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Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters


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NIMROD was Noah's great-grandson through Ham; and he was a mighty, hunter. He was the father, as William Law has it, of all those English gentlemen who take their delight in running foxes and hares out of breath. With one drop of his ink, and with one stroke of his pen, Moses tells us a great deal about Nimrod; and, the masterly writer that he is, Moses leaves still more to our imagination. 'And Cush begat Nimrod; he began to be a mighty one in the earth. He was a mighty hunter before the Lord; wherefore it is said, Even as Nimrod the mighty hunter before the Lord.' Nimrod's name, you will see, was a proverb in Israel down even to the day that Moses composed this book. Dante, also, Moses' equal in condensation and in force, lets us see that vast, vague, looming, swelling, gibbering giant in his thirty-first Inferno. His shoulders, his breast, his arms, his ribs,-Dante is amazed at the cloudy glimpse he gets of Ham's grandson down among the gloomy pits. O senseless spirit! shouts Virgil at the giant. And then to his charge:

Nimrod is this,
Through whose ill-counsel in the world no more
One tongue prevails. But pass we on, nor waste
Our words; for so each language is to him,
And his to others, understood by none.

Matthew Henry, still the prince of commentators for the common people, says that Nimrod, no doubt, did great good by his hunting instinct at the beginning of his career. He would put his people under deep obligation by ridding them of the wild beasts that infested those early lands. But then, as time went on, and as Nimrod's ambition grew, he would seem to have taken to hunting men instead of beasts. Great conquerors, after all, are but great hunters before the Lord. Alexander himself, the Great, as we call him, is to Daniel but a great pushing he-goat. And from that Nimrod was led on to build cities with walls, and towers, and barracks, and fortresses. Note of Niinrod's ambition, says our sagacious commentator, that it was boundless, expensive, restless, over-bold, and blasphemous.

Archbishop Whately thinks that the whole story of the building of the Tower of Babel, the confounding of the speech of the builders, and their consequent disruption and dispersion, north, south, east, and west, is a veiled history of a great outbreak of religious controversy in that early and eastern day. The archbishop does not pretend to have discovered just what the great controversy was all about; probably the whole thing would be unintelligible to us. But, on the whole, he thinks it must have been some dispute connected with the worship of God. In 1849 there was much less freedom allowed in the Church of England for such speculations than there is in our day; and thus it was that Dr. Whately had to come out about the Tower of Babel in one of the foreign tongues of Babel, and behind the veil of anonymity. A living writer in the same church looks on the Tower of Babel as a 'sublime emblem'; and Landor makes Isaac Barrow and Isaac Newton talk together in his noble English about that Tower as if it had been, at the top at least, the first astronomical observatory of those Babylonian fathers of that queen of the sciences. But we come back from all these, not uninstructive speculations in their way, to the powerfully written passage before us, in which so much is told us in such small space. 'Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech.

Philo Judæus, the father of allegorical interpretation, has a beautiful tract entitled The Confusion of Languages. But Jacob Behmen, Philo's Teutonic son, far outstrips his Hebrew father in the depth, pungency, directness, and boldness of his interpretations and his applications. Babel, to Philo, is the soul of man; the confounded, confused, and scattered-abroad soul of man; and in his confused and scattered treatise we stumble on not a few things that are both wise and deep and beautiful. To Behmen, Babel is all that it is to Philo, with this characteristic addition, that Behmen's books are full of contemporaneous examples and illustrations of the Babel-like confusion that had come already to the Reformed Church of his day. Babel, to Behmen, is full of the controversies, verbal orthodoxies and heterodoxies, misunderstandings, misconstructions, and heart hatreds of the mighty hunters of his day. Babel, 'philosophically taken,' was to Philo the sum total of the passions of the soul let loose on the individual; evangelically taken, to Behmen, Babel was all those passions let loose also on the body of Christ. It is not easy and plain for any one of us to put our finger on our own Babel, says Behmen. For we are all working at the building of that Tower: we are all too much given over to words and to names, to sects and to parties, to men and to churches. Words rule us, and things lose all power over us. Names master us and tyrannise over us. Let every man enter into himself, and he will be sure to find a whole Tower of Babel, with all its consequences, standing in his own mind and in his own heart continually. The only possible escape from that Tower and its confoundings and confusions is to get clean away from the letter which killeth, and to go down into the spirit which giveth liberty and life. Leave off all disputations and all divisive words and names, and begin thy life again with God and with love alone. As Paul was not to be absolutely ignorant of everything but Christ and Him crucified all the time that he was to know nothing else, so Behmen is not to deny, or forswear, or for ever forget the Lutheran catechisms and confessions of his day; only, he is to go beneath them all to the ground out of which they all spring, and above them all to the light and the air in which they all live and grow. And then he hopes to return to them with a love and a light and a life and a freedom that verbal Babel knows nothing of. Arguments, controversies, debates, disputes, even when they are true and needful, have always something of Babel in them; and they who must engage in them will have need of another and a better life outside of them, beneath them, and above them, as Jacob Behmen had.

And thus to come home, and to take current controversy among ourselves: political, religious, and, indeed, all kinds of controversy; if you will look well to it you will soon see why the name of it all is to be called Babel. All true moralists, all true logicians, all true teachers of rhetoric, unite to tell us and to testify to us that we all deceive and damage both ourselves and our neighbours and the truth every day by our words; by our misuse and our abuse of words. Words, indeed, are both the instrument and the vehicle of all thought and all intercourse. We cannot think, any more than we can speak or write, without words. But, unless we are early and well-taught, and unless we continually watch and teach ourselves, we shall become the complete slaves of our own instruments, and our carriages shall run away with us continually. 'Words are wise men's counters; wise men do but reckon by them; but they are the money of fools.' To prove that and to illustrate that, I had collected and arranged a table of wise men's counters and fools' moneys, and had intended to take in that table here. But I have departed from that intention. I have departed from that intention lest some of you should go off upon a word, and leave the proper and full lesson unlearned. It will be far better that each man who is intent on his own deliverance and improvement, should make up such a table of political, theological, scientific, and social controversialisms for himself, and out of his own conversation, and should, as Socrates would have taught him, ask himself, crossquestion himself even, as to what he means by them when he uses them. Let us get into the truly intellectual, truly moral, and truly religious habit of asking ourselves, and insisting on an answer from ourselves, What is that name, nickname, by-word, that I am casting abroad about my brother so loudly and so loosely? What is the original root of it in language, and in me? What does it connote, as the schools say, first in my own mind, and then in its true content, and then in my hearer's or reader's capacity? Is it fair to use such a name and nickname? Is it just? Is it true? Would I like such and such names and nicknames to be attached to me by those who are opposed to me? It is very annoying, and, indeed, exasperating, to be pulled up in that way when our eloquence and our indignation and our denunciation are in full flood. But truth, love, goodness, godliness, are to be achieved by no man on any easier terms. As Behmen would say, Babel is to be escaped in no other way. And, since Behmen is so full and so good, as I think, on Babel, and since he himself has been so much the victim of Babel-more almost than any man I know-let me show you once more the kind of thing that has made me love him: and, almost to say of him, as Dr. Newman says of Thomas Scott, that he owes him his own soul. I do not owe my soul to Behmen, or to any of his school; but I owe some lessons in my soul's deliverance and purification that I would be a cold-hearted creature if I did not on all hands acknowledge and share with you. A true Christian, says Teutonicus in his Regeneration, a Christian who is born anew into the Spirit of Christ, has less and less mind to contend and strive about matters of religion. He has enough to do within himself. A true Christian is really of no church. He can dwell surrounded by all the churches. He can even enter them all, and take part in all their services, without being bound up with any one of them. He has but one creed, which is, Christ in him. If men would but as fervently seek after love and righteousness as they do after disputatious matters, we should soon all be the children of one Father; and there would be no matters left to dispute about. If we did not know half so many contrary doctrines, and were more like little children; if we only had more good-will to those who hold the contrary doctrine, the contrariness would soon give way, and we would all be of one mind. Ungodly ministers go about sowing abroad contentions, reproaches, misconstructions; and, then, ungodly people catch all these up and make an ungodly religion out of them, and bring forth fruit accordingly. They despise, revile, slander, and misrepresent one another, till Babel, and all its sins and miseries, is again falling on us and burying us. What, asks Freher at himself and at the Spirit of his Master-what is an honest, simple Christian to do amidst such a variety of sects and contentions? He is to keep out of them; and he is to thank God that he has neither the call, nor the talent, nor the temptation to enter into them. He is to keep his heart clean and sweet to all men, and hot and bitter only at himself. No man's persuasion justifies me in hating him. And if I hate his persuasion too much, if I give up too much of my passion to bating any man's persuasion, I will soon end in hating himself. I must hate that only which hinders me myself from being a new creature in Christ Jesus. Therefore is the name of all controversy called Babel by the great mystics, the great masters of the life of love in the soul.

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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Whyte, Alexander. Entry for 'Nimrod'. Alexander Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters. 1901.

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