Now comes the.... test. God gives a capable man wealth and power....to see what he will do with it. Hugh Nibley
As we will see presently, Nimrod fails the test. He soon realizes that he can use the Lord's gift of the bow to enlarge his kingdom, and gain fame, and riches for himself. He becomes a tyrant, enslaving his enemies, and subverting the morality of his people.
"But Nimrod very soon discovered that by using the bow he could put the human race at his disposal. So he turned it against them and made himself the first king who ruled everything. He was given this tool to help people, and he found out, 'Boy, what a profit this will give me! How great I can become now that I have the bow.' And he did. He used it and organized the first armies, the first empire, the first tyranny, and all that sort of thing. He misused the great gift God had given him." (Hugh Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, BYU p. 230.)
In this section, I will use a number of historical sources to illustrate Nimrod's apostasy. Although our sources are somewhat limited due to Nimrod's antiquity, we do have a number of good historical sources and commentaries which we can draw upon.
Through the prophet Joseph Smith the Lord revealed the principles of righteous leadership, and identified the root causes of unrighteous rule:
"We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.When we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man. Behold, ere he is aware, he is left unto himself, to kick against the pricks … and to fight against God." (D&C 121:39, 37-38)
And this is where we find Nimrod in his mid-life – rebelling against righteousness, fighting against God, and working in opposition to his prophets.
Thus “Nimrod succeeded in subduing “all things to his will, ruling all the earth with his inspired violence.” (Hugh Nibley, Brother Brigham Challenges the Saints, 1994, 17 – 18.)
Josephus adds that “[Nimrod] also gradually changed the government into tyranny, seeing no other way of turning men from the fear of God, but to bring them into a constant dependence on his power. He also said he would be revenged on God, if he should have a mind to drown the world again; for that he would build a tower too high for the waters to be able to reach! and that he would avenge himself on God for destroying their forefathers!" (Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 1:4:2)
Nibley describes Nimrod’s military strategy which he used to build his empire, and which was imitated by many later conquerors. Using a later example of the Tartars, he tells us: "If the neighboring province to that which they invade will not aid them … they waste it and with the inhabitants whom they take with them they proceed to fight against other provinces. That's the way they sweep them and build up their armies. They place their captives in the front of the battle, and if they fight not courageously, put them to the sword. In such a way the Asiatic warlords from the beginning swept the earth before them, like Shiz. The hordes of our own day did that, forcing all that lay in their path to become part of them. "I counted them among my people," says the Assyrian conqueror of one nation after another. This ancient formula goes back to our old friend Nimrod. We are told that Genghis Khan, like Nimrod, became a mighty hunter. He learned to steal men and to take them for prey. He ranged into other countries, taking as many captives as he could and joining them to himself to build his army. He bound them, as Nimrod had done, by awful oaths, this system of sweeping the earth, and the Schrecklichkeit [a military policy of terrorizing the enemy] we [have] mentioned.” (Hugh Nibley, Teachings of the Book of Mormon, BYU, p 261.)
The Jaredites apparently practiced this same strategy, at least in the final battles. Shez was infamous for sweeping the earth and destroying its inhabitants.
Louis Ginsberg, in his classic study Legends of the Jews, gives us a chilling account of Nimrod turning to the dark side taken from ancient Jewish traditions.
“[Nimrod] chose Shinar as his capital. Thence he extended his dominion farther and farther, until he rose by cunning and force to be the sole ruler of the whole world. the first mortal to hold universal sway. His impiousness kept pace with his growing power. Since the flood there had been no such sinner as Nimrod. He fashioned idols of wood and stone, and paid worship to them. But not satisfied to lead a godless life himself, he did all he could to tempt his subjects into evil ways … The great success that attended all of Nimrod's undertakings produced a sinister effect. Men no longer trusted in God, but rather in their own prowess and ability, an attitude to which Nimrod tried to convert the whole world. Therefore people said, 'Since the creation of the world there has been none like Nimrod, a mighty hunter of men and beasts, and a sinner before God.' And not all this sufficed unto Nimrod's evil desire. Not enough that he turned men away from God, he did all he could to make them pay Divine honors unto himself. He set himself up as a god, and made a seat for himself in imitation of the seat of God. It was a tower built out of a round rock, and on it he placed a throne of cedar wood, upon which arose, one above the other, four thrones, of iron, copper, silver, and gold. Crowning all, upon the golden throne, lay a precious stone, round in shape and gigantic in size. This served him as a seat, and as he sate upon it, all nations came and paid him Divine homage." (Ginsberg, Legends of the Jews. Vol. 1, 83-87)
One of Nimrod's main goals was to discredit and replace the teachings of Noah and Shem. These patriarchs were still alive at the time and were active in maintaining and promoting the gospel. Nimrod seemed to think that by doing this he could transfer the peoples natural dependence on God to him, their earthly leader and supposed protector.
Clarke, in his Bible Commentary, quotes some Jewish sources regarding Nimrod's strategy in subverting the Lord's work.
“The Targum [a work which paraphrases and explains the Jewish scriptures], commenting on 1 Chronicles 1:10, says: Nimrod began to be a mighty man in sin, a murderer of innocent men, and a rebel before the Lord. The Jerusalem Targum adds: 'He was mighty in hunting (or in prey) and in sin before God, for he was a hunter of the children of men ... and he [Nimrod] said unto them, Depart from the religion of Shem, and cleave to the institutes of Nimrod.' The Targum of Jonathan ben Uzziel says: 'From the foundation of the world none was ever found like Nimrod, powerful in hunting, and in rebellions against the Lord.' The Syriac calls him a warlike giant. The word ציד tsayid, which we render hunter, signifies prey; and is applied in the Scriptures to the hunting of men by persecution, oppression, and tyranny. Hence it is likely that Nimrod, having acquired power, used it in tyranny and oppression; and by rapine and violence founded that domination which was the first distinguished by the name of a kingdom."
(Clark's Bible Commentary on Gen. 10:8. http://clarke.biblecommenter.com/genesis/10.htm Accessed 30 nov 12)
The institutes of Shem were, of course, the pure gospel principles that had been taught by Noah, who, following the flood, continued the gospel traditions of Adam. They included all the ancient teachings and ordinances that had been passed down from the beginning of the world. Nimrod's plan was to turn men from God, and make them dependent upon him, and accept the “institutes of Nimrod.” In the end, he even attempted to convince his followers that he was divine.
What were the institutes of Nimrod? Satan always has counterfeit programs and doctrines to oppose those of God, and Nimrod certainly provided him with powerful counterfeits. Cleon Skousen, in his book The First Two Thousand Years, enumerates these teachings of Nimrod. He points out that the heathen religions did not evolve as many have theorized, but that they were promoted, as alternatives to revealed religion, in order to gain power. He goes on to enumerate the various steps in Nimrod's plan.
“First of all … he belittled God and tried to destroy men's confidence in God. He did not deny His existence. He just said God wasn't important. He said men were their own benefactors and didn't need to thank God for the prosperity which they had worked so hard themselves to acquire. Here is the cornerstone of heathen worship—to place man above God,
“The next step is to worship great conquerors such as Nimrod and call them gods. This was exactly what Nimrod undertook to do. As the historian says: 'And not all this sufficed unto Nimrod's evil desire. Not enough that he turned men away from God, he did all he could to make them pay divine honors unto himself. He set himself up as a god, and made a seat for himself in imitation of the seat of God. It was a tower built out of a round rock, and on it he placed a throne of cedar wood, upon which arose, one above the other, four thrones, of iron, copper, silver and gold. Crowning all, upon the golden throne, lay a precious stone, round in shape and gigantic in size. This served him as a seat, and as he sat upon it, all nations came and paid him divine homage.'
“The next thing which began to characterize heathen worship … was the elevating of animals above humanity … Heathen religions delivered human beings over to the real or fancied whims of animals. In many cases animal life was made more sacred than human life, and humans were sacrificed to animal gods.
“Another fiction which was probably introduced into the 'institutes of Nimrod' … was the idea that human beings are somehow influenced in their daily actions by the sun, moon and stars. These astronomical bodies were credited with the power to bestow special gifts, tastes, tendencies and qualities of personality upon each person. If a person were born at a particular time when the sign of one of these stars or groups of stars was in the ascendancy then this person was told during his youth that throughout his life he would be influenced to follow a certain course of conduct and there was nothing he could do about it! This destroyed the concept of 'free agency'.
Now, having destroyed the worship of the one true God, the dignity of humanity and the concept of free agency ... the Satan-inspired originators of heathen worship next turned to the exploitation of human passion and degenerate sadism.
“The amazing popularity of heathen idolatry can never be understood unless a study is made of the ritual which was practiced. Heathen ritual was frequently devoted almost exclusively to the stimulating and satisfying of human passion. The words adultery and idolatry both come from the same derivation. The heathen religions institutionalized immorality. As one authority points out: 'Sacramental fornication was a regular feature of (heathen) religious life.'
“In addition to immoral practices, the heathen priests almost universally adopted sadistic devices to satisfy the morbid appetites of their worshipers. This included the sacrifice of human beings by burning or slaughter. (Cleon Skousen, The First Two Thousand Years, pp. 234-247)”
In relation to Skousen's suggestion that fornication was established as the cultural norm in Sumer, it is also alleged that Nimrod instituted the practice whereby kings have the right to the first night with any new bride. In addition, the Greek historian Herodotus claimed that it was a practice among the Babylonians that once in her life every woman was required to sit at the temple of the goddess of love and prostitute herself for one day, donating the proceeds to the temple (Herodotus Bk. 1:199). If this were the case, this practice likely began in Sumer under the reign of Nimrod.
So you can easily see that if the above is correct, Nimrod was a very evil man. He forced all his people to commit sin and turn against God, and he himself led the way, in open rebellion against his maker. It is very interesting that many of these same paganistic practices of the Sumerians were conveyed to the Americas by the Jaredites. They weren't practiced originally while the first migrants were righteous and still remembered the miracles that had accompanied their journey. But over time, and as apostasy set in, the Jaredites reverted to the ancient practices of Sumer which had been encouraged, if not originated, by Nimrod.