The Prophetic Imagination – Prophetic Energizing and the Emergence of Amazement, pt.2

This week we are reading through Chapter 4 “Prophetic Energizing and the Emergence of Amazement” of Walter Brueggemann’s book The Prophetic Imagination. In this chapter, Brueggemann writes about the second half of what the prophetic imagination looks like in practice.

Second Isaiah:

In the last chapter, Brueggermann held up Jeremiah as the quintessential criticizing prophet. In this chapter, he holds up Second Isaiah as the quintessential energizing prophet. The first Isaiah lived in the 8th century B.C. during the reign of King Uzziah of Judah and his immediate successors, and his words are contained in Isaiah 1-39. Second (or Deutero-) Isaiah prophesized two centuries later (and a generation or two after Jeremiah) in Babylon during the Exile. A great example of the depth of the despair during this period of Jewish history is the words of Psalm 137.

We studied this prophet in Lent 2019 when we read through the Book of Consolation (Isa. 40-55), which are the writings of this prophet. I have attached Abraham Heschel’s excerpt on deutero-Isaiah from his book The Prophets. If you have time today, please read the attachment and our lessons from 2019 (HERE and HERE) if you want to look deeper into this prophet.


Brueggeman writes that the essential nature of prophetic criticism is grief and the acknowledgment of death. In the Exile, Judah had died. It had been ripped from its land, Jerusalem and its Temple had been laid waste, and its people had been scattered from the Nile to the Euphrates. Into this abyss, the prophet of hope and amazement begins to speak with the words “Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people, saith your God.” Isa. 40:1. Jeremiah’s Rachel who refuses to be comforted (Jer. 31:15), has been answered.


This comfort is not a pat on the head and a kind word. Rather, the poet/prophet (the entire Book of Consolation is written in poetry) reclaims Israel’s imagination, its history, and its God. p.70. The external situation has not changed – they are still sitting beside the waters of Babylon – but their understanding of who they are and where they are going has changed. They were an abandoned, grieving, left-for-dead people who have now reclaimed their identity. This reclamation has come about because they have been “addressed, called by a name, cared for, recognized, and assured” that their God reigns. p.71. Think of the imagination it requires to be comforted when all has been lost. This is the mission of the prophet.

The Riddikulus Charm:

Brueggemann writes about the tools that the poet/prophet has at his disposal. One tool is that of ridicule. This tool is similar to the riddikulus charm from Harry Potter. (The movie clip is HERE.) The way to defeat a stronger and much-feared opponent is simply to ridicule them and make them an object of laughter. We see Second Isaiah mock the gods of Babylon as powerless and burdensome. Isa. 44:9-20, Isa. 46:1. And he ridicules the women of the ruling class. Isa. 47:1-15. In this ridicule, the poet/prophet exposes the powerlessness of the Babylonian gods and their rulers. This allows for the inversion of history where the powerful become weak, the oppressed rise up, and despair turns into amazement. p.74

Three Marks of Prophetic Amazement:

Brueggemann ends this chapter with his list of three (of many) marks of prophetic amazement and its inversions. Each of these marks has as its basis doxology – short and direct hymns of praise.

First, there is a “new song.” Isa. 42:10-20. Deliverance always requires a new song to be sung. Moses sings a new song after the crossing of the Red Sea. Ex. 15. The psalms speak of these new songs after deliverance and victory. Pss 40, 96, 98, 144, and 149. Second Isaiah’s “new song” is different, however. It is not sung in celebration of God’s victory but in anticipation of that victory. The prophet sings, not because the Lord has done marvelous things (Ps. 98:1) but in anticipation of them before they spring forth. Isa. 42:9.

The second mark of prophetic amazement is “new birth.” The poet/prophet calls upon the historic biblical memory of the barren being given a child – Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Samson’s mother, and Hannah. “Sing, O barren one, who did not bear / break forth into singing and cry aloud, / you who have not been in travail! / For the children of the desolate one will be more / than the children of her that is married, says the Lord.” Isa. 54:1. It is the hope of a new birth given to those who are dead in Exile.

A third mark of prophetic amazement is nourishment. The poet/prophet of Second Isaiah lyricises about eating the true bread. He urges his exiled audience to leave behind the costly bread of the oppressors and their royal consciousness. Rather, eat of the freely-given and eternal bread of their God. Isa. 55:1-3. Be nourished with true nourishment.

(Jesus and the writers of the New Testament liberally use these marks of prophetic amazement  – the new song in Revelation 15, being “born again” in  John 3, or eating of the true Bread in John 6 and in the Last Supper.)


Brueggemann ends this chapter by reminding us that we need both Jeremiah and Second Isaiah. We must criticize and despair over the world’s present condition but we also must speak a message of hope and amazement into and beyond this despair. “Reading Jeremiah alone leaves faith in death where God finally will not stay. And reading Second Isaiah alone leads us to imagine that we may receive comfort without tears and tearing.” p.79.

Dinner is at 6. The menu is clam chowder. Discussion about 6:45. Hope to see you here.

I waited patiently upon the Lord; *
   he stooped to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the desolate pit, out of the mire and clay;
    he set my feet upon a high cliff and made my footing sure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God; *
   many shall see, and stand in awe,
   and put their trust in the Lord.

Psalm 40:1-3 (U2’s version: HERE)

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