Three alternative interpretations of the little horn of Daniel 8

Summary

The two animals in Daniel 8 are explicitly identified as Mede-Persia and as Greece.  But the main character in the chapter—an anti-god power that persecutes God’s people and corrupts God’s message—is not explicitly identified.  This evil power is the same as the one in Daniel 7 that persecutes the saints and blaspheme God.  But it is identified by the different schools of prophetic interpretation as the Greek king Antiochus IV Epiphanes that ruled in the second century BC, as an end-time antichrist and as the Roman Church.

Purpose

The previous two articles are preliminary overviews of the metal man of Daniel 2 and of the four beasts of Daniel 7.  The Daniel 7 article did not identify the four beasts.  Neither did it identify the main character in that chapter, represented by a small horn that “will speak out against the Most High and wear down the saints of the Highest One” (v25)

Daniel 8The current article gives an overview of Daniel 8 and lists the alternative interpretations of the main character in this chapter, also represented by a small horn.

The Ram and the Goat

Only two animals appear in the Daniel 8 vision; a ram and a goat:

The first animal to appear is a ram, conquering into three directions: to the north, west, and to the south (vss. 3-4).  The ram is explicitly identified as Mede-Persia (8:20).

Next a goat with one large horn appears. It defeats the Medo-Persian ram and becomes the dominant power (vss. 5-7).  The goat is explicitly identified as Greece (8:20-21).

The Horns

The goat at first has one large horn.  But this horn was “broken” and four horns, extending out to the four winds of heaven (we would say, the four directions of the compass), came up in its place (vs. 8).  Commentators generally concur that the one large horn refers to the kingdom of Alexander the Great, and that the four horns are the four kingdoms into which Alexander’s empire was divided after his death.

But then another horn (“a little horn“) appears on the scene.  There is much disagreement about its identity.  It did not attack any beast or kingdom, but it opposed:

(a) God’s people, identified as “the host of the stars” (vss. to, 24).
(b) God’s work of redemption, described as the tamid (daily or continual) and the temple (vss. 11-12), and
(c) God’s principal representative, called “the Prince of the host” or “the Prince of princes(vss. 11, 25).

The Heavenly Conversation

Daniel then overheard two heavenly beings discussing the vision. One asked:

“How long will the vision about the regular sacrifice apply, while the transgression causes horror, so as to allow both the holy place and the host to be trampled?

The other responded:

For 2300 evenings and mornings; then the holy place will be properly restored.”

Daniel 8 does not mention the first kingdom of Daniel 7 (Babylon).  Neither does it mention the last (eternal) kingdom.  It rather focuses on and provides additional information about the main evil character in the book of Daniel, symbolized by an evil horn-king in Daniel 7 and Daniel 8.  Most of Daniel 8 is devoted to this king.

Same Evil Horn as in Daniel 7

For the following reasons it is generally agreed that the evil horn of Daniel 8 is the same as the evil horn of Daniel 7:

(1) The same symbol (horn) is used for both. 

If a distinction had been intended, the best way would have been to use a different symbol.

(2) They are similar. 

Both begin small and become great (7:8 and 8:9);
Are blasphemous powers (7:8, 25 and 8:11, 25);
Persecute the saints of God (7:21, 25 and 8:11, 25);
Are the last in a series of symbols;

For both a period of time is described (7:25 and 8:14); and
They eventually suffer similar fates (7:26 and 8:25).

(3) Later prophecies amplify the earlier ones. 

Virtually all commentators accept this principle.  For example, Daniel 7 repeats the four empires of Daniel 2, with additional information, particularly through the use of horns to represent their major divisions.

The book of Daniel itself also mentions this principle at least twice:

In Daniel 9:22-23, Gabriel said that he came to give Daniel understanding of “the vision.” This would be the vision in the Daniel 8.

In Daniel 10-12 Daniel receives a “message” to explain the “vision” (10:1, 14).  This also refers to the vision in Daniel 8, for that is the last “vision” before Daniel 10.

This principle implies that the vision of Daniel 8 elaborates on the vision of Daniel 7, which support the conclusion that the little horn in Daniel 8 represents the same force as the little horn in Daniel 7.

Three Interpretations of this Horn

Who is this little horn that blasphemes God and persecutes His people (8:9-14)?  And what is its period of 2300 evening-mornings, when it will profane the sanctuary?  The Preterist, Futurist, and Historicist schools of prophetic interpretation have different answers to these questions:

Preterists

In this view:

(A) The majority of the prophecies of the book of Daniel have already been fulfilled and, therefore, have no significance for the present day or for the future.

(B) The little horn arose from one of the divisions of Alexander’s empire.

(C) The activities of the little horn point to the Greek king Antiochus IV Epiphanes.

(D) The 2300 “evening-mornings” should be interpreted as 2300 individual morning and evening sacrifices, or 1150 literal days. These are then applied to events in the career of Antiochus IV Epiphanes in the second century B.C.

(E) The sanctuary refers to the temple in Jerusalem which was polluted by Antiochus and later purified by the victorious Jewish rebels.  The purification was completed before January 1, 164 B.C.

Futurists

Futurists generally follow this line of interpretation as well.  But they also see Antiochus as a type of an end-time antichrist who will arise in the final years of earth’s history; just prior to Christ’s Second Advent.  Some futurists also apply the 2300 “evening-mornings” to the end time.  They interpret it is literal evenings-mornings, or the literal 2300 days of the future reign of this final antichrist.  During the final seven years of earth’s history, according to this interpretation, a literal temple (to be rebuilt in Jerusalem for the Jews) will be polluted by this antichrist.  The temple will be restored when Christ comes and puts an end to the reign of the antichrist.

Historicists View

In this view:

(A) The prophecies in Daniel portray an outline of history and the story of the on-going struggle between good and evil down to the end of time.

(B) The evil horn-king represents Rome in its papal phase (the Roman Church).

(C) Utilizing the day-for-a-year principle, historicists have held that the 2300 evening-mornings refer to a period of 2300 literal years, commencing in the time of the Persian Ram and concluding with the recovery of the message of the Bible after the distortion of the Middle Ages.

(D) The purification of the sanctuary is interpreted symbolically as the restoration of God’s people and/or their message.

Comparison of the three views

These three interpretations of the various elements in Daniel 8:9-14 may be summarized as follows:

Preterlst Historicist Futurist
Little horn Antiochus IV Roman Church End-time Antichrist
2300 days 1150 past days 2300 historical years 2300 end-time days
Temple In Jerusalem God’s people In end-time Jerusalem
Cleansing Before 164 BC After middle ages Return of Christ

NEXT: The next article evaluates these three interpretations and identifies the evil horn-king by Comparing the Animals in Daniel 7 to the animals in Daniel 8.

 

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