Butting Heads and History

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
January 23, 2022
Daniel 8

At the beginning of worship

It’s good to be with you this weekend. Last Sunday, we were facing a storm. Early in the morning I was worried if we’d done the right thing in cancelling the service. It hadn’t started to snow at sunrise. But by 9 AM, things changed. The snow was heavy and the wind blowing. I knew we had done the right thing. When such weather happens, remember that you can catch the message online! 

Similarity between Daniel 7 and 8

I hope many of you either read the sermon in my blog or watched it on YouTube last week. If you haven’t, I encourage you to go back and watch or read it, as our text last week from Daniel 7[1]is related to our text today. As a prophecy of the future, the two messages both involve kingdoms in the region between the fall of Babylon and the rise of Rome. But there’s also a difference, as the pervious chapter was a dream of weird beasts. In today’s reading the weirdness has to do with goats. 

Gentle and Lowly

But before getting to that reading, let me tell you about a book I’m reading by Dane Ortlund titled, Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers.[2] By the way, we’re all either or both a sinner and a sufferer. Drawing on Puritan writers and their insight into Scripture, Ortlund has us consider not what Christ has done for us (which is important) but what the heart of Christ is like. 

Too often we think of God being distant and away and all powerful, more like Zeus on Olympus, ready to crash lightning bolts in the direction of sinners. We’ll even get a sense of this in our text today, as the fierce horn takes on God and is, after a period of time, broken. And while God is holy and won’t be mocked, God as we see in Jesus, has a heart that reaches out to us in love. God reaches out to the sinner, the one suffering, the one troubled. We can’t forget this aspect of God even while we are considering the power of God to control history. 

Let’s now God to Scripture and read this long chapter. Listen for God’s word as I read from Daniel 8. 

Read Daniel 8

After the reading of Scripture

A frightful encounter with a butting goat

I spent my first three years of elementary school in Petersburg, Virginia. During this time, my father was a member of a hunting club on the Nottaway River. As a part of this club, he took his turn feeding the deer dogs. The dogs were penned way out in the woods, a mile or two off the payment, down across a two-track dirt road. Often, when tending the dogs, dad would take me along. 

On this day that I am recalling, the pump where they drew water for the dogs wasn’t working. I’m not sure what was wrong with it, but there were some five-gallon army-surplus containers there. We loaded them into the car and drove further back into the woods to where a family lived. 

The family’s homestead was eye-opening. I had never seen such poverty. It was an African American family and the shack in which they lived had gaps between the boards. Nothing about the shack was level. There were chickens running around and a few dogs and several kids. 

My dad, who had either been here before or had been told what to do, took the containers to the man of the house and they began to draw water from a hand pump. When done, my dad paid with a couple of dollar bills. While he was doing this, I walked around looking at things. 

Suddenly, I turned as a goat charged, his head down, appearing to have the power of a locomotive. I froze, knowing that in an instant I was going to be butted over the car and maybe into the next county. I couldn’t yell. I was speechless. Frozen in fear, I stood as things moved in slow motion. The goat moved closer. My time on earth was up. 

Then it happened. Just before the goat’s horns impaled my stomach, he came to the end of his chain. The goat did a summersault, falling over on his back. I had been saved. 

I was probably 7 or 8 years old when this happened. Since then, not only have understood that there are people incredibly poor in our world, I also have had no problem with the parable of the sheep and the goats.[3] Goats can be evil. I didn’t have to read the book of Daniel to understand this. 

Another goat story

A few years later, when I was in Jr. High, I was with my father and my brother in a small jon boat. Between these two events, we’d left Virginia and returned to North Carolina. We lived near the coast. The three of us poled the boat into the shallow marshy creeks on the backside of Masonboro Island on a pitch-black night. In the shallow water, we sought flounder. One of us stood in the front, like Queequeg, the harpooner in Moby Dick. Two lights were mounted underneath the bow, shinned onto the sandy bottom. This allowed you to spot a flounder laying in the sand so you could gig it. 

We had a cooler nearly full this evening, when we heard a weird sound coming from the bank, just 20 or 30 feet away. My dad shinned a flashlight over and there were two male goats butting heads. They would back away from each other, then crash at such speed that both had to be suffering from a headache. They paid us no attention. Obviously, their sexual drive was enough for them to keep at it and to ignore everything else. What other beasts, other than a stubborn goat, would be like that?  

Goats are interesting animals. The ancestors of these goats on Masonboro Island may have been there for centuries, as sailors of old released goats and hogs on such islands. This made sure there’d be some meat in their stew the next time they travelled that way.[4] Goat in the wild were especially adaptable. As you know they’ll eat anything. 

Another goat story

In our reading today, we met two of the beasts. Daniel, we’re told, has a vision. Two years have gone by since his dream of chapter seven. In this vision, he’s in Susa. While we’re not told why he was there or how he got there, it appears he may have remained in Babylon, but saw a vision set in the other city. It’s almost as if he’s watching himself. He stands by a river, reminding us of the the beginning of Ezekiel’s first vision, which was also by a river.[5]

The vision begins with a ram with two horns running around, kind of like the ones I experienced as a kid, looking for something to butt. But it was so powerful, other beasts fled in terror. Then came a male-goat (I’m not sure why it was not called a ram), which challenges and defeats the first ram. It had four horns and grew more and more powerful. From the four horns, grew another horn that was arrogant and powerful, and who does terrible things in the sanctuary where sacrifices to God were to be made.

Daniel’s inability to interpret the vision

Daniel, the one who had interpreted dreams and signs in Babylon, fails to understand the meaning of this vision. So, one of the Archangels, Gabriel, is summoned to help. 

Comparisons and contrasts between chapter 7 and 8

The vision in chapter 8 is often overlooked by the dream in chapter 7. It’s been pointed out that the whole structure of this vision lacks the poetry of the previous dream, possibility because in the original language, we’re back into Hebrew.[6] The previous chapter was written in Aramaic. One thought is that even this chapter was originally composed in Aramaic, then translated into Hebrew, but that doesn’t really matter to us. 

Both chapters involve the same storyline, at least to a point. They both point to the rise of the Medes and Persians (represented by the two horns) who ruled that part of the world after the fall of Babylon. The Persians were powerful, until an upstart Greek king known as Alexander, comes upon the scene. 

Alexander the Great

I recently listened to Anthony Everitt’s biography of Alexander the Great. He was an impressive man. Like many who become great, he also had many flaws. After the death of his father, Philip, Alexander began to unify the Greek states so that he could fulfill his father’s dream of taking revenge over the heathers. Greeks considered the Persians heathens. The revenge was for a Persian invasion of Greece, more than a century earlier. 

Alexander combined the powers of the Greek city states. He proved to be a brilliant military commander. In his thirty-two years, he conquered not only the Persian empire but well into India, a part of the world unknown at the time. He eventually had to stop conquering, not because of defeat, but because his men had had enough. They wanted to return home. 

While in Babylon, after the India campaigns, he became mysteriously ill and died. Some think he was murdered. Even Aristotle, his old tutor who was horrified at Alexander’s growing ego, has been suggested as a possible plotter. But Everitt suggests that Alexander’s death came probably from a mosquito. God can work in mysterious ways. His death sounds like a deadly type of malaria.[7]

Alexander, as he continued to win and to conquer, he sought to distance himself from his father’s memory. He promoted a story that his real father was Zeus, the Greek God of Mount Olympus thunderbolts. Of course, not everyone bought into this mythology, but it shows his arrogant attitude to the world. After his death, his empire fractured, as represented by the four horns for his generals that took over various parts of the empire. 

The little horn represents Antiochus, the ruler of Syria who desecrated the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem in 167 BC. 

Conclusion 

There is a minor point at the end of this vision that I want us to ponder for a moment. I think it has a lot to do with the message of Daniel. In verse 25, we’re told that he shall be broken but not by human hands. God is still God and will not be mocked.[8] The desecration of the temple, the holy place in Jerusalem, sets forth his downfall. God has the future under control. As we saw in the seventh chapter, kingdoms will rise and fall. This will continue to happen, even now. Only when God’s time is reached, will we enjoy the peaceful kingdom that will exist without end. But we can take comfort in that those who bring evil upon the world have a limited time for God controls the future, not them. 

While we might not, by ourselves, be capable of defeating one like Antiochus IV, or the many other evil rulers of the world, the book of Daniel reminds us that what is important is to remain true to God. As we’ve seen, it’s a theme reiterated repeatedly in Daniel.

If you set out to butt heads, you’ll eventually butt heads with God and it won’t end well. It may not sound like good news to the one butting, but it is to everyone everyone who has to endure the bullying. Amen. 


[1] https://fromarockyhillside.com/2022/01/daniel-dreams-of-the-future/

[2] Dane Ortlund, Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers (Wheaton, IL: Crossways, 2020).

[3] Matthew 25:32ff.

[4] I learned this from Amy Leach in “Goats and Bygone Goats,” Things That Are: Essays (Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Editions, 2012), 13-19. 

[5] Ezekiel 1:1. Like Daniel, Ezekiel also provides a date for his vision. Daniel is in the third year of Belshazza; Ezekiel is in the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin. 

[6] Robert Anderson, Signs and Wonders: Daniel (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1984), 91. 

[7] Anthony Everitt, Alexander the Great: His Life and His Mysterious Death (Audible books, 2019), Narrated by John Lee. 

[8] W. Sibley Towner, Daniel: Interpretation, A Biblical Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1984), 126. 

The backside of Masonboro Island

15 thoughts on “Butting Heads and History”

  1. That was very interesting, Jeff–your childhood goat stories and the scripture intertwined make for great reading. I think I’d like to read Alexander’s bio as well. He’s always fascinated me. Thanks for all you wrote today.

    • Thanks, Lee. I haven’t read anything about Alexander the Great since reading Mary Renault stories in college. It was good to be refreshed as well as to see new insights into his life. I found Everitt’s style to be engaging, almost novel-like.

  2. It is comforting to think that “those who bring evil upon the world have a limited time,” but at the same time I think about the impact they have on the world that lasts beyond them physically being here and other people picking up their mantle to continue their evil. :\

    Very thought-provoking sermon.

    • Thanks Chrys. You are right that the impact of those who do evil will have impact long after their appointed time. In the next chapter of Daniel, I will be addressing this some as Daniel prays for evil committed long before his time (that’ll be in two weeks, as this week I am heading south to officiate at a funeral for a friend).

  3. Sometimes the smart thing to do with our odd winter this year is to stay put if possible. Seems even the weather announcers aren’t always spot on and bingo a blizzard before we know it and the winds, of my they seem to never end around here. We have extreme windchills again but that’s pretty standard for Minnesota. Your sermons are a blessing and I too enjoy retracing memories from my childhood and hearing your stories bring back so much for me as well!

    • We had to cancel church 3x last year, all because of ice, which is our really headache. This past storm was brutal, however, with terrible winds. I love telling “old stories,” as you can see in my sermons.

  4. Great sermon, Jeff. I enjoyed your childhood stories, too and how they intertwine with Scripture. That must’ve been terrifying when that goat came at you. Thank goodness his rope was not quite long enough!

    • It is still amazing that the goat flipped on his back and got up as if nothing had happened. Had the chain been a few feet longer… I shutter to think of what might have happened.

  5. A ram is a male sheep and a billy is a male goat. Both can have big horns and both will butt! We raised goats for a few years and had a big billy (200+ pounds) who was bad about butting. (I always kept my distance from him) Many of our goats were friendly and loving, though, so it’s always made me feel a little bad about “separating the sheep from the goats”. I understand the message in scripture, but still…

    • Thanks for helping me get my animals correct. So Alexander was a Billy Goat? I assumed they were both rams. I have seen “nicer” goats than those I described in my stories, but I wouldn’t trust them very far (especially with a book, they may eat it!)

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