Human Rule Weighed in the Balances
Part 8—A Political Mixture of Iron and Moist Clay
Nationalism: a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and putting the promotion of its culture and interests before those of others; a concept that first became apparent at the end of the 18th century but that has reached its peak in the 20th century.
STAGGERING helplessly from crisis to crisis, human governments are failing to bring stability to human society. According to Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser to former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, the situation will not soon change.
Brzezinski, along with other world leaders, was interviewed by journalist Georgie Anne Geyer while she was preparing an article published in 1985 entitled “Our Disintegrating World.” In it she quoted Brzezinski as having said: “The factors that make for international instability are gaining the historical upper hand over the forces that work for more organized cooperation. The unavoidable conclusion of any detached analysis of global trends is that social turmoil, political unrest, economic crisis, and international friction are likely to become more widespread during the remainder of this century.”
A bleak prediction indeed but not one that surprises Bible students. This very situation was long ago foretold. When? Where?
Upset by a Dream
Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon from 624 to 582 B.C.E., was disturbed by a dream. In it he had seen an immense image with a head of gold, breasts and arms of silver, belly and thighs of copper, legs of iron, and feet and toes of iron mixed with clay. God’s prophet Daniel explained to Nebuchadnezzar the significance of the image, telling him: “You, O king, . . . you yourself are the head of gold. And after you there will rise another kingdom inferior to you; and another kingdom, a third one, of copper, that will rule over the whole earth.” So, obviously, the image had to do with human government.—Daniel 2:37-39.
Before Daniel’s time, both Egypt and Assyria had oppressed the Israelites, the chosen people of the Bible’s Author. (Exodus 19:5) In the context of the Bible, this made them world powers, in fact, the first of a series of seven of which the Bible speaks. (Revelation 17:10) Then, in Daniel’s day, Babylon overthrew Jerusalem, forcing the Israelites into exile. Thus Babylon became the third of these world powers, aptly referred to in this case as “the head of gold.” The Bible and secular history identify the world powers that were yet to come as being Medo-Persia, Greece, Rome, and, finally, Anglo-America.*
These nations are classed by the Bible as world powers because they had dealings with God’s people and opposed the divine rule these servants of God advocated. Thus, the image seen by Nebuchadnezzar well pictured how human rule would continue to be exercised in opposition to divine sovereignty even after his kingdom ended. The succession of world powers pictured by the various parts of the image started with the head and worked down. Logically, then, the feet and toes would symbolize the final manifestations of human rule that would exist during “the time of the end,” as Daniel expressed it. What, then, should we expect?—Daniel 2:41, 42; 12:4.
No longer are God’s servants limited to one nation or one locality, so that they can be oppressed by a single world power. (Acts 1:8; 10:34, 35) As members of all nations, citizens of every type of human government, they zealously announce that the time of the end has begun and that human rule has had its day—soon to be replaced by divine rule.* Thus, the bold message they proclaim confronts all existing political powers. Appropriately, the number “ten” as used in the Bible signifies completeness as to earthly things. So political human rule in its entirety, unitedly opposed to divine sovereignty during the time of the end, is what the ‘ten toes’ of the image would logically represent.
What was the political situation at the beginning of this foretold period of time? In the year 1800, European nations controlled 35 percent of the earth’s surface, but by 1914 the figure had risen to over 84 percent! The Collins Atlas of World History notes that “on the eve of the 1914 war, it seemed that the division of the world among a number of great powers was almost complete.” In fact, Hugh Brogan, lecturer in history at the University of Essex, England, says it appeared that “before long the whole world would be ruled by half a dozen powers.”
Using ‘ten toes’ to symbolize the totality of world governments that would not literally amount to more than just “half a dozen powers,” however, would hardly seem reasonable. So if, in fulfillment of the prophecy, the ‘ten toes’ were to take on real significance, the political situation existing in 1914 would have to change.
As the 1900’s dawned, the British Empire, the largest the world had ever seen, ruled over every fourth person on earth. Other European empires controlled millions of people more. But World War I resulted in a triumph for nationalism. Paul Kennedy, professor of history at Yale University, explains: “The most striking change in Europe, measured in territorial-juridical terms, was the emergence of a cluster of nation-states—Poland, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania—in place of lands which were formerly part of the Habsburg, Romanov, and Hohenzollern empires.”
After World War II, this trend accelerated. Nationalism exploded with full force. Particularly after the mid-1950’s, the trend was irreversible. Five centuries of European expansion was ending in the rubble of collapsed colonial empires. The number of nations in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East grew dramatically.
The New Encyclopædia Britannica says that this “development ran counter to the conceptions that had dominated political thought for the preceding 2,000 years.” Whereas “hitherto man had commonly stressed the general and the universal and had regarded unity as the desirable goal,” nationalism now stressed national differences. Instead of uniting, it tended to disunite.
Iron and Moist Clay
Note that the Bible describes the feet and toes of the image as being “partly of iron and partly of molded clay,” adding: “The kingdom itself will prove to be divided, . . . will partly prove to be strong and will partly prove to be fragile . . . , but they will not prove to be sticking together.” (Daniel 2:33, 41-43) This lack of sticking together in unity became apparent as decolonization proceeded, as nationalism flourished, and as the developing countries gained in stature. The globe was rapidly slipping into political fragmentation.
Similar to the uneasy mixture of iron and clay in the feet and toes of the image, some governments have been ironlike—authoritarian or tyrannical—and others have been claylike—more pliable or democratic. Understandably, they have been unable to stick together in a world unity. Pinpointing this in our day, the German book Unsere Welt—Gestern, Heute, Morgen; 1800-2000 (Our World—Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow; 1800-2000), says: “By the 19th century, democratic freedom prevailed in nearly all civilized countries, and by the end of World War I, freedom’s cause seemed to have approached final victory. . . . With the revolution in Russia in 1917, dictatorship rose up anew. Since then the 20th century has been characterized by coexistence and confrontation between dictatorship and democracy.”—Italics ours.
Note also that during the rule of the ‘ten toes,’ the common people, “the offspring of mankind,” would become increasingly involved in government. Do the historical facts support this prediction?—Daniel 2:43.
Democracy, government by the people, was extremely popular right after World War I, even though during the 1920’s and 1930’s, democratic regimes in different parts of the world were replaced by dictatorships. After World War II, decolonization once again produced a number of new democracies. Later, in the 1960’s and 1970’s, however, many former colonies chose more authoritarian forms of government.
Nevertheless, in the 20th century, the trend has been to replace monarchies and autocratic governments with democracies or governments of the people. “The Year of the People” is how Time magazine described last year’s political upheavals in Eastern Europe. And when the Berlin wall finally fell, the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel emblazoned its front cover with the words “Das Volk siegt”—the people win!
Long on Talk, Short on Action
In all the Eastern European countries where people power has forced political reform, the demand has been for free elections with a plurality of political parties participating. In their present form, political parties originated in Europe and North America during the 19th century. Since the middle of the 20th century, they have spread throughout the world. Today, they are larger, stronger, and better organized than ever before. By means of them, as well as by means of labor unions, lobbies, environmental groups, and untold other citizen and special-interest groups, people power is now speaking more often and more loudly than ever before.
As the number of people involved in the political process increases, however, so also does the difficulty in achieving a political consensus. Amid a multitude of contending opinions and interests, minority governments often result, stalemated governments long on talk but short on action.
Like iron and moist clay, the entire global political mixture since 1914 has been fragile. Gone, for example, are the days when people appealed to divine guidance in matters of government. “Men in Western civilization have thus been thrown back wholly on themselves, and they find themselves wanting,” concludes The Columbia History of the World.
Room for Optimism?
“Why should all these distinct but related developments have come together in the second half of the 20th century? Why have these threats of world breakdown emerged in precisely the era when man has achieved more scientific breakthroughs and knowledge than in all his previous history?” These questions posed by journalist Geyer are thought provoking. But does anyone have the answers?
Almost ten years ago, The World Book Encyclopedia optimistically noted: “We probably have a greater chance of solving the problems of our times than any previous generation.” But now, a decade later, at the beginning of the 1990’s, is there still room for optimism? ‘Yes,’ you may say, pointing to the end of the Cold War, to the greater cooperation between East and West, and to the substantial progress being made in world disarmament.
The Bible foretold that they would do so. It indicates that during the reign of the seventh world power of Bible history, a contemporaneous eighth power would be specifically set up for the purpose of uniting the nations. (Revelation 17:11) But would it succeed? Part 9 of “Human Rule Weighed in the Balances” will answer.
The Watchtower dealt at some length with each of these world powers of Bible history individually in its issues of February 1 through June 1, 1988.
For Biblical proof, see chapters 16 and 18 of the book You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth, published in 1982 by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
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“Every kingdom divided against itself comes to desolation.”—Matthew 12:25
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“The nations became boisterous, the kingdoms tottered.”—Psalm 46:6