25 May 2021

King of Fierce Countenance

A malevolent ruler will arise from the Greek world who will deceive and persecute the people of God until he is “broken without hand.” 

Acropolis - Photo by Spencer Davis on Unsplash
Next, Daniel received the interpretation of the “
ram and goat.” In his vision of the “four beasts from the sea,” only the first “beast” could be identified with certainty – Babylon. In contrast, in the present interpretation, two of the four kingdoms are identified by name, the “Medes and Persians” and “Greece” - [Acropolis photo by Spencer Davis on Unsplash].

The interpreting angel is identified by the name “Gabriel,” which means “my man is God.” This is the first time in Scripture that an angel is named. He will appear again in Daniel’s later visions.
  • (Daniel 8:15-21) - “And it came to pass when I had seen the vision, that I sought to understand it; and behold, there stood before me as the appearance of a man. And I heard a man’s voice between the banks of the Ulai who called and said, Gabriel, make this man to understand the vision.  So, he came near where I stood; and when he came, I was afraid and fell upon my face: but he said to me, Understand, O son of man; for the vision belongs to the time of the end. Now as he was speaking with me, I fell into a deep sleep with my face toward the ground; but he touched me and set me upright. And he said, Behold, I will make you* know what will be in the latter time of the indignation; for it belongs to the appointed time of the end. The ram which you saw with the two horns, they are the kings of Media and Persia. And the rough goat is the king of Greece: and the great horn that is between his eyes is the first king.”
The “ram” represented the “kings of the Medes and the Persians,” and the symbol of a ram was common in Persian iconography. Persian kings wore golden crowns that resembled the head of rams.

The large single horn on the “goat” represented the first great king of Greece who overthrew the "kingdom of the Medes and the Persians,” and that can only be Alexander the Great.

The “vision is for a time of an end.” The phrase did not necessarily mean the end of history. It is a generic reference to the “end” of something, whether a period or an event. Most likely, it refers to the “end” of the desecration of the sanctuary, the “end of the indignation.”

The ram’s shorter horn represents the kingdom of the “Medes.” Initially, it was stronger than Persia. It emerged as a major power after the downfall of the Assyrian Empire, which left four key players in the region - Babylon, Lydia, Egypt, and the Medes.  The higher horn symbolizes Persia. Under Cyrus the Great, it annexed the kingdom of the Medes.

Persia became the dominant half of the alliance of the “Medes and Persians.” This historical reality was also portrayed in the image of the “bear” with one side raised higher than the other. Consistently in Daniel, the “Medes and Persians” are named together as a single kingdom - (Daniel 5:28, 7:4-5, 8:20).

The “ram” that pushed “westward and northward and southward” and the “bear” with three ribs in its mouth both portray the conquests of the “Medes and Persians” over Mesopotamia (Babylon), Asia Minor (Lydia), and Egypt. Thus, the second “beast from the sea,” the “bear,” was the kingdom of the Medes and Persians.
  • (Daniel 8:21-22) – “And the rough goat is the king of Greece: and the great horn that is between his eyes is the first king. And as for that which was broken, in the place whereof four stood up, four kingdoms shall stand up out of the nation, but not with his power.”
The “prominent horn” represents the first “great king” of Greece who conquered the “ram.” The four lesser horns that appeared after the first horn was broken represent the “four kingdoms that shall stand up out of the nation, but not in his power.”

This “first king” could only be Alexander. In 334 B.C., he led a Greco-Macedonian force to the east against the Persian Empire. In rapid succession, he defeated several Persian armies:  at the battles of Granicus (334 B.C.), Issus (333 B.C.), and Gaugamela east of the Tigris River (331 B.C.). This last battle spelled the end of the Persian Empire.

This rapid conquest is portrayed by the “goat from the west” that rushes swiftly into the “ram and cast him down to the ground.” The same swiftness was represented by the two pairs of wings seen previously on the “leopard” - (Daniel 7:6).

Over the next several years, Alexander consolidated his conquests and established a Hellenic domain that stretched from Greece to the Indus River valley in northern India. He died suddenly in 323 B.C., an event represented by the broken horn (“when he was strong, the great horn was broken”). His death was followed by twenty years of intermittent civil war between his generals for possession of the empire. Finally, it was divided into four lesser kingdoms ruled by four of his surviving generals.

The division into four smaller kingdoms is represented by the four “lesser horns,” and by the four “heads” of the “leopard.” The fourfold division of the empire is described further in the last vision of Daniel:
  • (Daniel 11:1-4) – “And as for me, in the first year of Darius the Mede, I stood up to confirm and strengthen him. And now will I show thee the truth. Behold, there shall stand up yet three kings in Persia; and the fourth shall be far richer than they all: and when he is waxed strong through his riches, he shall stir up all against the realm of Greece. And a mighty king shall stand up, that shall rule with great dominion, and do according to his will. And when he shall stand up, his kingdom shall be broken, and shall be divided toward the four winds of heaven, but not to his posterity, nor according to his dominion wherewith he ruled; for his kingdom shall be plucked up, even for others besides these.”
Two of the lesser kingdoms played significant roles in the history of Judea: the Ptolemaic kingdom in Egypt (305-30 B.C.), and the Seleucid empire based in Syria (312-63 B.C.).
  • (Daniel 8:23-25) - “And in the latter time of their kingdom, when the transgressors have come to the full, a king of fierce countenance, and understanding dark sentences shall stand up. And his power shall be mighty, but not by his own power, and he shall destroy wonderfully and shall prosper and do his pleasure, and he shall destroy the mighty ones and the holy people. And through his policy he shall cause craft to prosper in his hand; and he shall magnify himself in his heart, and in their security shall he destroy many: he shall also stand up against the Prince of princes, but he shall be broken without hand.”
The “latter part of their kingdom” refers to a later time in the histories of the four “lesser” kingdoms, a time when “transgressions have filled up their measure” and a “king of fierce countenance” appeared. The text does not state from which of the four kingdoms this ruler originated, but he could only be from either the Seleucid or the Ptolemaic kingdom - (Syria and Egypt, respectively).

This king’s power was “mighty but not through his own strength,” a likely allusion to the purpose of Yahweh at work behind his machinations. The “little horn” had “a mouth speaking great things,” and so, also, the king of “fierce countenance” was “skillful in dissimulation.”

Previously, the “little horn made war with the saints and prevailed against them,” just as the “king of fierce countenance” now will destroy the “people of the saints.” And the “little horn” in chapter 7 spoke “words against the Most-High,” just as the “fierce king” stood up against the “Prince of princes.” The “little horn” strove “to change times and law, and they were given into his hand for a season, seasons, and the dividing of a season,” and so, also, the “little horn” in chapter 8 removes the daily sacrifice and profanes the sanctuary for an “appointed season” - (Daniel 7:21-26, 8:12-14 ).

In chapter 8, the “little horn” caused “the host of the heavens” and the stars to fall to the earth, and it “trampled them underfoot.” Human enemies of God do not have access to heaven and are in no position to expel angels. This assault was interpreted by Gabriel as the king’s destruction of the “mighty ones and the people of saints.”

The “transgressions have filled up their measure.” This may refer to the transgressions of the pagan king, the iniquities of the Jewish nation, or both. The Hebrew term is a participle in the plural number and has a definite article - “the transgressors.” It is related to the noun pesha’ used in verses 12-13 for the “transgression that desolates.”

The term “transgressions” refers to the accumulated sin that necessitated the assault by the fierce king (“When the transgressions have filled up their measure, there will stand up a king of fierce countenance”). Thus, the desecration of the Temple was the result of this king’s rise to power, but ultimately, it constituted divine punishment on Israel for her sins.

This is borne out by the preceding question and answer between the two angels. The removal of the daily sacrifice and the profanation of the Temple were to continue until the end of the appointed time, then the “sanctuary” would be “cleansed.” The filling up of sins to a predetermined level suggests divine purpose at work. Transgression must run its course until a determined point of judgment.

The “little horn” was responsible for the removal of the daily sacrifice and the profanation of the “sanctuary” (“because of him was taken away the daily burnt offering”). However, in the larger picture, he was a tool of judgment used to purify the saints.

The identifications of the “ram and the goat” explain the earlier references to “Susa” and “Ulai.” Daniel received this vision during the last stages of the Babylonian Empire prior to its overthrow by the “Medes and Persians.” The center of the World-Power was about to shift to Persia, and then to the Greek world.

Thus, the “little horn” in chapter 8 is identical to the “little horn” of the “fourth beast.” In chapter 7, the “little horn” devoured all the earth, “trampled it down and broke it in pieces.” Ironically, the “king of fierce countenance” was “broken in pieces without hands,” implying divine judgment. What he inflicted on the “saints” was inflicted on him.

The interpretation of the vision concludes with Daniel being told to “close up the vision because it is for many days,” that is, a future time. He was confounded by what he saw and heard, and no one was able to decipher it for him. The chapter ends with Daniel “sick for days.”