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Assuming the Legs and feet are the Roman Empire, what are we to make of its 'ten toes' that are half clay and half iron? I assume that something 'within' or absorbed by the developing Empire can be grouped into 'ten' and that it will make/made it less united and strong as a result. What is this unstable structure of the Roman Empire represented by 'ten toes' that is easily dashed by the magical little rock which moves by itself and eventually grows into a mountain?

Note: I am assuming a traditional Roman view of Daniel's fourth Empire in contrast to many critical expositors who promote the Grecian view.

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FWIW, the stone "became" a great mountain; it doesn't say it "grows" into a mountain. The former allows for an instantaneous transformation, while the latter implies a gradual transformation. –  Jas 3.1 Jul 2 '13 at 18:40
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@Jas3.1 - true - the idea of growth i am biased under. can't help see the mustard seed / bush in the little rock / mountain. However I admit it is not the only assumption one can make. –  Mike Jul 3 '13 at 0:12

4 Answers 4

Short Answer: The toes ("ten" is not specified) are treated as synonymous with the feet, which are mentioned in relation to the legs of iron. ("Toes" are not even mentioned in the recounting of the dream itself.) The significance is that they were part iron and part clay, which signified division within the kingdom, part of it being as strong as iron, and part as brittle as common clay. This division would characterize the fourth kingdom.


Since this is a hermeneutics site, let's walk through the text of Daniel 2:40-43 and do some exegesis. Regarding the "iron legs" we first read the following:

Then there will be a fourth kingdom as strong as iron; inasmuch as iron crushes and shatters all things, so, like iron that breaks in pieces, it will crush and break all these in pieces.

This is the first sentence in the paragraph that describes the "iron legs." We learn here that (A) we are looking at a fourth kingdom, (B) it will destroy the previous three kingdoms, and (C) that the iron signifies destructive power. The paragraph continues...

In that you saw the feet and toes, partly of potter’s clay and partly of iron, it will be a divided kingdom; but it will have in it the toughness of iron, inasmuch as you saw the iron mixed with common clay. As the toes of the feet were partly of iron and partly of pottery, so some of the kingdom will be strong and part of it will be brittle.

There are several very important things to note here:

  • this is a description of the same kingdom; there is no indication in the text that this is a fifth kingdom or a latter state of the fourth kingdom. To say otherwise is to make more of the vision than the author, Daniel, and God did!

  • this is a divided kingdom because of the mixture of materials -- not because it has "toes"! There is no indication here that the "toes" should be itemized as ten (twelve?) separate segments or anything like that. Every mention of division is accompanied by the explanation that it has two materials.

  • the mixture of iron and clay indicates the kingdom will be divided in that part of the kingdom will have the toughness of iron, and the other part will not (in fact, it will have the opposite; the brittleness of common clay pottery)

The paragraph continues:

And in that you saw the iron mixed with common clay, they will combine with one another in the seed of men; but they will not adhere to one another, even as iron does not combine with pottery.

This comments on the actual combining of the two parts of the kingdom. You cannot really combine iron and clay. Likewise, the strong, iron-like parts of the kingdom and the brittle, common clay-like parts of the kingdom will "combine with one another in the seed of men", but they will not actually adhere to one another. The two parts are "in bed together," so to speak, but are not actually united.

Conclusion

The fourth kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar's dream in Daniel 2 is as strong as iron, and will crush all the other kingdoms. Thus, it will rule the world. (cf. 37-39) However, it will be a divided kingdom, because not all of it will be as strong as iron; part of it will be as brittle as common clay pottery. The two parts of the kingdom will be in bed together, but they will not adhere to one another.

Rome? Perhaps. I'm thinking of the strength of their military and the weakness of their senate? I'll save the specific speculations for another day, or another interpreter, but hopefully this exegesis will be a helpful first-step in the right direction.

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I appreciated the adherence to the text. The text doesn't say "ten", nor does it specifically interpret the toes. Irregardless of whatever interpretation is used, it must be regarded as interpretation, not Scripture. –  Benjamin Hoogterp Nov 21 at 5:40

The iron mixed with clay is perhaps to be understood as referencing to people involvement in rule (i.e. republic and democracy) in the Roman Empire and successive (and associated) states after. Napoleon, Dschugaschwili (Stalin), Mussolini, Hitler - these all came up under some sort of people rule (clay) which then was turned into totalitarian rule (iron).

Interestingly the Kaisers of the so-called Holy Roman Empire (of German Nation), the French Cèsares, the Russian Czars named themselves after the first Roman dictator.

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FYI - I appreciate your answers but just to make my sentiments known... with hundreds of commentaries out there, many with stongly argued answers, I don't plan to accept answers that do not show some work by citing at least one reference. cheers –  Mike Jul 2 '13 at 9:05

The Idea in Brief

There are two grammatical chiasms in the Book of Daniel: one in Aramaic and one in Hebrew. (Please click here for more information.) If these chiasms are in literary parallel, then the toes are the ten horns found in three verses in Daniel Chapter 7. If consideration includes the Christian New Testament, then the ten horns align with ten mountains, or kingdoms found in the Book of Revelation. The iron mixed with clay therefore may suggest that these are pluralistic governments, which diffuse their economic, political, and military power in order to preclude any one nation or party from gaining undue control.

Discussion

The first chapter of the Book of Daniel is an introduction, however chapters 2-7 and 8-12 appear to be in chiasmic order: that is, chapters 2-7 appear to be one chiasm in Aramaic and the chapters 7-12 appear to be another chiasm in Hebrew. Both chiasms appear to be parallel in content and meaning.

  Chapter 1 - Introduction
       Chapter 2 - Kingdom Rule (Four Gentile + 1 Jewish)
            Chapter 3 - Tribulation & Testing from Gentile power
                Chapter 4 - Divine deliverance by angel(s)
                Chapter 5 - Divine deliverance by angel(s)
            Chapter 6 - Tribulation & Testing from Gentile power
       Chapter 7 - Kingdom Rule (Four Gentile + 1 Jewish)

If these chiasms are deliberate by authorial intent, then the contents of Chapter 2 would stand in parallel with Chapter 7. Thus the toes align to the ten horns, which represent 10 kingdoms.

Daniel 7:7 (NASB)
27 After this I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, a fourth beast, dreadful and terrifying and extremely strong; and it had large iron teeth. It devoured and crushed and trampled down the remainder with its feet; and it was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns.

This "kingdom" of ten horns be aligned with the toes, but will be weak in the sense of its pluralistic form of government as the following graph depicts:

Daniel's Four Kingdoms

Please note that the image is "top heavy" and therefore very unstable. This instability is not political, but temporal. In other words, the multi-lateral (pluralistic) forms of government are not weaker in any political or military sense --in fact, this beast of ten nations will be more fierce than everything preceding-- but in the temporal sense. That is, when these ten kingdoms appear, then at that time the whole system of human government will collapse. That is, the "stone cut without hands" will strike the feet and toes (Dan 2:34) with the result that the entire image will implode (Dan 2:35).

Conclusion

The toes in Daniel Chapter 2 appear to stand in direct literary contrast by chiasm with the ten horns in Daniel Chapter 7. That is, the ten horns are the ten kingdoms, which are ten(?) toes. If so, then these toes are ten governments that are pluralistic, which means that the powers of government are diffused. In the Christian New Testament, the ten horns appear in the Book of Revelation mounted on heads. In Rev 12:3, the heads wear the crowns (control of government) but later the horns are wearing the crowns (Rev 13:1), which suggests that the locus of control of these governments shifted from deliberative / restrained (image of the head) to impulsive / militaristic (image of the horn). Thus the inherent weakness of iron mixed with clay (image of Nebuchadnezzar's statue) later appears in Daniel Chapter 7 and the Book of Revelation as the beast with ten horns wearing ten crowns.

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It would depend on when your Chronology for Rome runs out.

An interesting possibility is that Rome actually changed forms of Government. If you consider the beginning of the "legs of iron" to be the founding of the "Roman Empire", which began in 31 BC, with Octavius, Caesar Augustus (before that it was a Republic, including during Julius Caesar), then an interesting prospect appears.

From the time of Julius Caesar, the form of Government was the Roman Principate. During the "Crisis of the Third Century", they never recovered the Principate, and the new form of governing rule was called the Roman Dominate, and was the "despotic" later phase of government, according to Wikipedia.

It seems one possibility was that this looked forward to this differentiation of government.

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