|Vol. 1, No. 4||Page 5||April 1999|
Nimrod was one of the most prominent personalities during the four centuries between the flood and Abraham. The story of Nimrod falls within that section of Scripture regarded by some as myth and legend (Genesis 1-11). It should be noted, however, that the language of these chapters describes persons and events. The mention of lands, families, languages and national groupings constitutes definite points for historic reference.
Nimrod was a very enterprising man. Our text reads, "Cush begot Nimrod; he began to be a mighty one on the earth. He was a mighty hunter before the Lord; therefore it is said, 'Like Nimrod the mighty hunter before the Lord.' And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. From that land he went to Assyria and built Nineveh, Rehoboth Ir, Calah and Resen between Nineveh and Calah (that is the principal city)" (Genesis 10:8-11, NKJV). The tenth chapter of Genesis gives us the history of the spread and development of three great families since the days of Noah, being Japheth, Ham and Shem. Nimrod was a grandson of Ham listed in "the genealogy of the sons of Noah" and a son of Cush, born soon after the global flood (Genesis 10:1). Nimrod is represented as a great man of his day. From the brief record of his life we will notice:
l. Nimrod the tyrant. Nimrod "began to be a mighty one on the earth" (Vs. 8). Whereas, those who went before him were content to bear rule in their own house (Patriarchs), Nimrod sought, not only to rise above the level of his neighbors, but also to wield authority over them. The reputation of Nimrod is that he was a prototype of violent despotism such as the world has seen in only a few historic figures like Alexander the Great and Napoleon Bonaparte, among others. This suggestion is encouraged by the fact that the Hebrew verb form of his name nimrodh means "let us revolt." [H. C. Leupold, Exposition Of Genesis (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House,1963), 366]
It is said that Nimrod was "a mighty hunter before the Lord" (Vs. 9). The question is in what sense was he a "mighty hunter"? Even though most expositors will admit that the language is indefinite, the suggestion is strong that Nimrod was a wicked character. Some think that Nimrod did well with his hunting by ridding the country of wild beasts. Henry H. Halley says, "His fame as a 'mighty hunter' (10:9), meant that he was protector of the people at a time when wild animals were a continual menace." [Henry H. Halley, Halley's Bible Handbook (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House,1972), 82] Others believe that under pretense of hunting animals he became a violent invader of his neighbor's rights in order to bring men into subjection. Adam Clarke remarks that "The word tsayid, which we render hunter, signifies prey; and is applied in the Scriptures to the hunting of men by persecution, oppression, and tyranny." [Adam Clarke, Clarke's Commentary, Vol. I (New York: Abingdon Cokesbury Press, n.d.), 86] This may be enough for us to recognize Nimrod as the first tyrant upon the earth to develop war as an agency of subjecting men to his own interests. The fame of Nimrod as a hunter was proverbial: "therefore it was said, 'Like Nimrod the mighty hunter before the Lord'" (Vs. 9). The idea of verse nine is that whenever a man did something on a heroic scale he was said to be "like Nimrod."
If Nimrod was a rebel, as his name suggests, you can be sure that he had many imitators. Since Nimrod was the founder of Babel this may help to explain the motivation of the builders of the tower of Babel in desiring to make a name for themselves (Genesis 11:1-9). It is reasonable to believe that these men were simply exhibiting the rebel spirit of their mighty founder.
The spirit of Nimrod has been seen through the ages in the smaller, but no less important, spheres of the nation, society, family and the church. There are still Nimrods in the world that are bent on self-exaltation as they live by the iron rule of "might makes right." Nimrods corrupt societies. Nimrods destroy nations (Proverbs 14:34). Nimrods break up marriages and homes (Ephesians 5:25, 28-29). Nimrods divide churches. Diotrephes exhibited the spirit of Nimrod (3 John 9-10).
2. Nimrod the Empire Builder. Even if the character of Nimrod is shrouded in uncertainty, it can hardly be denied that he was an empire-builder. C.C. Crawford noted, of Nimrod, that "He impressed his name upon subsequent generations to such an extent that the empire which he established was still, in the time of Micah the prophet, 'the land of Nimrod' (Micah 5:6)." [C.C. Crawford, Genesis: The Book of the Beginnings (Joplin, Missouri: College Press, 1979), 612]
Nimrod is the founder of the kingdom of Babylon, the history of which is presented in Scripture as morally, religiously and governmentally corrupt (Jeremiah 24:1). We will examine the empire building of Nimrod from the standpoint of his two greatest ventures. His first great venture was in beginning the kingdom of Babylon. Our text tells us "And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar" (Vs.10).
The name Babylon is the Greek rendition of the name that in Hebrew is Babel. Its first occurrence in Scripture pertains to the titanic social revolt surrounding the tower of Babel, at which time people in "the land of Shinar" attempted to throw off the rule of God and forge their own government. They said, "come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth" (Genesis 11:4). It is quite reasonable to believe that Nimrod may have been the inspiration for their scheme. Men are often great imitators of evil. If a man is known as a great leader, if he is famous, flamboyant and gains a following, he will have many that will seek to be like him. Genesis 10:8-10 portrays the character in which earthly imperial power first appears on the stage of human history. As Leupold stated, "These early kingdoms or empires are, therefore, not to be regarded as useful institutions, guaranteeing law and order in a troubled world, but rather as the achievements of a lawless fellow who taught men to revolt against duly constituted authority." [Leupold, 368.]
Aside from the famed Babel, Nimrod is the founder of the following Babylonian cities: Erech, which is located about one hundred miles southeast Babylon. Accad (Akkad) lies in northern Babylon. It is believed to be near modern Bagdad. Calneh is also believed to be near modern Bagdad, although no archaeological discoveries to date have revealed its location. That small fact, however, is hardly sufficient reason to doubt the credibility of the Bible in citing its existence.
Nimrod's second great venture in empire building was to set out for Assyria, and build, "Nineveh, Rehoboth Ir, Calah, and Resen between Nineveh and Calah (that is the principle city)" (Genesis 10:11-12). The city of Nineveh is familiar to us from reading the book of Jonah. Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian empire which destroyed Israel in 721 BC. Assyria was itself destroyed in 612 BC by the combined forces of the Babylonians and Medes (Nahum 2:6-8; 3:7). The sister-cities to Nineveh are Rehoboth Ir, possibly a suburb of Nineveh, Calah, eighteen miles south of Nineveh, and Resen, between Calah and Nineveh. Of the concluding remark "that is the principle city," it is well to note that these four places composed "the great city." These, and other cities, were included under the name Nineveh (much like the complex of cities making up New York City).
3. Lessons: What lessons might we learn in this survey of the life of Nimrod? We have observed in Nimrod the disposition of worldly ambition. Now, let us observe the nature of ambition. First, ambition is hungry. Nimrod hungered for power and dominance over his neighbors. Second, ambition is restless. Nimrod, with four cities under his command, could not be content until he had four more. Third, ambition is daring and will stop at nothing. Ambition itself is not wrong. If misdirected, ambition becomes human pride in action. Jesus at times found such a disposition among his disciples and denounced it (Mark 9:34; Luke 9:46). The Christian's ambition is given by Paul when he said, "that you also aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you" (1 Thessalonians 4:11).