The Lifespan of Evil – Daniel 8:1-27
Take a moment to pray. Ask God to speak to you through his word—for his Spirit to convict you of sin, teach you the truth, and lead you in walking by faith.
Setting the Scene
How long will evil last? When we look around the world, we must concede that evil is alive and well. The church is persecuted. The weak are abused and taken advantage of. Theft and murder are rampant. Justice is often thwarted. Wicked regimes commit genocide. Even in our own families we see the evidence of evil.
When the headlines are dragging us down, we may rightly ask the Lord, how long? For how long must we endure? When will it end? Daniel’s second vision addresses this very question. At the time God gave Daniel this vision (the mid 6th century BC), Israel was still in exile in Persia. In fact, that exile was roughly 4 decades and 2 empires old.
The continued existence of evil, especially seen in persecution of God’s people, might cause some to refuse to trust God. Why doesn’t God intervene? What about his promises? Israel needed a reminder that God is sovereign over evil.
So God sent Daniel a second vision. This vision was a prophecy of the geo-political circumstances Israel would face about 400 years in the future. He showed Daniel another time when Israel would suffer, specifically during the reign of Seleucid king Antiochus IV. As he does so, he gave Israel, and us, an important message about the lifespan of evil.
Dan. 8:1 In the third year of King Belshazzar’s reign, a vision appeared to me, Daniel, after the one that had appeared to me earlier. 2 I saw the vision, and as I watched, I was in the fortress city of Susa, in the province of Elam. I saw in the vision that I was beside the Ulai Canal. 3 I looked up, and there was a ram standing beside the canal. He had two horns. The two horns were long, but one was longer than the other, and the longer one came up last. 4 I saw the ram charging to the west, the north, and the south. No animal could stand against him, and there was no rescue from his power. He did whatever he wanted and became great.
God sent Daniel this vision in 551 or 550 BC in Susa, a royal city that would later become the administrative headquarters of Persia. It was during 550 BC that Cyrus severed his alliance with the Medes and formed the Medo-Persian kingdom. This regime change would have unsettled the Israelites in exile. What did this mean for them? What was God doing?
The Ram in the vision represents that kingdom. The two horns are probably a reference to the Medes and Persians, whose two people groups made up the kingdom. That kingdom was the new regime at the time Daniel received this vision, and as the vision describes, it was powerful.
Dan. 8:5 As I was observing, a male goat appeared, coming from the west across the surface of the entire earth without touching the ground. The goat had a conspicuous horn between his eyes. 6 He came toward the two-horned ram I had seen standing beside the canal and rushed at him with savage fury. 7 I saw him approaching the ram, and infuriated with him, he struck the ram, breaking his two horns, and the ram was not strong enough to stand against him. The goat threw him to the ground and trampled him, and there was no one to rescue the ram from his power. 8 Then the male goat acted even more arrogantly, but when he became powerful, the large horn was broken. Four conspicuous horns came up in its place, pointing toward the four winds of heaven.
The goat here stands for the Greek empire under Alexander the Great that defeated Persia in 334 BC. He was even more arrogant than the Persian kings, but he would be replaced as well. The four generals under Alexander replaced him, eventually resulting in a split kingdom.
Dan. 8:9 From one of them a little horn emerged and grew extensively toward the south and the east and toward the beautiful land. 10 It grew as high as the heavenly army, made some of the army and some of the stars fall to the earth, and trampled them. 11 It acted arrogantly even against the Prince of the heavenly army; it revoked his regular sacrifice and overthrew the place of his sanctuary. 12 In the rebellion, the army was given up, together with the regular sacrifice. The horn threw truth to the ground and was successful in what it did.
The “beautiful land” is Israel. This little horn of the goat had a particular interest in Israel. This would be Antiochus Epiphanes IV, the Seleucid king who claimed to be god. He asserted himself over Israel, and he desecrated the temple of God in Jerusalem.
This vision describes in general terms the arrogance and sinful pride of Antiochus IV. His reign was an abomination, and truly would be a low point in Israel’s history. The question here is why does God tell Israel this almost 400 years in advance? Daniel’s angelic vision guide had an answer.
Dan. 8:13 Then I heard a holy one speaking, and another holy one said to the speaker, “How long will the events of this vision last—the regular sacrifice, the rebellion that makes desolate, and the giving over of the sanctuary and of the army to be trampled?” 14 He said to me, “For 2,300 evenings and mornings; then the sanctuary will be restored.”
The question presupposes that God is sovereign over this ruler, and that the duration of his reign and blasphemy are set by God. Therefore, faith in God is still warranted. As verses 23-26 make clear below, this blasphemous ruler is the focus of the vision.
The time of 2,300 evenings and mornings is probably a reference to the evening and morning sacrifice, which means 1150 days or just over 3 years. History confirms that this timing is accurate. The time from Antiochus IV Epiphanes desecrated the temple in 167 until Judas Maccabeus rededicated the temple in 164 was just over 3 yrs.
The overall point is that even though the temple will be desecrated, that’s not the end of the story. The sanctuary will be restored.
Dan. 8:15 While I, Daniel, was watching the vision and trying to understand it, there stood before me someone who appeared to be a man. 16 I heard a human voice calling from the middle of the Ulai: “Gabriel, explain the vision to this man.” 17 So he approached where I was standing; when he came near, I was terrified and fell facedown. “Son of man,” he said to me, “understand that the vision refers to the time of the end.” 18 While he was speaking to me, I fell into a deep sleep, with my face to the ground. Then he touched me, made me stand up, 19 and said, “I am here to tell you what will happen at the conclusion of the time of wrath, because it refers to the appointed time of the end. 20 The two-horned ram that you saw represents the kings of Media and Persia. 21 The shaggy goat represents the king of Greece, and the large horn between his eyes represents the first king. 22 The four horns that took the place of the broken horn represent four kingdoms. They will rise from that nation, but without its power.
The angel Gabriel thus explains the vision to Daniel. Note that the end is an appointed time. The angel can reveal it to Daniel because God is sovereign over it.
23 Near the end of their kingdoms, when the rebels have reached the full measure of their sin, a ruthless king, skilled in intrigue, will come to the throne.
24 His power will be great, but it will not be his own. He will cause outrageous destruction and succeed in whatever he does. He will destroy the powerful along with the holy people.
25 He will cause deceit to prosper through his cunning and by his influence, and in his own mind he will exalt himself. He will destroy many in a time of peace; he will even stand against the Prince of princes. Yet he will be broken—not by human hands.
26 The vision of the evenings and the mornings that has been told is true. Now you are to seal up the vision because it refers to many days in the future.”
Antiochus IV is the rebellious king. He is the one who will cause deceit to prosper. He certainly exalted himself by the self-claimed title Epiphanes, which means “god-manifest.” He did stand against God, and yet even his bold blasphemy would be defeated. He was killed by divine intervention (an unknown cause to this day) rather than in battle or by assassination.
Gabriel tells Daniel that he should seal up the vision because it is still far off, and it needs to be kept for that time. Even so, the message for Daniel’s generation is clear- the blasphemy and persecution of Antiochus IV will not last. God is still sovereign over their circumstances.
Dan. 8:27 I, Daniel, was overcome and lay sick for days. Then I got up and went about the king’s business. I was greatly disturbed by the vision and could not understand it.
Daniel is disturbed by what he has seen. It will be a very dark time for Israel, and just imagining it bothered Daniel.
The Big Picture
The promise of this vision is that God has set a limit on evil’s lifespan. Although evil exists, the clear and consistent message of the Bible is that God is sovereign over it.
As one example, consider Joseph from then book of Genesis. In Gen. 50:20 Joseph tells his brothers, “you meant it for evil, God meant it for good.” This statement presupposes that his brothers selling him into slavery was evil, but God sovereignly used their evil choices for good.
The truth that God is sovereign over evil is most clearly expressed when we consider the cross of Jesus Christ. In Acts 2:23 Peter tells a crowd of Jews that Jesus was “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.” Even so, those complicit in his death weren’t off of the hook. He goes on to tell the crowd, “you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.”
Jesus not only paid for sin on the cross, but in the end he will return and defeat the armies of Satan. He will judge all evil. Those not safe in him will suffer their rightful judgment by the perfect judge. Evil is not outside of God’s control, and evil’s days are numbered.
Taking It Home
In times such as those described in this vision, believers are tempted to despair. We wrestle with doubt. Where are you God? Why don’t you intervene? Why don’t you act?
When we are struggling, Satan will try to deceive us with specific lies. He will whisper to us that evil is all powerful: “none could rescue from his power” (8:4, 7). He will suggest that God is absent. He will try to discourage us with the thought that evil will never end- “For how long?”
But these are lies. The Ram is powerful, the Goat even more so, but God is sovereign over them all. So in the meantime, put your faith in him.
You will need this truth. One day in the future you or someone you know will suffer for their faith. They might even die for their faith. Persecution will never gradually fade away. It will increase. On that day, more than any other day, we need to know this fundamental truth: evil’s lifespan is limited. God is not only still there, he is working over and above the evil. How can we be sure?
When that person speaks hatefully about you because of your faith, remember that evil’s lifespan is limited. When laws are passed intended to keep Christianity out of schools, remember that evil’s lifespan is limited. When you hear of Xians imprisoned or executed, remember that evil’s lifespan is limited.
- Pray for God to show his mercy to Christians suffering across the world. Pray for those under persecution to trust him, and to be faithful witnesses in the midst of the darkness.
- Thank God that no evil can overcome his purposes. Ask him to give you faith in the midst of despair and discouragement.
- Praise God that he used the crucifixion of Jesus -the most evil act in history- to accomplish the greatest good.