Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Ram Down By the River (Daniel 8)

The other night I was sitting across the table from an old friend. An old friend who just happened to have finished his dissertation on the latter part of Ezekiel. I thought that this was a good opportunity to pick his brain. I had just been reading through the book of Ezekiel in my own personal Bible reading and had a few questions. So, I winged a few his way. I forgot momentarily that this was a man who had spent years with this passage reading everything that had ever been written on the subject. As he dived into his answer, I found myself drowning in new information. My original question was answered very well, but his treatise brought many more questions to mind. In other words, his explanation created more questions in my brain than answers.

When we are dealing with prophecy, often we have a corresponding fulfillment either later on in the text or in history itself. These fulfillments when compared to the original prophecy answer many questions, but they also raise just as many. I want us to take a look at Daniel 8, an apocalyptic prophecy about events fulfilled in the intertestamental period, and we will see that the fulfillment and prophecy when compared raise many questions, in spite of the fact that we also have an angelic interpretation of the prophecy in the chapter as well. (For a detailed look at this passage and others like it cf. Sandy, D. Brent, Plowshares and Pruning Hooks, (Downer's Grove, IL: IVP, 2002), pp. 112-116).

Prophecy #1 (Dan. 8:3-7) The ram with two long horns

We meet in these verses a ram down by the river (No, I didn't say "a van down by the river"). He has two horns and one of them is longer than the other. While Daniel is watching, the shorter horn grows to be longer than the long one. This ram charged out to the west, the north, and the south, and no one could stop it or help its victims. The ram was so powerful it could do as it pleased.

The Angelic Interpretation of Prophecy #1 (Dan. 8:20)

Gabriel gives us one clue about the ram, his identity. The ram represents the kings of Media and Persia.

The fulfillment of Prophecy #1

The interpretation tells us that the ram is the KINGS of Media and Perisa, however, Persia only had one king at the time the Greeks conquer it. Is this a problem? Also, when Daniel wrote the kingdoms of Media and Persia were in partnership like Daniel describes, but by the time Greece comes along Media has been swallowed up by the Persian empire. In other words, there is only one horn on the ram left, though there are still two when the goat defeats the ram in the vision. If we were interpreting this passage in the time of Daniel, wouldn't we assume that the kingdom of Media-Persia had two kings at the time of its defeat, since the ram had two horns and the angel tells us they represent the KINGS of Media and Persia?

We are also told that the ram was very powerful and butted its way out to the west, north, and south. In Esther 1:1 we are told that Perisa extended itself east as well, all the way to modern day India. Is this a difficulty? Why doesn't Daniel forsee in his vision the butting out to the east? If we were just reading Daniel's prophecy and interpretation without the historical fulfillment, we might think that the Persian empire wouldn't extend itself into the east in the future, but we would be wrong.

Finally, we are told that no one could stand against the Persian empire, however, in 490 BCE and in 480 BCE the Greeks successfully resist the Persians. Is this a difficulty? I believe it highlights the fact that Daniel was focusing on the power of the Persian empire and was using hyperbole, overstatement, or exaggeration to get this point across. If this is true, how much unfulfilled prophecy might contain overstatement or hyperbole? It is a frightening question to ask, because we don't know. We will look at some more of this passage next week. What do you think? Do you see this as having bearing on our interpretation of similar visions in Revelation or not?

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