Ethiopia produced Nimrod, the first man on earth to be a despot (he was a mighty hunter against the Lord; hence the proverb, "Like Nimrod, a mighty hunter before the Lord"). His empire at first was Babylon, Uruk, Akkad, and Kalnah, in the land of Shinar; from which he pushed out into Assyria, building the great ciy of Ninevah and its suburbs, also Kalah, and Resen which lies between Ninevah and Kalah -- this is that great city. (Genesis 10:8-12)
Much fanciful speculation surrounds Nimrod. He is said to be everything from an ancestor of the Pope to the inventor of the Christmas tree. The work of Alexander Hislop, for example, is surely far more speculative than Rushdoony and Ellul (in their discussion of the first "polis" (State) in a previous essay), and all of it misses an important point in Scripture concerning the nature of Nimrod's error. The better commentators have always known who Nimrod was, and they can be relied upon to provide a stable analysis of his role in political development in the Bible. Surprisingly, Nimrod was involved far more in economics and politics than he was in "religion."
The first thing the Bible tells us about Nimrod is his name, and thus his character; Biblical names are more than merely "Bob" or "Betty;" they tell us about the person: "Overcomer," "Father of many," etc. What does Nimrod mean? Leupold, a conservative Christian commentator, is joined by others who note that Nimrod's name must control our interpretation of the passage (Genesis 10:8-12):
The course that our interpretation of these two verses takes will be determined very largely by the meaning of the word "Nimrod." For the meaning of the verbform nimrodh, without a doubt, is "let us revolt." . . . The tendency of this Cushite must have been to rise up against, and to attempt to overthrow, all existing order. In fact, he must have used this motto so frequently in exhorting others to rebellion, that finally it was applied to him as a name descriptive of the basic trait of his character. . . . So this inciter to revolt (Nimrod) came to be the first tyrant upon the earth, oppressing others and using them for the furtherance of his own interests.
The name itself, Nimrod from (marad, see Strong's #4775) "we will revolt," points to some violent resistance to God. (Kiel and Delitzsch, 1888)
The name of Nimrod is usually derived from (marad), to rebel, because he was a rebel against God, as is generally said, and because, as Jarchi observes, he caused all the world to rebel against God, by the advice he gave to the . . . builders of Babel. (John Gill, 1763)
Thus the first thing that we are told about Nimrod is that he was a man characterized by rebellion against God and Godly Families.
We have only a few words in Scripture about Adam and his family, and just a smattering about Cain and his. But we have much more information about Noah, and in the same way have more information about Nimrod. We need not speculate concerning Nimrod; the Bible tells us Nimrod was the first Statist.
In understanding what the Bible says about Nimrod, we must understand the situation in which Nimrod initially found himself. As was the case with Cain, Nimrod was first a member of a Family. Even at the time of Genesis 14, "The human race had yet their three progenitors, Shem, Ham, and Japeth, living among them; by the very sight of whom they were admonished, that they all sprung from one Family, and one ark" (Calvin, at Genesis 14:1ff.). Matthew Poole, writing in 1700, speaks of the Family authority that surrounded Nimrod:
[A]n aggravation of his crime, that it was done in God's presence, impudently and in contempt both of God, who had so lately manifested his detestation of this sin, by the destruction of the world, amongst other sins, for this very sin of violence, Gen. vi.13, and of his great-grandfather Noah, then living and preaching, who probably did admonish him of the wickedness and danger of this practice. Thus he showed that he neither feared God nor reverenced man, if they withstood him in his usurpation of dominion. It became a proverb, when any man was haughty, and cruel, and tyrannical, and that joined with impudence and obstinacy, That he was another Nimrod.
It is certain, therefore, that Nimrod would have known of his place in the household of Noah. As with Cain, Nimrod knew where God had rested earthly authority. There was no "Chruch," nor was there a "State." God had constituted the Family as the bearer of earthly authority. Nimrod was a part of this structure of authority.
While we must remember that Cain was the first Statist, (commentators refer to Nimrod as the first statist because of the greater amount of Biblical data on Nimrod), we must see Nimrod's infamy stemming from his move out of the Patriarchal structure ordained by God and into a non-Familial system of government. While one could possibly tolerate a person who wanted to establish Godly non-Familial systems of government in the place of unGodly and oppressive Families, one can in no way tolerate Nimrod's deplorable actions. He sought, following Cain, to competely overthrow God's Family-centered order; the social system in which obedient Families were the source of all order and prosperity. Nimrod sought to establish cities of oppression in the place of godly Families like Noah's or Abraham's. Thomas Whitelaw notes of Nimrod's revolution:
Under him, society passed from the patriarchal condition, in which each separate clan or tribe owns the sway of its natural head, into that (more abject or more civilized according as it is viewed) in which many different clans or tribes recognize the sway of one who is not their natural head, but has acquired his ascendency and dominion by conquest.
Franz Delitzsch (1888) confirms our view of Nimrod as the first political leader (of the post-Flood world):
What the narrative has in view is not the greatness of Nimrod as a hunter, but his importance as the founder of a state. The hunter without equal was also the first monarch.
John P. Lange (1864) suggests that the move from Family-government to the predominance of the "State" was not without conflict:
This establishment of an empire transforming the patriarchal clan-governments into one monarchy is not to be thought of as happening without force. The hunter becomes a subjugator of men, in other words, a conquerer.
Nimrod attempted to move culture away from the Family and towards a non-Familial, and hence oppressive and impersonal, form of "government." The conservative Leupold (1942) describes the centrality of the monarch in this "government."
So this inciter to revolt (Nimrod) came to be the first tyrant upon the earth, oppressing others and using them for the furtherance of his own interests.
He notes how this was a break with the Lord's ordination:
Here is the real story of the founding of empires, for that matter, of the first empires. Having the type of character that we find described in vv. 8-9 in the person of Nimrod, we must needs regard both Babylon and Assyria as exponents of the spirit of this world. This attitude over against Babylon is the attitude of the Scriptures in prophetic utterances (cf. Isa. 13, also Isa. 47) as well as in the book of Revelation (18:21). These early kingdoms or empires are, therefore . . . to be regarded as . . . the achievements of a lawless fellow who taught men to revolt against duly constituted authority.
The phrase "duly constituted authority" is an interesting one. Most assuredly the Family was "duly constituted." Can we say the same thing about the "State"? Was there a "State" at the time Nimrod left the Household of Faith? Does the "State" have any other origin than in Nimrod's Babylon? Clearly, the departure from Patriarchal society came about through Nimrod's apostasy. John Gill (1763) comments on Genesis 10:8:
He began to be a mighty one on the earth; that is, he was the first that formed a plan of government, and brought men into subjection to it; for this refers not to his gigantic stature, as if he was a giant, as the Septuagint renders; or a strong robust man, as Onkelos; nor to his moral character, as the Targum of Jonathan, which is "he began to be mighty in sin, and to rebel before the Lord in the earth;" but to his civil character, as a ruler and governor: he was the first that reduced bodies of people and various cities into one form of government, and became the head of them; either by force and usurpation, or it may be with the consent of the people, through his persuasion of them. . . .
One could easily get the impression that there was no government before Nimrod. Nimrod did not bring us government, he brought us "the government." We should not say "there was no government before Nimrod." There was no "State" before Nimrod (or Cain), but there was social order, and the source of this well-governed society was the Family.
Patriarchy was the original government. The State is a pagan replacement.
George Gillespie (?) (c. 1708) on The Original and First Institution of Magistracy.
Horatius Bonar (1808-1880) on Nimrod
| Nimrod, Part 2 | "The Hunter of Men"
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