Nov 19 2011 - E100.47b – Jeremiah 2:1-25, Broken cisterns
A few years ago, my wife attended the wedding of someone she knew through work. The church was packed with people, many of whom were not Christians. One of the hymns sung during the service included the following lines:
I tried the broken cisterns, Lord,
But, ah, the waters failed!
E'en as I stooped to drink they fled,
And mocked me as I wailed.
My wife wondered what on earth many would have made of these strange lines. What kind of weird picture might the imagery have conjured up?
These quaint words, from a hymn written by James McGranahan in 1879, are based on God's complaint against his people in Jeremiah 2:13:
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.
The Israelites lived in a dry land where the availability of water made all the difference between life and death. Large tanks or cisterns were often cut down into solid rock to hold water that would be collected from the surrounding land. This would provide a source of, albeit stagnant, water, when there was no fresh water to drink. But if the rock was cracked or broken and had not been repaired with clay, any water that was collected in it would soon leak away.
This is the picture used by God to describe the folly of his people. They have turned aside from a gushing spring of fresh water to try to supply themselves with water from cracked cisterns of their own construction. They have abandoned the Lord their God who is always ready to pour his life into his people and instead have turned aside to useless idols that have no life and cannot give life:
“Therefore I bring charges against you again,”
declares the LORD...
my people have exchanged their glorious God
for worthless idols.
Be appalled at this, you heavens,
and shudder with great horror,”
declares the LORD. (vv. 9, 11b-12)
This picture of God as "living water" – fresh, running, life-giving water – is used by Jesus when he speaks to the woman at the well in Samaria (John 4:10, 13-14), and again when he says, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him" (John 7:37b-38). On this second occasion, John adds, "By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive" (7:39a).
The risen Lord Jesus gives life by his Spirit to all who come to him, abundant life, life that is fresh and flowing. Who would want to dig around in the mud and dirt at the bottom of an old pit when there is fresh water freely on tap for all who will come to Christ? As the chorus of the quaint hymn expresses so well;
Now none but Christ can satisfy,
None other name for me!
There’s love, and life, and lasting joy,
Lord Jesus, found in Thee.
Father God, help me to drink deeply and continually from the streams of living water that are to be found in the Lord Jesus Christ and to point others to him who alone can satisfy the thirsty soul and give life to the dying.