When I was elementary school, people often traded items in their lunchboxes. Usually the exchanges were pretty fair, but occasionally someone would get ripped off, like when a girl traded a pack of cookies for what turned out to be crumbs at the bottom of a Doritos bag.
In the Bible, we read of a much more significant trade. Through the prophet Jeremiah, God indicted His people on two charges. They had disregarded the fountain of living water and had attempted to hew their own cisterns.
According to the ESV Study Bible, “Palestine has three sources of water: the best is fresh running water, such as flows from a spring or stream, which is called ‘living water’; next comes ground water, such as might collect in a well; and last is runoff water collected in a cistern.”
It’s inconceivable to imagine trading fresh water for a far inferior version. Even worse is that the Israelites would’ve expended a great deal of energy carving out leaky cisterns when a fountain was readily accessible.
Who in their right mind would make such an irrational exchange? You and I, actually. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Quoting the Lord, Jeremiah wrote, “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).
Carefully reading the text reveals the staggering reality that Israel hadn’t turned its back on a water source; they had ditched God Himself. If you thought they were unwise for hewing out cisterns in the first place, reconsider the magnitude of their folly in light of what the imagery represents.
The people of Israel had seen God work in unprecedented ways and had experienced His power firsthand. Their nation’s entire history was a testimony to the matchless faithfulness of God. Yet, in spite of His perfect fidelity, they were unfaithful. Ignoring God’s words and works, they turned to idols, an unprofitable exchange, to say the least (Jeremiah 2:11).
Sadly, you and I are prone to follow the Israelites’ footsteps away from the fountain of living water. As we prize our comfort, our plans, our relationships, our reputations – anything – above God Himself, we are guilty of the same two evils as our predecessors.
The payoff of such an exchange never works in our favor. When we try to manufacture our own versions of what God offers to us in Himself, we’re left with something even more pitiful than broken, leaky cisterns. We want meaning in life, so we pick up our tools and start carving, ignoring the purpose following Christ brings to our days. The quest for acceptance drives us to work harder instead of resting in our identity as God’s beloved children. Desperate for control, we chip away at what we hope will become our life source, while totally rejecting the peace-giving sovereignty of God. Thirsting to death and exhausted from our endeavors, we have committed what John Gill labeled “egregious folly.”
As we try in vain to satisfy ourselves by our idols, the fountain of living water still flows. We are beckoned to return, and when we do, we receive the warmest of welcomes. Our faithful God is still true to His character. He is the only One who deserves our worship, and He offers us abundant life. When we drink from His fountain, our deepest longings are satisfied, yet our thirst somehow increases as we grow desperate to enjoy Him even more. In this way, God is treasured. And where God is treasured, there He is glorified. Like John Piper said, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”
It’s appalling to realize how much of my life is spent hewing out cisterns instead of savoring the fountain. God graciously exposes my folly like He did for the Israelites, and He invites me once again to glorify Him by delighting in the living water.
What better day than today to leave our carving tools behind so we can experience the wellspring of satisfaction available in our God?