Yesterday I began a series on kings of the bible. Today I turn to our first king – Nimrod.
Encyclopedia Britannica has a nice short summary entry on Nimrod that I share with you here to get us started:
“Nimrod, also spelled Nemrod, legendary biblical figure of the book of Genesis. Nimrod is described in Genesis 10:8–12 as “the first on earth to be a mighty man. He was a mighty hunter before the Lord.” The only other references to Nimrod in the Bible are Micah 5:6, where Assyria is called the land of Nimrod, and I Chronicles 1:10, which reiterates his might. The beginning of his kingdom is said in the Genesis passage to be Babel, Erech, and Akkad in the land of Shinar. Nimrod is said to have then built Nineveh, Calah (modern Nimrūd), Rehoboth-Ir, and Resen.
“There is some consensus among biblical scholars that the mention of Nimrod in Genesis is a reference not to an individual but to an ancient people in Mesopotamia. The description of Nimrod as a “mighty hunter before the Lord” is an intrusion in this context, but probably, like the historical notices, derived from some old Babylonian saga. However, no equivalent of the name has yet been found in the Babylonian or other cuneiform records. In character there is a certain resemblance between Nimrod and the Mesopotamian epic hero Gilgamesh.”
If all you are looking for is history, we could stop right there – that’s a pretty good summary. But that’s not the point of this series. It isn’t just about history. It’s about more than that – it’s about the idea of kingship of humanity versus kingship of God.
Nimrod doesn’t get a whole lot of lines in Scripture. We don’t hear any dialogue from him either. It would be easy to just bypass him and move on. But I think there are some interesting things about Nimrod that reveal important points about kingship in relation to God.
Nimrod, although not specifically named a king here in Scripture, was kinglike. We’re told from Scripture that “he was the first on earth to become a mighty warrior.” (Genesis 10:8, NRSV)
Humanity has been stuck on the idea that kings are warriors – that they fight. Kings are supposed to fight for their people and kill off any threats that exist. It is a human ideal for kings that goes back eons. I just find it interesting that the first king mentioned in Scripture is a warrior. He sets the stage as an example for all future kings. And we are only in Genesis 10, not long after the flood. Remember the flood. It was done by God because of the evil of humanity.
We’re told that Nimrod was the son of Cush, who was the son of Ham, who was the son of Noah. Here we are, four generations after the flood, and humanity is more worried about killing enemies than about anything else. Nimrod is elevated because he was a warrior – not because of his intellect, or wisdom, or kindness, or generosity, or anything else. He could kill and conquer.
Scripture also tells us the following about Nimrod:
“The beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, and Accad, all of them in the land of Shinar. From that land he went into Assyria, and built Nineveh, Rehoboth-ir, Calah, and Resen between Nineveh and Calah; that is the great city.” (Genesis 10:10-12, NRSV)
We hear that he had a kingdom. And it expanded. And he built cities, some of them became great. This will become a regular feature of many later kings and rulers who will likewise conquer and expand their kingdoms and build great cities.
After we hear the full family lineage of Noah, which includes Nimrod, we hear about the story of the Tower of Babel, which begins this way:
“Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. And as they migrated from the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.” (Genesis 11:1-2, NRSV)
This is the same region used to describe the land that Nimrod ruled. It’s possible that the writer of Genesis assumed that Nimrod was in charge during the building of the Tower of Babel. Considering that we are talking about the same region, that Nimrod was a builder of great cities, and that the story comes immediately after the lineage of Noah, it is possible for us to associate Nimrod with the Tower of Babel.
It’s also important to remember that Genesis 1-11 are considered pre-history, which means they are stories designed to explain how humanity got to where it was and other deep existential questions like – why did creation happen, why do we have multiple languages, how are we connected with the past, etc.
In the story of the Tower of Babel, we hear about the people of the earth and their desires:
“Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.’” (Genesis 11:4, NRSV)
They wanted to make a name for themselves. They essentially wanted to be like Nimrod – made famous.
Reflection questions to consider:
Do we seek out fame or power like Nimrod? What greatness do we seek? How do these things rule over each one of us, our communities, our churches, and our nation? How does Nimrod as king contrast with Jesus, the king of kings?