Word Play – From jeremiad to nehemiad


MYRNA BROWN, HOST: Today is Friday, August 21st. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Myrna Brown.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Hey, if you haven’t heard this week’s episode of the Legal Docket podcast, please do check it out. It’s about the Espinoza case in this last term. That’s the one that delivered a big win for school choice—and specifically religious school choice. 

I actually got to travel to beautiful Kalispell, Montana, where this case originated. It’s a fascinating story and shows the difference one single mom can make. 

So you can check that out right now by searching your podcast app for Legal Docket. Or, if you aren’t subscribed to the Legal Docket podcast, we’re going to drop that episode into this podcast feed tomorrow morning. 

Great weekend listening.

BROWN: For sure. 

Well, by now you’re used to hearing George Grant explain the meaning and derivation of unusual words. That’s why we call his monthly segment Word Play! 

But this month, George has coined an unusual word of his own. And it’s the perfect term to describe the year 2020.

GEORGE GRANT, COMMENTATOR: Any number of commentators have suggested that 2020 may well go down in history an annus horribilis, a Latin phrase meaning “horrible year.” To be sure, we have had more than our customary allotment of woes—and with months to go before we can turn a calendar page, the mainstream and social media alike have responded with apocalyptic lamentations and mournful jeremiads

A jeremiad is usually defined as a long and doleful complaint. It is a tale of sorrow, disappointment, and grief. It is a declaration of doom. It has passed into English from the French, first used in 1762 to describe the lamentations of the Old Testament prophet, Jeremiah. It was a clever etymological construction intended to call to mind Homer’s Iliad and Virgil’s Aeneid

In literature, it is typically used as a term of ridicule or mockery, implying either that the lamentations are exaggerated, or that their proclamations are overwrought and tediously self-righteous. 

Despite this, well might we plead the case for a fresh outpouring of jeremiads in our day. With forces of cultural disintegration undermining the very foundations of all that is near and dear, such a prophetic stance might seem altogether apt. Issue the warnings. Lament the injustices. Expose the evils. Denounce the barbarities. Set forth with zeal the very real consequences of sin and perversity. Hurl upon the land jeremiad after jeremiad like unto none that man nor beast has ‘ere seen.

But perhaps there is a better option for us in these perilous times—an option that bespeaks hope and resolve; an option that animates reformational vision. Perhaps we ought to consider the possibility of taking the course of the nehemiad—modeled on the Old Testament reformer, Nehemiah. 

In contradistinction to the jeremiad, the nehemiad, does not merely bemoan the transgressions of evildoers. Its first concern is the repentance of God’s own people. Unlike the jeremiad, the nehemiad does not only have a negative, indictave tone. Its primary concern is constructive.

A jeremiad is a cry of woe, an expression of righteous indignation, and a resolution to mourn over the ruins. A nehemiad is a cry of humility, an expression of righteous repentance, and a resolution to repair the ruins. 

Undoubtedly, our culture is in want of zealous jeremiads. But, in this hour of disarray, resolute nehemiads may be all the more needful. The walls are down. The rubble is nigh unto impassable. So much is in a shambles. So, with sword in one hand and trowel in the other, let the nehemiads begin. 

Such is the need of the hour. O God, grant us repentance. And then, let us take our places at the wall and begin to restore the toppled stones.

I’m George Grant.


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2 comments on Word Play – From jeremiad to nehemiad

  1. Dale Cutler says:

    Consider the last half of the last chapter of Nehemiah.

    The Lord’s Day of rest:
    https://docs.google.com/file/d/1KyBhBCz7tq9toURAuIq2SEnjrIaMBgFb/edit?filetype=msword

  2. Jim says:

    Thank you George Grant for that challenge. Certainly fitting for this time. I have noticed over the years that in the church, and I will include myself in this, it is far easier to more the evil or there in the world, than to be broken about the evil in my own heart.

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