Broken Cisterns

“…for my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, 

broken cisterns that can hold no water.” 

(Jeremiah 2:13 ESV)

At church, we are going through the book of Jeremiah. Much of this book, the book of the “weeping prophet”, has always been very hard for me to understand. It’s even harder to understand without knowing Jewish history and context. But, there are many nuggets in this book that are completely applicable to my life in the 21st century. Jeremiah 2:13 is one of those verses. It has always been one of the most convicting verses in scripture for me.

In chapter 2, God, speaking through the prophet Jeremiah, chastises the nation of Israel because they have turned away from God and wandered from His will despite all the times in the past where He has rescued them and extended His hand of mercy to them. And, instead of turning to Him in times of trouble, they have turned to themselves and to other gods to rescue them and provide for them.

God boils his grievances against them down to two evils:

  1. They have forsaken God, the fountain of living waters.

  1. They’ve hewed out broken cisterns for themselves that can hold no water.

You can almost sense God’s grief and feel His broken heart as He proclaims those words. Over and over and over again God had protected, rescued and provided for His people, and once again when trouble shows up on the horizon, they high tail it towards the first false god they see. And, oh how God’s heart breaks as He watches his children make the same mistake over and over again.

As much as I would like to say that I am different, even better than the Israelites, I’m not. God tells then first that they have forsaken him, the fountain of living waters. They had turned to idols that could not satisfy. Jesus says, in John 4:14, “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.” Instead of running to the fountain of living waters when trouble looms, times get tough and anxiety builds, I often run to things that will bring instant comfort and that will numb the pain of the inevitable. Idols are anything that stand as a substitute for God and God calls those things “worthless” (2:11).

So, what in my life do I turn to as a substitute for God that doesn’t produce life but is instead, worthless?

On the flip side, God tells them that they’ve “hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” In the midst of the trouble and storms, instead of turning to God, they turned to idols and they turned to themselves to fix their situation. They didn’t depend on God, they depended on themselves. He is saying to them and to us, that running to worthless things or trusting yourself to “fix” things is a fruitless effort, just like using a broken cistern to hold water. A broken cistern is dry and cracked and parched because it cannot contain water, but when we turn to God, we turn to the one who never runs dry because his well is full of life-giving, eternal waters.

God’s call to you and to me through Jeremiah is to throw out our broken cisterns we’ve created that leave us dry and thirsty, and run to the One who’s river never runs dry.

Preserve me oh God,

let not shame stand in my way.

I have no good apart from you.

But I keep running after

broken cisterns that never satisfy.

Won’t you open up my soul?

Preserve me oh God,

write Your word upon my heart.

I have no good apart from you.

Your streams of mercy, You’re never ceasing.

Your streams of mercy, they have no end.

(Jordan Johnson, Preserve Me)


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