Have you ever had a long day and looked forward to returning home and zoning out on your favorite drama? Perhaps accompanied by your favorite late-night snack? When you finally do get to sink into the couch and turn on the TV, you find that the cable is out and someone else ate up the rest of the ice cream. We all have things we turn to for comfort and hope when life is challenging. Whether it’s a sweet treat or a Netflix binge, in that moment we turn to those things to give us some relief from a hard day.
When we face a harder day or a more difficult circumstance in life, it’s easy for our sinful hearts to turn to something other than God to rescue us, to give us hope, to give us life. Whether we turn to a change of circumstance, a relationship, future success, or some material possession, in doing so, we’ve turned to an idol to give us life.
That’s what happened with God’s people during Jeremiah’s day.
The prophet Jeremiah was called to warn God’s people that judgment was coming. They had turned from God to worship false gods. Jeremiah was not a popular prophet; his call to repentance was met with opposition and persecution. The people were so angry with him, they even put him into the bottom of a well to die (Jer. 38).
In Jeremiah 2, God tells Jeremiah to speak to the people. He begins by describing their past: “I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown” (v. 2). He then asked:
“What wrong did your fathers find in me that they went far from me, and went after worthlessness, and became worthless? They did not say, ‘Where is the LORD who brought us up from the land of Egypt, who led us in the wilderness, in a land of desert and pits, in a land of drought and deep darkness, in a land that none passes through, where no man dwells?’” (vv. 5–6).
Israel forgot all that God had done for them in the past and turned to worthless things, and in doing so, became worthless themselves. “But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit” (v. 11).
Their idolatry is serious; it is horrifying.
“Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD, 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” (vv. 12–13).
Like God’s people in Jeremiah’s day, we too worship false gods. When we look for life, hope, meaning, and joy outside of God, we become idol worshipers and in so doing, forsake the One who rescued and redeemed us from slavery. Such idolatry is like drawing water from a broken cistern; it is useless. In the Bible, a cistern was a man-made well, shaped out of rock. Some were rather large and used to hold water for an entire community. Sometimes the cistern developed a crack, allowing water to leak out. Like a cracked cistern that no longer holds water, seeking hope in idols never fills us; it always leaks out, leaving us with a thirst that is never quenched.
The Well That Never Runs Dry
Do you notice the stark contrast between what God provides in Jeremiah 2 and what we make for ourselves? God says He is “the fountain of living waters.” What God offers us is a fountain, an endless supply of His love, acceptance, approval, forgiveness, and grace; what we create for ourselves through idolatry is cracked and broken. Useless. Worthless.
We see this clearly in the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman in John 4. Jesus stopped at the well in Samaria and met a woman getting water in the middle of the day. She was an outcast, in more ways than one, and lived a desperate life, searching for hope in multiple relationships.
Jesus asked her for water to drink and said, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water” (John 4:10). He went on to tell her life was found in Him:
“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 (vv. 13–14).
He then held up a mirror for her to see the ways she looked for life and had not found it (vv. 16–18).
Water is essential for physical life; we need it to survive. In Christ, we find spiritual life. This is what Jesus offered the Samaritan woman: life through the gospel of grace. It’s the life He gives us as well. When we seek life anywhere else, we’ll never be satisfied.
Our spiritual thirst is only satisfied in Christ. He alone meets our needs for love and joy. He alone gives us meaning and purpose. He alone is our refuge and strength, our hope in all trouble. He alone is our salvation. And when we find life in Him, He gives us His Spirit to live within us—“a spring of water welling up.”
We all are spiritually thirsty. We all seek life and hope in something. The question is, will we seek to meet that thirst through leaking cisterns or draw from the well that never runs dry?