“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.” Jeremiah 2:13
The Old Testament can be hard to understand, difficult to bring into relativity, and sometimes just downright disturbing. But it cannot be overlooked. The Word of God is living and active, Old Testament and New Testament. I was reminded of this while I was studying the exile of Israel. The book of Jeremiah is famous for its verse on plans and hope, but at its core, it is a beautiful, literary journey of the people of God. Jeremiah’s story and prophesies cover struggles and strife as well as hope and belonging. Jeremiah had the heavy job of messenger to God’s people in the midst of their greatest rebellion. The verse listed above is among his first prophesies, just after God calls him as His messenger and his response is “I’m too young” (Oh, how I can relate to that.) But God anoints his mouth with words and commissions him to His people. His first message from the Lord? Israel, you were unfaithful to me, now you will see my judgment and discipline as nations from all over the world will conquer you and your city.
The scripture above is directed towards God’s people, and their rebellion, as they turned to worship false idols made by human hands. They exchanged living waters, flowing peace, for false promises and worthless idols. It is meant to tell the story of the hearts of Israel, our Christian ancestors, but today, it struck me in the heart.
A cistern was used to collect and store water, which was especially useful during the dry summer months of the middle east. A cistern could be built into the ground next to a house, with an opening to collect rainwater. They were excavated into the very rock that the city was built on, with a limestone or other softer rock as a cover.
Isn’t it crazy that a comparison that meant way more to the Israelites, in the figurative sense, can mean so much to me, thousands of years later?
You see, I don’t need a cistern to hold the water I drink. I turn on the sink and there it is. But I can certainly build what I think are pretty steady cisterns that I fill up with what I think is living water, only to discover that my ‘firm’ foundation of rock is broken, cracked and the water doesn’t hold.
I may not turn to idols made of gold, but I can fill my cistern with what I think it should be filled with. I exchange the living water of God, which is all sustaining and life-giving, for worthless things, things that drain out.
I fill my cistern with approval, and I drink from it. I drink from the cistern of Instagram filters and perfect captions and invites to parties.
I fill my cistern with defense and anger. I drink from the cistern of self-righteousness and indignation.
I fill my cistern with self-pity and comparison. I drink from the cistern of lies and doubt, and loneliness.
I drink from the cistern of selfishness. I drink of the cistern of apathy, laziness, and disconnection.
I drink from the cistern of judgement. I drink of the cistern of gossip and blame and finger-pointing.
I drink from the cistern of worthless idols, the ones that I worship that tell me that God is smaller than He says he is. That He doesn’t keep his promises, that He doesn’t pursue me, that He can’t give me what I need.
I drink and drink and drink. And I am filled up. But only for a moment, because I will always want more, but it will always run dry. And I run dry. My cisterns are broken. They are cracked, and I’m left feeling empty, though I had just had my fill of something. I had had my fill of approval, and self-pity, and selfishness. I had filled up on social media, and Netflix, and gossip. I had dug for myself these cisterns, but what I drink doesn’t satisfy.
I exchange life, the well of ever-flowing water, for petty idols. I exchange His plan for mine. I exchange His best for mine. I have committed two sins: I have forsaken God, and I have dug my own cistern – I have chosen my own way.
Our own cisterns, our own way, will ultimately drain us. Sometimes we don’t mean to dig the broken cisterns. We’re so determined to be independent, competent, smart…. we’re so set on being okay on our own, that we don’t trust God enough to provide what we need. We don’t want what He’s offering, because we can figure it out on our own, darn it! We keep saying we’ve got this, and we dig and dig and dig, and the second we think that we’ve got it all together, we’ve got this thing called life down-pat, the edges begin to crumble, and our version of life-water melts away into the earth, leaving us tired, burnt out and still thirsty.
But we can stop digging. We can stop filling our own cistern with our own water, and walk away. Put down the shovel and bucket and walk back to God. The broken cisterns we’re building will never, ever satisfy. Stop drinking from empty promises, and rest by the spring of living water that is Jesus. Jesus promises that when we drink of him, we will never be thirsty again. We won’t ache after the drink of approval and self-loathing. We won’t crave the taste of gossip and indignation. When we trust God to satisfy, we won’t need the worthless things we’ve been digging for. Get rid of the stagnant cisterns that don’t hold water and poison you into deception and return to the living water of peace and promise that is Jesus. The cisterns we dig will never compare to the everlasting well of Jesus. The path we think will lead us to righteousness will never satisfy. It is only by the living water of Jesus that we find satisfaction. Where we can drink and be satisfied and filled with truth and not lies.
“But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 14:4