“Jeremiad.” Definition: An elaborate and prolonged condemnation; a cry of lamentation; an expression of righteous indignation and judgment.
“Nehemiad.” Definition: An elaborate and prolonged humiliation; a cry of grief; an expression of righteous repentance and surrender.
Well might we plead the case for an outpouring of Jeremiads from evangelical pulpits in our day. What with inhuman-humanism and patronizing-pietism launching a tandem assault upon all that is near and dear, such a prophetic stance seems all too appropriate. Expose the evils. Demonstrate the inconsistencies. Broadcast the hypocrisies. Denounce the barbarities. Set forth with zeal the clear consequences of God’s wrath, God’s sore displeasure, and God’s judgment. Hurl upon the land Jeremiad after Jeremiad like unto none that man nor beast has ‘ere seen.
As fitting as all that may seem to be, the modern church is in no position to carry it out. Trivialized and crippled by praisalluia-poppycock, hermeneutical hot-dogging, church-growth skullduggery, and intellectual hodge-podgery, our churches are probably incapable of much more than the braggadocio balderdash and eschatological bosh that long has been our stock and trade. Jeremiads are thus, beyond the realm of possibility for us. Our obsession with brainless bric-a-brac and business meeting bilge has made our ineffectiveness and unproductiveness all but a foregone conclusion. Jeremiads? No way.
So, how should we then live? What can we then do?
Instead of attempting that which we are ill-equipped to do, instead of unleashing upon an unsuspecting wayward culture our righteous indignation, instead of venting our grievous Jeremiads upon deafened ears, perhaps we ought to consider the possibility of taking the alternate course of the Nehemiad. In contradistinction to the Jeremiad, the Nehemiad does not rip into those who flaunt ungodliness. Its concern is our own repentance. Unlike the Jeremiad, the Nehemiad does not have a negative, indictive tone. Its concern is restorative. Again, as opposed to the Jeremiad, the Nehemiad is not inescapably tied to a critical spirit. Its concern is constructive.
The Jeremiad is modeled by the prophet Jeremiah when he cried out, “This is what the Lord says about this people: they greatly love to wander; they do not restrain their feet. So the Lord does not accept them; He will now remember their wickedness and punish them for their sins.”
The Nehemiad, on the other hand, is modeled by the cupbearer to Artaxerxes, Nehemiah, when he cried out, “O Lord, God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant of love with those who love Him and obey His commands, let your ear be attentive and Your eyes open to hear the prayer Your servant is praying before You day and night… I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s house, have committed against You. We have acted very wickedly toward You. For we have not obeyed the commands, decrees, and statutes You gave Your servant Moses… O Lord, hear, O hear this prayer and give Your servant, who delights in revering Your Name, success.”
Undoubtedly, our corrupt culture is in dire need of the work of zealous Jeremiad-pronouncing churches, but comprehending that our piffle spewing pulpits may well be unfit at present for the task, the place of the Nehemiad is surely all the more prominent. The walls are down. The rubble is nigh unto impassable. All is in a shambles. So let the Nehemiads begin.
Let the Nehemiads take a priority place in our worship. Let the Nehemiads mark our heretofore paucitous preaching. Let the Nehemiads replace the Sunday School swill and training tatter-nasters. Let the Nehemiads proceed from our life and work.
It is only when a haughty church comes to grips with its theological, cultural, and intellectual impoverishment, does humiliation open the door for humility. And that is a position of vulnerability that we churchmen are sadly, none too anxious to embrace--which explains why humility is a Gospel virtue in desperately short supply, and why the Nehemiad is, to us, an alien concept.
But, considering the crisis that girds us round about, no risk is too great, no commitment too bold. Let the Nehemiads begin. For such is the need of the hour. O God, grant us repentance.