The Prophetic Imagination: Prophetic Criticizing

Notice in the last post in this thread, Brueggemann points out the the prophetic voice has two functions: Criticizing/Dismantling & Energizing.

This is Brueggemann’s example of the prophetic criticizing.  He begins by quoting Exodus:

Prophetic ImaginationLet heavier work be laid upon the men that they may labor at it and pay no regard to lying words.  So the taskmasters and the foremen of the people went out and said to the people ‘Thus says Pharaoh.” (5:7-10)

Notice how the language is shaped to evoke anger and bring to expression the deep resentment at this whole system.  But the story moves.  At the end, these same masters, taskmasters, and foremen are vanquished, humiliated and banished from history:

The Egyptians who you see today, you shall never see again.  (14:13)

Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead upon the seashore.  (14:30)

From the beginning to the end the narrative shows, with no rush to conclude, how the religious claims of Egyptian gods are nullified by this Lord of freedom.  The narrative shows, with delighted lingering, how the politics of oppression is overcome by the practice of justice and compassion.  And between the beginning and the end, the moment of dismantling is the plague of cycle, a narrative that cannot be told too often, for it testifies to what cannot be explained, surely not the reason of the empire.  It happens in this way:  In the first two plagues, concerning the turn of the Nile and the frogs, the powerful work of Moses and Aaron is matched by Egyptian “research and development” people.  Two plagues into the scene nothing is changed and the power of Egypt is not challenged.  The empire knows how to play “anything you can do, I can do better.”  But then comes the third plague.  

Aaron stretched out his hand with his rod, and struck the dust of the earth, and there came gnats on man and beast; all the dust of the earth became gnats throughout all the land of Egypt.  The magicians tried by their secret arts to bring forth gnats, but they could not! (8:17-18).

The Egyptian empire could not!  The gods of Egypt could not!  The scientists of the regime could not!  The imperial religion was dead!  The politics of oppression had failed!  That is the ultimate criticism, that the assured and alleged power of the dominant culture is now shown to be fraudulent.  Criticism is not carping and denouncing.  It is asserting that false claims to authority and power cannot keep their promises, which they could not in the face of a free God.  It is only a matter of time until they are dead on the seashore.  


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