The body parts as well as the quality of the metals offer help in understanding the identity and characteristics of each empire. Like previous empires, this one is divided into two parts, represented by the two legs and two feet (verse 33). Later, it is further divided into ten toes, indicating a separation of powers into ten parts.
The iron legs suggest strength far superior to the previous empires—just as iron is far stronger than bronze—although it also shows diminished quality of its culture. With the addition of clay, a material that will not bond to iron, its power further declines to the point that is only "partly strong and partly fragile [brittle, margin]" (verse 42). The clay also takes its toll on the qualitative aspects. Verse 43 indicates the empire's internal unity will be very unstable in its final form, though it will retain its toughness to some degree.
The phrase "mingle with the seed of men" (verse 43) has spurred much debate. In one sense, it serves to explain why the iron and clay will not bond: The cultural and political components of this empire are too diverse to unify for long. Otherwise, the phrase suggests a mongrelized people who no longer uphold the values and goals of the original nation that founded the empire. However one understands it, cohesion within the final stages of this kingdom will be fragile.
Generally, biblical commentators agree that the legs, feet, and toes represent the Roman Empire. Iron indeed describes the toughness and brutality by which Rome subjugated the nations, reaching its greatest domination under Trajan (AD 98-117). The Romans had little sympathy for the populace of the nations they conquered, sending millions of men, women, and children into slavery. As one commentator, John F. Walvoord, put it, "The glory of Rome was built on the misery of its conquered peoples."
When Rome finally defeated Carthage in 146 BC, Scipio Africanus Minor, the Roman general, razed the city, enslaved or dispersed its citizens, and forbade anyone to live there again. Similar actions were taken against other cities. The Romans made crucifixion of the enemies of the state a standard practice. When Galilee revolted in AD 6, the legions hammered the region's untrained army and crucified two thousand men along the roads to Sepphoris, which they leveled.
Even Cicero (106-43 BC), a Roman statesman and author, wrote:
It is difficult to convey to you, gentlemen, the bitter hatred felt for us among foreign nations because of the unbridled and outrageous behavior of the men whom we have sent to govern them during these past years. What temple in those lands do you think has had its sanctity respected by our magistrates? What state has been free from their aggression? What home has been adequately closed and protected against them? They actually look around for wealthy and flourishing cities in order to find an occasion of waging war against them and thus gratify their lust for plunder.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Nebuchadnezzar's Image (Part Four): Iron and Clay
Daniel 2:36-43 describes four major kingdoms, empires, or governmental systems that have ruled over the greater part of the civilized world:
1. The Chaldean-Babylonian Empire (625 to 538 BC)
2. The Medo-Persian Empire (538 to 330 BC)
3. The Greco-Macedonian Empire (333 to 31 BC)
4. The Roman Empire (Established 31 BC. The imagery suggests that it will exist in some form until the end of the age.)
Clearly, these physical empires existed on earth. Verses 44-45 then say that God's Kingdom will encompass all of these previous kingdoms—on earth! Daniel 7:17-18 says much the same.
Is Heaven the Reward of the Saved?
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Daniel 2:41:
1 Thessalonians 4:17