Imagine you’re backpacking in the mountains, and at the end of a long day you’re tired.
It’s time to setup camp for the night, so you survey a meadow below to find the perfect spot.
You see two options: one is closer, the other is further.
The closer spot is by a crystal-clear spring flowing from the earth.
The further spot is by a muddy pool of water that you can tell has been receding.
Which spot do you choose?
While this may seem like an easy question, it’s a helpful illustration to set the context for today’s verse:
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.
In essence, the Israelites had two options before them:
- They could stay faithful to God—the camp site next to the crystal-clear spring.
- They could worship idols—the camp site next to the muddy, receding pool.
And sadly, they chose the latter.
Jeremiah uses the analogy of water to describe the true nature of their choice. To pursue idols was both absurd and dangerous.
Here’s how one commentator describes this passage:
The most reliable and refreshing sources of water in Israel were her natural springs. This water was dependable; and its clear, cool consistency was satisfying. In contrast, the most unreliable source of water was cisterns.
Cisterns were large pits dug into the rock and covered with plaster. These pits were used to gather rainwater. This water was brackish; and if the rains were below normal, it could run out.
Worse yet, if a cistern developed a crack it would not hold the water. To turn from a dependable, pure stream of running water to a broken, brackish cistern was idiotic. Yet that is what Judah did when she turned from God to idols.
Today, it’s easy to see how foolish it was for them to turn from the Living God to worthless idols. They worshiped silly trinkets that represented false gods who couldn’t save them.
However, we shouldn’t be fooled…
Our idols today may not look like those of the Old Testament—but they’re no less prevalent, and no less evil.
Check Your Water Source
So, where have you chosen broken cisterns over flowing fountains? Where has idolatry crept into the territory of your heart?
Examine yourself with these five statements to check your water source today (adapted from Tim Keller book Counterfeit Gods ):
- My life only has meaning if I have power and control over others.
- My life only has meaning if I have a particular look or body image.
- My life only has meaning if Mr. or Mrs. “Right” is in love with me.
- My life only has meaning if I experience [this type] of pleasure.
- My life only has meaning if I am loved and respected by [this person].