When I was a kid, I didn’t have a clock in my bedroom, so if I wanted to know what time it was, I would play my guitar. This provoked my dad to yell, “Son, do you know that it is 3 o’clock in the morning?” “Oh, thanks dad!”
So what time is it? Well, it’s New Years – time for a drink. I’m not talking about Champagne. I have something way better in mind.
The prophet Jeremiah tells us about it. He was speaking for the Lord when he said, “For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.” KJV (Jeremiah 2:13)
Living was a term used to describe water that was fresh and moving. Like the snow melt from Mount Hermon in Israel. The waters descend from above and produces cool, sweet, refreshing streams of pure water. The Lord above compared Himself to such water.
He also spoke of cistern water. A cistern is a subterranean cavern built to capture and store rainwater. It does not produce fresh water but simply captures the runoff.
It was carved from the soft limestone that underlies much of Israel. Because limestone is porous, the walls of the cistern were typically plastered to help them retain the water.
So, the people of Judah rejected living water for cistern water. So what? Of course, God was speaking of something more than H20. He had spiritual/emotional cisterns in mind.
This kind of cistern has to do with happiness. It is that thing that we believe we must have if we are to be happy. The people of Judah sought happiness from sculptures of stone and metal – satisfaction from pagan gods.
We are not as brazen, but just as foolish. We tell ourselves, “I won’t be happy until I make the honor roll, or get rich, or I’m popular with the right crowd. Maybe its success in sports or in the music industry, or maybe dating a particular person or owning that dream car. These foolish beliefs are cisterns.
The water from a cistern could be quite foul. It was stored down deep until it was needed. To drink of it, one would have to clear away a disgusting film of dirt and then draw water that was tainted with animal droppings, bugs and vermin. It would cause illness and even death if not first boiled.
Why would anyone ever choose cistern water over a mountain stream? It probably has to do with control. A person could dig a cistern on their own property and control it on their terms. He can’t however own a stream. Nor can we manipulate or control our God.
So many of us choose the foul cistern water and just learn to tolerate it.
But the prophet also tells us that the cisterns are broken. Israel rests on a significant geological fault and is prone to earthquakes. So, it was not unusual to go to one’s cistern to find that the rock had shifted, the plaster had cracked, and the water had escaped leaving the pit dusty and dry.
And so it is with our cisterns. Sooner or later, we will discover that they are broken and there’s nothing there for us.
So how do I identify a cistern in my life? Look inside. What or who drives your decisions, dominates your conversations, absorbs your faith and is your financial priority? If it is anyone or anything other than the Lord – then you may be trying to sustain yourself with cistern water.
We drink because we are thirsty. The water of a cistern does not satisfy. It poisons us and never delivers what we think it will.
Not so with the Lord. Jesus told us “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink.” – John 7:37-38
A PRAYER: Lord, through the years, I have filled in several of my own cisterns, and I occasionally dig another. Forgive me and help us all be more discerning.
This has been Jim Johnson and pickleheavenpress.com
May the grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.