Idolatry: Broken Cisterns (Jeremiah 2)


Lost Love (2:1-8)

The prophet Jeremiah is charged to speak to the people of God whose hearts have turned away from the Lord and turned to the world. They have forsaken the Lord. The point Jeremiah makes in the second chapter is that they left the Lord without cause. Notice in Jeremiah 2:2 that the Lord remembers the devotion and love the people had at the beginning. It is a common problem that those who start to walk with the Lord lose the intensity of their devotion to God. Jesus condemned the church in Ephesus in the second chapter of the book of Revelation because they had lost the love they had at the first. Their devotion had waned. Their love had cooled off. Here is the Lord remembering the love that the people had initially for the Lord, but is saddened that the love has vanished.

The Lord now questions the people. What wrong have you found in the Lord that has caused you to go far from him? What has God done to cause you to lose your devotion for him? God tells them the reasons why they were seeking worthless things in verses 6-7. They had forgotten what God had done for them. The people had forgotten the redemption they had received from the Lord. They forgot the Lord who brought them out of the land of Egypt, who freed them from their slavery. It is not they did not know that God did these things for them but that these things had no bearing on their hearts or in their lives. They forgot how God took a bunch of slaves, gave them a land, and made them a great nation. Further, they forgot the provisions of the Lord. Verse 6 describes how God had taken care of them through all of their suffering in the desert. These people lived for 40 years in the desert! That is not possible without the hand of the Lord being with them and taking care of them each day. Finally, they forgot that God gave them the blessings and gifts they had. Verse 7 reveals it was God who gave them the plentiful land so that they could prosper economically and live well in the land. This is how our hearts wane in our devotion for the Lord also. We forget the redemption that Christ brought to save us from the deserved judgment because of our sins. We forget how God has helped us in our time of need and is a sure and steady anchor through life’s hardships. We forget that God has given us the blessings of this country and the blessings of our prosperity. We simply forget and we seek after the worthless ways of the world.

God’s Charge (2:9-11)

Therefore the Lord has a charge for those who claim to be his people. God says to look at the pagan world and consider who has ever left its gods. The answer is no. The peoples of the world do not change gods. The pagans do not swap gods. These are worthless gods. They are not gods at all. Yet the people show loyalty to these worthless, false gods. God is asking where his loyalty is. God is the true and living God. He is not worthless. He can change your life. He can change the course of the world. The things we seek after are worthless and valueless. Yet we show no loyalty to the real God, the Creator of heaven and earth. God asks, “Who does this?” Who changes gods? Worse, who changes from the true God to false gods that cannot do anything for you?

Two Great Evils (2:12-13)

God notes that two great evils have occurred. Now we should slow down over these words. What the people have done is defined as two great evils in the sight of the Lord. The Lord is not pleased with this condition. This is not a small thing to God. This is evil. In fact, it is two great evils before the Lord.

First, they have forsaken the Lord, the fountain of living waters. This is an outrage to our Lord. God pictures himself as a mountain spring of clean, pure, life-giving water. Think about how great a flowing fountain would be in ancient times. It is the equivalent of having the running water that we enjoy and take for granted today. The ability to go to a fountain that has clean, cool water and you never have to worry about the water running dry. No one goes to the sink today and wonders if water is going to come out. None of us worry that we will not have water to drink. The water will be there. This is the pleasure and benefit of the fountain of living water. The way to glorify the fountain is to enjoy the water and keep coming back for more water. We appreciate the fountain by going to the fountain, drinking the water, being grateful for the fountain, and coming back to the fountain again and again. This is how we glorify God, the fountain of living water. Is this what the people did? No, God says that they have forsaken me. What an insult! They have forsaken the fountain of living water. To not see and savor our Lord is an insult to the beauty and worth of his character. We are declaring that the Lord has nothing for me. He provides no value to my life. I see him and I know him, but I do not care for him. I have no passion for him. I do not desire him. We are supposed to desire him like our flesh desires water. You know how your body begins to kick in that thirsty feeling that must be satisfied. We are to thirst for the water. How insulting to reject the living water!

But this is not the only evil. Our Lord declares that there are two great evils that are committed. Not only did they reject the fountain of living water, they preferred to carve cisterns for themselves. A cistern was a large hole that was dug into the rock about 20 feet deep to capture rain water. The opening would be about two or three feet wide so that a stone lid could be placed on the opening. This was a way to have water in these dry and desert areas. The people gave their energies to look for a different water. Can you imagine when you are at home today deciding you need water, but rather than going to the faucet, you decide to go outside, dig a hole, and catch some rain water? This is foolish for so many reasons.

First, you are trading in the ease of turning on the faucet for digging a hole in the ground. You could just go to the fountain of living water, but instead you would rather work outside and dig a hole in the hopes to catch water.

Second, you know what that cistern water turns into over time? It becomes filled with algae and is no longer suitable for use. Each summer we usually put up a pool or waterslide for the kids in the backyard. These pools come with enclosures so that you can put a lid over the water and zip it up. However it does not take long for that water to turn green. Give it a few days and left to itself, though covered, it turns green. That is why today we use chlorine to treat our pools to fight back the algae growth. But even then a pool must be drained from time to time because of contamination. The people are trading the pure water that flows every day for a stagnant pool of water that is turning to algae each day.

Third, notice the ultimate foolishness behind this choice. The cisterns are broken and cannot hold water. This was a common problem in ancient days. A rock would be cut to capture water but the water would leak out from the rock. It was broken and would lose the water that it was supposed to capture. The ancients came up with a number of techniques to try to prevent these cisterns from losing the water, but it was a common problem. Do you see the futility in what the people are doing? They are trading in the clean, cool, easy to access faucet water for digging a hole in a rock outside that captures rain water, but is leaking, and will turn to algae in a few days. Do we see why God is insulted? Do we see why God is saying in verse 12 to “be appalled” and “be shocked?”

This is the essence of evil, the very definition of sin. We are tasting the water that God offers only to reject it and seek some stale, algae-filled water. To prefer anything above Christ is the very essence of sin. To esteem God as lesser than anything else in this world is the picture of evil. When we prefer success, money, wealth, power, love, the earth, comfort, convenience, family, or anything else over the pleasures of God, we are committing evil. To use the imagery of the fountain, any person who does not have a taste for the enjoyment of Christ will not go to heaven.

If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. (1 Corinthians 16:22 ESV)

Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here.” (John 8:42 ESV)

Loving Jesus is the mark of a true child of God. This is not about affirming the right doctrines. This is not about showing up on a Sunday. God wants our hearts and demands our devotion. We cannot be in a relationship with God if our affections are for the broken cisterns of this world. We cannot prefer our lives in this world over the life found in Christ. We cannot prefer the things of this world over the spiritual joys in Christ. Jesus calls himself that fountain of living waters.

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. (John 7:37–38 ESV)

Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13–14 ESV)


Christ has broken into this world as the light and the life. How can we be so passive? How can we not love him intensely? How can we not be devoted to him? The only reason is because we have forgotten what he has done for us. We have forgotten the redemption available. We have forgotten the forgiveness and grace offered. We have forgotten that he is the fountain of flowing waters.

What cracked cistern are you trying to use to quench your thirst? What broken, dirty cistern are you using to try fill the void in your life and give your lasting happiness and satisfaction? Turn back to Jeremiah 2:5 and notice that as long as we continue to seek after these cisterns we are worthless to God. Notice that God says in verse 5 that when we go after these worthless things, we become worthless. Jesus said the same thing.

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. (Matthew 5:13 ESV)

We are not useful to God and are not his children until we forsake the broken cisterns of this world and passionately pursue the living fountain of Jesus.

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