Daniel 8 continues the somewhat perplexing series of visions that Daniel received regarding human history between Babylon’s ascendancy and the coming of Christ. The dream of chapter 7 was given “in the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon” (7:1). The present vision came two years later (8:1). The former overviewed history from the time just prior to the fall of Babylon until the coming of Christ, including prophecies of the Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Grecian, and Roman empires. The vision of chapter 8 zooms in particularly on Medo-Persia and Greece, the two kingdoms that would dominate the intertestamental period. As with chapter 7, a brief explanation of the prophecy might be helpful at the outset. Once again, Jay Adams has written very helpfully to explain the details of this vision.
The vision concerned two kingdoms (Medo-Persia and Greece), which both exercised dominance and did as they pleased. The once-dominant Medo-Persia ram was eventually supplanted by the Grecian goat. In their quest for conquest, the two kingdoms shared a common revulsion for the people of Yahweh and openly opposed them. The goat, in particular, viciously opposed God’s people. All of this was fulfilled in space-time history.
Put yourself, for a moment, in Daniel’s shoes, or those of his original readers. Having already endured decades in Babylonian exile, you have remained optimistic of future deliverance. But now a prophecy tells of even more violent opposition in the time ahead for God’s people. Already shaken by the ferocious beasts of chapter 7, the reality is now enforced that the coming kingdoms will strongly oppose you and your people. How fearfully deflating an experience that must be! Indeed, Daniel himself was “greatly alarmed” at the vision, so that his “colour changed” (v. 28).
But there is a wonderful reality that should be observed here: The ferocious beasts of chapter 7’s dream have given way to far more domesticated animals in chapter 8’s vision. Iain Duguid picks up on the significance of this imagery:
These empires that to human eyes looked so powerful, that seemed to have no weaknesses or chinks in their armor, were actually merely sheep and goats whose destiny lay in the hands of the divine shepherd, the Lord himself. They weren’t even the cosmically frightening monsters of Daniel 7, but only overgrown domestic animals…. Let this vision of Daniel 8 cut your monsters down to size: these monsters that seek to hurt you and trample you are nothing more than big sheep in the Lord’s eyes. If the divine shepherd is with you, he will not let them trample you utterly to dust.
There is a crucial lesson for us here: In God’s economy, even his most vicious, fear-inspiring opponents are “overgrown domestic animals.” Too often, we afford those who oppose God and his truth fear they do not warrant. We act as if the very kingdom is at stake when enemies arise speaking and acting boastfully against God and his kingdom. But God is never perturbed by those who speak and act arrogantly against him. And he has given us everything we need to downsize the fears that so plague us. Consider, among others, four downsizing tools at your disposal.
First, downsize your fears by firmly resisting them. James counselled his readers to stand firm and resist the devil (4:7). Rather than backing down in terror, we, armed with the truth, should be prepared to confront those who terrify us by submitting to God and resisting our fears.
Second, downsize your fears by actively taking up the armour of God. Ephesians 6:10–18 famously lists the various weapons that God has provided us in the warfare that lies before us. As we deliberately take up the armour, we can prepare to boldly confront and resist the enemies that confront us and fill us with dread. When the enemy instils fear, prayerfully meditate on Ephesians 6:10–18 and ask God to help you take up the armour.
Third, downsize your fears with sobriety and alertness. Hear Peter’s counsel: “Be sober-minded, be alert. Your adversary the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour. Resist him, firm in the faith, knowing that the same kind of sufferings are being experienced by your fellow believers throughout the world” (1 Peter 5:8–9, CSB). Be alert to the schemes of the enemy and be prepared to stand against them.
Fourth, downsize your fears with the gospel of Christ. Writing of the overcoming martyrs, John writes, “They conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; for they did not love their lives to the point of death” (Revelation 12:11). Notice that their victory lay, not in their own strengths or achievements, but in “the blood of the Lamb.” If Christ rescued you from your greatest fear—death, the result of sin (Hebrews 2:15)—he can deliver you from the lesser fears that plague you.
When your fears overwhelm you, remember that God has given you strategies by which to downsize your fears. Use these tools wisely so that you can say with Paul, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but one of power, love, and sound judgement” (2 Timothy 1:7).