Friday, June 2, 2023

The Trouble with Broken Cisterns

 By: Lauren Thomas

I had a friend in college who drank a specific brand of bottled water, and only that brand of water. Though I appreciated the clever packaging – a goldfish printed on the inside, made to look like it was swimming in the bottle – I didn’t understand the appeal. Water is water after all, right? 
Not according to God through the prophet Jeremiah:


Jeremiah 2:13 (ESV):

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 prophesied against God’s people who were trusting in idols and foreign powers to save them. They were trading worth for worthlessness, glory for shame. 


A cistern was an underground receptacle for storing water, often rainwater. God, the fountain of living waters, had offered himself to his people, but they had chosen to make their own cisterns, flawed and broken, unable to hold water.


I notice three problems with broken cisterns.


1.    Cisterns are counterfeit fountains (and bad knockoffs at that!)


In grad school, I dreamed of owning a pair of expensive, trendy sandals. But I couldn’t afford them. So I bought a cheap knockoff brand instead. My husband and I referred to them as “flirkenstocks.” When I could finally afford the real thing, I understood the hype around the sandal: they were extremely comfortable, stylish, durable, and built to last! About 7 years later and I still love this pair of sandals. 


Sometimes, the off-brand of something is as good as the real deal. But cisterns? They’re just a bad pair of flirkenstocks. Cisterns held stagnant water. Why choose stagnant rainwater when fresh, flowing, water is available? Why choose a bad counterfeit when something far superior is offered to you, for free?


2.    Cisterns require a lot of extra work on our part. 


Cisterns require a lot of digging and waterproofing. Whereas a fountain occurs naturally. Jeremiah pointed out that Israel had “hewed out cisterns for themselves.” 


Sometimes we go to a lot of trouble to make ourselves feel good or happy. We can find ourselves working so hard to scratch an itch, even though nothing comes close to satisfying that itch. Why work for something that, as Jeremiah pointed out, is so broken that it fails to fulfill its purpose?


3.    Cisterns don’t satisfy.    


Jesus referred to himself as Living Water in the book of John. Jeremiah compared God to a fountain of living waters. The unspoken understanding is that we need water to survive. Jesus understood we have needs. Needs aren’t bad! But where do we turn when we have needs to be met, thirsts to be satisfied? A cistern cannot and will not meet your needs. 


Jesus promises to meet our needs. He is the source. He is the only thing that truly satisfies. And he offers living water to us, free of cost.


Isaiah 55:1-2 (ESV)

“Come, everyone who thirsts,
    come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
    and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
    and delight yourselves in rich food.



Can you identity any broken cisterns that you have “hewed out” for yourself?

How can you choose Jesus to satisfy your thirst?

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