Significance of the Sanctuary Language of Daniel 8:9-14

An analytic reading of Daniel 8:9-14 reveals that the prophet uses “cultic” or sanctuary terminology; that is, he employs vocabulary taken from the sanctuary worship system of the Israelites

Articles September 2, 2020
Listen to Cliff Goldstein’s podcast on Daniel 8:9-14

Written by Angel M. Rodríguez


An analytic reading of Daniel 8:9-14 reveals that the prophet uses “cultic” or sanctuary terminology; that is, he employs vocabulary taken from the sanctuary worship system of the Israelites. This terminology is especially used in connection with the little horn’s activity. This chapter analyzes the cultic modes of expression in this passage in order to help us better understand the prophet’s message in this small section; this, in turn, helps us better understand the whole vision of Daniel 8 itself.

Cultic Terminology

The passage under consideration (Daniel 8:9-14) is translated (KJV) as follows: “And out of one of them came forth a little horn, which waxed exceeding great, toward the south, and toward the east, and toward the pleasant land. And it waxed great, even to the host of heaven; and it cast down some of the host and of the stars to the ground, and stamped upon them. Yea, he magnified himself even to the prince of the host, and by him the daily sacrifice was taken away, and the place of his sanctuary was cast down. And an host was given him against the daily sacrifice by reason of transgression, and it cast down the truth to the ground; and it practised, and prospered. Then I heard one saint speaking, and another saint said unto that certain saint which spake, How long shall be the vision concerning the daily sacrifice, and the transgression of desolation, to give both the sanctuary and the host to be trodden under foot? And he said unto me, Unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed.”

We look first at the phrase in verse 11, “the place of his sanctuary.” Both of the nouns here, mekôn (“place”) and miqdāš (“sanctuary”), are cultic terms. Mākôn (“place”) is used in the OT about 17 times. Fourteen times it’s used in connection with the sanctuary; in two of the three other occurrences it is used in conjunction with the throne of God, suggesting an indirect relationship with the sanctuary: “Righteousness and justice are the foundation [mākôn], ‘support’ of thy throne” (Psalms 89:14, 97:2).

Mākôn is also used to designate the sanctuary. Applied as such, it could mean “abode” (Exod 15:17; 1 Kgs 8:13; 2 Chr 6:2; Isa 18:4). The idea of “foundation” could also be expressed by mākôn (Ps 104:5). The word seems to designate a base. The translation “place” should then be understood as “a place to stand.” When mākôn is used with respect to the sanctuary, it could designate the place where God’s earthly (Ezra 2:68; Isa 4:5) or heavenly sanctuary stands (1 Kgs 8:39, 43, 49; 2 Chr 6:30, 33, 39; Ps 33:14).

At the same time, miqdāš in Daniel 8:11 is a common term in the OT for the “sanctuary.” It refers to the “sanctuary” as a whole. In most cases it denotes the earthly sanctuary (Exod 25:8; Lev 26:2; etc.), though in some passages miqdāš refers to God’s heavenly abode (Pss 68:33-35; 96:5-6). Interestingly enough, this term is also often used to identify the sanctuary as the object of attack by God’s enemies (Ps 74:7; Isa 63:18; Jer 51:51; Lam 1:10).

The term “sanctuary” appears again, this time in verses 13 and 14, with another name, qōdeš, simply another term for the sanctuary. It could refer to the sanctuary in its totality (Exod 30:13; Num 3:28; 1 Chr 9:29), the holy place (Exod 28:29; 29:30; 1 Kgs 8:8), or even to the most holy place (Lev 16:2). Qōdeš is used throughout Leviticus 16 to designate the sanctuary as the object of purification.

Another word, “host” (sābā’) in Daniel 8:10-13 is a military term used to denote an army, though it’s also used in a cultic settings. As a matter of fact, it is used in its plural form as a cultic name for God (Yahweh Sebā’ōt, “Lord of Hosts”). Interestingly enough, sābā’ (“host”) is used in relation to the work of the Levites in the sanctuary (Num 4:3, 23, 30; 8:24- 25). Therefore, it would appear that there is a clear connection between sābā’ (“host”) and the Hebrew sanctuary system.

In Daniel 8:11, the phrase “was taken away” (huraym), comes from the Hebrew verb rûm, which means “to lift, to carry.” Rûm is used quite often in cultic settings in the sense of “to donate, give a gift” (Num 15:19-21), and “to remove, set aside” (Lev 2:9; 4:8). Daniel uses in this instance a special passive form that, when used in the context of the sanctuary, designates the act of removing from the sacrifice that part which belonged in a special way to God (Lev 4:10; cf. 22:15), or to the priests (Exod 29:27). The responsibility for removing these from the sacrifices was assigned to the priests.

There are three other terms in Daniel 8:9-14—“horn,” “truth,” “rebellion”– which have or may have some cultic significance. One of these is “horn” (qeren) in 8:9, reminiscent of the horns on the four corners of the altars in the sanctuary (Exod 27:2; 29:12; Lev 4:7; 16:18). These horns were probably symbols of God’s power. Another term is “truth” (‘emet) in 8:12. Though “truth” is not necessarily a cultic term, it could carry cultic emphasis. For instance, in Malachi 2:6 the instruction the priest was to hand over to the people was called “the law of truth.” Finally the term “rebellion/ transgression” (peša’) in 8:12 is the exact term used in Leviticus 16:16 to designate the sins that would be atoned for on the Day of Atonement if the people humbled themselves and repented.

In Daniel 8:11-13, the term (tāmîd) “daily,” which appears three times, is central to the passage. This is unequivocally a cultic term. Usually tāmîd is translated “daily,” but it lends itself more readily to “continuance, unceasingness.”

Most commentators have rendered tāmîd in 8:11-13 as “daily sacrifices” because tāmîd often is used in connection with the morning and evening sacrifices; tāmîd qualifies the burnt offering: ‘ōlat tāmîd “a continual burnt offering” (Exod 29:42; Num 28:3; Neh 10:33). However, in Daniel, tāmîd does not function as an adjective or an adverb. It has the definite article (“the”) before it, hattāmîd (the tāmîd). Therefore, it functions as a noun. This absolute usage of the term is unique to Daniel.

Because the term ‘ōlāh (“burnt offering”) is not used by Daniel with tāmîd, it is improper to supply it in the translation. Besides, the term tāmîd is not used only with respect to sacrifices in the OT but also in relation to the “bread of the Presence” (Exod 25:30; Num 4:7), lamps (Exod 27:20; Lev 24:2), incense (Exod 30:8), and fire upon the altar (Lev 6:13). To limit the meaning of hattāmîd to sacrifice is to overlook the variety of usages of tāmîd within the sanctuary service. Hattāmîd should be understood in the broadest possible sense.

A study of tāmîd in cultic contexts would reveal that it was used in connection with the many activities the priest was commanded to perform continually in the sanctuary. Furthermore, the tāmîd was used with reference to the priestly activities performed in the court and in the holy place of the sanctuary.

We should not overlook the significant fact that tāmîd is never used with reference to an activity performed in the most holy place. Indeed, most likely when tāmîd is used in the absolute form, as in Daniel, it refers to the cultic acts performed in the holy place or which had an indirect relation to the holy place. The theological concept underlying those activities was that of intercession. The expression hattāmîd could be better translated “continual intercession.” It would then refer to the continual ministry of the priest in the sanctuary on behalf of the people.

Partial Summary

A review the cultic terminology in 8:9-14 reveals a “terminological connection” (same terms) between this passage and the Hebrew sanctuary system of worship. Therefore it is appropriate to refer to Leviticus in an effort to understand what the prophet is trying to tell us. Indeed, the terminology conveys concepts, in this instance concepts regarding the sanctuary.

What’s important, too, is that the cultic terminology helps in understanding the nature and activity of the little horn. The passage ignores the political concerns of the little horn; the horn’s attitude toward the cultus and the cultic community (God’s people) is what’s emphasized. The little horn is, essentially, an anti-cultic power. But it is not simply opposed to any cultic practice. This horn acts against the cult of Yahweh as expressed in the OT sanctuary system. It becomes great in a direction in which none of the other beasts became great, namely, upward (see Daniel 8:10-12).

According to the passage (Daniel 8:10), the little horn attacks the “host of heaven.” This host (sābā’) probably designates a kind of Levitical guard. Among the duties of the Levites was the responsibility of protecting the sanctuary from non-cultic personnel (Num 3:5-10; 18:1-10, 1 Chr 9:23-27). Thus, when the little horn attacks the sanctuary it first has to fight the sābā’, the cultic guard. In the fight some of the cultic army (min-hassābā’) are “cast down to the ground.” This last expression is used in the OT to indicate defeat. The horn is able to overcome the guard.

Now it goes after the Prince of the army/host (śar-hassābā’) and the sanctuary. It is powerful enough to take away (rûm, Hophal form) from the Prince His continual priestly ministry in the sanctuary, the tāmîd. By taking away from the Prince what belongs exclusively to Him, the little horn acts as a priest itself. In an effort to attain further exaltation the horn throws down the “place” of the Prince’s sanctuary. This suggests a literal or metaphorical destruction of the base of the sanctuary. The little horn is successful in its anti-Yahwistic activity.

According to 8:12, the horn did something else: “And a host was given over the tāmîd.” The subject of the verb (“was given”) is most likely the little horn, the object is the “host,” and the indirect object the tāmîd. In short, it seems to mean that once the horn takes away the tāmîd from the Prince, it sets its own army in control of that tāmîd.

The little horn, then, has complete control over the tāmîd “through transgression” (bepeša’). The horn revolted against God. The rebellion (peša’), which could be expiated in the sanctuary (Lev 16:16), cannot be atoned for in this case because the little horn attacks the very instruments of expiation. This is rebellion to the utmost.

Thus, through the cultic language, the prophet reveals the very nature of the horn and its main concern: this rebellious power attacks the sanctuary and controls the tāmîd; it is an anti-Yahweh power.

It’s important to note, too, that the cultic language used in 8:9-14 makes it clear that the little horn does not contaminate the sanctuary. Not one word in this section suggests contamination. The horn is not, therefore, a contaminating agent but a rebellious, profane one.

Meanwhile, the cultic language in 8:9-14 leaves open the question: Which sanctuary is the prophet talking about? The terms used in these verses could refer to the heavenly as well as the earthly sanctuary. They are probably used here to designate both sanctuaries at once. Yet the mention of “the prince of the host” indicates that the prophet’s main concern is the heavenly sanctuary. The reasons are as follows:

First, particular attention should be given to the fact that the tāmîd belongs to the Prince. We have already pointed out that the tāmîd activity was performed by the Israelite priests. Thus, this Prince is a priestly figure. As a matter of fact, the term prince (šar) is used in the OT to designate the high priest (1 Chr 24:5). Second, the Prince mentioned here is more than a human priest. He is the Prince of the heavenly hosts. According to Joshua 5:13-15, this Prince is a heavenly being. In the book of Daniel he is also called “the Prince of princes” (8:25), “Messiah the Prince” (9:25, KJV), and “Michael, the great prince” (12:1). This Prince is probably the same being called the “son of man” in chapter 7.

In chapter 8 the priestly function of the Prince is emphasized. The activity in which he is involved is interpreted through the usage of the term tāmîd. That is, the work the Israelite priest carried on continually in the sanctuary is used to describe the activity of the Prince. He is in charge of the tāmîd, the continual intercessory work in the sanctuary.

As said earlier, the tāmîd is used in connection only with the holy place and the work of the priest in that place. It is proper, therefore, to infer that the Prince would be doing a work equivalent to that performed by the priest in the holy place. Thus, we may conclude that the little horn will somehow affect the work of the Prince in the holy place. Says Daniel, it will take away from the Prince the tāmîd, that is, the continual ministry in the holy place.

This, of course, leads to another question: What about the priestly work in the most holy place? Does the little horn affect the annual purification of the sanctuary, as manifested on the Day of Atonement? To look at this we go to verses 13-14 in Daniel 8.

Sdq in Cultic Terminology

The key term in 8:14 is nisdaq, rendered by the KJV “shall be cleansed,” and “shall be restored to its rightful state” by the RSV. The root is sdq, which means “to be right,” “be vindicated,” “be just, righteous.”

The root sdq is used in sanctuary settings, particularly in Psalms, which in most cases were composed for various rituals and religious feasts. No wonder, then, that we find the root sdq used in the Psalms with clear cultic associations and expressing cultic ideology.

Perhaps the Psalms that most clearly express the cultic connection of sdq are those belonging to the class known as “Entrance Liturgies,” or “ Admission Tôrāh.” These Psalms define the conditions required from those who want to have access to the sanctuary. Psalm 24:3-6 illustrates this very well. There we can detect what seems to be a conversation between the priest and the worshiper, in which only the worshiper who has among other things “righteousness” (sedāqāh, from sdq) from the Lord can come to the sanctuary and worship.

Psalm 15:1-2 makes it clear that in order be legitimized for participation in the sanctuary service, “righteousness” (sedeq) was demanded from the Israelite. “Who shall dwell on thy holy hill? He who walks blamelessly [tāmîm], and does what is right [sedeq,” literally “practices righteousness”].

One of the priest’s functions as God’s representative consisted of pronouncing cultic declaration of “righteousness” upon a repentant sinner who came to the sanctuary for the forgiveness of sin. The Psalms indicate that the individual who visited the sanctuary seeking righteousness/vindication received it through a priestly declaration of righteousness. The man thus declared had access to the temple.

Also, according to Leviticus, what was needed in order to have access to the sanctuary was “purity” (tāhôr). This purity was obtained through the priestly work. We find, for instance, that the leper, once declared impure, could not go to the sanctuary (Lev 13:46) until after the priest declared him “pure, clean” (tāhôr). Only then was access to the sanctuary possible for him (Lev 14:1-20). Thus, what in Leviticus was a declaration of purity or cleanliness was in the Psalms a declaration of righteousness. To be pronounced tāhôr, ritually pure, was the same as to be declared sedeq, morally righteous.

Recent studies made on the root sdq have shown it used in synonymous parallelism with forms of the root thr “to be clear, pure” (Job 4:17, 17:9) and bōr, “purity” (Ps 18:20). In other passages it is a synonym of zākāh, “to be pure, clean” (Ps 51:4; Job 15:14; 25:4). It is clear that the semantic range of the root sdq includes the ideas of purity and cleansing. Furthermore, the association of the root sdq with cultic terms and concepts is a clear indication that it played a significant role in the cultus.

In fact, the book of Psalms reveals the root sdq was central to the sanctuary service. The service in its entirety seems to revolve around the concept of sdq: The worshiper enters into the temple through the “gates of righteousness” (Ps 118:19); he brings a “sacrifice of righteousness” (Ps 4:5, KJV; 51:19; Mal 3:3); and the priest “clothed with righteousness” (Ps 132:9), intercedes on behalf of the offerer before Yahweh, the God of righteousness (Ps 11:7). As a result the worshiper receives in the temple “righteousness from . . . God” (Ps 24:5, KJV). Through the priest God declares the individual righteous. Since the believer has been declared righteous/purified/vindicated, he can fully participate in the cultus and rejoice before the Lord.

Sdq in Daniel 8:14

With the root sdq so basic to sanctuary vocabulary and ideology, it’s not surprising that it’s found in the texts we’ve been studying, which are themselves steeped in sanctuary vocabulary. The usage of sdq in 8:14 is, however, roblematic in that its verbal form, nisdaq, is unique in the OT. Nisdaq is the passive of sādaq, the only time the verb appears in that form. Thus, the question is, How should it be translated? Different translations–“be purified,” “be justified,” “be reinstated in its right,” “be brought back to its rights,” “be vindicated,” etc.—have been suggested.

In the context of the sanctuary, the root sdq expresses ideas of righteousness, cleansing, vindication; because Daniel 8:14 belongs to a section in which sanctuary terminology and ideology predominate, we are free to posit here a cultic usage of the root sdq.

We could render nisdaq, “to be declared righteous/be vindicated/be purified.” Daniel used nisdaq, as opposed to tāher (“to clean/cleanse”), apparently because sdq itself comes with has a broader meaning that just tāher. Considering the end-time implications and context of the chapter, sdq best captures the legal and judicial implications of the text itself.

Daniel 8:14 points to a time when the sanctuary would be declared righteous/purified/ vindicated. The only moment in the Hebrew cultus when such a pronouncement could be a reality would be on the Day of Atonement, the only day in the OT ritual when the sanctuary was, indeed, purified/vindicated. Furthermore, we have pointed out already that in the previous verses reference is made to the priestly activity only in the holy place; here now, in Daniel 8:14, we have a reference to the priestly activity in the most holy place.

Often a connection has been presupposed between nisdaq and the little horn in Daniel 8. The cleansing of the sanctuary is necessary, people claim, because of the activity of the little horn. Is that, though, what the texts are saying?

First, as we saw, the activity of the little horn is anti-cultic: through its success in overcoming the army, the sanctuary, the little horn controls the tāmîd, the priestly work in the holy place. In all this the horn prospered (8:12). The obvious question was, “Until when?” (8:13). The answer came, “For two thousand and three hundred evenings and mornings; then the sanctuary shall be [declared righteous/purified/vindicated]” (8:14).

In verse 13 a question about the end of the little horn’s activity is raised. The answer is clear: The vision, and the activity of the horn, will continue until the end of the 2300 days, until the time when the sanctuary will be purified, that is, until the Day of Atonement.

The purification/vindication of the sanctuary mentioned in verse 14 is not called forth because of the little horn. To repeat: the cultic vocabulary used in 8:9-14 does not provide evidence to support the idea that the little horn contaminated the sanctuary. Daniel was told that the little horn would affect the work of the Prince only in the holy place; it would not be able to interfere with His work in the most holy place. That work would begin at the end of the 2300 days and would put an end to the horn’s control of the sanctuary.

If the purification/vindication of the sanctuary in 8:14 is not a necessity created by the horn, then, Why does the sanctuary need to be purified? The immediate context does not answer that question. However, we are given some helpful clues. Though, for instance, the tāmîd is mentioned in the previous verses, no explanation was given regarding what it was. We have to go back and see how it was used in the cultic setting, for it was a cultic term. In the same way, if we want now to know what the purification/vindication of the sanctuary is, we must again go back to the cultic setting, and in the case of the purification/ vindication of the sanctuary. This means examining the ritual of the Day of Atonement in the Hebrew cultus, which would take us from Daniel 8:l4 to Leviticus l6.

The Day of Atonement and Daniel 8:14

There are only a few passages in the OT where the Day of Atonement is mentioned (Exod 30:10; Lev 16; 23:26-32; 25:9). The two most important ones are Leviticus 16 and 23:26-32. The rituals performed during that day seem to have had the purpose of expressing at least three basic ideas.

  1. God and His sanctuary were vindicated. The removal of sin/impurity from the sanctuary revealed something significant about the nature of God and of His dwelling place. Through the daily sacrifices, confessed sin was transferred to the sanctuary on behalf of the repentant sinner. Only for the purpose of atonement was sin/impurity allowed to come to the presence of God. But not even atoned-for sins could remain indefinitely in God’s holy dwelling. The Day of Atonement proclaimed that holiness/purity has nothing in common with sin/impurity. They were separated from each other in a permanent way, revealing in a special form the true nature of God and His sanctuary.

During that important day sin/impurity was not only removed from the sanctuary but it was also transferred to Azazel. This demonic figure seems to represent the source of impurity. By transferring it to Azazel, Yahweh was returning impurity to its source. Evil forces were overcome by Yahweh during the Day of Atonement. While the people were resting, the Lord was active on their behalf.

  1. The people were cleansed. The cleansing of the sanctuary and the cleansing of the people were intimately related. In the purification of the sanctuary on the Day of Atonement, the cleansing of the people reached its consummation. Their sins finally were removed from the presence of the Lord. Now they themselves could remain in the presence of God. The purpose of the covenant was then reestablished: God will remain dwelling among His people. He will be their God and they will continue to be His chosen people.
  2. God judged His people. During the Day of Atonement God commanded His people to rest and afflict their souls (Lev 16:29). To afflict one’s soul (‘ānāh nepeš) means “to humble oneself,” probably through fasting. To rest and to humble oneself revealed an attitude of complete dependence on Yahweh’s mercy. This personal attitude was related to the purification of the sanctuary. The removal of sin from the sanctuary meant final cleansing only for those who remained in an attitude of absolute dependence on God’s grace and power. That day the Lord passed judgment on His people. The individual who did not humble himself and rest was declared guilty. That person was “cut off from his people,” destroyed from his people (Lev 23:29- 30). This formula of extermination was a negative verdict pronounced after the divine investigation. The positive verdict was a declaration of purity. Yahweh was judging His people.

The three concepts just discussed seem to have been of fundamental importance on the Day of Atonement within the Israelite cultus. Based on our previous discussion we can then argue that the proclamation of the vindication/purification of the sanctuary in Daniel means also that:

A. God and His sanctuary are to be vindicated. The priestly ministry of the Prince of the heavenly host, mentioned in 8:11, was performed on behalf of God’s people. It was a ministry of intercession and therefore, according to the Levitical legislation, of forgiveness of sin. The purification of the sanctuary, referred to in 8:14, will make it patently clear that the involvement of the sanctuary in the sin problem was an effective way of disposing of the sin problem, and that the transfer of sin to the sanctuary in no way affected God’s character. By removing the sin of His people from the sanctuary, God reveals Himself as a holy, pure, and righteous God. He will also reveal Himself as the all-powerful God who overcomes the evil forces of this world in a permanent way (cf. Dan 2, 7).

B. The people of God will be cleansed. The book of Daniel looks forward to the time when the salvation of God’s people will be final. They are already the saints of the Most High. Nevertheless, they are still awaiting the consummation of their salvation. The vindication/purification of the sanctuary mentioned in 8:14 is also the proclamation of the vindication/purification of God’s people. Their sins will be blotted out. Their cleansing will reach its consummation. Now the eternal kingdom will be established.

C. God will judge His people. The vindication/purification of the sanctuary in Daniel includes also a work of judgment. The verb used by Daniel to refer to the purification of the sanctuary (sdq) is a legal term. In it legal and cultic concepts are brought together. The purification of the sanctuary is closely related to the cultic declaration of the purity of God’s saints. The Lord’s people have been judged by Him. They have remained in an attitude of complete dependence on God under the most distressing circumstances. This is precisely what we find in chapter 7. The judgment scene found in that chapter is a fitting parallel to 8:14. The saints are judged and acquitted (7:9-10, 13-14, 21-22). The record of their sins is permanently removed from the sanctuary. The unfaithful are cut off (Lev 23:29-30; cf. Matt 7:21-23; 22:11-14). Thus the sanctuary is cleansed.

This section, (Daniel 8:9-14) has allowed us to look into the sanctuary where the Prince of the heavenly hosts officiates. His priestly work includes not only daily services, but also the equivalent of the annual service, the Day of Atonement. In order to understand the significance of the Prince’s work on the Day of Atonement, we examined briefly the significance of that ritual in the book of Leviticus. We found that during the Day of Atonement God revealed Himself as a pure and powerful God who overcomes the evil forces. God cleansed His people in a final way, removing their sin from the sanctuary, allowing them to live permanently in His presence. That day was also a day of judgment. The prophecies of Daniel, with their apocalyptic concerns, look forward to the time when those events will be final on a cosmic scale, and evil finally will be blotted from the universe.


Our study has shown that Daniel uses sanctuary language throughout 8:9-14, with the purpose of expressing cultic ideas. Hence, there is a connection between this section and the cultus. A study of the term tāmîd has indicated that the term designates the priestly mediatorial work made on behalf of the people in the holy place of the sanctuary. Our investigation of the root sdq revealed that it is used in cultic settings and that sdq, especially in the Psalms, expressed the same idea as tāhēr in Leviticus, that of cleansing/ purification.

The little horn, in its anti-cultic attitude, is able to control the sanctuary. It affects the work of the Prince in the holy place. When the time comes for the Prince to begin his work in the most holy place, the little horn loses control of the sanctuary. It cannot affect the Prince’s work in the most holy place. As depicted in Leviticus 16, His work in the most holy place includes the vindication of God’s character, the purification of His people, and the judgment of the saints before the kingdom of God is established on earth.