The Fountain of Living Waters
Jeremiah 2:13
For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns…

In a land like this, perpetually green with Atlantic showers, which at once refresh the thirsty soil and replenish the subterranean reservoirs, it is not easy to understand the gratitude, reverence, almost affection, with which men who live under a fiercer sky, and upon a parched earth, look upon a "fountain of living waters." Some remnant of the feeling, descending to us from an earlier and simpler time, may be noticed in connection with such a strong outgush of pure waters as, at Wells or at Holywell, springs into the upper air, at once a river: men have thought that there must be some healing efficacy in so bountiful a manifestation of one of nature's most beneficent forces; and soon they have imagined a legend, and built a shrine, and to the natural holiness have added a superstitious sanctity. But it is almost the same in the thirstier lands of the East with any rill of water, so it be perennial. A spring becomes a natural landmark of a kind to which expectation points, round which memories are wont to gather. When all the long day the caravan has toiled patiently through the pitiless brightness, and the path has lain for many a weary mile over the sand slopes shimmering in the heated air, or by the mountain pass where the sun-smitten rocks reflect the intolerable rays, — how grateful, as the shadows are lengthening, to descry afar off the fringe of palm trees on the horizon, and to quicken the march, till at last there is a bubbling in the cool grass, and shade overhead, water for the thirsty lips, rest for the tired feet! And how terrible the disappointment, if, when the journey has tended to some less fortunate spot, where the care of man has provided — poor substitute for the bounty of God! — a cistern to catch a precarious and failing supply, the travellers have found at nightfall only a broken reservoir, and the trace of help and refreshment passed away! What resource, but a night as comfortless as the day had been toilsome, and on the morrow, a renewed effort, with diminished strength and a courage sustained by despair, to reach some happier island in the desert, where the waters of God never fail to flow! There is a depth of spiritual meaning in this passage, which, ignorant as we may be of the precise occasion to which it applies, forbids us to interpret it in any but a religious sense. It was, so to say, the nature, the destiny, of the Jewish people to be always committing the two evils of which it speaks. Theirs was indeed a mixed character, in which elements as opposite almost as light and darkness perpetually struggled for the mastery. Their distinguishing mark as a nation was insight into God: they had discerned Him as one; they had learned that He was holy; they had fixed, for all coming time, the true point of contact between God and man in the god-likeness of humanity; and yet in their history, as told by their own lips, they show themselves false, fickle, sensual, cruel, as hardly any other people. In Judah of old, a distracted State, the sport of fierce political passions within and beyond her own borders, falling back now upon a hard Levitical religiousness, now madly rushing upon alien idolatries, now again wakened to better life by the thunder of prophetic rebuke; — in Judah of old it was possible for a man to climb, like Isaiah, to such heights of rapt communion with the all-holy God as human feet have since but rarely trodden, or to find a downward way to abysses of foul sensuality, masking itself in a pretence of religion, such as it is not good even to speak of. It is enough surely to forsake God; to pass through the dry and thirsty land of life as if no fountain of living waters sprang up to cheer and to fertilise it; to choose the sun-smitten sand, to toil up the parched torrent bed, when it is possible to rest beneath the palm trees' shade, and to drink of the brook that murmurs through the grass. And yet this can hardly be: the thirst for the Divine cannot wholly die out of the human heart: there must be some reaching forth to the unseen, some attempt to find a stay in the Eternal. So the first evil has its natural issue in the second. Those who have turned away from the living fountain bend their wandering steps towards a cistern of their own making, a broken cistern which will hold no water; a cistern which, as the traveller draws nigh, offers to his thirsty lips only the slime, where water was long ago, baking in the sun. This it is to forsake the solemn worship of Jehovah for the wild dance of the devotees of Baal. It may not be easy to expound this passage; but, as it stands, it is impossible not to feel how deep and how vivid it is. It contains all the secret of religion; the secret which it is the object of preaching of every kind to reveal and to enforce; the one truth which prophets present in every form of living and burning words, — that all life worthy of the name is life in, and with, and for God; that life without God is a dream likest death, except that by God's mercy it is always possible to awake from it. So I take this particular metaphorical representation of the central truth to indicate that an essential element of human nature is a longing for the Divine, as heat and weariness thirst for cool water: a sense of a higher law, a holier will, to which it would be peace and happiness to conform: a desire to find, amid the perplexity of things, a hand of guidance, and in their mutability and sorrowfulness a heart on which to rest: a yearning after something fixed and changeless, to set against the daily experience of loss and decay and death. The thirst is in us all: when sorrow strikes us down upon the sand; when disappointment bars our way in the mountain pass; when the mirage of earthly affections first allures and then deceives us, we feel it, and all the more keenly that we hardly know where to seek the spring that will refresh us. Would that always we had the courage to listen to the promptings of our nobler nature, and to enter upon the impossible task of quenching the soul's thirst for God! Would that always we could recognise the demand of our true need, and bring our parched lips through every desert and over every obstacle to the living spring "whereof who drinks shall never thirst again"!

(C. Beard, B. A.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: 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.

WEB: "For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the spring of living waters, and cut them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.

The Fountain and the Cistern
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