This is a further explanation of the world-ruling empires, showing national characteristics, but this time designed into animals of the same four kingdoms that appear in Daniel 2. Instead of being metals—gold, silver, brass, iron—now we have animals, indicating national characteristics of those four kingdoms, symbolized by the lion, the bear, the leopard, and the beast that was diverse from all the others.
The important thing to note here is that this illustration in Daniel 7 is a parallel of the image seen by Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 2. This illustration in Daniel 7 confirms that the legs of iron of the Daniel 2 image and the fourth beast of Daniel 7 both exist at Christ's return, fight against Him, and are defeated. So even as the feet and toes of the Daniel 2 image will be at the time of the end, so will this diverse beast. They are one and the same.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Where Is the Beast? (Part 1)
This fourth beast—the one that struck the most terror in Daniel's heart—is described as devouring the whole earth, trampling it, and breaking it into pieces. The Aramaic phrase translated as "the whole earth" is comprised of two words: kol (Strong's #3606) and 'ara' (Strong's #772). Considering the basic meaning of these two Aramaic words, "the whole earth" is a correct literal translation. However, this same word-combination appears in a number of other places, and it does not consistently mean the entirety of the globe or even the entirety of the civilized world.
We can see this in Daniel's explanation of Nebuchadnezzar's dream: "But after you shall arise another kingdom inferior to yours; then another, a third kingdom of bronze, which shall rule over all the earth" (Daniel 2:39, emphasis ours throughout). We understand this third kingdom to be the empire of Greece under Alexander the Great. His empire stretched from the Ionian Sea to the Himalayas, and included Anatolia, Syria, Phoenicia, Judea, Egypt, and Mesopotamia. Some would say that Alexander conquered the "known world," but this is a misnomer. Every part of the world is known to those living in it, and there were peoples living in essentially every part of the world at this time.
During Alexander's time, substantial civilizations existed in the rest of Europe, and in particular, the descendants of Israel had settled there. Unconquered tribes lived throughout Africa, Arabia, Tibet, Mongolia, not to mention the civilizations in the Americas—all were completely untroubled by Alexander. Also, ancient cultures inhabited India, the South Pacific, and the Far East. The third kingdom in Nebuchadnezzar's vision encompassed the Middle East and the Near East, but it did not rule over "all the earth," as most English-speakers would interpret the phrase. It was a "world-ruling" kingdom only for a specifically defined "world."
Therefore, if we are on the lookout for a kingdom that can devour "the whole earth," we have to understand that the scope of that Aramaic phrase can be significantly limited, and in most cases, it is. This phrase is also found in Daniel 4:1, 11, 20, where it describes the scope of Nebuchadnezzar's kingdom (which was also not truly global), and in Daniel 6:25, where King Darius writes "to all peoples, nations, and languages that dwell in all the earth"—yet Darius did not have a global audience.
The one place where the phrase "the whole earth" actually does imply the entire planet is Daniel 2:35, where "the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth." This great mountain represents Jesus Christ's rule on earth, which will certainly be a world-ruling Kingdom in the fullest and truest sense of the word (see Revelation 11:15).
David C. Grabbe
The Whole Earth