First Mennonite Church
June 16, 2022
Fountain of Living Water Vs. Cracked Cisterns
Text: Jeremiah 2:4-13
Israel’s Iron Age (ca. 1200-539 BCE) was a time of technological innovation. New technologies such as terracing and iron plow-points facilitated agricultural intensification and geographical expansion. Another technology whose use made it possible for Israelites to settle and thrive in highland regions that had previously been inhospitable was the cistern. In Israel’s central highlands, settlers hewed bell-shaped cisterns from bedrock in order to collect and store surplus water from the rainy winter for use during the arid summer. They dug channels to direct rainwater into the cistern; some added a filtration system to trap dirt and debris. The cistern’s bell shape, with a narrow opening and wide well, protected the water within from contamination and evaporation. In places where the bedrock was formed predominantly from chalk, the chalk formed a natural seal when wet, further minimizing water loss. Elsewhere, cisterns could be sealed with a plaster compound made from slaked lime to prevent water from seeping out into the bedrock.
Jeremiah was familiar with benefits of that new technology. Cisterns were giving the people of the highlands in Israel a great sense of security, especially in light of their geographical location and environmental condition. But their new technological advancement also had its flaws. Imagine when the famer or a member of the household came to fetch water one morning, just to find that there is no water! Therefore, God took the problem of cracked cisterns to illustrate the futility of Israel’s dependence on man-made forms of security.
Jeremiah opens his proclamation with an urgent call: Hear the word of the Lord, O house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel. This call echoes the call in Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear oh, Israel . . .” called the Shema prayer. This call to hear the word of the Lord is the expected response following the biting accusation Yahweh makes against his people. Basically, it seems that from that early generation all the way to that of Jeremiah’s, Israel was constantly drifting away from the God who delivered them and made them his own.
A false sense of security led the Israelites to forget who they were, where they had come from, and most importantly, who had brought them where they were. From the common people to those leading the nation, Israel had stopped asking the most fundamental question, “Where is the Lord?” The priests did not seek God as was their responsibility. The rulers transgressed; the prophets spoke in the name of other gods. They each had forsaken God. But worse still, they had pursued gods who were worthless. This is the point of the vivid metaphor in v. 13. They had foolishly forsaken an ever-flowing spring for a poorly constructed cisterns that could not hold any water. Foolishness followed faithlessness. God invites Israel to scour the earth, from the extreme west (Cyprus) to the extreme east point (Kedar) to see if they could find in other nations what Israel had done to their God. Not even the pagans abandon their gods, says the Lord. Pagans were willing to die for the sake of their gods. They remained faithful, but Israel had acted with great stupidity. (v. 10). Thus, God invokes the heaven to be his witness against his people and their foolishness.
Before God comes down with his accusation against Israel, he gives them a chance to defend themselves. “What wrong did your ancestors find in me that they went far from me and went after worthless things and became worthless themselves? The answer to this rhetorical question is a resounding, “Nothing!” Yahweh had remained and continued to be faithful. However, Israel had become faithless. They had followed worthless things and had become worthless themselves. Their faithlessness was the result of having forgotten who they were, where they had come from and who had brought them to the place where they were living.
Then comes the indictment:
My people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me,
the fountain of living water,
and dug out cisterns for themselves,
that can hold no water.
Yahweh accused Israel of committing two crimes. They had abandoned Yahweh, the fountain of living water. And, they had dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that leaked its vital content.
The imagery cannot be any more beautiful. Living water flows, giving life everywhere it flows. Living water remains fresh and pure. Stagnant water becomes foul and breeds dangerous bacteria. But, no water, means drought and death. Israel abandoned Yahweh the source of life and renewal and chose for themselves worthless things and became worthless themselves.
In verse 19, the Lord declares to Israel:
Your wickedness will punish you,
and your faithlessness will convict you.
Know and see that it is evil and bitter
for you to forsake the Lord your God;
the fear of me is not in you,
says the Lord God of hosts.
My beloved brothers and sisters, it is clear that the Lord, through Jeremiah, was speaking not to strangers or pagans, but to God’s very people. In the language of today, it is “the preacher preaching to the choir.” It so happened that from those who were expected to know Yahweh and to teach his ways to the people abandoned their duties. From the priests to the prophets to the common people in Israel, all of them, instead of being the solution to the spiritual and moral problems, they became the very broadcasters, disseminator of the problems surrounding them. The spoke on behalf of other gods. They traded their glory for what was worthless.
Most often, when we read this passage, we would like to believe that we would never come anywhere close to what Israel did. We want to believe that what Israel did to the God who had saved them and planted them in the Promised Land was an awful thing. We would like to believe that we are better than Israel.
Can we as Christian abandon the Lord, while still doing the churchy things we are accustomed to do? We might say that we are not as stupid as Israel was of forgetting their God.
God pointed out to Israel that they became exactly that which the pursued. You pursued worthless things only to find that you have also become worthless. We are familiar with the saying, “Tell me with whom you walk and I will tell you who you are.” Or, “We are what we eat.”
It is very sad that a certain faction of the American Christian church is so engrossed in the cultural wars of today. Just listen at the topics of conversation when some people meet and who call themselves Christians. What happens is that when we follow what is “trending,” we become exactly like it. We get absorbed by what we follow. We talk what we feed our minds with. Instead of asking, “where is the Lord and how would he want us to live as his redeemed people,” some have more urgent matters of conversation that have nothing to do with their faith. They have changed the glory for what does not profit, says Jeremiah. They have exchanged the privilege and glory of being called after the name of Christ—Christians, for empty human causes. One example is the despicable use of Christian symbols by those who unlawfully entered the Capitol.
God’s words to his people were bitter to swallow. God’s words of judgement are fearsome. But we should bear in mind that behind God’s pointed accusation against Israel for pursuing the wrong things is with the intent of making them turn to him. Behind God’s harsh words to his people for quickly forgetting his call to remain faithful, to be thankful, and to be zealous for him was a grieving heart. Yahweh’s heart was hurting at the betrayal of Israel. He only wanted to bring them back to himself.
There are times when we might feel that God’s word are difficult to bear. There are times when avoiding certain scripture passages would be profitable to keep everyone happy in church. But the Word of God is always there to remind us: who we are, where have we come from, and who has brought us together. He is the fountain of living water whom it would be wise we never forget. Amen!
 1 Joseph A. Callaway, “A New Perspective on the Hill Country Settlement of Canaan in Iron Age I,” in Palestine in the Bronze and Iron Ages, ed. Jonathan N. Tubb (London: University of London Institute of Archaeology, 1985), 31-49