Iron and Clay
In the ancient kingdom of Babylon, the magicians and astrologers were in deep trouble. King Nebuchadnezzar had a terrifying dream, and wanted to know its meaning. In his fear, frustration and rage, he had ordered the execution of all his magicians and seers if they could not tell him both the dream and its meaning. He said, "My decision is firm: if you do not make known the dream to me, and its interpretation, you shall be cut in pieces, and your houses shall be made an ash heap" (Daniel 2:5). Nebuchadnezzar knew how to motivate people!
Unable to comply with the king's demand, the seers replied, "There is not a man on earth who can tell the king's matter; therefore no king, lord, or ruler has ever asked such things of any magician, astrologer, or Chaldean. It is a difficult thing that the king requests, and there is no other who can tell it to the king except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh" (vv. 10–11). Nebuchadnezzar responded by starting the slaughter.
But, there was a young Jew in captivity whom God had blessed with the ability to interpret dreams and receive prophetic visions. God revealed the dream and its meaning to this young prophet, Daniel.
Daniel had been taken captive as a young man, after the Babylonians defeated the Kingdom of Judah around the year 604bc. But through his interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar's dream, and other incidents that followed, God caused Daniel to become one of the most respected officials in Babylon under both Babylonian and Medo-Persian rule. Daniel's historical contemporary, Ezekiel, mentions him three times as a man renowned for his wisdom and righteousness (Ezekiel 14:14, 20; 28:3). Jesus Christ also mentioned him as "Daniel the prophet" (Matthew 24:15).
Daniel told the king that his dream was of a great statue, picturing the Babylonish system of rule as it would progress across successive empires down through history (Daniel 2).
Daniel had predicted a series of empires before they even existed! Daniel directly identified Nebuchadnezzar's kingdom as the statue's head of gold. He then described the statue's chest and arms of silver, a subsequent kingdom that we know as the Medo-Persian Empire. He described a belly and thighs of bronze—the Greek Empire. And he described iron legs and feet, the eastern and western "legs" of the Roman Empire (whose capitals were Constantinople and Rome).
Daniel also pointed out one striking detail in the king's dream. The feet and toes of the statue—depicting the empire ruling just before the Messiah's return, consisting of ten toes representing ten kings—were partially of iron and partially of clay.
Daniel explained, "Whereas you saw the feet and toes, partly of potter's clay and partly of iron, the kingdom shall be divided; yet the strength of the iron shall be in it, just as you saw the iron mixed with ceramic clay. 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. 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. And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever" (vv. 41–44).
Much of Daniel's prophecy has been proven true by events long past. The Babylonians were overthrown by the Medo-Persian Empire. Then, under Alexander the Great, the Greek Empire defeated the Medo-Persians. Later, the "Iron Empire" of Rome overwhelmed the Greeks and everyone else, including Maccabean Judah, just as Daniel had foretold. The "legs" were fulfilled in 395ad when the Eastern Roman Empire, commonly called Byzantium, separated from Rome and established its capital in Constantinople (today called Istanbul).
But who are "the toes of the feet… partly of iron and partly of clay"? History has not yet seen the fulfillment of this prophecy. The Bible reveals that they will be kings or governments at the end of this age that will be part of a great and final revival of the Roman Empire. Two particular characteristics will identify them: there will be ten of them, and just as iron is strong and clay is fragile "so the kingdom shall be partly strong and partly fragile."
The Apostle John saw in vision some other vivid details about key end-time events. "I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the filthiness of her fornication. And on her forehead a name was written: MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH. I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. And when I saw her, I marveled with great amazement" (Revelation 17:3–6).
Just as the nation of Israel is pictured as a woman in the Bible, and the Church—spiritual Israel—is pictured as the chaste bride of Christ, the harlot of Revelation 17 pictures a great false church that will be active in the last days of this age. She will play a vital role in the final revival of the great Babylonish system that Nebuchadnezzar saw as a statue.
John was also told, "The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have received no kingdom as yet, but they receive authority for one hour as kings with the beast. These are of one mind, and they will give their power and authority to the beast. These will make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings; and those who are with Him are called, chosen, and faithful" (vv. 12–14).
The "woman" rides a great political power that has "ten horns"—ten subsidiary governments. The ten toes of Daniel 2 and the ten horns of Revelation 17 represent the same ten governments acting in the same period of time.
Rome was the last seat of this ancient empire, which has been revived several times. Today, Rome is part of a European Union undergoing great turmoil that may threaten its existence in its present form. Since the EU was established, 17 nations have adopted a common currency, but not a unified fiscal policy. To a great degree, each nation could spend, tax and borrow as it wished. However, it was inevitable in such a union that the stronger industrial economies—such as Germany and France—would dominate weaker economies such as Spain and Portugal and Greece. Industrial Germany has a value-added, export-oriented economy, while the nations of southern Europe tend to be more agricultural, adding much less value per man-hour worked.
Making matters worse, the governments of Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain (collectively referred to as the PIIGS nations) have engaged in profligate social spending, resulting in unmanageable deficits. For some time, they were able to use the bond markets to cover their deficits at artificially low interest rates, taking advantage of the perceived strength of the EU and the euro. In effect, economically fragile Greece was riding Germany's powerful coattails into the bond markets. Yet the EU nations never guaranteed each other's bonds, and as the total debt burden of the PIIGS nations has risen to unsustainable levels, bond buyers have become increasingly reluctant to lend, and have demanded higher interest rates when they did lend.
Europe's banks have held much of this risky sovereign debt, and the prospect of massive default by Greece or other EU nations is sending shock waves through the European banking system. If Greek bonds must be written down in value—or written off altogether—the loss will come out of the banks' capital base, curtailing their future ability to lend. Already several major European banks, including Societe Generale and Credit Agricole of France, have had their credit ratings downgraded and are under a "negative outlook."
Some in Europe have talked about a "bailout" for Greece, but any such largesse would be mostly a bailout of the banks. The EU Central Bank has moved to shore up the shaky situation, but grave concerns of a major banking crisis remain. Such a crisis could plunge the EU into recession, even putting the very existence of the EU at risk. The EU depends on monetary union, and if the euro fails, the EU—at least in its current form—would likely end.
Many EU leaders have suggested that the best way to resolve their current problem is to bring members' budgets and fiscal policies together under the control of one federal body. "Unless Europeans agree 'to complete economic and monetary union... with a fiscal union, with a strong governance, with a feeling that some political decision should be adopted in common by those who are sharing the single currency, we will not succeed,' said Joaquin Almunia, a vice president of the EU commission, the closest thing to a central government in the union" ("Experts: Europe Needs More Perfect Union," Associated Press, September 3, 2011).
Other suggestions have involved refinancing the problem debts with bonds guaranteed in some form by EU states. Germany has not been enthusiastic about such suggestions, since it would end up bearing the brunt of the financial burden without addressing the underlying problem of the PIIGS nations' lack of fiscal restraint. Clearly, in order to receive the financial help they need, Europe's troubled economies will need to give up a large measure of sovereignty over their budgets—and it is Germany that will be in the "driver's seat" as a condition of the credit.
"Valerie Pecresse, spokeswoman for the French government, said… 'Euro bonds are for us the end of a process of consolidation in the euro zone, because sharing debt also requires the convergence of our budget policies'" (ibid.). The term "convergence of budget policies," is a diplomatic way of saying, "central control of the expenditures of EU nations." Some, such as former German Prime Minister Gerhard Schroeder and former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, have explicitly called for an actual "United States of Europe"—a development the Tomorrow's World magazine and its predecessors have foretold from Bible prophecy for more than half a century!
Are the stresses on the European Union and the euro currency too much for these relatively new institutions to bear? Some commentators—Euro-skeptics—suggest that the EU will soon be torn apart, also destroying the euro as a common currency. But will the Europeans—having come this far at so great a sacrifice—give up their dream of a federal Europe? For at least the most committed core of EU supporters, this is unthinkable.
And there is another view—that the stresses that now seem to be tearing the EU apart will actually ensure European consolidation. How can that be? The greater the stresses that would tear the EU apart, the stronger are the federal ties needed to hold the EU together. Some believe that, apart from the crucible of the current crisis, the Europeans cannot forge the bonds of a truly federal Europe. In this view, if the Europeans remain committed to moving forward instead of backward, the currents of history will sweep them into a true, federal "United States of Europe." So, it may take a great crisis and a great leader to produce a great solution!
Nations rarely give up their sovereignty voluntarily—it is usually taken by force. Yet, if the EU is to continue and avoid economic disaster, many believe that its member states will need to give their power and authority to a central European government.
Observers who understand the political situation in Europe agree that Germany will have to be the main financial power bankrolling such an arrangement, and so will insist on playing the dominant role. It will be in a position to demand renegotiation of the current EU political structure, and to oversee the imposition of far greater central political and economic control over member states, allowing weak states to be controlled or even removed from the union. One way or another, few now expect the current configuration of a 27-nation EU and 17-nation Eurozone to continue. Read "New Europe Rising!" on page 14 of this issue for a British perspective on these developments.
Now, recall the toes of the feet in Nebuchadnezzar's dream. God revealed, in vision to the Apostle John, that at the end of this present age, there will be a revival of the Roman Empire consisting of ten nations or kings who will "give their power and authority" to this continuation of the ancient Babylonish system. These ten nations will be partially weak and partially strong, like toes of iron and clay. Could we be seeing the emergence of those toes?
We should also remember that economic events do not occur in isolation from geopolitical developments. Even as they face financial crisis, Europeans are seeing a resurgence of radical Islam to their south, and feeling its effects even in their own nations. Many outside Europe do not consider that, as recently as 1683, Muslim military forces were at the gates of Vienna. Today, Islam is growing throughout Europe, primarily as a result of immigration, and many prominent voices (including Pope Benedict XVI) are urging Europeans to reclaim their heritage as Roman Catholics and resist the spread of secularism and Islam. Will a strong central leader unify Europe against the spread of Islam?
In His "Olivet Prophecy," Jesus Christ made reference to what He had prophesied through Daniel centuries earlier: "So when you see the 'abomination of desolation,' spoken of by Daniel the prophet…" (Mark 13:14). Christ reminded us that in the end-time, Christians will be able to identify world events and their meanings in the context of Bible prophecy "Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender, and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So you also, when you see these things happening, know that it is near—at the doors!" (vv. 28–29).
Further, He said: "But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is. It is like a man going to a far country, who left his house and gave authority to his servants, and to each his work, and commanded the doorkeeper to watch. Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming—in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning—lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping. And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!" (vv. 32–37).
The book of Daniel reveals Nebuchadnezzar's dream, which shows us thousands of years of fulfilled prophecy and sets the stage for what will come in the years just ahead. Not long from now, we will see the prophesied ten toes that are "partly strong and partly fragile." But that is not the end of the story. We read: "And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever" (Daniel 2:44).
The toes of iron and clay will give way to the prophesied Kingdom of God. Mankind's pattern of Babylonish rule will be forever replaced by the perfect government of Jesus Christ. God speed that day!