In this book Walter Brueggemann looks at the three most prominent prophets during the period of the Jews’ exile in Babylon after and around the time of 587 B. C. What links Jeremiah, Ezekiel and 2nd Isaiah is that in different ways each one spoke to the exiles. Jeremiah focuses on how God sent them into exile but continued to love them. Ezekiel focuses on God’s holiness and freedom and the fact that he is calling them to recognize that God does not exist simply for their benefit, but that they are to follow Him.
nd Isaiah focuses on the theme of homecoming and speaks to those exiles who may have accommodated themselves to ways and values of the empire and might not want to return to the ways of Yahweh. In each case Brueggemann relates the prophets to the North American church which he says is also a church in exile though in many cases it does not know it.
Brueggemann does a good job of exegeting the text in its context and helps the reader make the connection to today. The book is divided into three parts regarding each prophetic concern. I will be summarizing their context in a brief script. Part 1: Only Grief Permits Newness
Jeremiah- Designed for conflict Jeremiah here, is presented as a study in pastoral vitality and pastoral conflict. His work is precisely linked to the issues surrounding the crisis of 587. His task is to help his community to face the loss of the old world of king and temple and to receive a new world defined by Yahweh. That new world- experienced as exile- is shaped by Babylonian domination, which is willed by Yahweh. Bruggemann believes, Jeremiah’s voice asserts an incredible freedom about God, so that each time he speaks to God or about God, he has the amazing capacity to create a new scenario that keeps all parties open and in jeopardy.
The tradition of Jeremiah makes available to us a God who is dangerously on the move in the midst of a specific social crisis. He has a sense of the large public issues and perceives how they relate to pastoral action. He is a pastoral presence of one who genuinely cares for his community. The prophet cares even for the king who did not listen to him, cares enough to speak the dangerous truth. Jeremiah not only has a sense of the one who calls, but he has a sense of what it means to be called.
Brueggemann uses the term “call” not in the sense of a datable experience, but as a sense that one’s life has a theonomous cast, is deeply referred to the purposes of God, which gives freedom and distance and perspective in relation to all other concerns. Jeremiah is prepared to join issue around matters of truth and falsehood. Because he is a porous, impressionistic poet, however, it does not follow that he is a relativizer. Jeremiah would have found odd and scandalous our modern notions of individualized truth in which each person is free to hold his or her own perception of truth.
The purpose of porous language is to leave the poem and the reality to which it points open for the experience of the listener. Poets indeed trust other people to continue the image, to finish the thought of their own experience using their own metaphorical images. Jeremiah’s rich imagination intends to challenge the settled givens which make policy too self-confident and unquestioned. Such a social function of poetry is an aspect of the critical study of Jeremiah that is yet to be undertaken, an issue that cannot be reduced to the usual literary analysis of prose and poetry.
What Jeremiah understood so powerfully is that he was engaged in a battle for the public imagination of the community. He was prepared to join issue around matters of truth and falsehood. He was profoundly a poet of hope. He remembered his full call and helped people relinquish a false world that is under threat from God. Jeremiah had the capacity to speak newness out of nullity. This matters enormously to us, even as it did in the time of Jeremiah. The ideology of our age does not believe in real newness. It does not believe in the possibly of a new Jeremiah, so it must hold to a messiah ho never dies. It does not believe in God who can work a real newness at the zero point and so it must defend, guard and protect at all costs the old, which is thought to be the only source of life. Jeremiah’s vitality comes precisely from his passionate conviction about the power of God to work a newness in the zero hour of loss and exile. Jeremiah does not believe the world is hopelessly closed so that living is only moving the pieces around. Jeremiah believes that God is able to do an utterly new thing which violates our reason, our control, and our despair.
Jeremiah bears witness to the work of God, the capacity to bring a newness ex nihilo. For that reason loss and emptiness are not the last word. Jeremiah’s ministry, as mediated to us, is marked by an overriding coherence. There had been disclosed him the one compelling reality, that God has destined the brutal end of the known world. His energies and imagination were relentlessly devoted to that task, and then to the sequential act of conjuring a new world out of God’s powerful promise. He did indeed “will one thing,” which caused no end of problems but left him a person of vitality and courage.
Brueggemann believes, In God’s attentive pain healing happens. Newness comes. Possibilities are presented. But it all depends on being present with God in the hurt, which is incurable until God’s hint of healing is offered. We wait, along the poet to see what the tone of the next “therefore” will be. 2. Because No One Cares Jeremiah lived in a time of turmoil. He believed it was a time of dying. He envisioned the death of a culture, a society, a tradition. He watched his world dying and he felt pain. What pained him even more was the failure of his contemporaries to notice, to care, to acknowledge, or to admit.
He could not determine whether they were too stupid to understand, or whether they were so dishonest that they understood but engaged in an enormous cover-up. He could not determine whether it was a grand public deception or a pitiful self-deception. But he watched. He saw clearly and knew that death must come to such a people. He has a vivid imagination. He entertains nightmares which are his very own but of a quite public cast. So he grieves, because his contemporaries do not notice. They do not notice because they are too busy, too sure, too invested, too ideologically committed.
They misread so badly. This holy God whose patience they try, they count on the promises of that very God. Jeremiah speaks not out of indignation but with firmness born out of exasperation. The poet sees the sickness so clearly, grieves the death so passionately. Judah seems not to notice the stench of death in the streets of Jerusalem. But rhetorically, the very God who raged in vv 12-15 suddenly stands as guardian. The voice of hart threat inexplicably become the sound of assurance. The poem becomes the gospel as God has reversed the course of historical judgment.
At the point of deep hurt, which is not to be cried over, God has made a new move, a new promise. “I will restore you.. ” The poem of Jer. 30:12-17 is thus the good new that God has come full circle. The change in God comes to experession in the structure of the poepm. The God who was prepared to abandon in hostility is the God who embraces the passion. Part 2: Only Holiness Gives Hope 3. Ezekiel- Tough and Submissive Ezekiel, unlike Jeremiah, is a priest, and everything is perceived in a priestly idiom. Popular interpretation tends to dismiss Ezekiel as “bizarre. But Ezekiel may be exactly the right text for such a “bizarre” times as ours. Jeremiah’s robust God is one with whom one can engage and struggle. That tends not to be the case here. Rather Ezekiel stands and watches at a distance, for this is God so utterly holy as to be mostly unapproachable. In some ways, unsettling as it is, this view of God is freeing, because it asserts that all human efforts at being right with God and gaining admission to God’s presence are so dwarfed as to be irrelevant. The key to Ezekiel’s proclamation of God is this: God will no be mocked.
God will not be presumed upon, trivialized, taken for granted, or drawn too close. This is an important point for us in ministry as the known world of the Western Enlightenment collapses, for we have arrived at a view of God which is essential utilitarian. In Ezekiel, God is not for us as much as God is for God’s self. God refuses to stay where God is not honored (8:6). In our culture, however, such a faith feels either like an unnecessary luxury or an outmoded notion. We build low-roofed churches which foster horizontal fellowship but which have brought the sky down to human proportion.
The articulation of God’s glory and God’s departure is a way to help people think through the absence of God and the conditions under which God will stay or leave. God has no manipulable commitment to any of our structured worlds. God is not only free, but God is also tough and ruthless. God has the will to leave and not look back. God refuses to be useful. God’s ministers might ask about the temptation to excessive usefulness when the call may in fact be to study and witness the unencumbered holiness of God that places everything on the human side of reality in jeopardy.
Ezekiel 18 is a marvelous and central summary of what God’s holiness requires on earth. It is a catalogue of righteousness. 1. A warning about idolatry. 2. A warning on sexual and marital responsibility, v. 6b 3. A warning on economic responsibility, vv. 7-8a. For Ezekiel, both sexuality and economics are aspects of the life of Judah that are askew and that will bring death. They are issues that will cause the absence of God, because God will not be mocked. It is worth noting, however, that in this particular case the prophet translates the metaphor of Sodom in a breathtaking way toward economic issues.
Ezekiel has vitality for his ministry because he is able to discern the enormous mismatch between the disinterested holiness of God and the utilitarian unrighteousness of Israel. Brueggemann submits that the pastoral care practiced by Ezekiel was precisely to guide people into an awareness of the mismatch so that new decisions could be made appropriate to Israel’s actual situation. He then comments on the submissiveness of Ezekiel. Even in his submissiveness, the prophet is not mellow or romantic. But he does know that as there is “a time to speak,” so there is “a time to keep silence” (Eccles. :7). The prophet knows he is mandated to speak clearly on behalf of the holiness of God. A second set of texts (3:24-27), Ezekiel may want to speak more, but he is required by God not to speak. There are limits. And sometimes a silent waiting. The prophet internalized the loss. The prophet is forbidden to speak. The prophet has borne in silence even the loss of his wife and now also the beloved city. Ministry has to do with grieving silence after the warning is unheeded. But again in the powerful language of chapters 34-37, 40-48, Ezekiel speaks about a new future given by God beyond the lost city.
The final test of vitality in ministry is to articulate concrete hope just when the community decides upon hopelessness. Vitality in ministry depends on seeing how interrelated political and liturgical dimensions of life are. The Ezekiel, who submitted to his limited role of watchman and who submitted to the silence imposed by God, has his toughest say in 36:22-32. We have seen in chapter 18, the premise of everything changes. Ezekiel has appealed for serious righteousness a redirected loyalty. Such serious faith, however, did not emerge in Judah. Finally, Ezekiel came to realize the evil was so massive as to be hopeless.
If there had been a turn, the city might have been saved, but it was not to be. There could be no turn. The city could not be saved. Jeremiah could speak of God’s love for Israel (31:3), but Ezekiel does not. Here there is only holiness and the zeal of God to protect the holy name, but that has unspeakable results for Israel. 4. For the sake of My Holy Name (Ezekiel 36:22-32) Ezekiel, Like Jeremiah, watched while the city was destroyed. He traveled the same road as Jeremiah. He also had to speak the truth. He had to offer pastoral care among exiles. But he saw through a different lens, and so made a different discernment.
But he saw through a different lens, and so made a different discernment. Whereas Jeremiah speaks with passion and pathos, Ezekiel hints about little of either. He is much more cold, reflective, and symmetrical in his perception. Jeremiah in both grief and newness is a voice of unreason. But Ezekiel is almost syllogistic in his reasoning, building the case tightly, step by step, until the conclusion is unavoidable. Ezekiel’s portrayal of Jerusalem is a tale of God’s holiness. The holiness of God, as he understands it, it may be considered in two dimensions and then in two stages.
First is to take God’s holiness as a cognate of righteousness, that is, a category of ethical concern. God’s holiness requires obedience to the commandments. Ezekiel has a profound sense of Israel’s sin. He argues and asserts this sense for twenty-four chapters. No ground for hope is to be found in Israel. If there is then to be hope, it must be found in God. It is God’s free, unfettered, massive holiness which has as a by product hope for Israel. Chapters 34-37, 40-48 are about just such reconstruction for Israel out of the “null point” In the zero hour, Israel has run out of options.
Its despair is powered by its guilt. There is nothing left, no impetus, no motivation, no energy, no possibility. But in the later chapters possibility is given because God has no alternative way to clear God’s honorable name. This strange theology is a rich pastoral resource in any situation where guilt produces despair. The deep guilt in this nuclear neighborhood of ours drives us to despair. We are left to ask if in the very character of God there is ground for hope in spite of what we know about ourselves. God’s free holiness does not make God indifferent, as we might expect.
Instead, God’s free holiness presses God to act for the sake of one who evokes no love on God’s part. This is good news for extreme situations of failure and profanation. Part 3 :Only Memory allows possibility 5. Second Isaiah- Homecoming to a new Home “Second Isaiah” refers to Isaiah 40-55, a literature set deep in the Babylonian exile, commonly dated to 540 B. C. E. , just as the Babylonian empire was about to collapse in the face of rising Persian power. Powerful as it is, the literature of 2 Isaiah cannot eb understood and cannot be used without linkage to Jeremiah and to Ezekiel.
Second Isaiah, as Handel has made powerfully clear, is marvelously filled with promises. But those promises are addressed only to people in exile who have seen the city fall (40:2) and have suffered the loss of their entire world of faith. The poetry of 2 Isaiah is shaped by powerful poetic metaphors. The social, historical setting for this poetry is exile. The words grow out of and are aimed at an alienated community (cf. Psalm 137). The central fact of the community of 2 Isaiah was the power and authority of Babylonian definitions of reality.
Jeremiah (25:9; 27:6) had judged Babylonian ttriumph to be the will of Yahweh, but in the new circumstance and new generation of 2 Isaiah, it is now Yahweh’s will to have Israel depart from the alien empire. (Isa. 52:11-12). Second Isaiah’s poetry is organized around the metaphor of homecoming, a metaphor that makes sense only to those who read their context as exile. The whole of this poetry is preoccupied with one overriding proclamation: homecoming. Thus Isaiah 40:1-11 envisions a great procession led by Yahweh as exiled Jews come home. Yahweh will gather into the land of Zion all those who had been scattered in exile (43:5-6).
The use of these two metaphors, exile and homecoming, is an act of remarkable evangelical imagination. The homecoming metaphor makes sense only where the metaphor of exile has been accepted as true. Second Isaiah’s poetry of homecoming is precisely imaginative poetry which liberates. It is not based in political analysis, through the poet obviously knew what was going on in his world. It is an imaginative act of speech that intends to evoke reality and lead this community out beyond their present situation. The poetry is grounded in a theological conviction of God’s sovereignty (40:9-11;52:7).
Isaiah’s poetry is indeed about the powerful overriding word of God which will finally have its say in history (Isa. 40:6-8; 55:10-11). This theology of the word refers to sense that there is an indefatigable agency at work in the historical process that takes its own free course and has its decisive say without conforming to the power and processes of the day. The God who is the subject of the word is also the subject of transformative action in the experience of Israel. His poetry operates with incredible pastoral sensitivity. He wants his community to think afresh, decide afresh, and act freely.
It is an act of poetic courage that this poet is able to shape the perception of the community in a very special way, to read reality from the point of view of exile and homecoming, to reject every imperial reading. The outcome of the poetry-and it is only poetry and not a political proposal-is that the gods of Babylon are to be laughed at because they cannot in fact make any difference. (41:21-24). The jusxtaposition of exile, Babylon and homecoming means that this poetry of 2 Isaiah is not aimed simply at geographical, spatial possibility but a relational, conventional reality. 6. Sing, O Barren One” (Isaiah 54:1-17) Second Isaiah lives at the other side of the exile, as the signs accumulate that there will be homecoming. Clearly the mood has changed. The anguish of Jeremiah and the heaviness of Ezekiel have been established as reality and do not need to be reiterated or doubted. This is a new generation. A new word needs to be spoken to it, yet that new word does not nullify or retract anything that came before. Whenever that new word is, it must be spoken in a Babylonian context. Jeremiah is the one who programmatically announced that Babylonian reality was to be the great new fact of Israel.
God has sent “my servant Nebuchadenezzar” (25:9; 27:6) to destroy this recalcitrant Israel. Resistance to Babylon was equated by Jeremiah with resistance to the history making purposes of Yahweh. After the first deportation of 598, Jeremiah and Ezekiel had developed a second theme. Not only is Babylon the agent of God’s destruction. Babylon is also to be the habitat for faithful Israel. This is an extraordinary judgment (made in Jeremiah 24: Ezekiel 11) which announces that the community of Jewish exiles in Babylon who obviously were the displaced ones are in fact God’s special people who are the wave of the uture for Judaism. The displaced ones are to become the faithful ones and finally the blessed ones. In part that may be a historical, sociological judgment, because this group contained the professional element that must lead Judaism if there is to be a future. In part, the decision is an act of propaganda made for ideological reasons. Babylon has been the great enemy and threat. But two generations later, in the time of 2 Isaiah, the imperial threat had become the great seduction. Babylon had become home. The poem of Isaiah 54 has three sets of imperatives, in vv.
La, 2, 4, and three corresponding sets of motivations in vv. 1b, 3, 4. The hoped-for outcome of the poem is new, fearless Israel no longer needing to accept a lesser spot assigned by the empire. Out of this memory, the poet reads energy, freedom, and self-identity into the life of Israel. People who have such poetry derived form their own memory are people exceedingly difficult to control or manipulate through the ways of conformity and despair. Such powerful memory maintains freedom of perception even in coercive situations.
In the New Testament, the function of memory to create historical possibility is a multifaceted issue. In important ways, the issure presents itself to us a question of relating the Old Testament (as memory) to the gospel of Jesus (as a new possibility). This dynamic, as it operates between the testaments, is a very complicated matter. The New Testament in a variety of ways concerns continuity with the Old Testament, so that the memory of Israel functions as a positive force, and discontinuity from the Old Testament, so that the memory of Israel functions only as a foil. It remains for us to ask about how Isa. 4:1-17 and the theme of memory allow possibility for our own situation. It is obvious that no simple analogy can be made, because the people with whom we minister are, on the whole, not materially displaced, no yearning for another place which we call home. Mostly we are people who are well settled, who have an enormous stake in where we are. In one form or another, we are tenured there for the long haul. Concluding criticism. How does one continue in the face of devastating loss? This is the question that God’s people are left with in the face of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 587 BCE.
With the reality of exile, Israel’s faith must find a new existence with God and project a hope for the future that takes into account their profound loss. Walter Brueggemann traces some of themes from the prophetic voices of this time that allow Israel to live in exile with hopeful imagination. For Brueggemann, 587 is a pivot, even a metaphor, for Israel’s existence. This point in time must bring “the end of the known world and its relinquishment,” and “the reception of a new world given through these poets,” the prophets of God.
Hopeful Imagination traces the prophetic voices found in Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and 2 Isaiah. Each voice, using poetry as a subversive and liberating way of speaking, paints a different picture of the door that will lead to hope and new life with God. The section on Jeremiah is wonderful. This chapter, “Only Grief Permits Newness,” powerfully traces the difficult task of speaking the truth of loss before a people lost in self-deluding slogans. It is Jeremiah’s task to cause the people to embrace their loss, to convince them of the incurability of their wound.
It is only through grief that newness can take root. “If the hurt is fully expressed and embraced, it liberates god to heal. Then all of the old power arrangements are jeopardized as the new healing transforms. Nothing but grief could permit newness. ” While Jeremiah’s ministry is a call to relinquishment and grief, Ezekiel’s ministry (“Only Holiness Gives Hope”) is concerned with holiness. His ministry embodies the holy love of God which is both tough and submissive. Judah is called to turn from idolatry, sexual misconduct, and economic irresponsibility toward neighbors.
But it is not Judah’s repentance that will be the source of future hope. Hope rests only in the holiness of God — his otherness — and the fact that he will act on behalf of his holy name. “All hope for the future rests in the very character of God, for this God will take seriously being God. “] The section concerning 2Isaiah, “Only Memory Allows Possibility,” is provocative, especially for what it says about the task of preaching. Many may be uncomfortable with the designation 2 Isaiah. But one does not have to hold to any critical view of the composition of Isaiah for this chapter to hold meaning.
As Brueggemann writes, “Our exposition posits a theological situation of exile and newness, without respect to historical situation. ” The poet of2 Isaiah attempts to create a “home coming mentality” in the midst of exile. Memory of God’s decisive acts in history is the bridge between these two worlds. “The poet appeals to the old memories and affirmations in an astonishing way to jar the perceptual field of Israel and to cause a whole new discernment of reality . ” Brueggemann is not just concerned with exposition. He is concerned with how these works might inform ministry.
He boldly asserts that America is in exile and that the subversive poetry of the prophets can bring hope to our situation today. Much has been said and written concerning our movement being in the throes of transition. It seems to me that exile may not be too distant a metaphor for our churches. We are caught between relinquishing and receiving. Our hope will also come through grief, holiness, and memory. Finally, this book is written in Brueggemann’s unique, imaginative style. It provides a creative place to think about the message of the prophets and the task of ministry.
Cite this Hopeful Imagination
Hopeful Imagination. (2017, Jan 22). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/hopeful-imagination/