The Prophetic Imagination – Prophetic Criticizing and the Embrace of Pathos, pt.2

Tonight, we are reading through Chapter 3 “Prophetic Criticizing and the Embrace of Pathos” of Walter Brueggemann’s book The Prophetic Imagination. In this chapter, Brueggemann begins the process of working out what the prophetic imagination looks like in practice.


In the second part of the chapter, Brueggemann holds up the prophet Jeremiah as the quintessential voice of the prophetic imagination. Jeremiah prophesied during the last days of the Kingdom of Judah. He was there when King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon sacked Jerusalem. Jeremiah ended his life in exile in Egypt with other refugees from Jerusalem. I have attached, Abraham Heschel’s The Prophets as additional background on Jeremiah.

The Grieving of Jeremiah:

Jeremiah generally lacks the wall-to-wall anger of Amos or the vitriol of Joel. Rather, Brueggemann sees Jeremiah as primarily a grieving prophet. See, e.g., Jer. 23:9. Jeremiah grieves for two primary reasons. p.47. First, he sees the end of his people and the destruction of Jerusalem. Second, however, he understands that this destruction is occasioned by these people not listening to him nor those prophets who came before him.

The Loss:

First, Jeremiah grieves the loss of the Kingdom and Judah and his people. Jeremiah lived during those events set forth in 2 Kings 22-25. The northern kingdom of Israel had already fallen. 2 Kings 17. The southern kingdom of Judah was next. Brueggemann says that God, as portrayed by Jeremiah, is like a parent watching his child die. The Babylonians are not so much agents of God’s wrath, but the consequences of Judah’s continued ignorance of God’s will. Jeremiah can do nothing but watch the events unfold. He is simply watching the accident in motion.

The Numbness:

Jeremiah also grieves because, like Isiah, he is speaking to a people who simply cannot and who simply refuse to hear. Jer. 6:16, Isa. 6:9, Mk 4:12. Brueggemann calls this the “numbness of history.” p.53. The people are simply numb to how God sees the world. The Royal Consciousness has closed the ears to hear the words of the prophet. Royalty speaks “Peace, peace, when there is no peace.” p.55. Everything is perfectly managed and perfectly fine up until the very moment when it is not. Jeremiah has the burden of seeing that God is not on the side of the Judean establishment.

Our Grieving:

In this chapter, Brueggemann calls us to grieve. Grieving is the result of an understanding that the present reality cannot simply be managed better or that certain behavioral or political changes will make everything alright. Brueggemann points out that we can only grieve when we understand that the end is here. p.57. But, in grieving the end, we lay the foundation for

Dinner is at 6. The menu is pasta e fagioli. Discussion about 6:45. Hope to see you here. 

The ultimate purpose of a prophet is not to be inspired, but to inspire the people; not to be filled with a passion but to impassion the people with understanding God.

Abraham Heschel, The Prophets, p. 146.

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  1. Pingback: The Prophetic Imagination – Prophetic Energizing and the Emergence of Amazement, pt.2 – Ancient Anglican

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