Have you seen these guys on YouTube!?
They dig elaborate and refreshing wells, pools, and underground suites using only their hands and a simple tool.
(Skim towards the end to see the results!)
The Bible mentions cisterns and wells.
And, parched ground.
Without the comfort of running water, the ancient world had to rely on nearby sources of water. Farmers would have to dig cisterns into limestone or clay to collect water for times of drought. Their crops and lives relied on water's presence.
For many with running water, we don't realize the challenge of finding and holding onto water. I know many struggle to find clean water, and so these images of cisterns in the Bible may resonate more deeply with others.
Check out this commentary from the IVP Bible Background Commentary about cisterns:
Cisterns were often built in hills made of limestone. An individual had to plaster the inside with lime plaster and direct rainwater into it. But these cisterns often developed cracks, and water would seep out, with the farmer losing a life-giving commodity.
Can you imagine the time and grueling effort? Digging into limestone. Shoveling out the excess. Plastering the limestone.
And then, to have your cistern crack, your life-source seeping away...
Water's presence means so much.
The Spring of Living Water
God uses this imagery when telling Jeremiah what to prophesy to His people. They are on the verge of destruction and exile. And Jeremiah is one of the final prophets sent by God to turn His children back to them.
Early on, Jeremiah speaks these words to the "house of Israel":
“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."
Jeremiah 2:13 (NIV)
God is using striking, agricultural imagery to show how far His children have wandered.
He's comparing Himself to a pure "spring of living water."
A running water source.
Here in Florida, we're known for our beaches. But, we also have some of the most gorgeous freshwater springs: Rainbow River, Silver Springs, and many more.
Here's a glimpse of the "Seven Sisters" spring head at the Chassahowitza River...
Living water is active, percolating from the ground.
It's pristine. Untainted.
It's usable, drinkable, and refreshing.
Best of all? You don't have to put in the back-breaking hours of digging your own cisterns to hold it.
And God was telling His people they have turned their backs on their source of life.
Jesus uses the same imagery when talking to the Samaritan woman at the well. He asks her for a drink. Stunned by a Jewish Rabbi speaking to a Samaritan woman, she at first denies His request.
But then, Jesus says He is "living water."
The woman replies, "Sir...you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water?"
And then Jesus utters these famous words:
“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but 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.”
John 4:13-14 (NIV)
Like God the Father calling His children out of their sin and into His life-giving sustenance, Jesus invites an ethnic stranger to drink from His unlimited supply.
Now, Jesus can say this. The Gospels share how He is "the Resurrection and the Life."
He offered it to the Samaritan freely.
Later, He poured out His own life to offer eternal Life to all who would accept.
Today's Broken Cisterns
Do you remember God's other issue with Israel? Jeremiah records a second sin: "they have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water."
Much of Israel had worshipped Baal and other false gods. They appeased idols with blood sacrifices. They setup high places and worshipped under trees. They even sacrificed their own children to Moloch.
They clung to these dark, sinful, and "broken cisterns" as their source of life.
As we read the prophets, it's easy to look back on Israel's mistakes and distance ourselves. But, sin and the worship of self still exist.
Though we imagine ourselves as more enlightened than the ancient world, we dig deep cisterns with pride and self-worship as our tools. Like the fine, spiderwebbed cracks of an egg shell or the crinkled surface of dried laminate, our cisterns are paper thin. Their integrity gone. The leaking profuse.
I believe God's words still matter. He wants us to turn to Him. To stop digging unreliable and unhealthy cisterns that can never offer us Life.
In the great irony of grace, the "spring of living water" poured out His life for you.
His body broken like a cistern.
All so you can experience eternal Life through Him.