Second, the "handlers of the Torah did not know me." The handlers of the Torah are those charged to teach the priests; I think our modern equivalent is seminary professors, and since I was one of those for thirty-three years, I take this charge with great seriousness. Do we Bible scholars spend so much time wrestling with Hebrew verbless clauses that we neglect, as Jesus had it, "the weightier matters of the Torah"? Are we more enamored with the upward track of our scholarly careers than in love with the story of YHWH and how that story needs to be told by our student priests? Have we put our noses so far into the texts of the Bible that we have forgotten to keep close to the One whom the Bible is finally about?
Third, the "shepherds transgressed against me." The shepherds here clearly mean the leaders, as the metaphor is found in Ezekiel 34. The shepherds, the kings of Judah, have their roles defined in Psalm 72 which may have served some of them as a psalm sung on the day of their coronations. They are to "judge the people with righteousness and the poor with justice," most especially "defending the cause of the poor, delivering the needy, and crushing the oppressor" (Ps. 72:2, 4). Judah's leaders have done none of this, because they have not heard again from their priests the story of YHWH, a story that the Torah teachers have also avoided or forgotten or care little about.
Fourth, the prophets do not speak in the name of YHWH, but rather in the name of Baal. The demands of YHWH for justice and righteousness have been drowned out by false prophets who major in minors, the success of the powerful, the richness of the harvest, the comfort of the few at the expense of the many. That is the essence of the religion of Baal, a fertility god who ensures the powerful and the successful against those who have little power or success.
And all of these abominations, priests who do not ask after YHWH, taught by teachers who do not know YHWH, leaders who in total ignorance and greed rebel against YHWH, and prophets who do not speak in the name of YHWH, are the result of the complete loss of YHWH's story.
I fear all of this sounds frightfully familiar to me. Our priests, our teachers, our leaders, even our prophets from whom we need and expect correction, have too often fallen into the traps of ignorance and self-serving. "Be appalled, O skies at this; be shocked, be completely desolate," cries Jeremiah, for we, like these ancient Judeans, have "committed two evils: we have abandoned YHWH, the fountain of living water, and have dug cisterns for ourselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water" (Jer. 2:12-13). The loss of the YHWH of justice and righteousness plagues the 21st century as much as it did Jeremiah's 6th century B.C.E.
So what are we to do? Simply, return to YHWH, pleads Jeremiah, not some false image of YHWH, but YHWH, fountain of living waters, to YHWH, guarantor of justice, defender of the righteous, scourge of the greedy, yet finally lover of the whole creation. In succeeding discussions of this prophet, we will learn more about exactly how we are to make such a return. Today, we hear the sickness of the land; later Jeremiah will offer the cure.