Gordon Crook, Pastor, Grace Assembly, Wichita, Kansas
Jeremiah 2:12-13 Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this, and be horribly afraid, be ye very desolate, saith the LORD. 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.
A cistern (Middle English cisterne, from Latin cisterna, from cista, “box,” from Greek kiste, “basket”)  is a waterproof receptacle for holding liquids, usually water. Cisterns are often built to catch and store rainwater.
A fountain is a spring of water that continually gives forth cool, clean, refreshing water.
We had some cisterns in Paraguay. They were typically built with cement or bricks covered in a cement layer to make them hold water. There is a problem if the concrete or brick walls crack, and they can no longer hold water. The water collected becomes stale as it sits waiting to be used.
Notice that God refers to two evils here. The first is turning away from God, and the second is turning toward our own self effort to replace God. God uses this comparison to help understand how ridiculous His people were being. Imagine having an opportunity for a fresh, continually flowing spring of refreshing water, but choosing instead to create a cistern that would hold old stale water that runs off of the roof. And then, the cisterns wouldn’t even hold water because they are broken. Sounds pretty ridiculous, doesn’t it.
This is a great reminder for us. Why would we turn from God’s fountain of living water to our own cisterns? The cisterns speak of our self effort in any way. Looking to our own effort and the world for fulfillment, for wisdom, for wealth, for anything that makes our life complete. Our cistern collects these, and they either become stale, or they just leak out and become useless.
Our self effort just doesn’t compare with what God has prepared for us. When we turn to our Lord for all that we need, we find a plentiful supply and it never gets old. Like a spring, it is continually supplying new fresh living water. “For with thee is the fountain of life: in thy light shall we see light.” Psalm 36:9. “But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” John 4:14
God’s Word is our source for knowing all that God has for us. “This is my comfort in my affliction: for thy word hath quickened me” Psalm 119:50 “I will never forget thy precepts: for with them thou hast quickened me” Psalm 119:93. Why do we seem to want to search in the world (philosophy, culture, expectations). All we will find is corruption from the simplicity of the gospel of God’s grace. “But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ” 2Corinthians 11:3.
Paul warns of this very problem in Colossians. “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ” Colossians 2:8. He knew that these saints, just like us would be attracted to the things of the world and that this would draw them away from the truly valuable thing in their life. Notice the simple contrast here, much as in the passage in Jeremiah. “Not after Christ.”
The world today offers so much to satisfy our soul and so much to give us solutions to all that comes our way, but they do not satisfy, and they do nothing to solve anything. Many in Christendom are trying to mix the offerings from the world with God’s supply.
It is not possible to mix the two things either. We cannot try to take the living water that God provides from His fountain and place it in the “cistern” of our own self effort or the effort of this world. We must daily partake of God’s eternal supply that is offered to us freely.