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In the vision of the statue in Daniel 2 we are told the statue's feet "are part of iron and part of clay" (2:33). Then the rock struck the statue at the feet of iron and clay and broke them in pieces (34). And then the metals of the whole statue, plus the clay, became like chaff and the wind carried them away, and the rock that smote them became a great mountain that filled the whole earth (35).

Then we read that as for the kingdom of iron, it shall be divided, having the strength of iron (41) but it shall be partly strong and partly brittle (42).

"And just as you saw the iron mixed with baked clay, so the people will be a mixture and will not remain united, any more than iron mixes with clay." (Dan 2:43, NIV).

My question is simple, what is the clay?

Though I would especially like answers from an amillennial perspective, I welcome allcomers. Please put in your answer from what doctrinal perspective you are coming from.

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  • Good question +1 I read this passage the other day and was contemplating the same verses. Interested to read the responses.
    – Marshall
    Oct 25 at 19:05

10 Answers 10

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The iron is obviously the Romans (Roman Empire). The clay can symbolize only one thing. It must be the Israelites (Jews).

13 Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men: 14 Therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvelous work among this people, even a marvelous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid. 15 Woe unto them that seek deep to hide their counsel from the LORD, and their works are in the dark, and they say, Who seeth us? and who knoweth us? 16 Surely your turning of things upside down shall be esteemed as the potter's CLAY: for shall the work say of him that made it, He made me not? or shall the thing framed say of him that framed it, He had no understanding? (Isaiah 29)

9 Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker! Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth. Shall the CLAY say to him that fashioneth it, What makest thou? or thy work, He hath no hands? 10 Woe unto him that saith unto his father, What begettest thou? or to the woman, What hast thou brought forth? 11 Thus saith the LORD, the Holy One of Israel, and his Maker, Ask me of things to come concerning my sons, and concerning the work of my hands command ye me. (Isaiah 45)

8 But now, O LORD, thou art our father; we are the CLAY, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand. 9 Be not wroth very sore, O LORD, neither remember iniquity for ever: behold, see, we beseech thee, we are all thy people. 10 Thy holy cities are a wilderness, Zion is a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation. 11 Our holy and our beautiful house, where our fathers praised thee, is burned up with fire: and all our pleasant things are laid waste. 12 Wilt thou refrain thyself for these things, O LORD? wilt thou hold thy peace, and afflict us very sore? (Isaiah 64)

1 The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying, 2 Arise, and go down to the potter's house, and there I will cause thee to hear my words. 3 Then I went down to the potter's house, and, behold, he wrought a work on the wheels. 4 And the vessel that he made of CLAY was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it. 5 Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying, 6 O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the LORD. Behold, as the CLAY is in the potter's hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel. (Jeremiah 18)

12 And the same day Pilate (IRON) and Herod (CLAY) were made friends together (MIXING): for before they were at enmity between themselves. (Luke 23)

ADDITIONALLY:

The rock is the Messiah. The statue represents foreign powers/kingdoms ruling over the Holy Land.

In Matthew 21:42-45 Jesus (the rock) tells the Jewish authorities (clay) that He is going to break them and grind them to nothing. Just as Daniel 2:35 tells about the end of the statue.

42 Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes? 43 Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. 44 And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder. 45 And when the chief priests and Pharisees had heard his parables, they perceived that he spake of them. (Matthew 21)

34 Thou sawest till that a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces. 35 Then was the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver, and the gold, broken to pieces together, and became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away, that no place was found for them: and the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth. (Daniel 2)

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  • 2
    @AndrewShanks - denominations here are never mentioned as the argument/exegesis should be independent of such.
    – Dottard
    Aug 15 at 11:27
  • The successor to the Seleucids was the Parthian Empire, at least in Babylon and its environs. Not Rome. (Rome made some brief incursions only). If you think these empires are centered in Palestine, you'd need to explain why God would tell Nebuchednezzer what is to come to his own empire and then move the focus to Palestine, as that seems a bit of a stretch. Daniel is a Babylon-focused work.
    – Robert
    Aug 16 at 1:59
  • Also, there is the issue of the Persians being called a weaker empire than Babylon, which is false by any metric. They were a much grander, stronger, better, bigger empire.
    – Robert
    Aug 16 at 2:00
  • @Robert, Nebuchadnezzer conquered Palestine, so there is no stretch at all. The focus is on the Empires which conquered the Jews/Promised Land/Palestine/Judaea. That explains why the Parthians are not mentioned. As for the Persian Empire, the KJV says "after thee shall arise another kingdom inferior to thee" (Dan 2:39). It does not say "inferior to thine".. the Persian kings did not hold the absolute power held by Neb, but were themselves subject to the law of the Medes and the Persians. The Persian kings were inferior to Neb. in this sense. Nov 4 at 10:06
  • If "clay" in this dream refers to "Jews" (just because God used the imagery of Potter and Clay to represent His relationship with Israel), every occurrence of the word "bride" in the Bible should stand for Israel or the Church! That would be a little too far fetched. [And, by the way, how can we say that Herod was a Jew? He was an Edomite (Idumite). He spent money on Jewish building projects to gain Jewish favor.]
    – P P Eapen
    Nov 12 at 20:54
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The gold are the Babylonians, and the Babylonian Empire; the silver are the Persians, the bronze are the Greeks and the iron the Romans.

  • The gold are indeed the Babylonians, as explicitly pointed out in the text itself (2:37-38).

  • The kingdom of brass, which shall rule over all the earth (2:39), are the Persians, since that was what Cyrus' empire was most famous for in its time, Alexander himself being one of his admirers, for precisely this very reason, which is also why he visited his tomb.

At its greatest territorial extent, the Achaemenid Empire stretched from the Balkans and Eastern Europe in the west to the Indus Valley in the east. The empire was larger than any previous empire in history, spanning a total of 5.5 million square kilometers (2.1 million square miles).

  • The kingdom of iron, which breaks in pieces and subdues all things (2:40), is the Macedonian empire, to whose impressive wars and conquests the book of Daniel dedicates its entire eighth chapter; notice also the textual parallel between 2:40 and 8:7-8.

  • The silver, then, are the Medes, which, along with the abovementioned Persians (brass), correspond to the ram's two horns (8:20).

What is the clay in the vision of the statue in Daniel 2 ?

Alexander's aforementioned empire broke up into two main pieces: Egypt and the Seleucid Empire, corresponding to the statue's two feet; this duality is then further reinforced by the presence of two elements, iron and clay, the former representing strength, and the latter signifying weakness. Its strength obviously resided in its military prowess and sweep victories, detailed in the book's eight chapter; its weakness, however, consisted in its brevity (8:8, 8:21-22, 11:3-4). This theme is then resumed in the book's eleventh chapter, detailing the constant power struggle between its two ensuing halves, sometimes the south prevailing over the north, and, at other times, the balance of power being reversed in favor of the latter.

put in your answer from what doctrinal perspective you are coming from.

See historical-grammatical method and authorial intent.

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This image represents governments. Some of the governments pictured by the image’s feet and toes of iron mixed with clay are ironlike—authoritarian or tyrannical. Others are claylike. In what way? Daniel associated the clay with “the offspring of mankind.” (Daniel 2:43) Despite the fragile nature of clay, of which the offspring of mankind are made, traditional ironlike rulerships have been obliged to listen more and more to the common people, who want their say in the governments ruling over them. (Job 10:9) But there is no sticking together of authoritarian rule and the common people—no more than there could be a uniting of iron with clay. At the time of the image’s demise, the world will indeed be politically fragmented! Sound familiar? Will this disunity be the reason for the demise of the image?

Consider the climax of the dream. Daniel told the king:

34 You kept on looking until a stone was cut out not by hands, and it struck the image on its feet of iron and of molded clay and crushed them. 35 At that time the iron, the molded clay, the copper, the silver and the gold were, all together, crushed and became like the chaff from the summer threshing floor, and the wind carried them away so that no trace at all was found of them. And as for the stone that struck the image, it became a large mountain and filled the whole earth.—Daniel 2:34, 35.

Another entity destroyed the image. What was it?

By way of explanation, the prophecy continued:

44 In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be brought to ruin. And the kingdom itself will not be passed on to any other people. It will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, and it itself will stand to times indefinite; 45 forasmuch as you beheld that out of the mountain a stone was cut not by hands, and that it crushed the iron, the copper, the molded clay, the silver and the gold. The grand God himself has made known to the king what is to occur after this. And the dream is reliable, and the interpretation of it is trustworthy.-Daniel 2:44, 45.

Yes, the same Kingdom we pray for in the Lord’s Prayer-God’s Kingdom- will bring the end to human governments and establish itself over all mankind.

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  • Hi Harold, welcome to BH-Stack Exchange, we are glad you are here. Please be sure to take the site tour and read our code of conduct. Thanks! Aug 16 at 10:28
  • My attention here, with this Q. has been on the more established contributors, not to mention my own A. I see now that I was too hasty to overlook your A. The little that you have written, as most of your A. is taken up with 'finite' verses, is not without merit at all. I see the clay however as being not so much to do with authoritarian rule and the common people but more to do with maladies within the non-authoritarian governments. One need look no further than the US of A and it's 2 party system and 3 branches of government. "A house divided against itself....." It's an upvote from me. Aug 20 at 8:26
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The answer is in Daniel's interpretation

I shall get to the meaning of "clay" by examining Daniel's interpretation of the feet of the statue.

"In that you were seeing feet and toes partly of wet clay and partly of iron, so this will be a divided kingdom. Some of the strength of iron will be in it, for you saw iron mixed with wet clay. In that the toes of the feet were partly of iron and partly of clay, the latter stages of this kingdom will be partly strong and partly fragile.  And in that you saw iron mixed with wet clay, so people will be mixed with one another without adhering to one another, just as iron does not mix with clay." (2:41-43)

The parts of the statue — head; the breast and hands; the belly and thighs; and the legs — represent "kingdoms." The decreasing value of materials with which these parts are made indicates that a kingdom would be inferior in glory to that of its predecessor (2:39).

The iron with which the legs are made represents strength — "strength of iron will be in it" (2:41). Just as the material "iron" does not stand for a kingdom or a people, the "wet clay" does not represent a kingdom or people. Instead, like iron, it represents a characteristic of the fourth kingdom, namely, weakness or fragility! Daniel makes it clear: "this kingdom will be partly strong and partly fragile" (2:42).

Daniel took the presence of two immiscible substances in the statue's feet as an indication of a fracture in the kingdom - "it will be a divided kingdom." (2:41) It is this "division" that is responsible for the fragility or weakness of the fourth kingdom and of the statue as a whole.

Daniel's further interpretation of this strange mixture of iron and clay is interesting:

And in that you saw iron mixed with wet clay, so people will be mixed with one another without adhering to one another, just as iron does not mix with clay.

Daniel makes it clear that during the "latter stages" (2:42) of the fourth kingdom, there will be increased "mixing" of people, probably of various ethnic and linguistic groups. On a positive note, this "mixing" indicates greater freedom of movement for people within the empire. But the people will not "adhere" to one another. Ethnic identities and loyalties prevent the kingdom from being an ethnic melting pot.

Iron indicates strength of the kingdom; clay indicates weakness. The presence of the two together will not result in an alloy. It results in an immiscible mixture which represents a kingdom fractured along ethnic or linguistic lines despite the freedom of movement afforded by the kingdom.

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There is broad agreement that the iron legs of the Dan 2 image represented the Roman empire lasting from about 100 BC to about 450 AD.

Ellicott (Dan 2:40):

Breaketh all things.—Remembering that the comparison is between iron and the fourth empire, this portion of the vision implies that the Roman empire, which is here intended (see Exc. E), will crush out all traces that remain of preceding empires, just as iron is capable of breaking gold, silver, or copper.

Benson (Dan 2:40):

Daniel 2:40-43. The fourth kingdom shall be strong as iron, &c. — This description agrees well with the Roman empire, and the event answered the prediction; for the Roman was vastly more strong and extensive than any of the preceding three. As iron breaketh and bruiseth all other metals, so this brake and subdued all the former kingdoms.

The description about the demise and final supplanting of the iron empire of Rome is quite detailed in Dan 2. Recall that the Roman empire encircled the Mediterranean sea with about 30 Roman provinces (it always excluded "Germainia" north of the Rhine).

When Rome collapse, it broke up into a series of about 30 states, approximately corresponding with the original administrative precincts of Rome which still surround the Mediterranean sea, although in modified form. Many still speak a derivation of the old Latin including, Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Algeria, Romania, etc.

In Daniel 2 we read:

41 And just as you saw that the feet and toes were made partly of fired clay and partly of iron, so this will be a divided kingdom, yet some of the strength of iron will be in it—just as you saw the iron mixed with clay. 42 And as the toes of the feet were partly iron and partly clay, so this kingdom will be partly strong and partly brittle. 43 As you saw the iron mixed with clay, so the peoples will mix with one another, but will not hold together any more than iron mixes with clay.

There have been numerous attempts to re-create the old Roman empire (not necessarily by that name) such as:

  • Uumayyad Dynasty beginning in 661 which managed to unite most of what was the southern part of the roman Empire including southern Spain.
  • The Holy Roman Empire founded by Charlemane, especially under Charles V
  • Napoleon
  • etc, etc

The Dan 2 prophecy accurately describes this fraught process that has so far failed. The "clay" is better translated, "baked clay" or "ceramic clay" as per some versions - a very brittle material as distinct from the ductility of iron. The relics of the old Roman empire continue in many ways - we have inherited things such as:

  • water distribution systems
  • central heating
  • language and writing
  • many aspects of the legal system and the rule of law

... and so forth. But the relics of the Roman Empire, despite attempts by intermarriage of royal families, especially during the 19th century, all attest to the being just that - relics of the Roman Empire that "will not cleave", or "not mix" and so have never re-united. many of the peoples are still distinct.

Thus, these relics of the Roman empire have some "brittle" parts - easily broken that will not mix with the iron. This well describes the political fracturing of the Europe and northern Africa.

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  • The statue represents foreign powers/kingdoms ruling over the Holly Land. The fact that different empires are represented by different body parts is important. It is all about proportions. The number of years each of those empires ruled the land correspond to proportions of a human body. Your explanation, my brother, makes the feet a few times bigger than the rest of the statue. Aug 15 at 21:30
  • @ארקדיוס - what Bible evidence can you supply for your first sentence assertion?
    – Dottard
    Aug 15 at 21:33
  • Christ as the rock that transforms into a cosmic mountain in Daniel 2 = the mountain of the LORD'S house in Isaiah 2 = everlasting Davidic king of Israel. It is all about Jerusalem and the throne of David. Aug 15 at 21:57
  • @ארקדיוס - agreed - that is a Messianic prophecy partially fulfilled by Jesus at the first Advent and filly fulfilled by Jesus at the second Advent. See Matt 1:1, 20, 9:27, 12:23, 15:22, 20:30, 15, 21:9, 15, Mark 10:35, Luke 1:32, 33, 18:38, 39, John 1:49, Acts 13:32-37, Heb 1:8. See also Rev 11:15, 19:16. Such a Messiah was prophesied long ago: Ex 15:18, Ps 10:16, 61:7, 68:16, 92:8, 93:5, 146:10, Isa 9:7, 47:7, Lam 5:19, Micah 4:7.
    – Dottard
    Aug 15 at 22:09
  • @ארקדיוס - BUT the rock is NOT the clay - baked ceramic clay is a man-made material while the rock was not touched by human hands.
    – Dottard
    Aug 15 at 22:14
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What is the clay in the vision of the statue in Daniel 2?

The simple answer is, that in the time of the end - as the 'toes' of the 'empirical' statue represent the end of Satan's rule, soon to be crushed by the 'King of Kings, and Lord of lords' (the stone cut from the mountain), Rev 19:16 - the clay will represent the weaker parts of governments of men, Dan 2:43, that will not mix with the iron, being the stronger parts.

In the following narrative, I will endeavor to try to explain how rule has progressively gone from ultimate authoritarianism, to an abject meritocracy by the privileged peoples of the world, on one hand, while some smaller kingdoms, or principalities, practice a malign and truly corrupt form of authoritarianism, distinct from the rest of the world, to the very detriment of all their peoples. An often truly bad mixture.

To start our narrative, we see that the dreamt about statue has a head of Gold and we are informed by Daniel, himself, that King Nebuchadnezzar (the dreamer) is indeed that head of Gold. He was the consummate, omnipotent, King of Kings, Dan 2:37,38. His word was not to be contested, much like in the case of the Almighty, Himself.

So, the Babylonian Empire, as represented by the head of Gold, thrives from 607 BC (the start of the 70 [360 day] years of captivity for the Jews, which ended in 538 BC) until its defeat in 539 BC, at the hands of the Medes and Persians, led by Cyrus the Great (the Medes being the lessor of the two, as to consequence). The breasts and arms of the statue then, represent the Medo-Persian Empire, Dan 2:39, but power has now been split into two power bases in effect.

By 331 BC, Greece becomes that Empire, represented by the upper belly and thighs of the great statue, where we are introduced to Alexander the Great, whose power was subsequently split four ways at his death, see also Dan 2:39.

The fourth empire, that of the (upper) legs of iron, with regard to the statue, is the Roman Empire, Dan 2:40. Rome eventually took over the four Hellenistic divisions of the Grecian Empire and by 30 BC was well established as the new empire of consequence. But, here again power was diffused even further, particularly as Rome was founded on a 'Republic' (officially the Senate and People of Rome), representative democracy if you will. This mighty empire eventually broke up into many kingdoms. This Roman World Power , however, did not end with its last emperor in Rome in 476 AD. For many centuries, papal Rome continued to exercise political, and especially religious, domination over Europe, particularly from 538 AD, when the Pagan Roman Empire became The Holy Roman Empire, with Justinian's metamorphosis from Chief of Staffs to Theologian. It wasn't until '1260 years' later, in 1798 AD, that power was considerably reduced by Napoleon, but we digress.

The Papacy, however is really only the result of one (lower) leg of the statue, borne out of the Western Roman Empire, whereas the Eastern Roman Empire, the other (lower) leg of the statue, spawned the likes of the Ottoman (Muslim) Empire. On the western side, we subsequently have the likes of Great Britain, United States of America and EU. Conversely, we then have the likes of Russia, China, Rest of Europe and even the ...revived nation of Israel.

But the pivotal year of these now present times, which could very well have heralded the so called 'End Times' was probably 1914. In the aftermath of WWI, we saw nation building of the most emphatic kind, resulting in the most politically divided and power splitting times, that we find ourselves in today. Divisions of thought, particularly as to how to rule, abound. The good and the bad have truly been mixed together. All that is 'good' representing the strength of iron, whereas the 'bad', that of molded clay, wherein, never the twain should meet. For a house divided against itself ultimately cannot stand.

Dan 2:34,35 [NASB]

....(34)"You continued looking until a stone was cut out without hands, and it struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay, and crushed them. (35) Then the iron , the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were crushed all at the same time, and became like chaff from the Summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away so that not a trace of them were found. But the stone that struck the statue became a great mountain and filled the whole earth."

Note to would be editors DO NOT edit this for format, or for any other reason for that matter. It will not be appreciated. Comments, however, are welcome. Down voters should, according to our 'code of conduct' identify themselves and give their reasons for down voting. If all goes well here, I may continue posting but quite frankly I'm a little jaded and disappointed right now with the whole thing, for a variety of reasons.

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  • Nicely written. +1 Apologies if one of my edits has caused any problems.
    – agarza
    Aug 18 at 1:17
  • Sorry, Olde boy, but have given -1. Its nicely written but I can't agree with it. If these things way beyond the Temple destruction are prophecied in the Book of Daniel then Jesus would have understood it & been able to tell us that the end of the world isn't for a long time yet. V few things are prophecied after the resurrection of Christ... the destruction of the Temple, the suffering of the Jews, the Man of Sin. A horizon in prophecy begins to descend around the time of the Temple destruction, the Man of Sin could appear any time after that, hence Mark 13:32-37. But keep your chin up! Aug 18 at 7:29
  • "A horizon in prophecy"? I mean just as we can't look over the horizon so there is a horizon falls around the time of the Temple destruction 70AD - no one can see the timing of events over that horizon. Aug 18 at 7:34
  • @AndrewShanks-I once wrote, on this site, that the end of prophecy reached its fulfillment by the end of the 1st Roman/Jewish War, that is in 73 AD. After that is all about factual history and how that might apply to what's in the prophetic part of Daniel, yet to be realized and the book of Revelation, yet to be realized, because after all the 2nd Advent has not happened yet. It is still obvious for instance that Satan still rules this World. When Jesus was answering his disciples Q's, on the M of O, just prior to his death, however, he was indeed referencing 70 AD, for the Great Trib'. Aug 18 at 12:25
  • @agarza-Thank you for the vote of confidence and I accept your apology. It's just that when a contributor has spent an inordinate amount of time (often in my case) on their answer, that person wants their authorship to be tied to that answer for as long as possible, it being a form of notoriety. Every time one modifies, and I've seen it done for the smallest of improvements, that notoriety, in effect, then moves to them. Only if one then reads the actual answer, is all revealed. Aug 18 at 22:38
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When the Kingdom of God comes, the covenant treating the Jews as a special people, more than others, must end and does end. When the Jewish authorities rejected and killed the Son, God finally rejected them (Luke 20:1-19).

The vision does not actually tell us why these empires and the clay are ground to powder and scattered. God in his anger will grind them to powder (just as Moses in his anger ground the golden calf to powder (Exodus 32:19-20)) because of their rebellious, stubborn, and selfish sin-loving rejection of his Son. We must look to Psalm 2, and the parable ending in Matthew 21:44 and Luke 20:18 for the reason for the wrath against the metals and the clay.

There is nothing especially bad about the empires mentioned more than other empires: the empires mentioned are representative of all empires and all the means by which mankind organises a rebellion against God, and of all the kings that set themselves against the Lord and his Messiah (Ps 2). Of course, they also provide a count down to the coming of the Messiah and the Kingdom of God.

The clay is the Jewish chief priests, the Sanhedrin, the elders of the people as the heads of the theocratic nation state of Judaea, which will be crushed, ground to powder and scattered to the four winds because of the Jews’ rejection of Christ (Matt 21:38-46, Luke 20:14-18).

The clay is the Jews because the clay is not anything trivial – the “clay” is mentioned nine times in the passage;

the whole vision is centred on the Jews: the empires mentioned are only those which would control the land of Judaea e.g. neither the Parthian Empire, nor the huge Indian empire of Chandragupta Mauyra nor of Ashoka are mentioned, the vision tells what experiences the Jews will go through before the coming of the Kingdom of God, it aids the Jews from the time of the vision to know the timing of the approaching Messiah;

the clay is hidden from clear explanation, there must be a good reason for this obscuring - a good explanation could be so as not to cause offence to unbelieving Jews (especially the religious leaders themselves from the time of Daniel onwards who might, because they were offended, try to exclude the book of Daniel from the holy canon) or so as not to hinder some Jews coming to faith in the God of Daniel. Furthermore, those offended, hindered or irritated by a fuller explanation the meaning of the clay can only be people who actually read the book of Daniel - there is no point obscuring the message to those who never bother to read it. There remains only the possibilities of the Jews or those at a later date belonging to Christiandom;

the clay does not exclusively relate to the Roman Empire alone (Dan 2:45);

the clay is a people with which the Roman authorities will try to mix in terms of allowing a measure of shared rule in the ruling of the land of Judaea (Dan 2:41-43) (and the Romans did indeed permit a measure of rule in Judaea to the Sanhedrin, the chief priests and elders), but this attempt to “share” rule would ultimately fail (Dan 2:43);

and the clay is a people who will be crushed and ground to powder around the time of the beginning of the New Testament era and the coming of the Kingdom of God because of their rejection of Christ (Luke 20:14-18).

And so it was that finally the Romans destroyed the Jews including the destruction of the genealogical records upon which the national covenant with God was based. Only those who could prove they were descendants of Jacob by legally verifiable records kept by the priesthood were entitled to the benefits of the covenant (Ezra 2:59, 62). With the destruction of the genealogical records the covenant with the Jews ceased forever – the Jews were ground to powder and scattered. Because of what they did to the Messiah the Kingdom was taken away from the Jews and given to others (Matthew 21:43).

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The answer to your question has many traditional interpretations, and these are expressed in the many other answers already posted.

But there is a more recent view that is [slowly] gaining some support (but by no means near a majority). I will present that view for consideration.

The verse you quoted…

DANIEL 2:42 And as the toes of the feet were partly of iron and partly of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong and partly fragile.

Needs to be considered along side that which follows it …

DANIEL 2:43 As you saw iron mixed with ceramic clay, they will mingle with the seed of men; but they will not adhere to one another, just as iron does not mix with clay.

Verse 43 influences any view about what the ‘clay’ is. In particular the mingling with the “seed of men” confounds many, and this is one reason why it’s easier to just not bring this up. The only real reference to ‘seed of men’ that we can look back on is in Genesis 6 - which is another controversially interpreted passage.

Likewise for a [biblical, as opposed to a ‘reasoned’] reference, ‘Clay’ comes up in Genesis 2. Man’s body was made from ‘clay’. In Daniel 2, ‘clay’ is in Aramaic, so we can’t directly match it to the Hebraic ‘clay’ in Genesis 2. Nevertheless, ‘clay’ could arguably be seen to mean ‘from out of the earth’.

So let’s now question Daniel 42/43. It is talking about a ‘mixture’. It is suggesting that this mixture involves, or rather comes about and involves ‘the seed of men’. The only other place this has any possible reference is Genesis 6.

So the, or a possible consideration for ‘clay’ is something that ‘mixes’ with men, something that has a source from the ‘earth’, not God. And this quite likely infers a genetically ‘improved’ human. That this last world empire will have a mix of human (iron) and genetically enhanced ‘man’ (clay).

Many will automatically discount this line of thinking, but, if you open your ears to what is already happening today! For example, China is actively researching to genetically improve the eyesight of its soldiers, and genetically improving human bodies to need/require less sleep - yes I appreciate this edges towards an ‘out there’ idea, but nevertheless I submit it for consideration.

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    To whomever the downvoter is. It would help me if you expressed a reason. I accept the contentiousness of the view, but I outlined it to give readers a chance to be aware that there are alternative views to those traditionally supported. Surely the accepted view can be easily ‘seen’ via upvotes. Downvotes should be supported via a reason(s). (IMO). For the record, I don’t mind being downvoted, but always appreciate a ‘why’.
    – Dave
    Aug 17 at 5:14
  • Dave, I gave -1. IMO the mystery of the clay has NO satisfying traditionally supported view.. there has not been sufficient focus on the matter, with too much gazing around at ancient & modern history & not enough forensic attention to the few clues we might have within Scripture. IMO Dr John Gill's interpretation, which is one of the traditional views, is absurd having this fault.. it is strange no real progress on interpretting the clay has been made since him. Your interp., IMO, is more eisegesis, not exegesis, & we need to use the context of the chapter, the book, & the whole Bible. Aug 19 at 8:09
  • @Andrew Shanks Hey, I appreciate you supporting your vote via your comment. Thanks! Exegesis is difficult, hence the lack of satisfying interpretation. Closest I could get was using ‘clay’, and ‘seed of men’ as ‘clues’. But, using these leads down a trail that challenges [natural] reasoning. And, Eisegesis requires apologetic reasoning.
    – Dave
    Aug 19 at 20:22
  • Hello Dave, I have just posted my answer. I don't up vote my own answers to my own questions and at the moment will up vote the answer of ארקדיוס. If he would just incorporate some of his comments to others into his main answer I think it would be very much better. When I asked the question I thought the clay was either the Christians or the Jews: I am much more certain now... it must be the Jews, the nation and its religious leaders in the NT era. Aug 19 at 20:30
-1

Short answer

The clay is the Jewish chief priests, the Sanhedrin, the elders of the people as the heads of the theocratic nation state of Judaea, which will be crushed, ground to powder and scattered to the four winds because of the Jews’ rejection of Christ (Matt 21:38-46, Luke 20:14-18).

The clay is the (unbelieving) Jews because the clay is not anything trivial – the “clay” is mentioned nine times in the passage;

the whole vision is centred on the Jews (the empires mentioned are only those which controlled the land of Judaea e.g. neither the Parthian Empire, nor the huge Indian empire of Chandragupta Mauyra nor of Ashoka are mentioned);

the clay is hidden from clear explanation, there must be a good reason for this obscuring - a good explanation could be so as not to cause offence to unbelieving Jews (especially the religious leaders themselves from the time of Daniel onwards who might, because they were offended, try to exclude the book of Daniel from the holy canon) or so as not to hinder some Jews coming to faith in the God of Daniel;

the clay does not exclusively relate to the Roman Empire alone (Dan 2:45);

the clay is a people with which the Roman authorities will try to mix in terms of allowing a measure of rule in the ruling of the land of Judaea (Dan 2:41-43) (and the Romans did indeed permit a measure of rule in Judaea to the Sanhedrin, the chief priests and elders), but this attempt to “share” rule would ultimately fail (Dan 2:43);

and the clay is a people who will be crushed and ground to powder around the time of the beginning of the New Testament era and the coming of the Kingdom of God because of their rejection of Christ (Luke 20:14-18).

And so it was that finally the Romans destroyed the Jews including the destruction of the genealogical records upon which the national covenant with God was based. Only those who could prove they were descendants of Jacob by legally verifiable records kept by the priesthood were entitled to the benefits of the covenant (Ezra 2:59, 62). With the destruction of the genealogical records the covenant with the Jews ceased forever – the Jews were ground to powder and scattered. The Kingdom was taken away from the Jews and given to others.

Long Answer

I believe our Lord JESUS tells us, or at least gives us a very broad hint of, what the clay is.

Allan Harman in his Commentary says the NIV translation of Daniel 2:43 is good:

"And just as you saw the iron mixed with baked clay, so the people will be a mixture and will not remain united, any more than iron mixes with clay".

Judging from this the clay is a body of people, just as the iron and other metals are bodies of people. The gold is the Babylonians and the Babylonian Empire; the silver is the Medo-Persians, the bronze is the Greeks, and the iron the Romans. The clay represents another people found within the Roman Empire who did not mix with the Romans.

Median Empire and then Persian Empire or Medo-Persian Empire?

But first, some claim the Median and Persian empires are two separate empires and thus the four empires are the Babylonian, the Median, the Persian, and the Greek. But the Scriptures testify throughout that there was just one Medo-Persian Empire. They had one law, “the law of the Medes and the Persians” ( Daniel 6:8, 12, 15); Belshazzar’s kingdom was given to “the Medes and the Persians” (Daniel 5:28); the royal archives were “the book of the annals of the kings of Media and Persia” (Esther 10:2) from which a royal decree of the Persian King Cyrus was found not at Susa or Persopolis in Persia but at the royal palace at Ecbatana, the capital of Media (Ezra 6:2); and in the days of Xerxes (Ahasuerus) there were “the military leaders of Persia and Media” (Esther 1:3), the wives of the nobility were “the Persian and Median women of the nobility” (Esther 1:18); and “the two-horned ram which you [Daniel] saw represents the kings of Media and Persia” (Daniel 8:20).

[And in my opinion with a bit of investigation and effort, it can be surmised from Ezekiel 4:5 that scripture dates Cyrus’s reign from the Fall of Babylon, despite the fact that Darius the Mede was made king of Babylon. (See my answer to “What historical periods do the 390 year and 40 year periods refer to in Ezekiel 4:1-8?” on Stack Exchange, Christianity here:

Finally, in the days of Ahasuerus and Esther, there were “seven nobles of Persia and Media who had special access to the king and were highest in the kingdom” (Esther 1:14). It was the Kingdom of the Medes and the Persians: that is how it began (Dan 5:28), continued (Esther 1:14), and ended (Dan 8:20). It was the Medo-Persian Empire.

If that is not enough there is more!

If a Median Empire (silver) was followed by the Persian Empire (bronze) then the Kingdom of God started in the days of the Greek Empire (iron). But it is a historical fact that the Kingdom of God started in the days of the Roman Empire. Who says so? Our Lord Jesus says so! “The time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the Gospel.” (Mark 1:15). There was no Kingdom of God before the start of our Lord’s ministry according to our Lord. So the Roman Empire must be the fourth empire, represented by the iron.

Thus the Babylonian Empire is the gold, the Medo-Persian Empire is the silver, the Greek Empire is the bronze, the Roman Empire is the iron.

The metals are not just Empires but individuals also

Daniel says to Nebuchadnezzar “Thou art this head of gold” (Dan 2:38). Continuing on this basis then the silver would be Cyrus the Great, the bronze Alexander the Great, and the iron might be Augustus Caesar the first emperor of Rome. The Rock would be the King of the Kingdom of God, our Lord Jesus Christ. But what individual would be best represented by the clay?

The clay…. Christians?

I first thought the clay was "Christians": they were persecuted by the Romans. The Romans were fierce and strong, the Christians brittle, and in an earthly sense weak and destroyable. We still are and will be until the world's end when the Kingdom of God will be finally established. But the problem with this interpretation is that the rock not only smashes the metals but also the clay which will also be ground to powder and scattered by the wind, so “that no place was found for them” (Dan 2:35).

Five lines of attack

  1. Our interpretation of what the clay is must make sense within the narrower context of chapter 2, and within the broader context of the whole book.

  2. There are two types of people in the Old Testament who do not mix: the Israelites/Jews and the Gentiles. And there are two types of people in the New Testament who do not mix: believers and unbelievers (2 Cor 6:14-18). These two possibilities are the only distinctives of people groups that really matter throughout the whole Bible.

  3. We could and should look at other passages of the OT where "clay" is spoken of.

  4. The New Testament, in various places, throws light on the book of Daniel.

  5. We have the benefit of history.

Context of the vision of the statue – its nexus

A nexus is a central or focal point. E.g. “The nexus of any British Government is 10 Downing Street.”

Essential to any interpretation of “the clay” is to know the nexus of the whole vision. There are four empires named, but why only four?

The Seleucid Empire is not named nor the Egyptian Empire of the Ptolemies. But these are incorporated within the bronze Greek portion: the Seleucid Empire was Greek as was the Ptolemaic Egyptian “Empire”.

But there are many more empires that are not named. For example, in the days of the Babylonian Empire, Egypt had its own “empire”. Throughout the early period of the Babylonian, Medo-Persian, and Greek empires the Carthaginians had a trade empire. After the Persian Empire, there was the Bactrian Empire and the Parthian Empire: the Parthian Empire even fending off the Romans and continuing during the days of the Roman Empire. And further east there was the huge Maurya Empire of Chandragupta in India and later of Ashoka, emperor of almost all India. It was very great. Why are these not included in the statue?

The focal point of the vision is Judaea. Only those empires which ruled Judaea are mentioned. Now consider: if the gold, the silver, the bronze, and the iron relate to Judaea and Judaea is the nexus of the vision then the clay must also in some way relate to Judaea.

Why does the statue not have any metals for the Muslim Empire, the Ottoman Empire, or the British Empire

The Judaean nation-state came to an abrupt end in the days of the last empire represented by the statue’s metals, the iron Roman Empire. The focus is Judaea which was destroyed by the Romans. There was no longer any need for any mention of empires beyond the destruction of the nation of Judaea. The Jews were the covenant people of God in the Old Testament, but that came to an end when the New Covenant began. It was just and fair of God to end it because the Jews rejected the Messiah and hence they themselves rejected God.

The clay

So who ruled Judaea in the days of the Roman Empire? Firstly, obviously the Romans, with the Herodian kings as their puppets, ruled Judaea from the secular perspective. But secondly the Jewish religious leaders, the Sanhedrin, although they were not permitted to administer the death penalty, were given by the Romans considerable power to rule the Jews. For example, the Sanhedrin had their own soldiers (Matthew 27:65). For other examples of their power see Matt 27:2; John 11:48; Acts 5:28, 5:40, 22:5. The clay then is the Sanhedrin, plus the chief priests with the help of the scribes and Pharisees as the leaders of the theocratic nation-state of Judaea.

Maybe better, the clay is the Israelites/Jews and especially the Jewish theocratic nation-state as set up by God in the Old Testament. This was partly destroyed in 70 AD with the destruction of the Temple, the killing of maybe a million Jews, and the sending into slavery of many more. . (Many were taken to Rome where these Jewish slaves built the Colosseum.) The nation was finally destroyed in the Bar Kokhba rebellion ending in AD 135. Clay utensils were unlike metal in that they were never built to last. When the clay was smashed by the rock and scattered that was always the original intention of the builder. The OT (Israelite/Jewish) dispensation was always intended to be temporary.

Perhaps the vision is saying that it was not principally the Romans who destroyed the Jewish theocratic nation-state, rather it was the potter: God was their potter, and had the right to destroy his own pot.

"Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand" (Isaiah 64:8); and "Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?" (Romans 9:21).

What do I mean by the Israelite/Jewish theocratic nation-state? And was it not also the Kingdom of God? Did not the Kingdom of God exist in Israel in the OT? If Israel was not the Kingdom, how did it differ from the Kingdom of God?

OT Israel/Judah was not the Kingdom of God according to John the Baptist and our Lord Jesus (Matthew 3:1,2; Mark 1:15). The Kingdom of God did not exist before the New Testament era.

The Old Testament theocracy of Israel/Judah was not the Kingdom of God because 1. It did not offer any personal choice - if you were Israelite/Jewish you were a part of the theocratic nation and had to obey its rules; 2. It was maintained by the sword and the magistrate, but the kingdom of God does not operate by force: Hence our Lord said: “My Kingdom is not of this world: if it were of this world then would my servants fight” (John 18:36). In fact, all the kingdoms of men are maintained this way and so can be thought of as a single statue of a man, but when the Kingdom of God comes it will be very different; the vision is highlighting the big difference between the kingdoms of men and the Kingdom of God, and between the kings of the earth who are very well pictured in Daniel chapter 1 - cruel and heartless - and the King who is coming; 3. It enforced merely an outward obedience by threat of punishment, not an inward obedience because of love to the King.

When a person was born Israelite/Jewish in the Old Testament time they automatically entered into a covenant with God, they had no choice in the matter. This was a blessing for those who wanted it, but a curse for those who did not want it. For instance, it wasn't a blessing for the man who was stoned to death for picking up sticks on the Sabbath Day (Numbers 15:32-36). The Kingdom of God, which began with the ministry of our Lord is a voluntary kingdom, those in it have chosen to be in it. Furthermore, God gives them his Holy Spirit to enable them to please Him (Ezekiel 36:25-27) ( - and where they fail "we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous" (1 John 2:1).)

The involuntary theocratic kingdom of the Israelites/Jews was destroyed, once it had fulfilled its purpose of providing types and shadows, to make way for the Kingdom of God.

In many ways ancient Israel/Judah was a picture of the coming kingdom, but it could not possibly be a picture of the voluntary nature of the Kingdom of God because the OT Israel theocracy was not voluntary. It could not properly represent the spiritual nature of the coming Kingdom because the Spirit was not poured out in sufficient measure until Christ rose (John 7:39 & 16:7).

Final thoughts

Why is the smallest of the empires described as the greatest of the metals? This is difficult, but perhaps it is referring not to the power of each empire, but rather to the power of each king within his domain: Nebuchadnezzar had absolute power with his empire, but the kings of Medo-Persia were themselves subject to the law of the Medes and the Persians (Daniel 6:15), the culture of the Greeks was democratic, and at least at one important time the soldiers refused to obey Alexander, the Roman Emperors had a senate, etc.

If Nebuchadnezzar is the head of gold (Dan 2:38) then who does the clay represent? It perhaps is not so important, but I would offer three men to consider: 1. the High Priest Joseph Caiaphas; 2. Annas the High Priest and father-in-law to Caiaphas, he also “had five sons, all of whom achieved that high office [of the High Priesthood], which was unparalleled” (Josephus, Jewish antiquities, in “Josephus, the essential writings” by Paul Maier, 1988, Kregel Pubs, p276, 1st paragraph).

The Doomed Statue

But there is another way to view the statue.. namely, the overall structure is absurd and ridiculous. As one begins to read about it you hear it has a head made of gold.. impressively durable.. is this statue going to last forever? Then comes the silver, still very durable but not quite so good as gold. Then the bronze.. actually bronze requires quite a lot of attention to maintain its shine, it reacts more with its environment than silver, but still, it looks as if this statue is designed to last, it is still quite awe-inspiring, then the legs are made of iron.. and hang on a bit.. iron rusts in a humid climate.. why did the maker use iron to make this statue, especially the legs which should be not the weakest part but the strongest part.. it can still last in a dry climate, but it's days are surely numbered. Then finally we discover the feet are a mix of iron and ceramic clay. How absurd is that? The very place the statue ought to be strongest it is weakest. The statue only needs a knock and it is heading for destruction: it is doomed. The statue might look impressive ar first (or from a distance) but on closer inspection it is weak and foolishly built; it cannot last.

And so it is that all the attempts by men to build empires which are antagonistic against the Lord (Luke 20:9-18) are foolishness - "Thou shalt dash them with a rod of iron, thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel", Psalm 2 - their attempts cannot last, men must stand in the end before God and give an account. And all the powers of men hostile to the King might look fearsome, it is tempting to fear the persecution they threaten to the people of God, but we should not fear them.. they are doomed, much weaker than we imagine.. our God rules and reigns over all things, we must make sure we are in the Kingdom of God (by repentance and faith in Jesus) which will last forever and ever.

Finally, our Lord Jesus is telling us/gives us a clue how he interprets the vision of the statue in Matthew 21:44-45 and in Luke 20:18-19. Surely our Lord Jesus at least implies what the clay is: in Matthew, it is “the chief priests and Pharisees”, in Luke it is “the chief priests and scribes/teachers of the law (of Moses)”. Thank you to ארקדיוס of Stack exchange, Biblical hermeneutics for drawing attention to Matthew 21:44-45. But I shall quote the event as described in Luke’s gospel:

Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed. The teachers of the law and the chief priests looked for a way to arrest him immediately because they knew he had spoken this parable against them. (Luke 20:18-19, NIV)

9
  • The problem with this last ‘empire’ is that its [very] different. Daniel clearly tells us this elsewhere, even describing it as dreadful and fearful. So you using the other previous empires as a foundation to analyse this last one may not be the right track to take. This last empire is a mixture. And that ‘mixture’ involves the ‘seed of men’. I’d like to see you explain this.
    – Dave
    Aug 19 at 20:30
  • For Daniel 2:43 you are probably using either the KJV or the NKJV. Allan M. Harman, in his Evangelical Press commentary on Daniel, draws particular attention to the NIV translation of this verse and says it is "good". He uses the KJV as the main version for his book. The vision's comments about the Romans being dreadful and fearful may have reference to the terrible manner in which the Romans punished the Jews in both AD 66-70 and in putting down the Bar Kokhba rebellion of 132-135. Aug 19 at 20:45
  • Ahh, I am now starting to see where your [end times] foundation is. And yup, we ain’t gonna see ‘eye to eye’ on this. Nevertheless, it is certainly an interesting area to ‘wrestle with’. Cheers!
    – Dave
    Aug 19 at 20:58
  • No probs. Cheers Aug 19 at 21:00
  • @agarza - Thanks Aug 19 at 22:02
-1

Dreams and visions are symbolic, so the symbols must be decoded.

Clay = People
Iron = Impressive Technology

2 Corinthians 4:7

But we have this treasure in jars of clay...

The above verse speaks of having the Holy Spirit inside our mortal bodies.

Judges 1:18

...but could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had chariots of iron.

The feet and the clay mixed are prophetic of the time we are living in now (and accelerating toward the climax of). This is an age of man and technology mixed. But the rock (Jesus) will smash the empire man has built for himself.

1
  • -1. The iron represents an empire, the Roman Empire. If the vision is directly about today then you would need to explain why other empires are not mentioned. The idea of technology is I think a red herring. Oct 26 at 22:39

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