ben Hilkiah carried out the sorrowful and thankless task of serving as
the public conscience of the kingdom of Judah for about forty years (626-586
bce). Year in and year out he warned rulers and people alike that devastation
would be the consequence of reliance upon formal, "civil" religion. He
believed that faith was not real unless it was expressed in deeds of justice,
righteousness and compassion. He proclaimed the approach of "lamentation
and bitter weeping" [Jeremiah 31:15] as the inevitable corollary of the
national sins of materialism, idolatry and social injustice. Only a dramatic
change in the spiritual attitude of the people would avert the advancing
calamity. Jeremiah reminded his audience that their cousins of the kingdom
of Israel to the north had been overwhelmed and scattered to the four winds
more than one hundred years before: with his inner ear he could still hear
(Hebrew) "Rachel weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted."
We see Rachel (in the second panel from the top) holding one child on her
breast; another hangs down from her lap. The same desolation could be visited
Jeremiah did not enjoy the necessity of voicing this "Jeremiad." He hated his mission. But when he tried to remain silent, he felt as though "there is in my heart a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I weary myself to hold it in, but cannot." [20:9] God told the prophet that His words would become "fire in thy mouth, and this people wood, and it shall devour them." [5 :14] Hence the face of the prophet is almost completely obscured by the flames which pour out of his mouth. His figure is portrayed as running furiously, in response to the command: "Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, and see now . . . if there be any man that does justly, that seeks truth, and I will pardon her." [5 :1 ] This challenge to Jeremiah is an echo of Abraham's debate with God which concluded with the understanding that doom would be warded off if ten righteous people could be found in Sodom and Gomorrah. Here the divine message conveys the assurance that deliverance can be achieved if even one person lives justly and seeks truth.
But the prophet does not feel that the disaster will be averted: because Judah has become a bird of prey to its own people, the nation in turn must become the quarry of a more powerful vulture. The enormous hawk-like creature that Jeremiah carries through the streets of Jerusalem is a symbol of the coming catastrophe, the Babylonian invasion. [12:9]
Judah has been attempting to escape destruction by plotting with Egypt against Babylonia, but the prophet believes that there is danger in all imperial ambitions, all political machinations. The explosions of war burst around the prophet, linked together as atoms or molecules, each detonation leading to another in an unbroken sequence. At the base of the window, as though dumped into the pit for crude burial, we see two victims of the Holocaust.
Jeremiah holds out hope beyond the coming desolation: God will ultimately
establish a new covenant with the houses of Israel and Judah, reminiscent
of the covenant which represented a new beginning after the flood. This
new covenant [31:31-34] will be inscribed upon the heart of each person.
Every individual will know that God expects His children to adhere to the
moral law. At the top of the window, within the circle of the rainbow,
symbolizing the future, we see the figure of another of Rachel's children,
reborn, regenerate, revived: the new Israel.