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Daniel 8: The inferior horn of the goat

Jun 23, 2015

Daniel says that the great horn (Alexander) would be broken, and that four other horns would rise up in its place. These were Alexander’s four generals, who divided up the Greek empire after his death in 323 B.C.

The prophet then says that another horn was to rise up. Daniel 8:9 says,

9 And out of one of them came forth a rather small horn which grew exceedingly great toward the south, toward the east, and toward the Beautiful Land.

This “rather small horn” (NASB) is rendered “inferior horn” in the CV. The similarity of this horn to the “little horn” that was an extension of the fourth kingdom has caused some to argue that they are one and the same. However, it is clear from the text that this horn comes out of the prophetic “goat,” which is the Grecian empire.

In fact, it says that this inferior horn came out of “them,” that is, out of the four horns (Alexander’s generals). The CV renders it, “then from one of these four fares forth one inferior horn.” In other words, this “inferior horn” comes out of “one of these four” (horns). Hence, the prophet was not skipping some centuries of history, past even the fourth beast itself, to the rise of the little horn.

Daniel’s vision in chapter 8 is a revelation of the goat, that is, the Greek empire. Verse 9 above tells us that this specific horn, though it was inferior to the great horn (Alexander), was still destined to grow “exceedingly great.” And indeed it did, at least for a time.

The Seleucids

In the second division of Alexander’s empire (321 B.C.), Seleucos was given Mesopotamia and the territory all the way to India. For the next twenty years the four new kings quarreled and fought among themselves for a larger share of territory. The Seleucid kingdom was firmly established by 312. This is also when the Seleucid calendar began, which measured time in Olympiads (four-year cycles). It was in use into the Roman era.

At its height, the Seleucid kings ruled from Syria to India, a very large kingdom. Their main competitors were the Ptolemy kings in Egypt, and they usually fought over Judea which lay between them. Hence, in Daniel’s prophecies, the two are presented as the king of the north and the king of the south.

Daniel 8:10 says of the Seleucid empire,

10 And it grew up to the host of heaven and caused some of the host and some of the stars to fall to the earth, and it trampled them down.

Growing up to the host of heaven means that it was elevated “to the stars,” a euphemism showing its greatness. The “stars” in this case also represent the righteous ones in Judea, who were trampled in the wars. It also implies an affront to heaven itself, as if in their pride they think that they can cast God off the throne and rule with impunity. So we read in Daniel 8:11,

11 It even magnified itself to be equal with the Commander of the host; and it removed the regular sacrifice from Him, and the place of his sanctuary was thrown down.

The “Commander of the host” is God Himself, who was described as the King of heaven and the General of the Hosts of heaven—that is, the army of God. The description is meant to reveal the heart of this inferior horn. It is primarily fulfilled by Antiochus Epiphanes (“God Manifest”), who was a Seleucid king from 175-164 B.C.

Antiochus Epiphanes

By the second century B.C., the Seleucid empire was already in decline, as the fourth beast had already begun to rise in power. Antiochus spent most of his youth as a Roman hostage. His father, Antiochus III (“The Great”) was the sixth Seleucid king. His ambition was to be “the champion of Greek freedom from Roman domination.” As such, he declared war on Rome in 192 B.C., but was defeated. As a consequence, he was made to pay a huge sum of money and cede territory.

To ensure the peace treaty, the young prince, Antiochus, was sent to Rome as a hostage, where he remained until he came to the throne in 175. He later invaded Egypt and took all but the city of Alexandria in 169. The next year, however, Rome demanded that he withdraw from Egypt, and Antiochus had no choice but to comply. But as his army retreated in 167, the troops entered Jerusalem peaceably but then began to plunder the city and kill its inhabitants. Antiochus then turned it into a Greek colony.

Antiochus’ goal was to change Judean culture itself and de-nationalize it. After securing his position militarily, he turned the temple in Jerusalem into a Greek temple to Jupiter (or Zeus). His intent was to convert Judean religion to Greek Epicureanism. There was already a Hellenist party in Jerusalem, which admired the Greek way of life, and Antiochus had supported this party. But when he plundered the temple of its gold, including the golden altar and the menorah, the people reacted violently against all Hellenization. The Jewish Encyclopedia tells us,

“A royal decree proclaimed the abolition of the Jewish mode of worship; Sabbaths and festivals were not to be observed; circumcision was not to be performed; the sacred books were to be surrendered and the Jews were compelled to offer sacrifices to the idols that had been erected.”


An uprising, led by Mattathias and his son, Judas Maccabaeus from 167-164, was successful in expelling the Greek armies, and they gained independence for the next hundred years.

Those killed in Jerusalem in 167 probably are those that the prophet referred to in Daniel 8:10 as “stars” falling to the earth, where they were “trampled.” Antiochus’ policy of Hellenization, especially the desecration of the temple in Jerusalem, was prophesied in Daniel 8:11, “the place of His sanctuary was thrown down.”

Daniel 8:12 continues,

12 And on account of transgression, the host will be given over to the horn along with the regular sacrifice; and it will fling truth to the ground and perform its will and prosper.

The prophet makes it clear that these events occurred “on account of transgression.” This is not a reference to the sins of Antiochus, but to unnamed transgressions of the Judean people (or their leaders). In other words, God gave Jerusalem into the hands of Antiochus for destruction "on account of the transgressions of the people of Judea. Not only were “stars” cast to the ground, but “truth” also.

Antiochus prospered in doing this until his death in 164.

Antichrist Implications

The acts of Antiochus made him the pariah of history from the Jewish perspective, and Christians have made him a type of “Antichrist.” The problem is that many have misunderstood the idea of “antichrist,” a term that only John uses. The word does not even appear in the book of Revelation, though many have assumed this to be so.

Once Bible teachers identified Antiochus as “Antichrist,” they made many assumptions, most of which are unwarranted. They have searched for a coming Antichrist from Syria, or perhaps a Syrian Jew. In every war, the propaganda war machines invade Christian literature in order to demonize the “enemy” as the Antichrist. Countless candidates have surfaced only to die or fade from history.

In 1 John 2:21-23 John describes the antichrist:

21 I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it, and because no lie is of the truth. 22 Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son. 23 Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also.

Since John was the one who coined the word antichrist, he had the privilege of defining it as well. It is clear from his description that he had the Jews in mind, those Jews who had denied that Jesus is the Christ. They claimed to know the Father, but unless they confessed the Son, they did not have the Father either. “This is the antichrist,” John says. All other definitions must be subordinated to this.

We note also that in verse 21 above John links this to the knowledge of the truth about Jesus Christ. Perhaps this is also a veiled reference to the pattern in Daniel 8:12, where the inferior horn flung truth to the ground. Antiochus turned the temple into a place where a false god was worshiped. The Jews did the same by rejecting the Messiah, who was rightfully both King and High Priest. In both cases, the temple was usurped.

This was also Paul’s teaching in 2 Thessalonians 2:3, 4,

3 Let no one in any way deceive you, for it [the day of the Lord] will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed [exposed], the son of destruction, 4 who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God.

Paul says here that the day of the Lord had not yet come, because it had to be preceded by two things. First, “the apostasy” (apostasia) had to come. The Greek word has to do with casting down, rather than passively falling away. (See Acts 21:21, where apostasian is used to mean casting aside Moses.) Secondly, the “unveiling” or exposure of the man of sin had to occur. For the man of sin to be exposed, he had to be on the scene previous to his exposure.

I believe that Paul was writing about the situation that he saw in the first century. The Jewish leaders had usurped the throne of Christ in the same manner that Absalom had usurped David’s throne a thousand years earlier. In fact, the whole story of Absalom’s revolt against David was a prophecy of the conflict between the temple leaders and Jesus. Even as Absalom received assistance from Ahithophel, who was David’s friend that betrayed him, so also did the chief priests receive assistance from Judas, who was Jesus’ friend that betrayed Him.

The point is that the chief priests in effect had seated themselves in the temple of God in Jerusalem, “displaying himself as being God.” The chief priests were the antichrist, collectively speaking, even as Absalom was an anti-David, ruling in place of David.

The problem in Paul’s day was that many in the Church did not understand this issue. For this reason, the Judaizers were able to convince many to continue submitting to the temple leaders in Jerusalem and submit to circumcision, the sign of the Old Covenant. Paul wrote extensively on this problem, especially in his epistle to the Galatians.

In 2 Thessalonians 2:2, Paul’s reference to “apostasy” (apostasian) might be about Christians casting aside Jesus Christ and the New Covenant by submitting to the temple priests and their Old Covenant. If so, that apostasy was present in Paul’s day as well as in our own time.

This “apostasy” is accompanied by the exposure of the man of sin, “the son of destruction,” (perdition, KJV), it is also a reference to Judas, who betrayed Jesus. In John 17:12 Jesus prays, saying of Judas, “not one of them perished but the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.” Hence, the son of perdition (KJV), or the son of destruction (NASB) is a prophetic reference to Judas and those believers who would later follow in his footsteps.

The bottom line is that from the divine perspective, the priests in Jerusalem followed the pattern of Antiochus Epiphanes by turning the temple into a shrine to other gods. Each did so in their own manner, of course, but the result was the same. Any other god that is placed in the temple is a usurper and an “abomination” that brings desolation. The only solution is repentance, recognizing Jesus as the Christ, so that one may truly have the Father as well as the Son.

This is part 37 of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Daniel." To view all parts, click the link below.

Studies in the Book of Daniel

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Category: Teachings
Blog Author: Dr. Stephen Jones