The vision in Daniel 8 has intrigued Bible students for centuries. Much has been written on the identity of the little horn and the meaning of the 2300 evening-mornings. While these issues are certainly important, I want to briefly draw attention to an aspect that to my knowledge has not been commented on much, namely how the chapter brings out the contrast between animals and humans and why this is significant.
I begin with the observation that the chapter can be roughly divided into two main parts:
- The vision of the ram, the goat and the little horn (vv 1-14)
- The interpretation of the vision (vv 15-28)
Interestingly, both parts open with a scene where Daniel is at the river Ulai (vv 2, 15-16). The first part of the chapter then continues by describing two animals: a ram and a goat. Both of these animals fight against other animals and remain victorious. In fact, they are so powerful that no animal is able to stand before them and no one was able to save the other animals from their hand (vv 4, 7).
Compare this to the scene that is described in vv 15-18. The protagonists here are not animals but creatures that are described in human terms (vv 15, 16, 17). Nevertheless, this section contains at a number of terminological connections to vv 3-7. First, the keyword “stand” occurs several times in both parts (vv 3, 4, 6, 7, 15, 17, 18). Also, the information that “he” came to the side of Daniel (v 17) reminds the attentive reader of v 7 where the goat came to the side of the ram. Thus both scenes feature two parties that come in close contact with each other (scene 1: the ram and other animals as well as the ram and the goat; scene 2: Daniel and “he”). In both cases one party is more powerful than the other resulting in the weaker party being unable to stand before stronger (vv 4, 7, 17). In the first scene both the ram and goat use this advantage to destroy their opponents and subsequently become great. In the second scene, however, “he” raises Daniel up and causes him to stand (v 18). In the first scene touching (v 7) leads to destruction, in the second scene touching (v 18; same Hebrew word) leads to restoration.
The significance of this becomes clear once we realize that the two scenes feature two different kinds of kingdoms. As always in the book of Daniel, the animals in the first scene represent earthly kingdoms (vv 20-21) where power is used to destroy and to become great. It is thus not surprising that none of these kingdoms last, since violence and destruction only leads to more violence and destruction. The “humans,” on the other hand, represent the kingdom of God and his followers (compare chapter 7!) where power is used to lift others up and restore them. This kingdom will not pass away but will remain forever.