This is the word of the Lord that came to Jeremiah concerning the drought: “Judah mourns, her cities languish; they wail for the land, and a cry goes up from Jerusalem. The nobles send their servants for water; they go to the cisterns but find no water. They return with their jars unfilled; dismayed and despairing, they cover their heads. The ground is cracked because there is no rain in the land; the farmers are dismayed and cover their heads. Even the doe in the field deserts her newborn fawn because there is no grass. Wild donkeys stand on the barren heights and pant like jackals; their eyes fail for lack of food.” – Jeremiah 14:1-6
The prophecy spoken to Jeremiah in this passage is rather bleak and depressing. There is apparently a drought affecting the people of Judah and Jerusalem. The people are responding by mourning and wailing — for the land. I think this is an important detail. From God’s perspective they have lost their relationship with Him and that is the ultimate reason for the “drought”.
The people respond to the drought by looking to their own intellect and resources rather than looking to the father of the rain in Heaven. They send their servants to find water from the cisterns but they are empty and the servants return empty handed. The jars they take to fill remain unfilled, one might say unfulfilled. The servants are dismayed and despairing. They cover their heads. This must be a cultural reference that escapes me.
What is it about their heads (and their hairy crowns) that makes them want to cover them in their despair? The very land is parched and cracked because there is no rain to moisten the land and make things grow. The farmers who tend the land are also dismayed and cover their heads, presumably for the same reason the servants covered their heads. This drought affects even the animals and their young.
The more I read this passage the more I am convinced that there is rich allegory here that God is using to get the attention of a recalcitrant people. I will try to unpack it and see where this rabbit trail leads. First of all it seems to me that the “drought” here is more than just a lack of water. It is a spiritual drought. We all go through “dry” spiritual times as we attempt to follow God, it is part of the spiritual cycle, but this drought seems different. The people have chosen to move away from their water source rather than just enduring a dry spell between rains.
The people have separated themselves from their source of life, God. What they see as empty cisterns and cracked fields is really what is going on in their souls because they are refusing to accept the living water God offers. They are refusing to get their water from the Great Cistern and they have become disconnected from the spring. They fail to see the spiritual nature of their predicament and call out to the heavens for rain.
What they should be calling for is God’s reign. Until they understand this they will be like wild donkeys and “stand on the barren heights and pant like jackals; their eyes fail for lack of food”. They will be “…ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’ (Mark 4:12; quoting Isaiah 6:9,10).
Prayer: God when dry times come in our lives help us look to You rather than our own water sources so the we can turn and be forgiven.