How do you respond when you get bad news? Singular instances of bad news are difficult enough to receive – especially when that news is particularly devastating – but how do you respond when the bad news seems to just pile up? Throughout this book Daniel gets more and more bad news. By the time we come to chapter 8 the prophet is 69 years old and has gotten loads of bad news over decades. Yet his response to the news he receives in this chapter evidences a man who is realistic about life and realistic about faith.
Daniel 8 builds off of the visions of chapter 2 and 7. The chronological place of the vision happens between chapters 4 and 5, and deals again with the four kingdoms who will rule over God’s people. We saw in chapter 7 the vision of the four beasts: Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. The vision, by-in-large, focused on the first and the last of those kingdoms. Chapter 8 gives more clarity on the middle two kingdoms, highlighting for Daniel what he can expect from these empires.
Continuing with the use of animals as representative of the kingdoms, this chapter only contains two: a ram and a goat, which point to Medo-Persia and Greece respectively. A ram was a symbol often used to point towards oppressive regimes (see Ezek. 34:17; 39:18), and within the Persian empire they served the god Ares who was identified by a ram – notably the Persian army is said to have marched into battle with a golden ram’s head. The ram is powerful and with its horns it charges in all directions and “No beast could stand before him, and there was no one who could rescue from his power. He did as he pleased and became great” (v. 4b). The uneven horns represent the imbalance between the merger of the Medes and the Persians, but their combined strength is enough to subdue many.
The goat mentioned in the text is clearly unique. It is, after all, a flying goat with a horn between its eyes. Coming from the west, it is believed by most conservative scholars that this goat represents the Greek empire and the horn its most famous leader: Alexander the Great. The goat charges and tramples the ram, signifying (many years in advance) the conquest of the Persians. Alexander the Great was swift and rapacious in his conquests and his empire stretched from Europe to India. Then Daniel sees the horn broken and four new horns growing in its place. Alexander died young and his empire fell to four generals, each of whom assumed ownership of a region of the once united empire. Out of those four a little horn grows which comes to represent a particularly important ruler in the history of Israel.
Depending on how one interprets the four beasts of chapter 7, the little horn of this chapter is either different from chapter 7 or the same. I take it to be the same symbol for a different individual. I take the horn in chapter 7 to be a reference to Rome, not to Greece, while the “little horn” in chapter 8 is a reference to Greece. Either way, all scholars agree that the reference in chapter 8 is pointing to Seleucid ruler Antiochus Epiphanes. Epiphanes is significant for his oppression of the people of Israel. During a particularly nasty war it was reported that he had died and, because of their hatred of him, the Israelites rejoiced. They threw a massive celebration only to discover that Epiphanes was, in fact, not dead. When Epiphanes discovered what had happened he was furious and took to letting loose his vengeance. He desecrated the temple, forbid circumcision, and outlawed sacrifices. It was a complete suppression of the religious expression of the Jews. Verse 10 is likely referencing the people of Israel when it speaks of the “stars.” Daniel records the vision, saying:
10 It grew great, even to the host of heaven. And some of the host and some of the stars it threw down to the ground and trampled on them.11 It became great, even as great as the Prince of the host. And the regular burnt offering was taken away from him, and the place of his sanctuary was overthrown. 12 And a host will be given over to it together with the regular burnt offering because of transgression, and it will throw truth to the ground, and it will act and prosper. 13 Then I heard a holy one speaking, and another holy one said to the one who spoke, “For how long is the vision concerning the regular burnt offering, the transgression that makes desolate, and the giving over of the sanctuary and host to be trampled underfoot?” 14 And he said to me, “For 2,300 evenings and mornings. Then the sanctuary shall be restored to its rightful state.” (v. 10-14)
It would be a major devastation to the people of God, and when he is given the interpretation things just get worse. Daniel records the interpretation, saying:
22 As 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 And at the latter end of their kingdom, when the transgressors have reached their limit, a king of bold face, one who understands riddles, shall arise. 24 His power shall be great—but not by his own power; and he shall cause fearful destruction and shall succeed in what he does, and destroy mighty men and the people who are the saints. 25 By his cunning he shall make deceit prosper under his hand, and in his own mind he shall become great. Without warning he shall destroy many. And he shall even rise up against the Prince of princes, and he shall be broken—but by no human hand. (v. 22-25)
The bad news just piles on.
After all he has experienced, at 70 years of age he is still not seeing any relief. There is no light at the end of the tunnel for Daniel in this vision. We can, likely, all relate to the devastation of prolonged sorrow. We have likely all cried out with the Psalmist, “How long, O Lord.” (Ps. 13). Daniel responds as we would expect him to in this passage. The text says:
And I, Daniel, was overcome and lay sick for some days. (v. 27a)
He is overcome with grief, sorrow, and distress. There is no end in sight and he responds as we would expect, with physical exhaustion and sickness. But then he does something we do not expect. The text adds:
Then I rose and went about the king’s business (v. 27 b)
He grieves and mourns, and then he gets to work. How can he do this? He can do this because he knows that this is not the end of the story. Yes, there is suffering. Yes, it will be long. Yes, it will be hard. But all these kingdoms will pass away, only one will remain forever and it is the Kingdom of our God and it is for His people. He responds to this bad news with grief and yet with hope and confidence too. He responds by mourning appropriately and then moving forward in trust.
How do you respond when you get bad news? Do you trust in the God of the universe who has promised to you His kingdom? Do you believe in His good and perfect plan? Do you know that He is “working all things together for good?” Daniel responds in two important ways, and we ought to follow his example. We need to respond to bad news with realism and hope.
To respond to bad news with realism means to acknowledge bad news for what it is. We don’t need to pretend to be so “super spiritual” that nothing upsets us. We don’t need to deny pain or sorrow or grief or frustration. God gave us these emotions and when we experience the brokenness of our world we ought to respond with appropriate emotions. Jesus weeps over the death of Lazarus (John 11:35). He wept not because He had no hope, not because He didn’t know if He could raise Him again. He wept because death is wrong! He wept because of genuine grief over the brokenness of our world and the experience of His friend. Jesus wept because it was right to do so. Christianity does not call us to pretend that everything is okay. And calling one another to trust in God is not a call to suppress pain and sorrow. Daniel acknowledges real sorrow. It even displays itself in physiological symptoms, and it’s okay. But Daniel doesn’t stay there.
Daniel also expresses hope in the face of bad news. He gets up and goes about the King’s business because he knows that these things are happening under God’s sovereign and loving control. It is God, after all, who gives Daniel the vision. He reveals what will be and determines it. He knows what is best and will use even these circumstances to accomplish His will. The conquest of Alexander allowed for Greek to become the dominate language of a vast part of the world, and it was into that language that the Word of God would be written and spread. There is always hope when God is at work. Daniel grieved but He didn’t stay there; he had hope.
When you encounter bad news, when you encounter bad news upon bad news, respond with realism and hope. Know that grief and sorrow are okay responses, but don’t stay there. Take your time to grieve, but move towards hope. Know that God is doing something, and He can be trusted. The cross is the foundation of this hope. As Jesus suffered and died, He did so “for the joy that was set before him” (Heb. 12:2). The author of Hebrews adds:
Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. 4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. (v. 3-4)
Jesus endured the cross that we might have hope, hope like Daniel. Respond to bad news with realism, but respond also with hope.