“Therefore I bring charges against you again,” declares the Lord . “And I will bring charges against your children’s children. Cross over to the coasts of Cyprus and look, send to Kedar and observe closely; see if there has ever been anything like this: Has a nation ever changed its gods? (Yet they are not gods at all.) But my people have exchanged their glorious God for worthless idols. Be appalled at this, you heavens, and shudder with great horror,” declares the Lord . “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water. Is Israel a servant, a slave by birth? Why then has he become plunder? Lions have roared; they have growled at him. They have laid waste his land; his towns are burned and deserted. Also, the men of Memphis and Tahpanhes have cracked your skull. Have you not brought this on yourselves by forsaking the Lord your God when he led you in the way? Now why go to Egypt to drink water from the Nile ? And why go to Assyria to drink water from the Euphrates? Your wickedness will punish you; your backsliding will rebuke you. Consider then and realize how evil and bitter it is for you when you forsake the Lord your God and have no awe of me,” declares the Lord, the Lord Almighty. – Jeremiah 2:9-19
This is the first of what I suspect will be many rebukes of the people of Judah and Israel. God gets right down to business calling the people out on their unfaithfulness – “my people have exchanged their glorious God for worthless idols”. The very heavens are appalled at this state of affairs. We should be equally appalled, but I am not sure that is always the case. Modern-day God followers are just as adept at exchanging God for “worthless idols”. The idols we use to replace God may look different than the golden calves, Ashtaroth Poles, and wood idols of this time, but they are not so different. Our idols are things like television, the internet, perpetual youth, beauty, and many other modern gods.
God is very specific about what the people are doing wrong. He suggests that His people have committed two sins: “They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” Both of these sins relate to water, the first is related to a spring and the second to a cistern. Let’s explore them one at a time.
What does God mean when He refers to Himself as “a spring of living water”? Any time God provides a metaphor for Himself it is worth a hard look. There are two parts to God’s metaphor, a spring and living water. For a water scientist the term “spring” has a specific scientific meaning. It is a place where groundwater emerges from the ground naturally without aid of pumps or wells. It is water that comes naturally from an unseen place (a secret place). Springs can provide some of the most clean and consistent water available that can serve a community for centuries. Since the book of Genesis God has been asking people who would follow Him to remain connected to the spring (Genesis 49: 22-26).
The second part of God’s metaphor, the term “living water”, is not exactly a technical term, but it is one very familiar to Christ followers. Jesus used the term to refer to Himself (John 4:10) when He met the Samaritan woman at the well; and He used the term to refer to something that His followers would receive (John 7:37-39). When Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well He asked her “Will you give me a drink?” She responded that it was not allowed for her, a Samaritan woman, to give a Jew, Jesus, a drink. His response was “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” The Living Water is available to all who ask for it.
God, like Jesus at the well, has been asking the people of Israel for a “drink” for some time now and their response has been to not only refuse to give God a drink and partake of the Living Water He offers, but they have chosen to seek their own water supply through idols and false gods. They have “dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” So instead of relying on the Great Cistern of living water they sought to create their own way to get water. They preferred to drink water from their own cistern.
A cistern is a human invention to capture and store rain water that is intended to reduce reliance on natural springs and provide water while a city is under siege. They are a spiritual metaphor for our prideful reliance on ourselves rather than God. The cisterns that the people of Israel have fashioned do not work. They are broken and do not hold water. When we attempt to satisfy our spiritual thirst with anything but God we are likely to be equally disappointed. It is only the Living Water that God offers that can consistently quench our thirsty souls.
In the final parts of the passage the spiritual wandering becomes a physical wandering as God describes the people going to great lengths to replace the living water He has offered. They will “go to Egypt to drink water from the Nile…and go to Assyria to drink water from the Euphrates”. This is really a striking prediction. The people would rather return to a place of slavery and bondage to get water than return to the One River who loves them and wants to carry them like a son or daughter.
Prayer: God You are the Great Cistern and the One River. Help us to drink deeply from Your spring of Living Water.