Nimrod makes a brief appearance in Genesis 10:8-9 where he is described as a “mighty hunter before God… mighty at trapping before God.”
This short description comes in the middle of a long list of generations between Noah and Abraham and one would be forgiven for passing over it with no more than a cursory glance.
The fact that he was a hunter is hardly remarkable. But in a world that was devoid of Godliness, what is the significance behind the statement that he was a hunter before God?
Rashi explains that the term ‘hunter’ is a reference to a deeper concept and is not just meant to be taken literally. He explains that the trapping referred to here are the acts of entrapment that he engaged in. He would ensnare people’s minds with his mouth and lead them astray to rebel against God.
Indeed this idea is reflected in his very name, Nimrod, which is an expression of the root term, ‘rebellion’. Nimrod is one who “recognises his Master (God) yet sets his thoughts to antagonise against him”. He is therefore a highly significant player on the world stage. He is Abraham’s nemesis, using his political might to persecute Abraham for his new-found religious beliefs and campaign to bring mankind to an awareness of and connection with God.
Nimrod’s anti-religious zeal does not come from the fact that he rejects the notion of one God.
Rather, he is aware of the truth of God’s existence and nonetheless seeks to break free from the obligations that come with it.
Nimrod and Abraham therefore stand face-to-face, locked in an existential battle to influence world destiny, which can still be felt today. Nimrod sets himself up as a deity and engages in great construction projects for his own glory, while Abraham teaches the world about righteousness and justice as a means of becoming God-like and thereby bringing God’s presence into the world.
Rabbi Jonny Roodyn is education director of Jewish Futures Trust