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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, 2013 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, 2013 at 0:12
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    See similar question: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/66581/…
    – Kapandaria
    Nov 6, 2022 at 18:46
  • (Question #66581) Kapandaria's referal is seconded. For a consideration of the meaning of clay see the answer given by Ray Grant concerning references to the slave and mercenary population during the decline of the Roman Empire. Very enlightening, and its exegesis does not drift away from the Roman society. As well, the diverse make-up of the Provinces led to incohesiveness , tending to its downfall.
    – ray grant
    May 8, 2023 at 22:29
  • Simon and Garfunkel’s song “Sounds of Silence” seems to have been inspired by Dan 2. Oct 24, 2023 at 22:36

6 Answers 6

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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.
    – user6152
    Nov 21, 2014 at 5:40
  • @ Jas3.1 - Good answer! And indeed the "military" and the "senate" were often at odds with each other; and this could be part of what the prophecy referred to. But a greater mixture "of the seeds of men" was the Roman citizenry and the slave population in the Empire, and especially the military (mercenaries from other countries)! This was a major problem causing the fall of the Empire in the end....Keep doing your good Bible study! It's great for the soul!
    – ray grant
    Oct 24, 2023 at 19:33
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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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    Joseph you're a gifted student of Scripture. This was an excellent answer. +1
    – user20490
    Dec 1, 2017 at 2:33
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    Strange. Ten answers, and only this one mentions the Book of Revelation or notices the correspondence between the 10 toes and the 10 kings. +1. ¶ A similar parallel is given in the article Iron and Clay, and in a few places in the downloadable booklet The Final Superpower. Nov 6, 2022 at 23:51
  • (Ten Kings?) There is no mention of "ten" in this prophecy! The emphasis is on the mixture, not ten. Each prophecy in Daniel stands on its own interpretation given. "Chiasm" structures placed here are forced, and mislead exegesis attempts. The point of this prophecy is the ephemeral nature of Rome and the eternal nature of God's (Jesus) kingdom. There is no doubt that this is the Kingdom Jesus said was "at hand" during the reign of Tiberius, and of which Christ was crowned (Ephesians 1:19-22). This is not speculation; we have Jesus' word on it: "all power has been given Me" (Matt. 28:18)
    – ray grant
    May 8, 2023 at 22:17
  • @raygrant - Chiasms are common in the Hebrew Bible, so their appearance here (x2 in Daniel) is not unique. There's no mention of the 10 fingers, the 2 arms, and/or the 2 legs, but of the 1 head (Nebuchadnezzar) and the 10 toes, which parallel the 10 independent states found in the last world Gentile power in Revelation. The two epistles to the Thessalonians mention the "Day of the Lord," which is the term for the end times in the Hebrew Bible. The Thessalonians were Greeks on mainland Greece. Yet they understood Paul that the end times would include the Gentile nations, and not just Palestine.
    – Joseph
    May 10, 2023 at 1:48
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The Toes of the Statue

What do the toes of the statue in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream represent?

Daniel’s recounting of the dream does not mention the toes; only “its feet partly of iron and partly of clay” (Dan 2:33).

Daniel’s explanation of the dream adds the toes (Dan 2:41-42). It does not say how many toes the statue has, but the only logical conclusion is that the statue has one head, two arms, two legs and ten toes.

There is nothing specific in the text that explains what the toes are but, if they have no specific meaning, why does the prophecy mention the toes? The recounting of the vision mentions the head, breast, arms, belly, thighs, legs of iron, and the feet. That seems to cover the entire statue adequately. Why was it necessary to also mention the toes in the explanation? It does not mention the fingers.

Furthermore, in the explanation, Daniel stated that "the toes of the feet were partly of iron and partly of pottery" (Dan 2:42). This seems to make the toes the primary image of the time represented by the feet. For these reasons, I assume that the toes have a specific meaning.

Since the statue symbolizes a series of kingdoms over time, the emphasis on the toes seems to point to the very last part of the time represented by the statue; immediately preceding God’s eternal kingdom.

Given the lack of further information in the text, the only way to give further meaning to the toes is to compare this vision with the parallel visions in Daniel - particularly Danial 7, where we find a similar series of kingdoms. As shown in another article, the feet of the statue in Daniel 2 are parallel to the ten horns of the fourth beast in Daniel 7. That article also argues that the ten horns or ten toes are a continuation of the fourth beast. Therefore, to understand what the ten horns or ten toes are, we first need to understand what that fourth beast is.

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  • (Fourth Empire) The questioner referred to Rome as the real application of this prophecy, and it truly appplies to the Roman Empire at the time of Christ and the Early Church. Sometimes "we can't see the forest for the trees!" The conflict of Christ and Caesar is well-noted by historians. This (feet) fits that society to a tee: citizen and slave. Roman and foreign mercenaries. The barbarians came, the merc. went home. Into this chaos, the Church (Kingdom of God) took root and has spread throughout the whole world. It was in the time of the Caesars Christ announced, "The Kingdom is at hand!"
    – ray grant
    May 8, 2023 at 22:04
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Feet and Toes In helping to interpret Daniel 2 we take notice of the progression of "the final chapter" of the world Empires: Feet, feet and toes, toes...but all parts consisted of the deadly mixture, not just the toes:

This image's...legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay. (vs. 33)

Thou sawest the feet and toes, part of potter;s clay and part of iron, the kingdom shall be divided. (vs. 41)

And the toes of the feet were part of iron, and part of clay, the kingdom shall be partly strong and partly broken. And whereas thou sawest iron mixed with miry clay, they shall mingle themselves with the seed of men; but they shall not cleave one to another, even as iron is not mixed with clay. (vs. 42-43)

Number Ten As other Answers have pointed out, there is no mention of the number ten anywhere in this prophecy. To introduce it is eisegesis, a faulty exposition,and a violation of the rules of hermeneutics. To combine this number with scriptures in other books is to avoid the Context of this prophecy. It detracts from the main intent of this imagery: the disastrous mixture.

Daniel's Interpretation Notice that the prophecy is interpreted by Daniel as to what the mixture is: they shall mingle themselves with the seed of men, but they shall not cleave to one another. (vs. 43) It is a pernicious "intermingling" of different kinds of men that causes the calamity. So what is this a reference to? History has revealed the Answer: slaves (and its sister ugly, Mercenaries). At the time of Rome's dissolution, slaves and citizens intermingled at Rome. When the Barbarians attacked Rome, the defenders were mercenaries who had no allegiance to Rome! The proportion of slaves in the Empire was alarming! And as the prophecy noted, they did not cleave to one another. (Free citizens and unassimilated foreigners with no feelings of patriotism.)

References This salient fact is noted in the volumes of histories of Rome, and is found in many biblical commentaries written throughout the centuries. For a view of some of these references see Biblical Hermeneutics SE, #66581, Answer by Ray Grant. With one voice they acknowledge that the intermingling of the seed of men (slave and free) was disastrous. An empire or nation, that consists of a population that is not patriotic nor assimilated, is doomed to fall.

Quid Pro Quo As the prophecy related, the Fall of one kingdom was to see the rise of another. A temporal kingdom was to be supplanted by an Eternal Kingdom. And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a Kingdom which shall never be destroyed! (vs. 44)

So it was fitting that during the Roman Empire days Jesus would loudly proclaim: Repent, for the Kingdom is at hand! (Matthew 4:23, 9:35) And Jesus would spend 40 days after His resurrection teaching about the Kingdom. (Acts 1:3)

{Note: this Idea of a Fifth Kingdom was bandied about by the Jewish rabbis during the time of Christ, and when it fell on the ears of the Roman philosophers and historians, they mocked. How could anyone conquer Rome, let alone a small Judean people! Then came Jesus...}

Hermeneutic Conclusion The toes are merely part of the feet of the Image which consisted of iron contaminated with clay: intermingled seed of men (free citizens and unassimilated foreigners). There is no need to go outside the Book of Daniel to other scriptures to seek a correct interpretation.

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The ten toes is manifested in the Group of Ten economic group that represents every powerful Western Nation who are the military, economic, social inheritors of the Roman Empire. These nations are separate and throughout history, often fought each other. Their unity is weak and fragmented, and they can never unite in the same way as the old Roman Empire was. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Group_of_Ten_(economic)

The ten toes cannot be the various Arab nations as some have theorized because the prophecy is speaking of a world dominant nation, unlike (so far) the various Arab speaking nations have been.

For this reason, I believe the ten toes most represent the Modern Western Nations which include Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom and the United States.

Most of these countries reside on the former territory of the Roman Empire.

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  • Welcome to Stack Exchange. We are glad you stopped by and hope you stay. When you have a minute, be sure to check out the site tour. In particular, see the section on what constitutes a good answer and revise your post to either cite references that back your position or to more thoroughly explain how you get this interpretation from the text itself. Please note that "showing your work" is required on this Stack Exchange.
    – ThaddeusB
    Oct 26, 2015 at 20:36
  • (TEN TOES?) The application of toes to other nations than the Roman empire does not flow with the prophetic imagery given. Most listing (NATO, EURO, Common Market, etc.) do not begin to include all of the territory of ancient Rome which stretched to include all the Mediterranean area, and beyond. It seems more herm. correct to apply the prophecy, incl. the feet and toes, to the Roman Empire at the time of Christ and the Early Church. "The people will be a mixture" clearly described the society of Rome where slaves made up a large part, and the army was made up of unfaithful mercenaries.
    – ray grant
    May 8, 2023 at 21:43
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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, 2013 at 9:05

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