This has been discussed in the District Convention thread but I felt like all the "toes" info would be nice to see in one place. So here it is:
[From the late 1950s through most of the 1970s the “toes” of the image meant “all coexisting powers and governments” at the time of the end]
35 But there was a final or completing part of the symbolic image, namely, “its feet partly of iron and partly of clay.” On this the prophet Daniel made the following inspired comment: “And whereas thou sawest the feet and toes, part of potter’s clay, and part of iron, it shall be a divided kingdom; but there shall be in it of the strength of the iron, forasmuch as thou sawest the iron mixed with miry clay. And as the toes of the feet were part of iron, and part of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong, and partly broken [brittle]. And whereas thou sawest the iron mixed with miry clay, they shall mingle themselves with [by] the seed of men; but they shall not cleave one to another, even as iron doth not mingle with clay.”—Dan. 2:41-44, AS, margin.
36 As the iron section of the symbolic image started off with the Roman Empire and led on to the Anglo-American dual world power, the firmness and strength of the iron would represent the hardness and toughness of their world control and rule. But what of the ten toes in which the symbolic image terminated? This feature showed that at the time of the end of this symbolic image the remnant of the Roman or sixth world power would vie with the Anglo-American or seventh world power and that there would be other independent political governments associated with those competing powers. The number ten being a Biblical number symbolizing earthly completeness, the ten toes picture all such coexisting powers and governments. ~Watchtower “Your Will Be Done on Earth” 5/15/1959
What about the final part of the image, the feet and ten toes of iron and clay? In the Bible the number ten is used to indicate earthly completeness. Thus the ten toes picture all the coexisting political powers and governments during the time of the end of this symbolic image. ~Watchtower “The March of World Powers in Prophecy” 6/15/1961
7 But there was a final or completing part of the symbolic image—its feet made partly of iron and partly of clay. On this the prophet Daniel made the following inspired comment to the king: “And whereas you beheld the feet and the toes to be partly of molded clay of a potter and partly of iron, the kingdom itself will prove to be divided, but somewhat of the hardness of iron will prove to be in it . . . And as for the toes of the feet being partly of iron and partly of molded clay, the kingdom will partly prove to be strong and will partly prove to be fragile. . . . they will not prove to be sticking together, this one to that one, just as iron is not mixing with molded clay.”—Dan. 2:41-43.
8 What possible significance could the ten toes have? These picture all the coexisting powers and governments on earth today, since the number ten is a Biblical number symbolizing earthly completeness. So the dream image relates to our day indeed! We should keep in mind that this image did not become static with the appearance of the final world power. The image had to keep on developing in order to include the weakening influence of the socialistic, democratic elements against the imperial, dictatorial powers of this world. Ever since 1914 the weakening influence of democracy and socialism has gone forward particularly against that part of the iron feet of the image represented by “the king of the north.” The ten toes of the image picture all the nations, not merely those that have thus far gained admission to the U.N. At this stage comes the dramatic climax of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. The prophet Daniel continues his interpretation; his words have vital meaning for our day:
~Watchtower “Crushing All nations in Our Day by God’s Kingdom” 5/15/1969
[1978-Change from toes being distinct and representing “all coexisting world governments” to toes+feet together being “Anglo-American dual world power as ‘iron’ with weakening influences as ‘clay’]
Tracing the development of the world powers through the image, from head to foot in the stream of time, we see that it begins with Babylon, and progressively goes through Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome. The “fourth kingdom,” represented in the legs and feet, began with the Roman Empire. As time progressed, the power of this empire waned and the British Empire ascended, it being really an outgrowth from the old Roman Empire. This was so even though there was a vying with certain remnants of the Roman Empire for the position of world power. (Dan. 7:19, 20) There does not appear to be any prophetic significance to the image’s having ten toes. This is a natural human feature, just as the image has two arms, two legs, and so forth.
The British Empire developed as a monarchy and continued to manifest many of the ironlike traits of the old Roman Empire. And while the 13 American colonies rebelled against the British Empire, the government of the United States of America has really come to be an extension of the conservative or iron-type rule, and this power has been closely allied with the British government in world affairs. Hence, as we trace the development of worldpower through the image and down into the feet and toes, we can see how the Anglo-American World Power must be included in the “iron.” Well along into the time of the end, it is still the world power, even though strong competitors have emerged.
In connection with the dream image, there is no mention of a ‘fifth kingdom’ developing, although a later vision of Daniel contained a fearsome “fourth beast,” representing the Roman Empire, out from which a ‘little horn’ grew very large to represent the British Empire. (Dan. 7:7, 8, 19-26; 8:9-11, 23-25) To reach the ascendancy, the Roman and Anglo-American World Powers have indeed been like iron in ‘crushing and shattering’ other kingdoms and peoples.
Of course, during the 19th and 20th centuries, a number of developments have taken place on the world scene to weaken the ironlike rule of the Anglo-American World Power. Revolutionary socialistic groups have developed to weaken the structure, influence and force of this Seventh World Power. It is said that “the kingdom itself will prove to be divided . . . forasmuch as you beheld the iron mixed with moist clay.” It would come “to be mixed with the offspring of mankind.” So the “clay” of the image would represent the proletarian elements that develop as a result of the people’s rising up against established authority. Through labor unions, demonstrations, strikes and other protest activity, the common people have sought to undermine the traditional, capitalistic style of government manifested in the Anglo-American World Power, along with its sphere of influence.
While outside Communistic governments in other nations often provide the means and incentive for developing this “clay” within the Anglo-American World Power’s realm and sphere of influence, they are not represented in the image. It must be remembered that the image is a general representation of the development of world power on the earth, particularly as this relates to Jehovah’s people, and down until the time that the image is destroyed and God’s kingdom by Christ replaces all earthly governments. There have been many powerful governments and kingdoms that have developed on the earth since the time of Babylon, such as ancient empires in the Orient, parts of Europe and Africa and even in the Americas. But these are not represented in the image, since they were never predominating world powers down to the end of the Gentile Times in 1914 in relation to Jehovah’s people. In contrast, in Revelation 13:1 all political governments are included in the ‘wild beast with ten horns and seven heads.’ It, not only has the seven heads representing the seven world powers stretching from Egypt down to the Anglo-American World Power, but also has a body that includes all the other political entities, the beast as a whole representing the world system of political rule all the way back to its start in Nimrod’s day.
Thus the “clay” does not represent the Communistic governments outside the realm of the Anglo-American sphere of influence any more so than other parts of the image represented other nonworld governments and empires down through the ages. But the fact that this image has reached its time of the end with no place therein for the development of another world power, and the fact that the “wild beast” has only seven heads, not eight, shows that there will be no new world power that will clearly dominate before the entire political system is removed. The “clay” does not represent a world power developing, only a weakening factor.
Revelation chapter 17 does describe the “scarlet-colored wild beast” as being, as a whole, “itself an eighth king,” but it is said that it “springs from the seven” world powers. It does not have any real dominating power, except as the “seven” give it control in the earth. Actually, the Seventh World Power took the lead in bringing this “image” of the wild beast into existence. (Compare Revelation 13:11-18.) This “scarlet-colored wild beast,” as an “image” of the wild beast “with ten horns and seven heads” that comes up out of the “sea” of mankind, clearly pictures first the League of Nations and then the United Nations. It is an “eighth king” in that it is a worldwide organization but does not replace or displace the Seventh World Power. It is not the Communistic bloc of nations, just as the clay of the image does not represent a new world power developing within the image that represents the successive world powers.
Of course, when the “stone” cut out of the mountain hits the image on its feet and topples it to destruction, that stone will pulverize, not only the Anglo-American World Power and the relics of the former world powers still in the earth today, but also such rulerships that are allied with those world governments represented in the image and those who are the backers and supporters of the “clay” in the feet and toes of the image. All these man-made governments and radical groups must be cleared from the earth to make way for the Kingdom government administered by God’s appointed king, Jesus Christ. ~Watchtower “Human Governments Crushed by God’s Kingdom” 6/15/1978
21 Here, we come down to the extremity of this immense image. It still represents the Anglo-American World Power. But now it has a weakness. Its feet and toes have lost the full ironlike strength of the legs. For they are made “partly of iron and partly of molded clay.” Daniel interprets this, saying:
“Whereas you beheld iron mixed with moist clay, they will come to be mixed with the offspring of mankind; but they will not prove to be sticking together, this one to that one, just as iron is not mixing with molded clay.”—Dan. 2:33, 43.
22 Does this mean that the modern socialistic and communistic rulers become a world power? No, for Bible prophecy indicates that those political elements of a popular kind will never rise to world dominance. The last part of the terrible image, as it comes to its extremity in the passage of time, is still made largely of iron. It is still the world power that grew out of the Holy Roman Empire. But this ironlike power is weakened at the end of the age by the intrusion of a soft, claylike element—a movement calling for the people to have a bigger voice in affairs, as through trade unions, protest activities and the like. “The offspring of mankind,” the so-called common man, endeavors to have his “say” in the way things are run. This we observe today, not only in those western European countries that were once part of the Holy Roman Empire but outstandingly in the realm of the Anglo-American World Power. Here it is that work slowdowns, strikes and labor unrest have greatly weakened governmental authority that once was like “iron.” As labor fights capital, “the offspring of mankind” tries to dictate how it will work and live. Has this brought about a stable condition between the workingman and the government? God’s Word simply says: “They will not prove to be sticking together.”
23 Where are we, then, in the stream of time? At the conclusion of verse 43 there is no more “image” left. We have come down to the very “toes”! We are living in that time when the development of man-made government reaches its sorry end. The climax of the ages is upon us! Daniel has told us what to expect. Yes, Christ’s kingdom that is to rule all peoples, the “stone” cut out of the “mountain” of Jehovah’s universal sovereignty, is about to hurl itself at the feet of the terrible image, toppling and demolishing the entire structure of oppressive man-rule. That will mark the “time of distress such as has not been made to occur since there came to be a nation until that time.” But it will be followed swiftly by the most wonderful period of all human history, Christ’s 1,000-year reign. Can any true Christian sit apathetically and placidly watch events at this “time of the end” without being moved to support the Kingdom government? Now is the time to show whose side we are on, Jehovah’s or Satan’s!—Dan. 2:44, 45; 7:14; 12:1, 4.
24 As 1 Thessalonians 5:1 says, we need nothing to be written to us regarding the times and seasons! It is all there in God’s Word. It is just a matter of ‘digging it out.’ So let us do as Hebrews 10:35-39 suggests: “Do not, therefore, throw away your freeness of speech, which has a great reward to be paid it. For you have need of endurance, in order that, after you have done the will of God, you may receive the fulfillment of the promise. For yet ‘a very little while,’ and ‘he who is coming will arrive and will not delay.’ ‘But my righteous one will live by reason of faith,’ and, ‘if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.’ Now we are not the sort that shrink back to destruction, but the sort that have faith to the preserving alive of the soul.” Let us have abiding, motivating faith in the Kingdom!
23. (a) What does it mean that we have now reached the “toes” of the image? (b) What may we expect next? (c) At this “time of the end,” what should we be moved to do?
~Watchtower “Have Faith in the Kingdom” 5/15/1981
[1985-Change BACK to toes meaning “the entire global system of rulership at the culmination of the days.” The 1978 “new light” lasted only seven years.]
This prophecy was inspired by the One “who is a Revealer of secrets,” the Sovereign Lord Jehovah God himself, and reaches its culmination in “the final part of the days,” when the issue of world domination is to be settled once and for all time. (Daniel 2:28) Up until our day, from the start of “the times of the Gentiles” in 607 B.C.E., there has been a succession of world powers, commencing with imperial Babylon and proceeding with Medo-Persia, Greece, Rome, and the Anglo-American empire. These are represented by the metallic parts of the image.—Luke 21:24, KingJamesVersion.
However, with the ending of the Gentile Times in 1914, a conglomeration of different kinds of man-rule has appeared here on the earth. (Matthew 24:3-12) The common man (“the offspring of mankind” made from the dust of the ground) wields greater influence in affairs of government. Socialistic and democratic rulerships have come to the fore, along with other ironlike oppressive forms of government. They are like the “iron mixed with moist clay” that make up the feet and toes of the image.
Various views have been expressed about the ten “toes.” But since “ten” is often used in the Bible to signify completeness as to things on earth, the ten “toes” appear logically to represent the entire global system of rulership at the culmination of the days. It is against the feet and toes of the image that ‘God’s Kingdom comes,’ grinding to powder the final manifestations of man-rule. How happy we can be that the peaceful, prosperous rule of Christ’s Kingdom will then fill the entire earth!—Matthew 6:9, 10; compare Isaiah 11:1, 9.
The further dream of Nebuchadnezzar described in Daniel chapter 4 points also to events following the end of the Gentile Times. At last people must come to “know that the Most High is Ruler in the kingdom of mankind, and that to the one whom he wants to he gives it,” that is, to the King, Jesus Christ.—Daniel 4:25; 7:13, 14. ~Watchtower QFR 7/1/1985
According to what was said about the dream image, “the offspring of mankind,” or the common people, would play a greater role in government at the time of this last “king.” (Daniel 2:42, 43) Modern history confirms that this has indeed happened, with democracies or ‘people’s governments’ replacing many kings, queens, or other autocratic powers. Among the governments of today, represented by the ten toes of the image, some are ironlike, that is, authoritarian or tyrannical. But others, being socialistic or democratic rulerships, are more pliable, like clay. ~Watchtower “A Prophetic Giant – What Will Its Fall Mean?” 11/15/1986
The mixture of iron and clay in the toes of the great image graphically illustrates the condition due to be manifest in the final expression of political world domination. Clay is elsewhere used metaphorically in the Scriptures to stand for fleshly men, made of the dust of the earth. (Job 10:9; Isa 29:16; Ro 9:20, 21) Daniel’s interpretation thus appears to equate the clay with “the offspring of mankind,” the mixing in of which produces fragility in that which is symbolized by the image’s ten toes. This points to a weakening and a lack of cohesion in the ironlike strength of the final form of world domination by earthly kingdoms. (Da 2:41-43) The common man would wield greater influence in affairs of government. “Ten” being used consistently in the Bible to express completeness (see NUMBER, NUMERAL), the ten toes apparently represent the entire global system of rulership at the time when God’s Kingdom is established and takes action against the worldly powers.—Compare Re 17:12-14. ~Insight 1988
26 The succession of world powers represented by the various parts of the image in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream began with the head and extended down to the feet. Logically, the feet and toes of “iron mixed with moist clay” would symbolize the final manifestation of human rule that would exist during “the time of the end.”—Daniel 12:4.
27 At the dawn of the 20th century, the British Empire ruled over every fourth person on earth. Other European empires controlled millions more. But World War I resulted in the emergence of groups of nations in place of empires. After World War II, this trend accelerated. As nationalism developed further, the number of nations in the world grew dramatically. The ten toes of the image represent all such coexisting powers and governments, for in the Bible the number ten at times signifies earthly completeness.—Compare Exodus 34:28; Matthew 25:1; Revelation 2:10.
28 Now that we are in “the time of the end,” we have reached the feet of the image. Some of the governments pictured by the image’s feet and toes of iron mixed with clay are ironlike—authoritarian or tyrannical. Others are claylike. In what way? Daniel associated the clay with “the offspring of mankind.” (Daniel 2:43) Despite the fragile nature of clay, of which the offspring of mankind are made, traditional ironlike rulerships have been obliged to listen more and more to the common people, who want their say in the governments ruling over them. (Job 10:9) But there is no sticking together of authoritarian rule and the common people—no more than there could be a uniting of iron with clay. At the time of the image’s demise, the world will indeed be politically fragmented!
29 Will the divided condition of the feet and toes cause the entire image to collapse? What will happen to the image?
~Daniel’s Prophecy 1999
16 Fourth,wearelivingintheperiodsymbolizedbythefeetofNebuchadnezzar’sdreamimage. The prophet Daniel interpreted this mysterious dream of an enormous image in human form. (Daniel 2:36-43) The four metallic parts of the image represent various world powers, beginning with the head (the Babylonian Empire) and extending down to the feet and toes (the governments that are ruling today). All the world powers represented in that image have made their appearance. We are living in the period symbolized by the feet of the image. No mention is made of other powers to come. ~Watchtower “Keep on the Watch” 1/15/2000
[side note, this is the same article in which they lied – again – about the number of anointed “dwindling” by putting in the weasel-words “genuine” and “truly” before “anointed” in the paragraph.]
[Transcript from relevant portion of District Convention talk 2011]
"How have we understood this in the past? Previously we had understood that the image had ten toes, and that those ten toes represented all the coexisting governments that have come into power mainly since WWII. We said that the iron in the feet symbolizes tyrannical governments whereas the clay represents democracies that have replaced monarchies or other autocratic governments.
But two problems arise from that explanation.
First, Daniel chapter two does not say the iron becomes clay.
Second, when referring to the feet, Daniel 2:41 speaks of only one kingdom being represented. Not all the kingdoms of the world.
Thus, a reexamination of this prophecy has led to a refinement in our understanding.
What then do the iron and clay represent?
The feet of iron and clay represent the Anglo-American world power, being Britain and the United States. What does the clay represent? The clay represents divisive elements within the realm of influence of this Anglo-American world power. These elements undermine the ability of this world power to act.
We know this because Daniel 2:43 says, that even though the iron would be mixed with clay they would not stick together. The easy to read version of the Bible puts that verse this way: “You saw the iron mixed with clay but iron and clay don’t mix completely together. In the same way the people will not be united as one people.”
Since 1914 many of the offspring of mankind have risen up within this world power. Civil rights campaigns, Labor unions, Independence movements have undermined the ability of the Anglo-American world power to act with the same strength that it once had. Because of close election results and opposing ideologies. Even popular leaders have no clear mandate to implement their policies.
What do the toes represent?
The number of toes on the image does not seem to have prophetic significance for the following two reasons:
First, in other visions Daniel mentions specific numbers that are significant such as the number of horns on the heads of the wild beast. Daniel does not mention the specific number of toes, so that number does not seem to be significant.
Second, each of the sections in the rest of the image represent only the dominant world power that interacted with God’s people. Therefore, the feet and toes represent not a conglomeration of many different governments but just the Anglo-American world power.
This prophecy shows, and it is confirmed by Revelation 17, verse 10, that the Anglo-American world power, Britain and the United States, will be the dominant political force when that stone, when God’s Kingdom strikes the image. It will rule concurrently for a time with the eighth king, the United Nations.
But what does this mean?
It means that we do not have to wait for another power to arise. All the elements are in place, and since 1914 that stone has been hurling toward the feet of the image and is now about to strike. [applause]
~2011 District Convention “God’s Kingdom Will Crush All Other Kingdoms – When?”