Jeremiah 2:13
For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.
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(13) The fountain of living waters.—The word rendered “well,” as in Proverbs 10:11; Proverbs 18:4; “fountain,” as in Psalm 36:9, is used of water flowing from the rock. The “cistern,” on the other hand, was a tank for surface water. A word identical in sound and meaning, though differently spelt, is variously rendered by “pit,” “well,” or “cistern.”



Jeremiah 2:13

The proclivity of the Jews to idolatry is an outstanding fact all through their history. That persistent national tendency surely compels us to recognise a divine inspiration as the source of the prophetic teaching and of the lofty spiritual theology of the Old Testament, which were in sharpest unlikeness and opposition to the whole trend of the people’s thoughts.

It is this apostasy which is referred to here. The false gods made by men are the broken cisterns. But the text embodies a general truth.

I. The irksomeness of a godless life.

The contrast is between the springing fountain, there in the desert, with the lush green herbage round about, where a man has only to stoop and drink, and the painful hewing of cisterns.

This emblem of the fountain beautifully suggests the great thought of God’s own loving will as the self-originated impulse by which He pours out all good. Apart from all our efforts, the precious gift is provided for us. Our relation is only that of receivers.

We have the contrast with this in the laborious toils to which they condemn themselves who seek for created sources of good. ‘Hewn out cisterns’-think of a man who, with a fountain springing in his courtyard, should leave it and go to dig in the arid desert, or to hew the live rock in hopes to gain water. It was already springing and sparkling before him. The conduct of men, when they leave God and seek for other delights, is like digging a canal alongside a navigable river. They condemn themselves to a laborious and quite superfluous task. The true way to get is to take.

Illustrations in religion. Think of the toil and pains spent in idolatry and in corrupt forms of Christianity.

Illustrations in common life. Your toils-aye, and even your pleasures -how much of them is laboriously digging for the water which all the while is flowing at your side.

II. The hopelessness of a godless life.

The contrast further is between living waters and broken cisterns. God is the fountain of living waters; in other words, in fellowship with God there is full satisfaction for all the capacities and desires of the soul; heart-conscience-will-understanding-hope and fear.

The contrast of the empty cisterns. What a deep thought that with all their work men only make ‘cisterns,’ i.e. they only provide circumstances which could hold delights, but cannot secure that water should be in them! The men-made cisterns must be God-filled, if filled at all. The true joys from earthly things belong to him who has made God his portion.

Further, they are ‘broken cisterns,’ and all have in them some flaw or crack out of which the water runs. That is a vivid metaphor for the fragmentary satisfaction which all earthly good gives, leaving a deep yearning unstilled. And it is temporary as well as partial. ‘He that drinketh of this water shall thirst again’-nay, even as with those who indulge in intoxicating drinks, the appetite increases while the power of the draught to satisfy it diminishes. But the crack in the cistern points further to the uncertain tenure of all earthly goods and the certain leaving of them all.

All godless life is a grand mistake.

III. The crime of a godless life.

It is right to seek for happiness. It is sin to go away from God. You are thereby not merely flinging away your chances, but are transgressing against your sacredest obligations. Our text is not only a remonstrance on the grounds of prudence, showing God-neglecting men that they are foolish, but it is an appeal to conscience, convincing them that they are sinful. God loves us and cares for us. We are bound to Him by ties which do not depend on our own volition. And so there is punishment for the sin, and the evils experienced in a godless life are penal as well as natural.

We recall the New Testament modification of this metaphor, ‘The water that I shall give him shall be in him a fountain of water.’ Arabs in desert round dried-up springs. Hagar. Shipwrecked sailors on a reef. Christ opens ‘rivers in the wilderness and streams in the desert.’

2:9-13 Before God punishes sinners, he pleads with them, to bring them to repentance. He pleads with us, what we should plead with ourselves. Be afraid to think of the wrath and curse which will be the portion of those who throw themselves out of God's grace and favour. Grace in Christ is compared to water from a fountain, it being cooling and refreshing, cleansing and making fruitful: to living water, because it quickens dead sinners, revives drooping saints, supports and maintains spiritual life, and issues in eternal life, and is ever-flowing. To forsake this Fountain is the first evil; this is done when the people of God neglect his word and ordinances. They hewed them out broken cisterns, that could hold no water. Such are the world, and the things in it; such are the inventions of men when followed and depended on. Let us, with purpose of heart, cleave to the Lord only; whither else shall we go? How prone are we to forego the consolations of the Holy Spirit, for the worthless joys of the enthusiast and hypocrite!The pagan are guilty of but one sin - idolatry; the covenant-people commit two - they abandon the true God; they serve idols.

Fountain - Not a spring or natural fountain, but a tank or reservoir dug in the ground (see Jeremiah 6:7), and chiefly intended for storing living waters, i. e., those of springs and rivulets. The cistern was used for storing up rain-water only, and therefore the quantity it contained was limited.

13. two evils—not merely one evil, like the idolaters who know no better; besides simple idolatry, My people add the sin of forsaking the true God whom they have known; the heathen, though having the sin of idolatry, are free from the further sin of changing the true God for idols (Jer 2:11).

forsaken me—The Hebrew collocation brings out the only living God into more prominent contrast with idol nonentities. "Me they have forsaken, the Fountain," &c. (Jer 17:13; Ps 36:9; Joh 4:14).

broken cisterns—tanks for rain water, common in the East, where wells are scarce. The tanks not only cannot give forth an ever-flowing fresh supply as fountains can, but cannot even retain the water poured into them; the stonework within being broken, the earth drinks up the collected water. So, in general, all earthly, compared with heavenly, means of satisfying man's highest wants (Isa 55:1, 2; compare Lu 12:33).

Committed two evils, viz. remarkable ones, and with a witness.

Living waters; a metaphor taken from springs, called living here, and Genesis 26:19, and elsewhere, because they never cease or intermit; such had God’s care and kindness been over and to them; see on Isaiah 58:11; his Spirit continually proceeding from the Father and the Son to refresh their consciences. Compare John 4:10 7:38,39.

Cisterns: it is doubled, to show the multitude of their shifts; and

broken is added, to show the helplessness of them, as being able to hold no water; but when a man hath made many hard shifts to get water, he cannot keep it, but it dries away; or if it abide, proves unwholesome: by which understand either their

idols, which are empty, vain things, that never answer expectation; or the Assyrians and Egyptians, as Jeremiah 2:18, which proved but broken reeds, and as all other supports or props, friends, traditions, merits, &c. are that are trusted to besides God; they are but cisterns at the best, whose water will putrify, or broken, riven vessels, through which they will soak, and leave nothing but mud and dirt behind them.

For my people have committed two evils,.... Not but that they had committed more, but there were two principal ones they were guilty of, hereafter mentioned; and it was an aggravation of these crimes, that they were the professing people of God who had committed them: and it may be observed, that such sin; they are not without it, nor the commission of it; and may be left to fall into great sins, and yet remain his people; covenant interest cannot be dissolved; this should be considered not as an encouragement to sin, but as a relief under a sense of sin:

they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters; this is said of Christ, Sol 4:15, grace in him is compared to "water", it being cooling and refreshing, cleansing and fructifying; and to living water, because it quickens dead sinners, revives drooping saints, supports and maintains spiritual life, and issues in eternal life; and because it is perpetual and ever flowing; and to a "fountain", denoting that the original of it is in Christ, and the great abundance of it which is in him; it is as water in a fountain, in us as in streams: now to forsake this fountain is the first of these evils; which is done when the people of God are remiss in the exercise of faith on Christ; grow cold in their affections to him, and neglect his word and ordinances.

And hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water; this is the other evil; and such are the world, and the things in it, when cleaved unto, and rest and satisfaction are taken in them; the inventions and ordinances of men, when followed and attended to; moral duties, and evangelical services, when depended on; and even spiritual frames, when these are lived upon, and put in the room of Christ; yea, acts of faith, when they are rested in, and the object not so much regarded as should be: moreover, what may principally be intended are, in the first place, forsaking the worship of God, as the Targum interprets it, the assembling of themselves together to attend his service and ordinances, which is to forsake their own mercies; and, in the next place, following after idols, as the same paraphrase explains it, which have no divinity in them, and can yield no help and relief, or give any comfort, or afford any supply in time of distress and need. It is egregious folly to leave a fountain for a cistern, and especially a broken one: in a fountain the water is living, and always running, and ever springing up; not so in a cistern, and in a broken cistern there is none at all.

For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me {t} the fountain of living waters, and hewed out for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.

(t) Signifying that when men forsake God's word, which is the fountain of life, they reject God himself, and so fall to their own inventions, and vain confidence, and procure to themselves destruction, Jon 2:8, Zec 10:2.

13. “Jehovah is a fountain of living water, having life in Himself, giving life to all.” (Co.) Israel has preferred cisterns, the contents of which, vapid and worthless in themselves, speedily disappear through leakage. For the figure of water as denoting spiritual blessing, cp. Isaiah 12:3; Isaiah 44:3. “The perennial spring of water that leaps and flashes as though it were a living thing, breaking ceaselessly forth from a hidden source, is the best image of that higher life bestowed on him to whom God has unveiled his face.” Hort, The Way, the Truth, and the Life, p. 99.

two evils] The sin of the heathen is idolatry, whereas this people have in addition renounced the service of the one true God.

cisterns] These were very familiar objects to those whom the prophet addressed. “There are thousands of these ancient cisterns in upper Galilee, where Josephus says there were two hundred and forty cities in his day, and the site of every one was pierced like a honeycomb with them” (Thomson, The Land and the Book, p. 287).

broken cisterns, that can hold no water] “No comparison could more keenly rebuke the madness of a people who changed their glory for that which doth not profit. The best cisterns, even those in solid rock, are strangely liable to crack … and if by constant care they are made to hold, yet the water collected from clay roofs or from marly soil has the colour of weak soapsuds, the taste of the earth or the stable, is full of worms, and in the hour of greatest need it utterly fails … I have never been able to tolerate this cistern water except in Jerusalem, where they are kept with scrupulous care, and filled from roofs both clean and hard” (ibid.).

Verse 13. - Two evils. Israel has not merely offended, like the heathen, by idolatry, but by deserting the only God who can satisfy the needs of human nature. The fountain of living waters. So Jeremiah 17:13 (comp. Psalm 36:9). Fountain; literally, tank or reservoir. Such reservoirs were "dug in the ground (see on Jeremiah 6:7), and chiefly intended for storing living waters, i.e. those of springs and rivulets" (Payne Smith). Cisterns, broken cisterns. A cistern, by its very nature, will only hold a limited amount, and the water "collected from clay roofs or from marly soil, has the color of weak soapsuds, the taste of the earth or the stable." Who would prefer such an impure supply to the sweet, wholesome water of a fountain? But these cisterns cannot even be depended upon for this poor, turbid drink. They are "broken," like so many even of the best rock-hewn cisterns (Thomson, 'The Land and the Book,' p. 287). How fine a description of the combined attractiveness and disappointingness of heathen religions, qualities the more striking in proportion to the scale on which the religions problem is realized (e.g. in Hinduism)! Jeremiah 2:13Such backsliding from God is unexampled and appalling. Jeremiah 2:9. "Therefore will I further contend with you, ad with your children's children will I contend. Jeremiah 2:10. For go over to the islands of the Chittim, and see; and send to Kedar, and observe well, and see if such things have been; Jeremiah 2:11. whether a nation hath changed it gods, which indeed are no gods? but my people hath changed its glory for that which profits not. Jeremiah 2:12. Be horrified, ye heavens, at this, and shudder, and be sore dismayed, saith Jahveh. Jeremiah 2:13. For double evil hath my people done; me have they forsaken, the fountain of living waters, to hew out for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, the hold no water."

In the preceding verses the fathers were charged with the backsliding from the Lord; in Jeremiah 2:9 punishment is threatened against the now-living people of Israel, and on their children's children after them. For the people in its successive and even yet future generations constitutes a unity, and in this unity a moral personality. Since the sins of the fathers transmit themselves to the children and remoter descendants, sons and grandsons must pay the penalty of the fathers' guilt, that is, so long as they share the disposition of their ancestors. The conception of this moral unity is at the foundation of the threatening. That the present race persists in the fathers' backsliding from the Lord is clearly expressed in Jeremiah 2:17. In "I will further chide or strive," is intimated implicite that God had chidden already up till now, or even earlier with the fathers. ריב, contend, when said of God, is actual striving or chastening with all kinds of punishment. This must God do as the righteous and holy one; for the sin of the people is an unheard of sin, seen in no other people. "The islands of the Chittim" are the isles and coast lands of the far west, as in Ezekiel 27:6; כּתּים having originally been the name for Cyprus and the city of Cition, see in Genesis 10:4. In contrast with these distant western lands, Kedar is mentioned as representative of the races of the east. The Kedarenes lived as a pastoral people in the eastern part of the desert between Arabia Petraea and Babylonia; see in Genesis 25:13 and Ezekiel 27:21. Peoples in the two opposite regions of the world are individualizingly mentioned instead of all peoples. התבּוננוּ, give good heed, serves to heighten the expression. אם equals הןintroduces the indirect question; cf. Ew. 324, c. The unheard of, that which has happened amongst no people, is put interrogatively for rhetorical effect. Has any heathen nation changed its gods, which indeed are not truly gods? No; no heathen nation has done this; but the people of Jahveh, Israel, has exchanged its glory, i.e., the God who made Himself known to it in His glory, for false gods that are of no profit. כּבוד is the glory in which the invisible God manifested His majesty in the world and amidst His people. Cf. the analogous title given to God, ,נּאון ישׂראל Amos 8:7; Hosea 5:5. The exact antithesis to כּבודו would be בּשׁת, cf. Jeremiah 3:24; Jeremiah 11:13; but Jeremiah chose לאto represent the exchange as not advantageous. God showed His glory to the Israelites in the glorious deeds of His omnipotence and grace, like those mentioned in Jeremiah 2:5 and Jeremiah 2:6. The Baals, on the other hand, are not אלהים, but, אלילים nothings, phantoms without a being, that bring no help or profit to their worshippers. Before the sin of Israel is more fully set forth, the prophet calls on heaven to be appalled at it. The heavens are addressed as that part of the creation where the glory of God is most brightly reflected. The rhetorical aim is seen in the piling up of words. חרב, lit., to be parched up, to be deprived of the life-marrow. Israel has committed two crimes: a. It has forsaken Jahveh, the fountain of living water. ,מים חיּיםliving water, i.e., water that originates and nourishes life, is a significant figure for God, with whom is the fountain of life (Psalm 36:10), i.e., from whose Spirit all life comes. Fountain of living water (here and Jeremiah 17:13) is synonymous with well of life in Proverbs 10:11; Proverbs 13:14; Proverbs 14:27, Sir. 21:13. b. The other sin is this, that they hew or dig out wells, broken, rent, full of crevices, that hold no water. The delineation keeps to the same figure. The dead gods have no life and can dispense no life, just as wells with rents or fissures hold no water. The two sins, the forsaking of the living God and the seeking out of dead gods, cannot really be separated. Man, created by God and for God, cannot live without God. If he forsake the living God, he passes in spite of himself into the service of dead, unreal gods. Forsaking the living God is eo ipso exchanging Him for an imaginary god. The prophet sets the two moments of the apostasy from God side by side, so as to depict to the people with greater fulness of light the enormity of their crime. The fact in Jeremiah 2:11 that no heathen nation changes its gods for others, has its foundation in this, that the gods of the heathen are the creations of men, and that the worship of them is moulded by the carnal-mindedness of sinful man; so that there is less inducement to change, the gods of the different nations being in nature alike. But the true God claims to be worshipped in spirit and in truth, and does not permit the nature and manner of His worship to depend on the fancies of His worshippers; He makes demands upon men that run counter to carnal nature, insisting upon the renunciation of sensual lusts and cravings and the crucifixion of the flesh, and against this corrupt carnal nature rebels. Upon this reason for the fact adduced, Jeremiah does not dwell, but lays stress on the fact itself. This he does with the view of bringing out the distinction, wide as heaven, between the true God and the false gods, to the shaming of the idolatrous people; and in order, at the same time, to scourge the folly of idolatry by giving prominence to the contrast between the glory of God and the nothingness of the idols.

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