Daniel 8:1-27 – Not by Human Hands
SummaryDaniel sees a succession of ancient empires violently following one another, each represented by an animal. The Median/Persian and Greek empires are explicitly named as well as the breakup of the latter into four different empires (8:20-22). The rapid shift from one king to another is not merely a meaningless merry-go-round with endless victims. The self-glorification builds in intensity until God is directly challenged. But God will not be mocked. The evil that these kingdoms bring about will be limited (8:25).
AnalysisDaniel first sees a destructive ram. Daniel contemplates the significance of the ram (8:4-5), but before he can figure it out, the next empire comes on the scene in the form of a goat and, with violent ease, disposes of its predecessor. The one who thought he could do as he pleased was disposed of by another who sought to do as he pleased. Each kingdom in succession magnifies itself and presumes to control everything. The tyrants attack one another until one of them finally assaults God. His attack is stopped directly by God ("not by human hands"; 8:25).
Anguish and hope are combined in the response one heavenly being gives to another after the first has asked, "How long?" (8:13). Daniel 7 simply mentioned the thousands of heavenly attendants at the throne of the Ancient One (7:10). Here, even they wonder about the extent of the challenge to God. This is a way of underscoring the depth of the wickedness that this final king unleashes. Perhaps the depth is so great that the saints were unable to express their own question; the heavenly being needed to voice their concern.
The vision concentrates on the disruption of worship at the temple and the defiance of God that this represents. The interpretation extends the violence to direct attack on the "holy ones" and the "Prince of princes." The end of the one who has attacked heaven is announced in one simple sentence: "He shall be broken, and not by human hands" (8:25). Daniel 2:34-35 stated that the last ruler would be destroyed by a stone that was "cut out, not by human hands." Thus, both chapters emphasize that God alone will be responsible for the end of evil. No human being could carry it out.
Daniel's reaction to Gabriel's interpretation is similar to his reaction at the end of Daniel 7. Even though the vision is sealed up for a later time, he is appalled. His return to the king's service marks more than a way to drown out the memory of the dream. He is willing to live with his lack of understanding even while dismayed by the content. If nothing else was clear about the vision, at least it indicated that God would bring evil to an end. Knowing that the triumph of God was certain, Daniel could return to his creaturely work. The people of God may resume the work that is immediately before them.