The Feet of Clay

The Feet of Clay: A Comparative Study of Daniel 2 and Daniel 7 With Regard to the Number and Location of the Divisions of the Roman Empire

From time to time we publish research material intended to provoke thought, even though it may not always represent majority opinions in all matters. This article introduces some ideas on an old subject, which we think will be of interest.

Assistant Professor of Old Testament literature and Exegesis, Andrews University

[From time to time we publish research material intended to provoke thought, even though it may not always represent majority opinions in all matters. This article introduces some ideas on an old subject, which we think will be of interest.— Editors.]

THE bold strokes outlining future events are not dif­ficult to discern in the remark­able prophecy of Daniel 2. According to the sure Word of God the Babylonian Em­pire would be followed suc­cessively by the Medo-Persian, the Hellenistic, and the Roman empires, and subsequently by the division of the Roman Empire, as represented by the feet and toes of the great image, part iron and part clay.

In view of the close parallels of the prophecy of Daniel 2 to that of Daniel 7, it has been quite natural that the majority of Bible commentators have identified the toes of the image of Daniel 2 (of which there were presumably ten—a presump­tion undoubtedly correct) with the ten horns of the fourth beast of Daniel 7. Thus, all too frequently expositors of Bible prophecy, whether teachers, preachers, or writers, have somewhat glibly asserted that the ten toes of the feet of iron and clay are an emphatic indication that the divisions of the Roman Empire were to number ex­actly ten.

A careful analysis of the entire proph­ecy of Daniel 2, however, confronts the serious Bible student with some difficul­ties in regard to the number of toes as in­dicating or corresponding to the number of the divisions of the Roman Empire. In the interpretation of this prophecy is it necessary that every feature of the image seen in Nebuchadnezzar's dream must cor­respond to some historical fulfillment in the subsequent events of world history?

This is an important question and it must be examined carefully and critically. For example, Do the two arms of silver represent, as some have felt, the two basic divisions of the Medo-Persian Empire, that is, Media and Persia? If so, then what about the ten fingers on the hands of the image? What would they represent? Was there some development in the Medo-Persian Empire that would correspond to this fea­ture of the image? And pursuing the mat­ter further, What about the head of the image, which represented the Babylonian Empire? It had, presumably, two ears, two eyes, one nose, one mouth, et cetera. Would we want to make specific prophetic appli­cation of each of these?

The answer is No. It seems reasonable to understand that these various features are only incidental to the main prophecy of Daniel 2, and are completely natural because the image was represented in the figure of a man and would naturally con­tain those features a man would possess. It would be unwarranted to demand that every feature of the image must have some special prophetic application, and such a position would lead one into many un­necessary difficulties of exegesis.

On the other hand, it may be fairly pointed out that the prophecy itself calls attention, and specific attention at that, to the feet and toes: 'And whereas thou saw est the feet and toes, part of potters' clay, and part of iron, the kingdom shall be di­vided" (Daniel 2:41). There can be no quarrel then with an interpretation that makes special mention of the feet and toes. The fact that they are divided is clearly indicated in the prophecy. The Roman Empire would not be succeeded by an­other great empire, but rather would be followed by a number of divisions. How­ever, it is extremely questionable whether the prophecy thus quoted warrants us to conclude that the number of divisions should be ten. That seems to be reading more into the prophecy than the prophecy actually states. Notice that the feet and the toes are both mentioned, so if there are ten toes, what about the two feet? Some have held that the two legs and the feet attached to the legs represent the two main divisions of the Roman Empire—the West­ern Roman Empire and the Eastern Ro­man Empire. This is no solution to the problem but rather introduces complica­tions. Did one of the feet have no toes whatsoever? And were all ten toes on the other foot? For turning to history we find that the divisions came in the Western Ro­man Empire and not in the Eastern Ro­man Empire.

After a careful and critical examination of the entire problem and of the entire prophecy, it appears that the only war­ranted conclusion is that the number of the toes was merely incidental to the prophecy itself, without any particular sig­nificance. If there were ten toes on the image (which undoubtedly there were), that would only be a natural feature. It would be unexpected if there were other than ten. Therefore Daniel 2 is not the prophecy that focuses attention on the number of the divisions of the Roman Em­pire. The great image presents a prophecy of four successive empires followed by a number of kingdoms in a divided state. This does not make the prophecy of Dan­iel 2 imperfect or incomplete any more than a lack of any specific reference to the "little horn" power of Daniel 7 makes Dan­iel 2 incomplete.

Now, turning to the prophecy of Daniel 7 for comparison, we find a different and opposite situation regarding this phase of the prophecy. Four successive beasts are represented, which have been correctly identified with the four empires, Babylon­ian, Medio-Persian, Hellenistic, and Ro­man. Turning to the horns of the fourth beast, the first thing to attract the attention of the Bible student is the number of the horns. There were ten horns. Now this was something unusual. It would be quite natural to have an animal of any kind rep­resented with two horns. Much rarer would be the situation if something like a rhinoceros were presented, where there was but one main horn. But for the vision to present an animal with ten horns shows that there must be something peculiar and significant about the number of the horns.

Following the same line of reasoning that tells us there is no particular signifi­cance to the number of the toes of the image of Daniel 2, we are led to conclude that there is every importance to the num­ber of horns of Daniel 7. God could have presented to the prophet Daniel a vision where the fourth beast could have had eight horns, nine horns, eleven horns, twelve, or any number, and the fact that the beast had ten must indicate that this was the number of the divisions that would be expected at the time of the fall of the Roman Empire. The remarkable thing is that with so many commentators of such wide diversity of background such a large degree of agreement has been reached in the interpretation of the ten divisions of the Roman Empire. In other words, with so many different Germanic tribes coming in to overwhelm and overthrow the Ro­man Empire, it is indeed remarkable that Bible commentators have as a whole been closer in their agreements than in their disagreements as to which of the tribes were important enough to be included in the ten main divisions of the Roman Em­pire.

Having shown that the seventh chapter of Daniel gives us the number of the divi­sions, whereas the second chapter does not, let us turn to a careful analysis and exam­ination of both of these prophecies regard­ing the location of the divisions of Rome. In Daniel 7 the ten horns of the beast are said specifically to be "in his head" (Dan. 7:20). From this statement some have con­cluded that Rome itself (the city), and then further, the Italian peninsula, and finally Western Rome in its entirety, all being the center of the Roman Empire, might rightly be termed its "head." Thus, according to this interpretation, it would not be the entire territory of the Roman Empire that would be divided into ten di­visions, but only the western portion of the Roman Empire that would be so divided. This, as has been noted above, was what actually occurred in subsequent history.

Unfortunately, however, this line of rea­soning is weak and somewhat tenuous. Whereas one could admit the city of Rome as the "head" of the empire, yet to stretch the boundaries of the "head" to include precisely those areas that were conquered by the Germanic tribes, and not any other areas of the empire, would present some difficulties. There is nothing unusual in the prophecy of Daniel 7 to have the horns on the head of the fourth animal. How­ever, as has been pointed out previously, the number of the horns is unusual, and therefore must have some special signifi­cance. But the location of the horns on the head of the fourth beast is perfectly normal and what one would expect, even though there are more than two horns involved. It would indeed have been unusual to have had the horns presented as in the middle of the back or on the legs of the animal or somewhere else. One is forced to conclude, then, that the prophecy of Daniel 7 does not give us a very strong indication of pre­cisely where we should expect the ten horns, or ten kingdoms, to arise.

For comparison then, let us examine the prophecy of Daniel 2. A quick tracing of the historical developments indicated in Daniel 2 gives us the setting for the loca­tion of the ten divisions of the Roman Empire. The head of gold is stated specifi­cally in the prophecy to represent the Babylonian Empire as personified by its great founder Nebuchadnezzar II (Daniel 2:38). The location of this empire is no problem to the student of history, for it centered in Mesopotamia, included also the coastal regions of Syria, Phoenicia, and Palestine, and eventually extended to Arabia and Egypt as more recent history has indi­cated.1 It is a mistake to assert, as some have been guilty of doing so glibly, that the Babylonian Empire was a "worldwide" empire, for a superficial glance at its extent will indicate that it was not worldwide, not even in respect to the so-called civi­lized world. Simultaneous with it and ex­isting alongside of it was the Median Em­pire. Also in existence was a strong empire at Lydia, not to mention such powers as Greece and Rome and Carthage.2 But it can be asserted and should be asserted that at the time of the prophet Daniel the Bab­ylonian Empire was the predominant world power of its day in the so-called civ­ilized world, better termed the Mediterra­nean world. It was the leading empire among the other nations then in existence.

In connection with the location of all the empires mentioned in both Daniel 2 and Daniel 7, one statement in Daniel 7, verse 2, seems of particular help. The tra­ditional Adventist interpretation of winds as "wars," and of seas as "peoples, nations, or multitudes" has ample Biblical foun­dation. Although some Bible students would probably disagree with the follow­ing conclusion, it seems to the author that the phrase "the great sea" in verse 2 refers especially to the Mediterranean Sea, much as the Old Testament terms "the river" or "the great river" refer so frequently to the Euphrates River (unless context de­mands that some other river be under­stood).3 If this conclusion is warranted, it is easily established that both prophecies, Daniel 2 and Daniel 7, are dealing with those great empires that arose in the Med­iterranean world. The sea would mean "peoples and nations," and the great sea would mean "the peoples and nations of the Mediterranean world"; and there is, of course, general agreement among usthat these are the nations concerned with in the prophecies of Daniel 2 and 7.

Turning again to Daniel 2, the next part of the image was the breast and arms of silver, which according to the prophecy represented another kingdom that should arise after the kingdom of Babylon (Dan. 2:39). The prophecy itself gives no indica­tion as to the manner in which the image was presented to King Nebuchadnezzar in the dream, whether being shown to him strikingly in its entirety, or being pre­sented metal by metal and part by part. In view of the fact that the interpretation takes up the image beginning at the head and ending at the toes, first the gold then the silver, et cetera, might it not have been possible that the head of gold was first pre­sented strikingly to the king in the dream, and then he saw before him the breast and arms of silver, not doing away with the head of gold, but, as it were, added to it, and so on down until the entire image appeared before him? This, of course, is impossible to prove. However, be that as it may, the historical fact is that under Cyrus the Great the combined forces of the Medo-Persian Empire conquered the en­tire territory of the Babylonian Empire and added it to its own. In other words, the Babylonian Empire was swallowed up and incorporated into Medo-Persia. However, it should be noted that just as the silver was presented to view in the dream with­out changing the gold into silver, so there was territory outside of the Babylonian Empire (represented by the gold) that formed the nucleus of the new empire (represented by the silver). So when the Medo-Persian Empire conquered Babylon it emerged as the next predominant Med­iterranean power. Thus, purely from the standpoint of location, the Medo-Persian Empire should be represented territorially by the breast and arms of silver (its own original territory), plus the head of gold (the territory held by the Babylonian Em­pire).4

Going on in the same analysis we find that the brass in the image is presented as being outside of that part of the image covered by the silver and the gold. So territorially the Hellenistic Empire originated in Macedonia and Greece, this territory be­ing outside of any territory under the per­manent domination of the Medo-Persian Empire. In turn the Macedonian and Greek forces led by Alexander the Great conquered practically the entire territory of the Medo-Persian Empire, and thus was formed the third dominant Mediterranean power of these prophecies, the Hellenistic Empire, or the empire of Alexander.

Likewise, coming to the fourth power, the iron territorially represented areas out­side of the Hellenistic Empire, namely It­aly, North Africa, Gaul, the Iberian Pen­insula, et cetera. The Roman Empire con­quered the territory of the Hellenistic Em­pire and added it to itself. Now we come face to face with a power not only world predominant in the Mediterranean world but the only one of the four said to have ruled the whole world.5

Thus the prophecy of Daniel 2 presents the coming kingdom of our Saviour as breaking in pieces not only the iron and the clay but also the brass, the silver, and the gold (Dan. 2:45), although according to the interpretation of the prophecy it­self, the first kingdom (Babylonia) would be succeeded by another, and then a third, and then a fourth. At the time of Christ"s second advent elements of the gold, silver, and brass are still in existence (territori­ally), as well as of the iron and clay.

With the entire outline of Daniel 2 clearly set forth, as well as developments in history as to the territory of the various empires involved, it becomes highly signif­icant that the feet and toes which were partly of clay were mixed only with one metal—iron. The feet were not clay plus gold, nor clay and silver, nor clay and brass, but clay with iron. The possible sig­nificance of this then becomes clearly ap­parent. The divisions of the Roman Em­pire (ten in number as seen in Daniel 7) are, according to chapter 2, to be looked for mixed with or among the "iron" of the Roman Empire. In other words, they should be found among those territories or areas of the Roman Empire that were symbolized originally by the iron of the image, and were not included territorially in either the gold (Mesopotamia, Syria, Egypt, Arabia, et cetera) or the silver (Media, Persia, Asia-Minor, and eastward to the Indus River) or the brass (Thrace, Macedonia, Greece, Epirus, et cetera). This means that one should look for the divisions of the Roman Empire to be found in Italy, in North Africa, in the Iberian Peninsula, in Gaul; in short, in those por­tions of the entire worldwide Roman Empire west of the territories held by the Hel­lenistic Empire at its greatest extent. When according to our traditional position it is stated that the ten divisions of Rome should be looked for in the so-called West­ern Roman Empire as opposed to the so-called Eastern Roman Empire, this posi­tion is valid. But many times such asser­tions have been made without their proponents being able to advance adequate reasons for the position.

In the light of this study, the parallelism between the prophecy of Daniel 2 and the prophecy of Daniel 7 is no less remarkable than the fact that these prophecies com­plement each other so remarkably. The details found in one are supplemented by the details found in the other. Regarding the position in history of the four great world empires, there is no disagreement. Babylon was the world-predominant em­pire of its day, the Hellenistic Empire was the world-predominant power of its day, and the mighty Roman Empire was not only the world-predominant power of its day but also a true worldwide power, in that it extended throughout the entire Mediterranean world.

Both Daniel 2 and Daniel 7 indicate clearly that the mighty Roman Empire would be followed by a divided condition, or a division by other kingdoms, whether represented by the horns or by the feet and toes. But the complementary nature of the two prophecies is nowhere more clearly demonstrated than in the fact that one can establish the number of the divi­sions of the Roman Empire most clearly by means of a study of the prophecy of Daniel 7, and on the other hand, one can most clearly establish the location of the divisions of the Roman Empire by means of a careful study of the prophecy of Daniel 2.


1 For map of the empire in its early stages, sec The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 4, p. 742.

2 In an unpublished doctoral dissertation the author has shown the treaty arrangements between the Babylonian Em­pire and the Median Empire at the time of Nebuchadnezzar's father. These two empires were allies then, and Nebuchad­nezzar apparently was given a Median princess as his wife to seal the compact. There was a somewhat nebulous and invisible line of tacit agreement, north of which Babylonia was not supposed to go and south of which Media was not supposed to go. This left Babylon free to expand toward Egypt, and Media to expand westward to Lydia, as both sub­sequently did.

3 Gen. 15:18; Deut. 11:24; 2 Sara. 10:16; 1 Kings 4:24; ect cetera.

4 In an evangelistic presentation it might be profitable to use black light or some similar device to focus attention briefly on the entire image as the dream is presented. Then as the interpretation of the dream is presented, the audience could be shown only the head of gold at first, and then the breast and arms of silver and the head of gold (which would be equivalent to the whole territory of the Medo-Persian Empire), and then the belly and thighs of brass and the breast and arms of silver and the head of gold {equivalent to the entire Hellenistic Empire), et cetera. These parts of the image would thus follow one another consecutively and in the same order as presented jn the interpretation, of the prophecy.

5 According to Luke 2:1, Caesar Augustus decreed that "all the world" should be taxed or enrolled, meaning the entire Mediterranean world, or the whole Roman Empire.


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Assistant Professor of Old Testament literature and Exegesis, Andrews University

February 1961

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