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 2:13
A cistern is a large concrete pit in the ground with a lid on top. It collects and holds rainwater or well water. In the third world, which is our context for this verse, a small bucket attached to a rope is thrown inside and pulled up by hand to retrieve the water.
My first experience with a cistern, or reservoir rather, was in Haiti. Just picture… drawing up ten gallons of water, one gallon at a time, to wash clothes by hand or for bathing. Interestingly, it’s more than dropping in the pail and then pulling. The way that you throw the pail into the water is important because the rim has to hit the water at just the right angle to fill up completely. Otherwise, time and energy will be lost pulling up empty buckets. Once the water is drawn and buckets full, you pour off just the top layer of wriggling mosquito larva and any other small particles that may be present. Then you carry those heavy buckets to the washing location. You switch back and forth between hands to not bruise the inside of your knuckles or balance it strategically on your head (if you are skilled– I am not).
In July I hiked in the sticks of Haiti about five miles from the river crossing, in a village in the mountains with no marked roads. One hundred degrees in the sun. After a while, along the journey, we got to a little waterfall spewing from the rocks into a stream below. The native Haitians with me waded over to this little fountain with glee and began cooling their faces and filling water bottles. This being the first time I traveled that path, I asked if the water was safe to drink. With delight, they told me yes, this was a freshwater fountain as pure as bottled water. Imagine the refreshment after the hot journey to drink the cold freshwater without having to draw it or find a way to purify it.
These are the images I have in mind when I think about that verse in Jeremiah. We have access to the fountain of living water. For fulfillment of all our needs. For the refreshment of our souls after a difficult hike or trying season. For daily satisfaction of our thirst. Yet so often we turn to man-made substitutes. We turn to the stinking cistern that is prone to pollution and, by seeking refreshment there, we are made sick. We choose our own way and become burdened with aching hands and back. We look to man for help as we labor to draw up our water while 10 feet away is a sparkling fountain of living water. An overabundance for every need. Ever available, all we have to do is step into it.
Cursed is the man who trusts in manJeremiah 17:5,6
(who seeks life in a broken cistern of polluted water)
and makes flesh his strength,
whose heart turns away from the Lord
(from the freshwater spring of living water).
He is like a shrub in the desert,
and shall not see any good come.
He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness,
in an uninhabited salt land.
Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose hope is the Lord.Jeremiah 17:7,8
He is like a tree planted by (the fountain of living) water,
that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit.
Do we hide in the grace and help of God or the praise and approval of people? To turn to men, in this way, is to turn away from him (Jeremiah 17:5). Our strength, hope, joy, and identity will be anchored finally either in God or in people. If we fear man, men (and women) will be our source of strength (Jeremiah 17:5). We will rely, in our weakest moments, on what people can do or say (Isaiah 30:12), rather than on what God can do or has said. We will spend all our time consulting spouses, friends, and counselors (Isaiah 31:1), while being too busy or preoccupied to linger in God’s word and prayer.Marshall Segal
The cisterns of man are scarce and polluted. They are broken and hold no refreshment. Many are searching for water. In Christ, we have access to the living water. We have access to peace in troubling circumstances, to joy in hard seasons, to strength on the difficult journey. This water gives us reason to laugh at the days to come because we know it will not cease to flow and abundantly fill our needs. As we linger in the fountain, soaking in the cool goodness, we won’t be desperate in our relationships. Desperate to draw from the cisterns of our spouses, of our friends, of the world. To draw up buckets of refreshment, encouragement, of satisfaction. Rather, if we are finding our complete fulfillment in the spring we are free to go into our relationships full and able to pour out rather than demand.
Where do we stand? Do we stand on the edge of the cistern door bent over, trying to pull up that bucket in our own strength receiving only polluted water in return? Or do we stand in the stream, under the fountain of the perfect provision of Jesus? How do we go into our relationships? Needy and in want of satisfaction? Or live-giving, pouring out from an overflow? Do we come boldly before the throne of grace, before the living fountain, and hold out our hands to a loving, merciful, and sovereign Father saying ‘fill me’? Or, more often, do we look for someone, anyone, else to fortify our souls?
Standing in the fountain of His goodness,