Read the Passage (NRSV)    Find more resources related to this passage  Print

Daniel 8:1-27 – Not by Human Hands


Daniel 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).


Daniel 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.

Daniel 8:1-27

Vision of a Ram and a Goat

8In the third year of the reign of King Belshazzar a vision appeared to me, Daniel, after the one that had appeared to me at first. 2In the vision I was looking and saw myself in Susa the capital, in the province of Elam,* and I was by the river Ulai.* 3I looked up and saw a ram standing beside the river.* It had two horns. Both horns were long, but one was longer than the other, and the longer one came up second. 4I saw the ram charging westwards and northwards and southwards. All beasts were powerless to withstand it, and no one could rescue from its power; it did as it pleased and became strong.

As I was watching, a male goat appeared from the west, coming across the face of the whole earth without touching the ground. The goat had a horn* between its eyes. 6It came towards the ram with the two horns that I had seen standing beside the river,* and it ran at it with savage force. 7I saw it approaching the ram. It was enraged against it and struck the ram, breaking its two horns. The ram did not have power to withstand it; it threw the ram down to the ground and trampled upon it, and there was no one who could rescue the ram from its power. 8Then the male goat grew exceedingly great; but at the height of its power, the great horn was broken, and in its place there came up four prominent horns towards the four winds of heaven.

Out of one of them came another* horn, a little one, which grew exceedingly great towards the south, towards the east, and towards the beautiful land. 10It grew as high as the host of heaven. It threw down to the earth some of the host and some of the stars, and trampled on them. 11Even against the prince of the host it acted arrogantly; it took the regular burnt-offering away from him and overthrew the place of his sanctuary. 12Because of wickedness, the host was given over to it together with the regular burnt-offering;* it cast truth to the ground, and kept prospering in what it did. 13Then I heard a holy one speaking, and another holy one said to the one that spoke, ‘For how long is this vision concerning the regular burnt-offering, the transgression that makes desolate, and the giving over of the sanctuary and host to be trampled?’* 14And he answered him,* ‘For two thousand three hundred evenings and mornings; then the sanctuary shall be restored to its rightful state.’

Gabriel Interprets the Vision

15 When I, Daniel, had seen the vision, I tried to understand it. Then someone appeared standing before me, having the appearance of a man, 16and I heard a human voice by the Ulai, calling, ‘Gabriel, help this man understand the vision.’ 17So he came near where I stood; and when he came, I became frightened and fell prostrate. But he said to me, ‘Understand, O mortal,* that the vision is for the time of the end.’

18 As he was speaking to me, I fell into a trance, face to the ground; then he touched me and set me on my feet. 19He said, ‘Listen, and I will tell you what will take place later in the period of wrath; for it refers to the appointed time of the end. 20As for the ram that you saw with the two horns, these are the kings of Media and Persia. 21The male goat* is the king of Greece, and the great horn between its eyes is the first king. 22As for the horn that was broken, in place of which four others arose, four kingdoms shall arise from his* nation, but not with his power.
23 At the end of their rule,
   when the transgressions have reached their full measure,
a king of bold countenance shall arise,
   skilled in intrigue.
24 He shall grow strong in power,*
   shall cause fearful destruction,
   and shall succeed in what he does.
He shall destroy the powerful
   and the people of the holy ones.
25 By his cunning
   he shall make deceit prosper under his hand,
   and in his own mind he shall be great.
Without warning he shall destroy many
   and shall even rise up against the Prince of princes.
But he shall be broken, and not by human hands.
26The vision of the evenings and the mornings that has been told is true. As for you, seal up the vision, for it refers to many days from now.’

27 So I, Daniel, was overcome and lay sick for some days; then I arose and went about the king’s business. But I was dismayed by the vision and did not understand it.

Related Passages