DANIEL 2 - INTERPRETATION ERRORS
Errors in interpretation of the Daniel 2 statue are the norm in the Churches of God. Little original thought goes into the explanation of symbols, so what was taught in the past keeps on being repeated without question.
The well known statue of a man, in Nebuchadnezzar's dream, is almost always explained as depicting the empires of Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome. But is this explanation fully accurate? And why does this matter?
It matters because the misidentification of the latter of these powers has led to the Churches of God over many decades proclaiming a "prophetic" message that is erroneous and misleading. It is also counter-productive in trying to convince people of the validity of God's word.
Babylon is identified by Daniel as the head of gold (Dan 2:38), as Daniel explains the meaning of the dream to Nebuchadnezzar. In Dan 8:20-21 we see the next two empires identified by name: Medo-Persia and Greece.
Why are these particular empires represented by the statue? What makes them different from other empires? The simple answer is that they ruled over the land of Israel and specifically Jerusalem.
People will point to Dan 2:39 which says that these empires rule over the "earth". The Hebrew word "eretz" (or aretz), here translated "earth", is throughout Scripture usually translated as "land", "earth" or "country". When it states in Genesis 1:1 that God created the earth, obviously meaning the entire planet, the Hebrew word used is "eretz". However, the word eretz is most often translated as "land" (more than 1500 times), and is used for instance to describe the land of Canaan, the land of Egypt, the land of the Philistines etc. The land of Israel is also translated from "eretz Yshrael".
Isaiah 13 is a prophecy about Babylon being defeated by the Medes. In verse 5 the word "eretz" is used twice. The RSV translation says "They (the Medes) come from a distant land (eretz)....... to destroy the whole earth (eretz)". This is confusing. The story is about Babylon being destroyed, and yet the RSV says "the whole earth". Look how the KJV renders it: "They come from a far country (eretz)........ to destroy the whole land (eretz)". The NIV likewise: "They come from faraway lands (eretz)...... to destroy the whole country (eretz)".
We see that in just this one verse the same word is translated as earth, land, lands and country.
Another example is found in Zephaniah 1. In verse 18, the RSV states "in the fire of his jealous wrath, all the earth (eretz) shall be consumed". That sounds like the whole planet. The KJV, however, renders this as "the whole land (eretz) shall be devoured by the fire of his jealousy". As verse 18 continues, the RSV says "a full sudden end he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth (eretz)". The KJV however translates this as "he shall make even a speedy riddance of all them that dwell in the land (eretz)". So what is Zephaniah 1 about? The context shows us that it is about Judah and Jerusalem, which are mentioned specifically in verses 4 and 12. Therefore we see that this prophecy is not about the whole earth. When we find the word "earth" in an English Bible, it very often is not speaking of the entire earth, but rather just a portion of it.
In modern day Israel, a leading newspaper goes by the name of Haaretz (or ha'aretz). It is not primarily about the Earth, but rather about the land (of Israel).
So we see that it is the context that must indicate what is intended when the word "eretz" is used.
The simple truth is that no empire has ever ruled over the entire Earth, or even anything remotely close to it. Even the British Empire in its prime only ruled over about a quarter of the planet. Clearly the use of "eretz" in Dan 2:39 cannot mean that these empires would rule over the entire earth.
What the Daniel 2 powers do have in common is that, among the vast territories they conquered, they all controlled the land of Israel, and specifically its capital city, Jerusalem. This is not surprising, because Jerusalem is the city of God and prophecy is primarily focused on it.
Christ confirmed this interpretation in His Olivet prophecy when He stated that "Jerusalem will be trodden down by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled" (Luke 21:24). This is the story of the Daniel 2 statue in a nutshell. Please read the page "THE TIMES OF THE GENTILES" for more on this.
Church of God explanations of the statue of Daniel 2 usually begin correctly as they follow the Scriptural outline, but then lose their way as they take their focus off Jerusalem. The fourth kingdom is usually identified, incorrectly, as being Rome, followed by its subsequent resurrections as the (Holy) Roman Empire in Europe.
The first big mistake involves the identification of the third empire, which is depicted by the bronze belly and thighs. Dan 8:21 says it denotes Greece, but is it only Greece? What are the parameters of the third empire?
Dan 7:6 states that this third empire, or "beast", has four heads. Dan 8:8-9, however, mentions that this same empire has six parts. How can this be? The first part is called a "great horn". Few would dispute that this refers to Alexander the Great's empire. In the two decades after his death, Alexander's dominion was split into four divisions, described in Dan 8:8 as "four notable ones" (not four horns, as the Hebrew word for horn is not used here), and these four parts were led individually by four of his generals. That makes five parts so far. Then it states in Dan 8:9 that out of one of the four divisions, a "little horn" emerged that grew "exceedingly great". That makes six parts in total, although the third empire is described in Dan 7:6 as having four heads. What is the explanation?
The answer is that a "head" is an independent major power ruling over Jerusalem, whereas a "horn" (Heb. "qeren") is a power that emerges from a head, and rules over Jerusalem, but remains attached to the head from which it emerged. Both the Roman Empire and the Roman Catholic Church began as emerging powers, but later became independent and in that independent capacity conquered Jerusalem. Therefore they are initially pictured as horns, but later as heads.
Alexander's united Greek Empire became the first of the four heads of the third beast, when he conquered Jerusalem. Of the four divisions after Alexander, only two, the Ptolemaic Kingdom and the Seleucid Empire, became heads, at such time as they too became rulers over Jerusalem. After them, the "little horn" emerged from Macedonia, the westernmost division of the Greek Empire, which included territories on the Italian peninsula. This "little horn", which was the little city/state of Rome, became the fourth and final head of the third beast when, springing forth from this remote part of the Greek Empire and conquering in a south-easterly direction, it absorbed the remaining divisions of the Greek Empire and captured the Holy Land and, specifically, Jerusalem.
Therefore, the identification of the bronze third power of the Dan 2 statue as Greece must be understood in the sense that this third power had four heads as per Dan 7:6, meaning four separate powers that consecutively ruled Jerusalem, and that these four heads were 1) the united Greek Empire under Alexander, 2) the Ptolemaic Kingdom, 3) the Seleucid Empire, and 4) the Roman Empire.
So Rome is not depicted in Scripture as a totally new empire (requiring a separate beast), but rather as an extension of the original Greek Empire. Therefore the bronze portion of Daniel's statue consists of the entirety of the Greco/Roman empires.
The bronze lower body should be seen as representing Alexander's Greek Empire and the two Greek powers that subsequently also occupied Jerusalem, i.e. the Ptolemaic Kingdom and the Seleucid Empire. Two bronze thighs should be seen as representing the Roman extension of the Greek Empire that continued to rule over Jerusalem. One thigh thus represents Rome and the other thigh Constantinople.
It is noteworthy that both the Greek and the Roman cultures made heavy use of bronze in the art of sculpture. Also, the vast majority of Roman coins were made of bronze.
The combined Greco/Roman empires ruled over Jerusalem from 333BC until 638AD, when the fourth power, depicted by the iron (lower) legs of Daniel's statue, conquered the Holy City. In Rev 17:10 it says that this power will rule but for a "short space". This has caused much confusion, but the answer is simple.
The power that defeated the final remnant of the Greco/Roman empires in Jerusalem, was Islam. It is the fourth beast of Dan 7. The lower parts of the two legs in the Dan 2 statue, which are made of iron, picture Mecca and Medina, the two "holy cities" of Islam, in Arabia.
As a unified power, Islam ruled Jerusalem for only a short time, from 638AD till 661AD, before infighting among different factions saw the first of ten successive Islamic dynasties begin its rule over Jerusalem. These ten dynasties are pictured in Dan 7 by ten horns on the fourth beast.
The Muslims were a people who ruled by the sword. Their swords were made of iron, but not just any iron. They had finely developed iron making technologies that, pardon the pun, gave them an edge over their opponents. See below from the Wikipedia article "Ferrous Metallurgy":
"Iron technology was further advanced by several inventions in medieval Islam, during the Islamic Golden Age (8th till 13th century). These included a variety of water-powered and wind-powered industrial mills for metal production, including geared gristmills and forges. By the 11th century, every province throughout the Muslim world had these industrial mills in operation, from Islamic Spain and North Africa in the west to the Middle East and Central Asia in the east. There are also 10th-century references to cast iron, as well as archaeological evidence of blast furnaces being used in the Ayyubid and Mamluk empires from the 11th century, thus suggesting a diffusion of Chinese metal technology to the Islamic world.
"Geared gristmills were invented by Muslim engineers, and were used for crushing metallic ores before extraction. Gristmills in the Islamic world were often made from both watermills and windmills. In order to adapt water wheels for gristmilling purposes, cams were used for raising and releasing trip hammers. The first forge driven by a hydropowered water mill rather than manual labour was invented in 12th century Islamic Spain.
"One of the most famous steels produced in the medieval Near East was Damascus steel used for swordmaking, and mostly produced in Damascus, Syria, in the period from 900 to 1750. This was produced using the crucible steel method, based on the earlier Indian wootz steel. This process was adopted in the Middle East using locally produced steels. The exact process remains unknown, but it allowed carbides to precipitate out as micro particles arranged in sheets or bands within the body of a blade. Carbides are far harder than the surrounding low carbon steel, so swordsmiths could produce an edge that cut hard materials with the precipitated carbides, while the bands of softer steel let the sword as a whole remain tough and flexible."
If you Google "Damascus steel" you can see that this technique is still used today in blade manufacture, resulting in bands or layers of steel that produce a stronger, sharper and more durable blade.
So the renown that the Muslims had for ruling by the sword, and the ease with which they cut off people's heads, is not without scientific foundation. It also becomes clearer why they are depicted as iron in Daniel's statue, although the descending value of the materials should also be seen as indicating an ever deteriorating standard of nobility and culture in the sequence of empires.
In 661AD, the first of the ten Islamic factions, the Umayyad dynasty, began its rule over Jerusalem.
One of the critical mistakes Christian interpreters have made, regarding Daniel's statue, concerns the ten toes. They almost invariably identify them as a final ruling combine of ten entities. However, when we make the logical comparison with the ten fingers of the statue, we immediately see that this interpretation is erroneous.
The hands and ten fingers of the statue are part of the silver empire, Medo-Persia. A quick perusal of history shows that during the time this empire ruled Jerusalem, from Cyrus the Great until Darius III, ten emperors ruled Medo-Persia. A few other Persian rulers are mentioned in the annals of history regarding this time period, but the lengths of their reigns are measured in days and months, and so no regnal years are credited to them. These short reigns occurred during times when a long ruling monarch had died, and a power struggle emerged to see who would continue on the throne.
We see therefore that the ten silver fingers are indicative of ten Medo-Persian rulers, whose rule constituted the entire duration of this empire's dominion over Jerusalem. Therefore, logically, the same should apply to the ten toes. History indeed shows that a total of ten Islamic dynasties ruled over Jerusalem, the first being the aforementioned Umayyad dynasty, and the last being the Ottoman Empire, which was dislodged from Jerusalem in 1917.
Daniel 7:7 describes these same ten toes as ten horns. Verse 8 says that a "little horn" would uproot three of the ten toes/horns, which is exactly what happened! It is well established that this "little horn" depicts the Papacy/false Christianity, and so we see in history a total of three occasions when a Christian crusade succeeded in overthrowing an Islamic dynasty ruling over Jerusalem.
The ten Islamic dynasties and the three Christian defeats of Islamic dynasties are listed by name on the page "THE TWO WITNESSES", as well as on the chart on the "HOME" page.
The fact that the ten toes do not denote an end time combine of ten powers, can also be seen by the description in Dan 2:40-41. After introducing the "fourth kingdom" and describing it to be "as iron" in verse 40, verse 41 goes on to say "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".
The feet and toes of iron and clay are together used to depict the kingdom in its totality. The toes are not a tiny portion of time at the end of the kingdom's rule.
This is further confirmed by the fact that Dan 2:34 states that the end of the rule of these Gentile kingdoms is brought about by a rock (Christ) striking the feet of the statue, rather than the toes.
Where verse 41 uses iron and clay to portray the kingdom as "divided", it is depicting the ongoing animosity that history shows has existed between the adherents of Islam. The fact that there have been ten separate Islamic dynasties ruling over Jerusalem, and that this rule was usually obtained by warfare, is evidence of this.
Very interestingly, verse 42 mentions only the toes, not the feet, and states that they were to be "partly strong and partly brittle" or "weak", as some translations say. As the ten toes specifically picture the number of Islamic dynasties to rule Jerusalem, this makes good sense, as some of the ten were very strong and ruled for centuries, whereas others were much weaker and only ruled for short periods.
Verse 43 says that these powers will "mingle themselves" but that they, like iron and clay, "will not cleave one unto another". This indicates the various ethnicities making up the ten Islamic dynasties, which do not get on particularly well with each other: Arab, Egyptian, Syrian and Turkish, among others.
The COG's generally teach that the ten toes picture a yet to be formed power bloc located in Europe that will be composed of ten separate nations or kings. Herbert Armstrong taught this message without ceasing, from the end of WWII until the time of his death in 1986.
So we see that the misidentification of the iron power in Daniel's statue, which is the fourth beast of Dan 7, is a catastrophic error. However, the error becomes compounded when the book of Revelation is thrown into the mix. It is generally understood that Dan 2 and 7 as well as Rev 13 and 17 all refer to the "Beast" powers. What has generally failed to be understood is that these chapters all complement one another, adding a variety of information, to create one whole, combined, overall picture.
Amazingly, the WCG teaching on these powers was that there were two sets of seven heads, and two sets of ten horns depicted. This convoluted "explanation" can be found in the old WCG publication "Who or What is the Prophetic Beast". Many, if not most, COG's have continued in this teaching.
The centrefold chart in the abovementioned booklet claims that the fourth horn of Dan 7 corresponds with the first head of Rev 17, the fifth horn of Dan 7 corresponds with the second head of Rev 17 and the sixth horn of Dan 7 corresponds with the third head of Rev 17 etc etc. This is lunacy. It turns what is a relatively easy picture into something incomprehensible.
The simple picture being portrayed by God in these prophecies is that rulership of Jerusalem would be taken from the Jews, and the city would be trodden down by Gentile powers for 2520 years. These Gentile powers are depicted by "seven heads" and "ten horns", with three of the ten horns to be overthrown by a "little horn". That's it - full story! Then the Jews would return to rule Jerusalem again. And they did.
One specific point of confusion that needs to be cleared up is based on Rev 17:12. HWA believed that the phrase "one hour" meant that the ten toes of Dan 2, which equate with the ten horns of Rev 17, would rule all at the same time, and for only a short time. It can be just as easily argued that the "hour" is a reference to each of these ten powers having their particular moment, or hour, in history, during which they "make war with the Lamb", or in other words, occupy His city and oppress His people. The page "BABYLON IS FALLEN" gives an additional detailed explanation.
There are three major problems with the generally accepted explanation of the ten toes being an end-time European power:
1) It takes the focus of the prophecy off Jerusalem.
2) It fails to recognise a place in the Dan 2 statue for the Islamic powers, even though they ruled Jerusalem for almost 1200 years.
3) It fails to fit the parameters of time as set by Daniel's prophecies. Dan 4 states, in four different verses, that the length of time given to the Gentile powers is "seven times" or 2520 years. This is addressed on the page "THE TIMES OF THE GENTILES". As shown there, those 2520 years have already come to an end.
As stated above, the identification of the bronze power of the Dan 2 statue as being Greece includes the understanding that this third "beast" had four heads as per Dan 7:6, meaning four separate powers that consecutively ruled Jerusalem, and that these four heads were:
1) the Greek Empire
2) the Ptolemaic Kingdom
3) the Seleucid Empire, and
4) the Roman Empire.
The traditional, incorrect COG explanation has been to interpret the distribution of the four parts of Alexander's kingdom to four of his generals, as the four heads of Dan 7:6. It also holds Rome to be the fourth beast of Dan 7, as well as the iron in the Dan 2 statue, and thereby makes Rome to be the seventh head of the combined four beasts.
However, Rev 17:10, talking about the heads of the Beast, contradicts this view, as it states that at the time John wrote Revelation, when Rome ruled Jerusalem, "five have fallen" (Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, the Ptolemaic Kingdom and the Seleucid Empire), "one is" (Rome), "and one is yet to come" (Mecca/Medina - Islam).
The traditional view is also negated by the fact that one of the four divisions of Alexander's Greek empire was Thrace, ruled initially by Lysimachus. Did Thrace ever trample down Jerusalem? It never did. How does it qualify to be reckoned among the heads of the Beast? It doesn't - not by any yardstick.
There is an additional reason that proves that the head of the fourth beast of Dan 7 is Mecca/Medina (Islam), and not Rome. This fourth beast is in Dan 7:19 described as having "nails of brass" or "bronze claws". In other words, the power described as being made of iron and clay, Islam, has a portion of the substance of the previous power, i.e. the bronze of the Greco/Roman empires. This fits perfectly with what we have already seen, and what history confirms: the bronze claws picture the times that Catholicism/Christianity was able to claw back rulership over Jerusalem, interrupting the Islamic dynasties. Roman Catholicism/Christianity in that process became the eighth head of the Beast mentioned in Rev 17:11, but is "of the seven" in that it is actually a reconstitution of the sixth head of the Beast, the Roman Empire.
In conclusion, identifying the fourth power of the Dan 2 statue (the lower legs of iron, and the feet of iron and clay) as Rome, is a poorly thought through explanation. Embarrassingly, as numerous decades of Church media output has proclaimed this misidentification without ceasing, this final era of the Church is showing the blindness it was prophesied to have, as stated in the Laodicean Church era message.
There is still time to right the wrong, but it might be wishful thinking to suppose that those who have beaten this drum for so long will turn and reconsider the evidence and admit their error.