, "Until when?" and the answer was, "Until two thousand and three hundred days." Then what was to come to deal with the great apostasy?—"Then shall the sanctuary be cleansed." The cleansing of the sanctuary, therefore, must have something to do with meeting the great apostasy, lifting up God's truth that has been trampled underfoot, and cutting short the reign of evil. The cleansing of the sanctuary, with all that is involved in it, must be God's answer to this lawless power.
Error may prosper for a time; but the just balances of the sanctuary will at last pronounce righteous judgment, and the prosperity of evil will be cut short. "I was envious ... when I saw the prosperity of the wicked," said the psalmist, "until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end." Ps. 73:3, 17.
What, then, is involved in the cleansing of the sanctuary, the time of which is marked by the long prophetic period? It is for us to understand; for it is a work pertaining to the latter days.