A Prophetical Word

The word jeremiad, meaning “a prolonged lamentation or complaint,” also, “a cautionary or angry harangue” (Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary), has its origin in the name of the Prophet Jeremias (Jeremiah). The word comes to us from the French jérémiade, which, in turn, comes from the Latin, Jeremias. What makes Jeremias’ name worthy of such a use is the mission God gave him to accuse the Israelites of their guilt and to predict their captivity. Here is a sample of Jeremias’ preaching, spoken here in the name of God: “How can I be merciful to thee? thy children have forsaken me, and swear by them that are not gods: I fed them to the full, and they committed adultery, and rioted in the harlot’s house. They are become as amorous horses and stallions, every one neighed after his neighbor’s wife. Shall I not visit for these things, saith the Lord? and shall not my soul take revenge on such a nation? Scale down the walls thereof, and throw them down, but do not utterly destroy: take away the branches thereof, because they are not the Lord’s. For the house of Israel, and the house of Juda have greatly transgressed against me, saith the Lord. They have denied the Lord, and said, It is not he: and the evil shall not come upon us: we shall not see the sword and famine” (Jeremias 5:7-12).

Jeremias lived from the close of the seventh into the sixth century B.C. and prophesied for nearly half a century (627-585). He was born of a priestly family in the town of Anathoth, northeast of Jerusalem. Among other things, he prophesied the Babylonian Captivity, specifying that it was a punishment on the people for their gross immorality. He was not very popular. Not only did the people dislike him for his complaints, but King Joakim had him arrested and burned some of his writings. (The king resented “He shall be buried with the burial of an ass” (22:13-19) being said of his royal personage.) For testifying to God’s unpleasant truth, Jeremias paid a heavy price: according to Tertullian, the prophet was stoned to death by the Israelites who had fled to Egypt and taken him with them. His jeremiads concerning God’s coming chastisement were too much for them to take. The Roman Martyrology commemorates him on May 1, with this entry: “In Egypt, St. Jeremias, prophet, who was stoned to death by the people at Taphnas, where he was buried. St. Epiphanius tells that the faithful were accustomed to pray at his grave, and to take away from it dust to heal those who were stung by serpents.”