“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.”
Two launchpads for meditation. The first launchpad examines the three sources of water in ancient Israel. The best source of water was flowing or living water coming from a spring or stream. The next best source was ground water, such as water in a well. The least preferable source was runoff water collected in a cistern. The cistern was a pit cut in limestone rock, lined with plaster to prevent collected rainwater from seeping out. In this verse, God is described as the spring of living water. Broken cisterns that cannot hold water describe what the Israelites have created apart from God.
The preceding verses in chapter 2 reflect upon the transition of Israel, from being satisfied in God to seeking satisfaction on their own terms. God provides for Israel, and Israel’s love relationship with God overflows in devotion and holiness. God was Israel’s spring of living water. But while God remained faithful to the covenant relationship, Israel did not. They turned to other gods.
And as explored in verses 11-12, Israel’s unfaithfulness is shocking. And, indeed, it should be shocking. In Jeremiah’s imagery, Israel has gone from enjoying the best water source (living water) to relying on the worst water source (a cistern). And the cistern is not even a functioning one! Its broken and cannot hold water. With a broken cistern, the stale water would gradually leak out, leaving only mud behind. Israel’s sins have left them with mud rather than the all satisfying living water of the one true God.
The second launchpad for meditation mulls over the implications of Jeremiah’s imagery. With Jeremiah’s imagery in mind, the punishment Israel receives, their exile from the land, is not vindictively dished out by a merciless, monster kind of God. The punishment comes from a God who loves His people Israel. God wants Israel to return to Him- to enjoy Him as a spring of living water, rather than being stuck in their own broken, muddy, unsatisfying cisterns.
And it is the same for us today. We have a choice. We can try to seek satisfaction on our own, or we can seek satisfaction in God as the spring of living water. If we try our own way, we will ultimately end up in thirst, stuck in the mud of a cistern of man-made meaning. But pursuing God rather than our own pursuits, leads to life and satisfaction. Or as Jesus says in John 4:14, “whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”