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The Ram, the Goat, and the Little Horn - Part 1

Tom Pennington Daniel 8


Well, I invite you take your Bibles and turn to Daniel 8. And keep your finger there, but we're going to move somewhere else at first. We have sung together just now and we have affirmed together even with our presence today that we gather to worship the one, true and living God. So the question is how do we know? What distinguishes the God that we worship from the gods of the nations which are, as the Bible teaches us, nothing but idols, the work of men's hands, and ultimately (both Deuteronomy and 1 Corinthians tell us) are the work of demons? How do we know that we worship the true and living God? Well, there are a number of ways to answer that question. But another way to ask it may be—in light of what I want to do this evening—is to say this: what is one of the greatest apologetics for the God of the Bible? Well, we don't have to wonder about that, because God Himself tells us.

So keep your finger in Daniel 8, but I want you turn over to Isaiah 46. Here God tells us one of the ways that we can know that He is, in fact, the true and living God as distinguished from idols, the work of men's hands. Isaiah 46, beginning in verse 5:

"To whom would you liken Me

And make Me equal and compare Me,

That we [should] be alike?

Those who lavish gold from the purse

And weigh silver on the scale

Hire a goldsmith… he makes it into a god.

They bow down, indeed they worship it.

They lift it upon the shoulder and carry it;

They set it in its place and it stands there.

It does not move from its place.

Though one may cry to it, it cannot answer;

It cannot deliver him from his distress."

Already we have seen some of God's apologetic for how we know that He is the true God as opposed to the idols of men's hands, but He turns to a different approach in verse 8. He says,

"Remember this, and be assured;

Recall it to mind, you transgressors.

Remember the former things long past,

For I am God, and there is no other;

I am God, and there is no one like Me."

How do we know? Verse 10. Here's how you know that I am truly God, that there is no other God, that there's no one like Me, because I, unlike the idols and works of men's hands, declare "the end from the beginning." Now sometimes we get that phrase in our minds and we don't really parse it, we don't really understand what it means. What does it mean to declare the end from the beginning? It means at the very beginning of something you declare what its end is going to be. God says that's Me. Before something starts, I tell you how it's going to end. He goes on to say, "And from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, 'My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure.'" You see, God says—in the Scripture there are a lot of ways to see that He is the one true and living God. One of those ways is to recognize that God tells us long before something begins what's going to happen. Daniel 8

and Daniel 11 are two of the greatest examples of this passage in Isaiah 46 that you will find anywhere in the Scripture. Now you can turn back to Daniel 8.

Daniel 8 was written in the year 550 BC. We'll see that in a moment. Daniel tells us exactly when it was. But it was written in the year 550 BC, 550 years before Christ. In chapter 8, Daniel describes events that would happen within 12 years of when this chapter was written: the rise of Cyrus, the Medo-Persian Empire, the collapse of the Babylonian Empire. All of that would happen within 12 years of this chapter. He also describes in this chapter events that will happen 200 years later in the mid 300s BC: the rise of Alexander the Great and the great Greek Empire. In addition to that, Daniel goes out even farther (under the inspiration of the Spirit) and describes events in chapter 8 that will happen 375 years later in the 100s BC. He describes the rise and evil reign of a madman named Antiochus Epiphanies. Daniel describes these events that would happen across 400 years in such vivid and precise detail that anti-supernaturalists (that is, those who deny that God could have revealed these things to us) they are left with only one option. They have to argue that this chapter and chapter 11 must have been written after the events occurred, because it's just far too clear, far too precise, far too accurate. But that's exactly the point, isn't it? Without Divine revelation, no one could have predicted that these events would happen, and certainly not with such extreme precision. That is the very point that God was making in Isaiah 46: I declare the end from the beginning, declaring the things that are going to happen from ancient times before they happen, (why?) so that you will know that I am God and there is no one else. So Daniel 8 not only serves as a spiritual and historical purpose but also an apologetic purpose. It is an apologetic for Yahweh as the one, true God. It is also, as we'll see, an apologetic for the Scripture as God's revelation.

Now before we look at Daniel 8, let me remind you of the sort of overview of this great book. The theme of Daniel is this: Yahweh is sovereign over the lives of individuals, the affairs of nations, the spans of empires and all human history. Or if you want to simplify it, God is sovereign over all of human history.

Now in terms of how this book is structured, there are several different ways I noted to you that you can organize the Book of Daniel or you can see that it's organized. This one factors very importantly for us tonight. Here's an outline of Daniel based on the languages that are used. The first section of this book is in Hebrew. It's the introduction of the book. It begins in 1:1 and goes to the middle of 2:4. That's the first Hebrew section. Then you have, beginning in the middle of 2:4 and running to the end of chapter 7 (that we just finished), you have the Aramaic section: Yahweh's message to and plan for the pagan nations. Then beginning at the first verse of chapter 8 and running through the end of Daniel's book, chapters 8 through 12, you have the second Hebrew section: Yahweh's message to and plan for Israel.

Notice—and this is important—there is a change as we come to chapter 8. We've been in a section that was written in Aramaic; we begin a section that is written in Hebrew, because Daniel, you see, was deliberately targeting two audiences. He was targeting the Jews, his people, God's people, and He was also targeting the people of Babylon and the nations of the world.

Babylon was a multiracial nation, empire, and the trade language in Babylon was Aramaic. It had been since the 9th or 8th century BC. And so by writing this middle section in Aramaic, he's reaching the widest possible audience. Aramaic was then what English is today. It spanned the known world. The Aramaic section is a message deliberately aimed at the nations of the world about God's coming judgment, final judgment by God Most High, or the Most High God as Daniel calls Him. And because of that, it's a call to put your trust in Yahweh like Nebuchadnezzar did, rather than respond to Him like Belshazzar did. Don't reject Him like that. It's really—this middle section is in a very real sense the gospel. It gives us these two great foils to see the response to God, how you as someone who are not part of God's people can respond: you can respond like Belshazzar and reject Him, or you can respond like Nebuchadnezzar and come to to worship Him and obey Him and follow Him.

The Hebrew section that begins in 8:12 is a message to God's people. That's why it's written in Hebrew. It's a message of hope and comfort, and it is a promise of ultimate survival for the Jewish people. Daniel 8 is a warning in many regards. It warns God's people about a coming period of intense persecution, but it includes with that warning the promise: those nations that persecute you will end up in the dust bin of history, but you as God's people, you will survive. God graciously granted Daniel this vision to assure him that the Jews would survive that coming period of intense persecution. That's really the theme of this second vision that God grants Daniel. The first in chapter 7 and now the second.

So let's look at chapter 8. Chapter 8 of Daniel begins with the vision of the ram, the goat and the little horn. Once again, in this vision God uses animals, as He did in chapter 7, to symbolize the great world empires. The revelation of this vision begins by giving us the vision's setting in verses 1 and 2. Notice verse 1: "In the third year of the reign of Belshazzar the king." Belshazzar became coregent with his father Nabonidus in the year 553 BC. So his third year was, as I told you earlier, 550 BC. That's when Daniel had this vision. That means Daniel had this vision about 12 years before the events of Daniel 5 and Belshazzar's death and the Medo-Persian empire taking over Babylon. So chapter 8 takes us back in time before chapter 5.

Ironically, Daniel had this vision (550 BC) in the same year that Cyrus came to power in Persia. Cyrus would shortly consolidate the Medes and the Persians into a single, powerful kingdom that would destroy Babylon. Between this vision and the events of Daniel 5, Nabonidus saw—forgive the pun—the handwriting on the wall and tried to forge an alliance with Egypt in order to protect himself from the growing threat of the Medo-Persian Empire. People across the empire were looking at their daily newspapers—you know, the Babylonian Times—trying to figure out what is Cyrus going to do? That empire is growing in power. Is it going to be a threat to us and our lives? That's the context in which this happens.

Verse 1 goes on to say it was in that year, the third of Belshazzar the king, 550 BC, that "a vision appeared to me, Daniel, subsequent to the one which appeared to me previously." Literally, the Hebrew says, "A vision appeared to me, I, Daniel." Kind of a strange way to say it. And I have to agree with the commentators who say, I think Daniel is, he's struck with surprise, and he's grateful that he has the honor of being the one to receive this prophecy: this vision appeared to me, I, Daniel. And he adds, by the way, in verse 1 that this detailed prophecy came after the more sweeping prophecy of chapter 7.

Now look at verse 2: "I looked in the vision, and while I was looking I was in the citadel of Susa which is in the providence of Elam." Josephus, the Jewish historian, as well as some modern commentators, have taken verse 2 to mean that Daniel was actually in the city of Susa in person when he had this vision. But more likely he was only there in the vision itself. That's what the end of verse 2 implies: "In the vision… I... was beside the Ulai Canal." Also, verse 27 adds that after being sick for a few days he continued with the king's business which would have been in Babylon and some 200 miles from Susa. So what happened to Daniel here is what happened to Ezekiel. You remember Ezekiel experienced that he was physically in Babylon, but he was transported in spirit to Israel and there had these visions, Ezekiel 8 to 11, Ezekiel 40 to 48.

Now the word for "citadel" there in verse 2 may mean a palace, it may mean a military fortress, or it may mean (and I think this is what it means) the city itself was a citadel or a fortress. In other words, the city of Susa was a fortified city. Now, Susa was the name used by the Greeks, but in Hebrew it's Shushan, from which we get the word Susan.

Here is where it's located. You can see the Mediterranean on the left side of the screen; you can see Jerusalem sort of there in the center, just to give you a sort of orientation. You can see that Susa was on the northern side of the Persian Gulf. That's where he was in this vision. It's about 220 miles east of Babylon, 150 miles north of the Persian Gulf. It's in modern Iran. When Daniel had this vision Susa was the capitol of Elam. Thirty years later, Susa rose to great prominence when the Persians designated it as one of their royal cities and they built a magnificent city there.

Here are the ruins of Susa today. This is the palace at Susa from the south. That's a distance. You can see the grid there on the hilltop. That's the palace as it's been destroyed. Here, by the way, you can see the paving stones that were part of the inner courtyard, and there in the distance where the arrow points was the throne room. What's interesting about this is both Nehemiah and Esther were in this palace. They were in Susa according to the introductions to both of their books. In fact, this is where Esther would have made her appeal. You remember, no one went into the throne room without being invited. This is where she walked and where she entered and made her appeal, and God prospered that and rescued His people. So this is Susa.

Now, Darius I made this the administrative capitol of the empire. He came along a little later. He built this magnificent palace there. The Persian kings used it as a winter residence. And so this was a perfect place for Daniel to be in this vision as he receives a prophecy about the Medo-Persian Empire. It's also, by the way, this city is famous for another reason from your history books, because this is where archaeologists discovered the famous Code of Hammurabi in 1901. As I mentioned, Esther and Nehemiah lived in this city, and Daniel had probably visited it on business.

Now look back at Daniel 8:2: "And I looked in the vision and I myself was beside the Ulai Canal." This canal has classically been referred to as the Eulaus. Here's a picture of the dry bed that is that canal today. It flowed across the northeast corner of the city. It was about 900 feet wide and was probably an artificial canal that connected two ancient rivers that are described by those who lived in the times. As I said, today it's dry. But here's where in his vision, not physically, not in person, but in his vision Daniel was when he had this vision. That's the setting.

Now let's look at the vision's content, and that runs from verse 3 down through verse 14. The content of the vision begins with this glimpse of an animal, the ram, in verses 3 and 4. And as we'll see, the ram represents Cyrus and the empire of Medo-Persia. Look at verse 3: "Then I lifted my eyes and looked, and behold, a ram which had two horns standing in front of the canal." Now down in verse 20, if you look down there, Gabriel the angel identifies the symbolism of this ram with two horns. Notice verse 20: "The ram which you saw with the two horns represents the kings of Media and Persia." In other words it is the Medo-Persian Empire. According to one writer who wrote in the 4th century, this was appropriate that Medo-Persia be described as a ram, because "the king of Persia carried a golden head of a ram when he marched ahead of his army." Some of you have a Ram pickup. You're way behind the times. Rams usually have two horns, so this isn't unusual.

But notice, these horns were unique and symbolic. Notice verse 3 says, "Now the two horns were long, but one was longer than the other, with the longer one coming up last." So one of the horns was longer than the other, meaning more powerful, but it had not grown up with the first; instead, it came along later. There is nearly universal agreement that this symbolizes the two divisions of the Medo-Persian Empire: Media and Persia. Back in 7:5 this empire is related to a bear who is on one side, picturing that one side is stronger than the other. Same idea is here. Clearly, the symbolism here in verse 3 is that part of this empire would begin after the other part of the empire, but in the end it would become more powerful. Which is exactly what happened. Before Cyrus the Great came to power, Media was a significant power. And Persia, frankly, was a small and insignificant country. But when Cyrus gained control of Media in about 550 BC, about the same time this chapter was written, he united the nations. He made Persia the prominent one, and he established the great Medo-Persian Empire that would last for more than 200 years, from 550 to 331 BC.

Notice verse 4: "I saw the ram butting westward, northward, and southward." Under Cyrus, the empire spread west and subdued Babylon, Syria, and Asia Minor, even some successful raids against Greece. To the south, Cyrus defeated Egypt and Ethiopia. And to the north he subdued Armenia, Scythia, and the region around the Caspian Sea.

Verse 4 goes on to say, "And no other beast could stand before him nor was there anyone to rescue from his power." Medo-Persia in its day (200 years it reigned) it seemed absolutely invincible. No one could resist its attacks, and once they had conquered you, no one could free themselves once they had been subdued.

Verse 4 says, "But he did as he pleased and magnified himself." Literally, the Hebrew text says, "He did as he pleased and became great." And certainly the Medo-Persian Empire became great. If you look at just the first three colors here in the chart graphic, the orange was the Median Empire taken by Cyrus in 550 BC; the yellow, the Lydian Empire taken by Cyrus in 546 BC; and the green, the Neo-Babylon Empire taken by Cyrus in 531. Put those together, and this was a huge empire. This was the Medo-Persian empire. This is the ram. One history site says this: "At its height under Darius the Great, the Persian Empire stretched from Europe's Balkan Peninsula—in parts of what is present day Romania and Ukraine—to the Indus River Valley in the northwest India and south to Egypt." This was a huge empire in the ancient world. That's the ram.

Now next we meet the goat, verses 5 through 8. This, as we'll see, represents Alexander the Great and the empire of Greece. Verse 5: "While I was observing, behold, a male goat was coming from the west." Now, you football fans need to know that "goat" does not stand for "greatest of all time," and it's not Tom Brady. OK? Verse 21 tells us exactly what this male goat is. Notice verse 21. Gabriel explains it. He says, "The shaggy goat represents the kingdom of Greece."

Now apparently, Daniel was watching the ram. Verse 5 says, "While I was observing." He was watching this ram. He was considering what the ram meant, when suddenly this male goat appeared. And he was coming from the west; that is, from Europe. And he was charging toward the east. Notice verse 5 says, "Over the surface of the whole earth." That's a wonderful way of saying that this animal, this empire, would conquer the world of its day. Verse 5 adds "without touching the ground." The picture of this strong, male goat racing across the world without touching the ground is intended to picture the speed with which Greece conquered the Mediterranean world. It's the same picture as the leopard describing the Greek Empire back in chapter 7, the leopard with wings. Like a leopard wasn't fast enough, this leopard had wings.

Notice verse 5 goes on to say, "And the goat [that is, this Grecian Empire] had a conspicuous horn between his eyes." What's that about? Go down to verse 21. It's explained. "The large horn that is between his eyes is the first king" of the kingdom or empire of Greece. In other words, this was Alexander the Great.

Britannica tells us that Alexander the Great was born in the year 356 BC in Pella, Macedonia. He was the son of Philip II of Macedon, who had united Greece and Macedonia. Alexander had an amazing heritage and opportunity. From the age of 13 to 16, He was taught by Aristotle, who inspired him with an interest in philosophy and medicine and scientific investigation. In the year 336 BC, Philip his father was assassinated, and Alexander, with the full support of the army, succeeded him as the leader. He was only 20 years old at the time. His father had been planning to attack Persia at the time that he was assassinated. So about a year and a half after his father's death, in the year 334 BC, Alexander launched an assault on Persia. Within that same year he managed to break the dominance of the Persian Empire when he defeated them at the Battle of Granicus in Asia Minor.

That's an interesting battle, by the way, to read about. There's a lot of, sort of conflicting stories, but here's the heart of it. Alexander had 37,000 men. About 10,000 of them were cavalry. That was one of the secrets to his—it was kind of the ancient version of the tank. And he had 37,000 men. With that inferior force he attacked an army of Darius' with 50,000 men. Alexander led his men through the river, attacking Darius' army, taking them somewhat by surprise. They didn't expect it, because it wasn't the season for campaigns yet. And Alexander defeated them. Alexander and his armies killed 5,000 Persian troops, 10% of their army, but lost only 400 of his own troops.

His victories at Issus in 330 BC and Arbela in 331 completed Greek's conquest of the Medo-Persian Empire. Within three short years, Alexander and his army had conquered the entire Near East. Oh and by the way, he's now 26 years old. Britannica says,

As a general Alexander is among the greatest the world has known. He showed unusual versatility both in the combination of different arms and in adapting his tactics to the challenge of enemies who commanded novel forms of warfare. His strategy was skillful and imaginative, and he knew how to exploit the chances that arise in every battle and may be decisive for victory or defeat; he also drew the last advantage from victory by relentless pursuit. His use of cavalry was so effective that he rarely had to fall back upon his infantry to deliver the crushing blow.

This is Alexander. Alexander was the conspicuous horn on this shaggy goat.

Notice verse 6: "He came up to the ram that had the two horns [So the Greek Empire led by Alexander came up to the ram that had the two horns. So the Medo-Persian Empire], which I had seen standing in front of the canal, and rushed at him in his mighty wrath." This had been growing for generations. For many generations the Greeks had grown increasingly to hate the Persians. They were especially resentful for Persian invasions into Greece by Darius in the year 490 and his son Xerxes in the year 480. Those were rallying points, much like 911 would be for us here in America. Verse 7 powerfully, graphically portrays the revenge that Alexander exacted on the Persians. Notice what Daniel writes:

I saw him come beside the ram, and he was enraged at him; and he struck the ram and shattered his two horns [shattered his power], and the ram had no strength to withstand him. [Now watch the end of verse 7.] So he hurled him to the ground and trampled on him, and there was none to rescue the ram from his power.

This is prophesying the complete and utter devastation of the Medo-Persian Empire by the Empire of Greece.

Now, notice that in conquering the Persians, Alexander succeeded in making Greece the greatest nation in the Mediterranean world and likely on the planet at that time. His empire consisted of about 1.5 million square miles. Here is the empire of Alexander. In the color there you can see the extent of his empire. It was far reaching. It was so devastating that 1 Maccabees, writing about his conquering, says this (1 Maccabees 1:1-4):

After Alexander son of Philip, the Macedonian, who came from the land of Kittim, had defeated Darius, king of the Persians and the Medes, he succeeded him as king. (He had previously become king of Greece.) He fought many battles, conquered strongholds, and put to death the kings of the earth. He advanced to the ends of the earth, and plundered many nations. When the earth became quiet before him, he was exalted, and his heart was lifted up. He gathered a very strong army and ruled over countries and nations and princes, and they became tributary to him.

Notice Daniel 8:8: "Then the male goat magnified himself exceedingly." This is what happened to Alexander. Not only the Greek Empire, but Alexander himself. During his lifetime Alexander thought much about the Greek gods. You have to understand, in Greek mythology there was a pretty fine line between being a man and being a god. And in fact, there were men in Greek mythology who, by virtue of their success, had actually become divine. He became increasing convinced that that was, in fact, a description of him. That's how Alexander began to think of himself. Again, Britannica writes this:

Alexander had on several occasions encouraged favorable comparison of his own accomplishments with those of Dionysus or Heracles. He now seems to have become convinced of the reality of his own divinity and to have required its acceptance by others. There is no reason to assume that his demand had any political background; it was rather a symptom of growing megalomania and emotional instability.

He begins to think of himself, with his success, as having crossed the boundary between the human and the divine. And he begins to command the worship of himself.

Verse 8 says, "But as soon as he was mighty, the large horn was broken." He returned, history tells us, after one of his victories to the ancient city of Babylon. And there he contracted a severe fever. There are a lot of explanations for what killed Alexander. There are always conspiracy theories around every death of a great man. Some say he was poisoned, and some say he drank himself to death. There are a lot of issues. But what is clear is this: he contracted a severe fever. Some believe it may have been malaria, but regardless, it was that fever that killed him. The story is recounted that on his deathbed he was asked who should inherit his kingdom. And he was talking about his survivors, and he said, "The strongest one." On June 13, 323 BC, ironically, in Nebuchadnezzar's palace in Babylon, Alexander the Great died at the age of 33 years old.

Alexander's greatest contribution, I think, was probably that God used him to prepare the world for the gospel, because Alexander united the Mediterranean world with a common language, Koine Greek, that was to become the language of the New Testament.

Verse 8 says when that "horn was broken... in its place there came up four conspicuous horns toward the four winds of heaven." Alexander was survived by two sons: Alexander IV and Heracles. Shortly after his death they were murdered. A period of conflict and infighting followed, and after 40 long years Alexander's kingdom was divided into four parts ruled by four military leaders, just as Daniel prophesies here 200 years before it happened. This fourfold division essentially happened in keeping with the four directions of the compass. Now, equating this fourfold division of the Greek Empire after Alexander with the four horns of verse 8 has been the almost constant and universal interpretation of biblical scholars. The four kings who divided Alexander's kingdom were these. There's Antipater (later Cassander) who ruled Greece and Macedonia. There's Lysimachus who ruled Thrace and much of Asia Minor. And then you have the final two. And it's these final two who factor prominently in biblical history and will factor in the rest of Daniel. And the reason these two factor prominently is because they controlled, literally, the regions. And between the regions was the little land of Israel. You have Ptolemy I who ruled Egypt and Palestine, and you have Seleucus who ruled Syria, Babylon, and much of the Middle East.

Here is a map. You can see—if you look at the sort of lime green color, that is the area to the north that's ruled by Seleucus: Syria, Babylon, and much of the Middle East. And then you see the sort of pink color. That's that ruled by Ptolemy I: Egypt and Palestine. But you can see you have the great desert there of Arabia, and you have that tiny-little land bridge that is the land of Israel. And on each side of that little land bridge you have these massive kingdoms ruled by two of those who divided Alexander's kingdom: Ptolemy and Seleucus.

Now Seleucus is an important one (the lime green color there that encompasses the north), because it's out of that area that a final ruler and kingdom, a future madman, would come: the little horn of verses 9 through 14. Lord willing, we'll look at his incredible career the next time we study Daniel together.

But for just a few minutes, I want to draw out of verses 1 through 8 some important implications, some important lessons. You say, "Tom, this is just history. I mean, does this really matter? I came here to, like, be blessed spiritually. What are you doing?" Let me give you some important implications from these verses. Nothing could be more important for us in our times than what we just saw. And let me tell you why.

Number one. Because this passage reminds us (as all of Daniel does, but this passage in a unique way) that God is sovereign over history in its entirety and down to the smallest detail. In its entirety, obviously, you have the rise and fall and chronology of the world's greatest empires and the world's greatest rulers. God's in charge of all of that. But God is also in charge down to the smallest detail. You say like what? Like the name of one of these rulers.

Turn to the Book of Isaiah. Look at Isaiah 44. Now Isaiah wrote—don't miss this—Isaiah wrote about 720 years before Christ. So this is over 150 years before the events he's about to describe. Isaiah 44, look at verse 28. God says,

"It is I who says of Cyrus, 'He is My shepherd!

And he will perform all My desire.'

And He declares of Jerusalem, 'She will be built,'

And of the temple, 'Your foundation will be laid.'"

Thus says the Lord to Cyrus His anointed,

Whom I have taken by the right hand,

To subdue nations before him

… to loose the loins of kings;

To open doors before him so that [the] gates will not be shut:

"I will go before you [God says] and [I will] make the rough places smooth;

I will shatter the doors of bronze... [I will] cut through their iron bars.

I will give you the treasures of darkness

And hidden wealth of secret places,

So that you may know that it is I,

The Lord, the God of Israel, who calls you by your name.

[Why?] For the sake of Jacob My servant,

And Israel My chosen one...

[I've] given you a title of honor

Though you have not known Me.

[verse 5] I am the Lord, and there is no other;

Besides Me there is no God.

I will gird you, though you have not known me."

Now notice verses 6 and 7. Why is God doing this? Remember, this prophecy is more than 150 years, about 170 years before Cyrus shows up on the stage of history. Why was God revealing this, the name of this guy? Verse 6: "That men may know from the rising to the setting of the sun." In other words, from east to west, all over this planet.

"That men may know...

...there is no one besides Me.

I am [Yahweh], and there is no other,

[I'm the One who forms light and creates darkness],

Causing well-being and creating calamity;

I am [Yahweh] who does all these [things.]"

God says I'm not just telling you this is going to happen because I've got a crystal ball. I'm the one who does it. You need to understand that our God is sovereign over human history. And just so you get the message, 170 years before Cyrus shows up, He gives us his name. That's just one example.

There's a second important implication in this passage, and that's this: God's people are called to live faithfully in this world in the middle of change and upheaval and often through turbulent times. You realize that nearly 200 years of political upheaval and human history are captured in one verse in chapter 8? Verse 4, it's the Medo-Persian Empire. And those 200 years? Folks, those were turbulent times in the Middle East. Dale Ralph Davis writes this:

History is anything but peaceful and calm. It is marked by times of conquest and upheaval and demise. Nations seem to be both furious and fragile. And this is where the people of God have to live. This history is their address. This sort of history calls for a sober and durable discipleship. Here is Daniel in Babylon, aware that the 70 years of Israel's exile are coming closer to a close, and yet there is this vision of Persian and Greek Empires and a split off the ladder. So it becomes clear that when the years of exile have seen Israel back in the glorious land, they will have to plod through a long stretch of this troubled stuff we call history.

God wanted them to know this isn't the end. This isn't even the beginning of the end. There's a lot more in front of you. Another author says this:

The Israelites were to live out their faith in a Gentile world under circumstances that would make it more and more difficult to do so. [Boy, does that sound familiar.] They had to count on the sovereignty of God to sustain them generation by generation, crisis by crisis. They also had to trust the power of God to control the flow of world empires as they rose and fell. God's agenda is never in jeopardy. Nevertheless, the people of God were to be prepared for the long term.

And the same is true for us. You know, I hear people say, and I sometimes say, "You know, I think the Lord's return could be near." And I think it could. But we have to live like the people of Daniel's time with the awareness that we don't know, and we have to live for the long term. We have to have what—I love that one phrase Dale Ralph Davis uses: "durable discipleship." You just keep on following Christ. We're called to live faithfully in this world in the middle of change and upheaval and often through turbulent times. We're in one of those time periods. Just keep on with durable discipleship: serving God; and—I love that expression—keep trusting God's sovereignty to handle the change of world history; and keep trusting Him to provide the strength you need to face it day after day.

Number three. The world's most powerful rulers are mortal. Notice verse 4: "I saw the ram butting westward, northward, and southward, and no other [beast] could stand before him nor was there anyone to rescue from his power, but he did as he pleased and magnified himself." When you read that verse you could get the impression that the ram is impervious and invincible. Dale Ralph Davis writes, "We are shocked when we see the king of the hill become street dirt." That's exactly what happens. Notice verse 8: "As soon as [Alexander] was mighty, the large horn was broken." By the way, notice, that's a divine passive. He didn't break himself because of his drinking bouts. He was broken. It means Alexander, for all of his might and military ability, was broken by God at the pinnacle of his success because of his pride. And folks, the same is true of every earthly ruler. They are all alike under the power of God. Look at Isaiah 40:23. Here's a description of God:

He is is who reduces rulers to nothing,

[He] makes the judges of the earth [that is, the rulers of the earth] meaningless. Scarcely have they been planted,

Scarcely have they been sown,

Scarcely has their stock taken root in the earth,

But He merely blows on them, and they wither,

And the storm carries them away like stubble.

"To whom then will you liken Me

That I [should] be his equal?" says the Holy One.

Listen, all the rulers of this world, they are mortal, they are reachable, they are touchable, they are under the power of God.

Davis accounts how Anthony Read, in his book The Devil's Disciples: Hitler's Inner Circle, describes the aftermath of the Nuremberg Trials in 1946:

After those who were tried were executed, the bodies of some 14 Nazi leaders were delivered to a crematorium in Munich where their bodies were incinerated. That same night a large container holding the ashes of all 14 was driven through the rain into the Bavarian countryside. After about an hour's drive out into Bavaria, the vehicle stopped in a place that is still to this day unknown. And the ashes of those 14 Nazis were poured into a muddy ditch. A few short years before, those men were among the most powerful men in the world. Their power was absolute and seemed completely invincible. But that night a gentle rain carried them all away.

That's a parable of the power of God over all human rulers. Here today, ashes and washed away tomorrow. Don't ever forget they're mortal. However powerful they may be, they are under the thumb of God.

Number four. The world's great superpowers and most enduring empires are in reality fragile and fleeting. Do you understand, the great superpowers, the great empires of the world are not safe places to be? One that seems indestructible is suddenly shattered by another. That's the lesson of history, and that's the lesson of Daniel 8. Here today, gone tomorrow. Don't put your confidence in men and their princes or their horses or their weapons—including our own.

Number five. Only one King, Jesus our Lord, and only one kingdom, the kingdom of God, endures forever. Don't ever forget it. You are part of what the writer of Hebrews calls an unshakable kingdom. Every other kingdom is shakable. Look at Daniel 2 just to remind you. We've seen this before, but I love this expression. Daniel 2:44: "In the days of those kings [the empires of our world, specifically the ones described at the end of time] the God of Heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever." Go over to 7:12:

"As for the rest of the beasts [that is, all the empires of this world], their dominion was taken away…

[verse 13] "I kept looking in the night visions,

And behold, with the clouds of heaven

One like a Son of Man was coming,

[This is our Lord Jesus Christ. He claimed that He was the fulfillment of this passage.]

"...He came up to the Ancient of Days [God the Father]

And was presented before Him.

And to Him [to Jesus our Lord] was given dominion,

Glory and a kingdom,

That all the peoples, nations and men of every language

Might serve Him.

[And] His dominion is an everlasting dominion

Which will not pass away;

And His kingdom is one

Which will not be destroyed."

Listen folks, don't put your hope anywhere but there. There's only one unshakable kingdom. And there's only one Righteous Ruler, and He's not to be found right now on this planet. Only one King and only one kingdom endures forever. Make sure that you are part of His kingdom. How do you become part of that kingdom? He said Himself, you can enter My kingdom if you will repent and believe the gospel. That can be true even tonight. Let's pray together.

Father, You are amazing, and we are amazed. Thank You, O God, that You are sovereign over all things. Thank You that the two-bit rulers of our day, the powerful, that they are mortal, that they are absolutely reachable by You, and that someday You will destroy them all and establish the kingdom of Your Son. Father, help us to live in hope and anticipation of that day. Help us to practice in the mean time, as history ebbs and flows, as things change, as there's turbulence, as there's all of the chaos and upheaval that is a part of human history, Father, help us to see that You sit above the storm. And You control it to accomplish Your eternal plan. O God, help us to trust in You. And Father, if there's someone here tonight who is not part of the spiritual kingdom of our Lord that exists now, Lord, help them to see they'll never be part of the future kingdom that's coming. And may they even tonight repent and believe in His life, death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins. We pray in Jesus' name, amen.


The King of Beasts - Part 3

Tom Pennington Daniel 7:1-28

The Ram, the Goat, and the Little Horn - Part 1

Tom Pennington Daniel 8

The Ram, the Goat, and the Little Horn - Part 2

Tom Pennington Daniel 8

More from this Series



An Introduction to Daniel

Tom Pennington Selected Scriptures

First Lessons in Sovereignty

Tom Pennington Daniel 1

God's Plan for Human History - Part 1

Tom Pennington Daniel 2

God's Plan for Human History - Part 2

Tom Pennington Daniel 2

God's Plan for Human History - Part 3

Tom Pennington Daniel 2

Through the Fire - Part 1

Tom Pennington Daniel 3

Through the Fire - Part 2

Tom Pennington Daniel 3

Through the Fire - Part 3

Tom Pennington Daniel 3

Heaven Rules - Part 1

Tom Pennington Daniel 4

Heaven Rules - Part 2

Tom Pennington Daniel 4

When Empires Fall - Part 1

Tom Pennington Daniel 5

When Empires Fall - Part 2

Tom Pennington Daniel 5

In the Lions' Den - Part 1

Tom Pennington Daniel 6

In the Lions' Den - Part 2

Tom Pennington Daniel 6

The King of Beasts - Part 1

Tom Pennington Daniel 7

The King of Beasts - Part 2

Tom Pennington Daniel 7

The King of Beasts - Part 3

Tom Pennington Daniel 7:1-28

The Ram, the Goat, and the Little Horn - Part 1

Tom Pennington Daniel 8

The Ram, the Goat, and the Little Horn - Part 2

Tom Pennington Daniel 8

The Ram, the Goat, and the Little Horn - Part 3

Tom Pennington Daniel 8

Seventy Years & Seventy Weeks - Part 1

Tom Pennington Daniel 9

Seventy Years & Seventy Weeks - Part 2

Tom Pennington Daniel 9

Seventy Years & Seventy Weeks - Part 3

Tom Pennington Daniel 9

Seventy Years & Seventy Weeks - Part 4

Tom Pennington Daniel 9

The Spiritual War Behind World History - Part 1

Tom Pennington Daniel 10

The Spiritual War Behind World History - Part 2

Tom Pennington Daniel 10

Wars, Rumors of Wars & the Last War - Part 1

Tom Pennington Daniel 11

Wars, Rumors of Wars & the Last War - Part 2

Tom Pennington Daniel 11

Wars, Rumors of Wars & the Last War - Part 3

Tom Pennington Daniel 11

The End of Time - Part 1

Tom Pennington Daniel 12:1-13

The End of Time - Part 2

Tom Pennington Daniel 12:1-13

The Book of Daniel

Tom Pennington Daniel 1-12