Chapter eight is dated “in the third year of King Belshazzar’s reign,” placing it two years after chapter seven but still between chapters four and five. Daniel noted that it was “after the one that had appeared to me previously” (Daniel 8:1). It is significant that Daniel returned to writing in Hebrew beginning with this chapter. Even though the rest of the book still deals with world empires, the context is in their relation to the Jewish people, which was not the emphasis in chapters two through seven, which were written in Aramaic. Whereas chapter seven gave a broad perspective on world rulers through the Messianic Kingdom, chapter eight focuses on just two of them – Persia and Greece.
In his dream Daniel saw himself, not in Babylon (in modern Iraq), but about 200 miles from Babylon in Susa (in modern Iran), the capital of the Persian Empire. The ram with two horns was Persia, which spread its empire three directions from Iran (Daniel 8:3-4, 20). This corresponds to the statue’s silver arms (Daniel 2:32) and the bear with a raised paw and three ribs (directions) in its mouth (Daniel 7:5).
The male goat that defeated the ram was Greece (Daniel 8:5-8, 21-22). The initial horn represented Alexander the Great, who died young and whose kingdom was divided by his four generals. This corresponds to the torso and thighs of bronze (Daniel 2:32) and the leopard with wings and four heads (Daniel 7:6). The little horn of Greece should not be confused with the little horn of Rome from chapter seven (the future Antichrist), although there are some similarities.
This little horn was Antiochus IV, who was exceptionally brutal to the Jewish people, murdering tens of thousands of them at a time. In an act of arrogant blasphemy and defiance, Antiochus erected a statue of Zeus in the Temple in Jerusalem and sacrificed pigs on the altar there in 167 B.C., more than 380 years after Daniel saw this vision. (He also took the title Theos Epiphanes meaning “God Revealed,” so he is often called Antiochus Epiphanes.) By desecrating the Temple and altar, he caused the daily sacrifices to cease and trampled the holy sanctuary and the Jewish people (the “stars”; Daniel 8:10-14, 23-25).
There are two more parts that affect our understanding of this chapter. First, although the Jews came to view Antiochus’ violation of the Temple the “abomination of desolation” that Daniel prophesied in Daniel 9:27, Jesus said that was still future at the hand of the coming Antichrist (Matthew 24:15). This is one of several similarities between Antiochus and Antichrist.
Second, Daniel was told that “the sanctuary will be put right again” in 2,300 evenings and mornings (Daniel 8:14). Although this seems like it should be easy to understand, that has not been the case for at least three reasons. (1) No further clarification is given in this passage. (2) This number has no match anywhere else in Scripture. (3) There is nothing in Jewish history that easily fits this timeframe without forcing it. Although several interpretations have been suggested by various theologians and religious groups, it is best to say that we cannot be sure.