An Amazing Prophecy in the Book of Daniel
Infidelity does not admit to the reality of Bible prophecy. Since prophecy is one of the strongest evidences for the inspiration of the Scriptures, it is no surprise that it should be repudiated by those who have a biased interest in discrediting the word of God.
There is a fascinating account of prophecy in the Old Testament that is worthy of serious investigation. In this study we will briefly survey the series of predictions chronicled in Daniel 8:1-14. Will it pass the test of being classified as genuine “prophecy”? We are confident the question can be answered in the affirmative.
The Prophecy Detailed
In the third year of the Babylonian king Belshazzar, Daniel, a Hebrew prophet in captivity, received a remarkable vision from God. As he stood by the river Ulai in the province of Elam, he saw a ram with two horns, one of which was higher than the other. The higher came up last – which suggests it was younger. The ram pushed to the west, north and south, and no one was able to resist him because he magnified himself and did as he pleased.
Suddenly, from the west there came a he-goat with a prominent horn between his eyes. He was moving very rapidly and his conquests seemed well nigh universal. The he-goat charged the two-horned ram and vanquished him; the ram’s horns were destroyed. Subsequently, the he-goat grew in power. At the very height of his prominence, the horn between his eyes was broken, and in its place there grew up four other horns.
Out of one of these horns there eventually grew a little horn which became great in power. This fierce force cast down rival dignitaries and trampled them. It assaulted the Hebrew religious system, causing sacrifices to cease and the temple to be violated. Inquiry was then made as to how long this persecution would last; the response was – for 2,300 evenings and mornings. Then would the sanctuary be cleansed.
We do not have to speculate as to th meaning of the vision. It is explicitly declared that the two-horned ram signified the kingdoms of the Medes and the Persians. The rough he-goat was the conquering Greek empire, and the prominent horn between the goat’s eyes represented Alexander the Great (8:20-21).
The “little horn” that later arose was a “king of fierce countenance” who would bitterly persecute the Jews. But there was hope. This vicious “little horn” would be broken eventually – though not by human power. A divine judgment is predicted!
History has dramatically revealed the fulfillment of these sacred predictions.
The Historical Background
It is very important to notice the date when this prophecy was given. As stated earlier, it was revealed to Daniel in the 3rd year of Belshazzar’s reign. According to the Nabonidus Chronicle, a clay cylinder detailing certain events in the king’s administration, Belshazzar was “entrusted the army and the kingship” in about 556 B.C.
This is a crucial point. When this prophecy was revealed, no one in the antique world even dreamed that within two decades the mighty Babylonian empire would fall, much less that Persia and Greece would later emerge as world-dominating influences. It was not a matter that was predictable from the natural human vantage point.
The Actual Facts of History
But consider the historical facts that accord with Daniel’s vision.
First, the Medo-Persian empire was a dual power. However, even though Media was the older of the two, Persia exerted far more military authority than did the former (cf. 8:3). According to the ancient historians, Herodotus and Xenophon, Cyrus, the Persian monarch (along with his son, Cambyses), pushed conquests westward to the Aegean Sea, northward into Cappadocia and Armenia, and southward to Egypt. This is precisely what Daniel had declared would happen (cf. 8:4). The Persian empire eventually was extended from Ethiopia to India, controlling 127 provinces (see Esth. 1:1).
Second, from the west (in relation to Persia) came the rough he-goat with his prominent horn. The goat was the kingdom of Greece and the horn represented the “first king over Greece” (1 Maccabees 1:1), Alexander the Great. [Note: The Maccabean literature (of the Apocryphal books), while not inspired of God, is, nevertheless, a valuable source of historical information.]
The conquests of the he-goat were so swift that his feet appeared to not even touch the ground as he devoured “the whole earth” (8:5). It is a matter of historical record that Alexander swept through Asia Minor, Syria, Egypt, Mesopotamia, and all the way to India in only twelve years. With an army of only 30,000, he defeated Darius III who had 500,000 soldiers. Richards Topical Encyclopedia says regarding Alexander: “His success was so extraordinary and his power so mighty that to many he must have seemed divinely inspired” (Vol. 5, p. 180, emp. added). His subjugation of the entire known world was the most thorough and the most rapid humanity had ever witnessed.
Third, Daniel had announced that when the he-goat was strong, i.e., at the zenith of his power, the horn would be broken. In its place four horns would arise. What are the historical facts?
Alexander’s influence did not gradually wane, as in the case of most political leaders; rather, he died of a fever in Babylon at the age of 33, having conquered the world, but having been unable to conquer his own lusts. After the monarch’s death, confusion reigned for a while. Within two decades, however, the Greek kingdom was divided into four segments, under military commanders who assumed the title “kings.” Cassander controlled Macedonia, Ptolemy was over Egypt, Lysimachus dominated Asia Minor, and Seleucus ruled Syria. These circumstances are recorded by the historians Diodorus and Plutarch, and they are indisputable.
Fourth, Daniel revealed that from one of the four horns, there would arise a “little horn,” who would be a vicious persecutor. This monster would exercise his diabolical power to the east, south, and toward the “glorious land” (8:9). The “glorious land” is a reference to Palestine. He would cause the sacrifices to cease and the sanctuary (the temple) would be defiled. Moreover, this enemy would vigorously attempt to destroy “the holy people” (8:11,24). Again, history has corroborated the biblical narrative in an amazing fashion.
Antiochus Epiphanes (175-164 B.C.) was a ruler out of the Seleucidae line. He first invaded Egypt to the south, he then proceeded toward Persia in the east, and finally he ravaged Canaan in between them (cf. 1 Maccabees 1:17ff; 3:31ff).
He plundered the Jewish temple and set up a statue of Zeus in the Holy of Holies. He tore down the walls of Jerusalem and confiscated all copies of the Scriptures he could find. He forbade circumcision, and offered swine as sacrifices in the temple (a great insult to the Jews). Anyone consenting to the law of Moses was under the sentence of death. Forty thousand Jews were slain in Jerusalem and numerous others were sold as slaves.
Fifth, Daniel’s vision revealed that the desolation wrought by this Jewish persecutor, along with the desecration of the holy sanctuary, would last for “2,300 evenings and mornings.” Afterward, the sanctuary would be re-consecrated (8:14).
As a result of the bloody era of Antiochus, the Hebrew people were at an all-time low. Finally, though, the men of Israel revolted. In 167 B.C., an aged Jew named Mattathias Maccabaeus, along with his five sons, declared open war against Antiochus. The “Maccabean Rebellion” continued until Jerusalem was purged of paganism and the temple was repaired. On December 25, 165 B.C., the Hebrew temple was formally rededicated. Thereafter, an annual eight-day celebration, known as the Feast of Dedication, was observed by the Jews (see the reference in John 10:22f).
The Chronology – Starting and Ending Points
The 2,300 “evenings and mornings” have been interpreted in various ways, but the most sensible explanation is that they refer to literal days (cf. Gen. 1:5ff). If one begins at December 25, 165 B.C., and calculates backwards for 2,300 days, he arrives at the date of August 5, 171 B.C. (Albert Barnes, Daniel, p. 350). While it is true that ancient records do not contain any historical information that pinpoints a definite event on the 5th day of August in 171 B.C. (the history of this period is quite sketchy), we do know that, at some point in that very year, a series of aggressions were launched against the Jews by Antiochus Epiphanes that were concluded only by the tyrant’s untimely death.
From 175 B.C., until 171, Antiochus had treated the Hebrews in a cordial fashion. In that year, however, sacred vessels were plundered from the temple, which act of desecration ignited a rebellion that subsequently brought the wrath of Antiochus down upon the Jewish people. These events are detailed in Humphrey Prideaux’s work, Connections (Oxford: Clarendon, 1820, Vol. III, pp. 215-226). The prophetic chronology of the biblical account is, therefore, quite consistent with the history as we know it.
Finally, Daniel had announced that this enemy of the Lord’s people would “be broken without hand” (8:25). The expression “without hand” suggests that the death of Antiochus would be an act of God (cf. similar phraseology in 2:34,44-45).
The record of Antiochus’ death is detailed in both Jewish and pagan sources. When this ruler was returning from Persia, he heard of the defeats of his armies in Palestine by the Maccabeans. Hastening toward Canaan, he vowed destruction for all Jews. En route however, he was seized with severe internal pains. In addition, he suffered a violent fall from his chariot, which aggravated his already desperate condition. And so he was forced to halt his journey. His body broke out with ulcers, the stench of which was said to be intolerable. He became delirious. Finally rotting away, he died a miserable death – rather reminiscent of that of Herod Agrippa (Acts 12:23), who also expired by divine edict. Documentation for these matters is found in Thomas Newton’s volume, Dissertations on the Prophecies (London: Blake, 1830, pp. 287-288).
In these prophecies of Daniel 8, there are, of course, many additional details that we have not dealt with in this discussion. We have merely surveyed some of the highlights. These, however, are entirely sufficient to establish the case for the divine inspiration of Daniel’s record. The facts are incredible.
The Critics’ Response
It goes without saying, of course, that the critics of the Bible would reject the evidence of Daniel’s prophecies. Skeptics begin with the initial assumption that no such thing as divinely inspired “prophecy” exists; therefore, Daniel, in the 6th century B.C., simply could not have foretold the details that are a part of his book.
Thus Porphyry, a 3rd century AD. philosopher, argued that the book of Daniel was written by some unknown scribe who lived in Judea during the time of Antiochus Epiphanes. He insisted that the events depicted in Daniel’s narrative correspond precisely with the facts of history up to the time of Antiochus, that the record must have been history, not prophecy. If it thus can be established that the book of Daniel actually dates significantly before the mid-second century B.C., Porphyry’s concession of the document’s accuracy becomes a powerful argument for the divine nature of the book of Daniel!
Dating the Book of Daniel
Consider the following facts relative to the prophet Daniel, and the book that bears his name.
(1) The internal testimony of the book is that it was authored by Daniel (7:2ff; 8:1ff; 9:2ff; 12:4,9). That affirmation should not be rejected unless there is compelling evidence to do so.
2) As an historical person, Daniel is mentioned in the book of Ezekiel (14:14,20), and those brief descriptions are consistent with the data in the book of Daniel (28:3).
(3) The ancient Jews believed that no books were added to the Old Testament after the time of the Persian ruler Artaxerxes (464-424 B.C.) (Josephus, Against Apion 1.8). They always accepted the book of Daniel as a part of the Scriptures. Hence they did not believe it was composed in the time of Antiochus, during the “Interbiblical” period. Other books, which were written during the Interbiblical age, were rejected from the divine canon. Why not Daniel as well – if it came from the same era?
(4) Material from Daniel is alluded to and considered as genuine history, in the Apocrypha (cf. 1 Maccabees 2:59-60).
(5) Christ referred to the prophecy regarding the destruction of Jerusalem (Dan 9:27), and he declared that it “was spoken through the prophet Daniel” (Mt. 24:15). If the book of Daniel was a fraudulent production, Christ was either ignorant of the matter, or dishonest about the prophecy’s authorship. In either case, if he misstated the matter regarding Daniel, his claim of being the Son of God would be nullified.
(6) The testimony of Josephus is decidedly against the late date for Daniel. First, he mentions that Daniel’s prophecies regarding Alexander the Great were shown to the Greek general as he came toward Jerusalem in the 4th century B.C., and that the illustrious commander was so impressed that he spared the holy city (Antiquities Xl,VIII,3-5). Further, the Jewish historian states that the Hebrew nation suffered many things at the hand of Antiochus Epiphanes, which, he affirms, were “according to Daniel’s vision and what he wrote many years before they came to pass” (Antiquities X.Xl.7 – emp. added). He not only affirms the accuracy of Daniel’s testimony, but also adds his weight to the chronological antiquity of the document. This is powerful evidence.
(7) The precision of the details within the book relative to the city of Babylon argues that the writer was an eye-witness of that ancient culture, and not a citizen of Judea some three and a half centuries later. It is an indisputable fact that the farther an author is removed, both in time and in distance from the subject of his narration, the more indefinite he becomes with respect to societal classes, sects, customs, etc. The book of Daniel, however, is very specific with reference to matters pertaining to Babylon.
(a) Daniel is very detailed in his use of terms which describe Magi castes (cf. 2:4,27). Archaeological evidence has confirmed the accuracy of this.
(b) The prophet describes the practice of Belshazzar’s wives and concubines eating with the men on festive occasions (5:1-4). This was the custom in ancient Babylon and Persia (Herodotus, History, V.18), but not in the period of the Greeks.
(c) Daniel refers to the law of the Medes and Persians (note that Medes are listed first, then the Persians; 5:28; 6:8,12,15); in later history, due to Persia’ ascendancy, it becomes “the Persians and Medes” (cf. Esth. 1:19).
(d) Daniel locates the city of Shushan in the province of Elam (8:2), whereas later, due to boundary relocations, Shushan was in the province of Susiana. This argues for an early age of the book.
Hostile Witness Testifies on Behalf of Daniel
The accuracy of Daniel is so impressive that even some infidels have not been able to escape the force of it. In his infamous tirade against the Bible, titled The Age of Reason, Thomas Paine raised the question about the authorship of both Ezekiel and Daniel. He posed the query: “Are they genuine? that is were they written by Ezekiel and Daniel?. . . I am more inclined to believe that they were than that they were not. . .the manner in which the books ascribed to Ezekiel and Daniel are written agrees with the condition these men were in at the time of writing them” (Secaucus, NJ: Citadel Press, 1974, Reprint, p. 150).
What a curious twist of events. Porphyry concedes the agreement of the book with actual history; Paine acknowledges that Daniel authored the book! One is reminded of Eliphaz’s quip: “He [God] takes the wise in their own craftiness” (Job 5:13).
Portions of the Daniel manuscript from the Dead Sea scrolls reveal, upon the basis of paleographic evidence (i.e., writing style), that the original document was composed several hundred years prior to the 2nd century B.C. (cf. Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, I, 1988, p. 573).
Finally, there is this telling point. By the time of the Greek writer Herodotus (5th century B.C.), the name “Belshazzar” (5:1) had disappeared from the historical records, and it was not discovered again until the Nabonidus Chronicle was published in 1882. This is very strong evidence that the book of Daniel was written prior to the 5th century before Christ.
The prophetical details set forth in Daniel are astounding. If we may paraphrase Newton (in his discussion of the period from Alexander’s death to the reign of Antiochus), there is no historical record so complete, and none so concise and comprehensive, as that given by Daniel. No single writer has related so many circumstances, in such exact order of time, as Daniel foretold them. He, even in prophecy, is more perfect than any single historical account – Greek, Roman or Jewish!
The book of Daniel stands as powerful evidence for the genuineness of Bible prophecy. It thus is a convincing demonstration of the divine origin of the Scriptures.
The Bible contains two kinds of information – that which is checkable and that which is not. If the Scriptures prove accurate – infallibly so – in matters that can be examined and verified, it stands to reason that it may be trusted in areas that are not empirically verifiable (e.g., the promise of forgiveness of sins, and the hope of eternal life). This is a common-sense approach. Let us, therefore, embrace the Book with joy, submitting to those requirements that are made of us in this age, and embracing the promises pledged by its holy Author.