For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns…
Jeremiah was the medium rather than the source of these words; and it is noteworthy that he does not lay claim to them. We find lying between the two verses a clause which invests them with Divine authority, namely, "saith the Lord."
I. THE CHARACTER WHICH GOD GIVES HIMSELF. It is a fact, that all that God has made and sustains speaks to us of God; and it is essential to morality and religion, as well as to our happiness, that God should reveal Himself. Before we can know that He is worthy of our supreme love, reverence, and trust, and that we should obey His will, He must make Himself known. We cannot conceive of God giving Himself a false character. God sets Himself forth as "the fountain of living waters." His estimate of Himself is high, but not too high. He does not speak of Himself as a stream or reservoir of water. He is a "fountain," and not merely a fountain among other fountains, but "the" fountain. If there be other fountains, they spring from Him; and He casts them completely into the shade. He is not content with representing Himself as the fountain of waters. He applies the epithet "living" to the waters that issue forth from Him. He is a fountain that is ever gushing. There is no exhausting of Him. There is an immense difference between the water that is taken from a reservoir and that which is drawn from a fountain. The water which is taken from a fountain is peculiarly fresh, pure, sweet, and wholesome. For ages the angels have been enjoying God. Has He become distasteful to them? The waters that flow from Him never grow stale and fiat. They are living and life-giving. They undergo no change for the worse. This language — "the fountain of living waters" — is, of course, figurative, and on that account all the more beautiful and expressive. The grand idea which they suggest is — that God alone can satisfy individuals and communities. Creatures are good and useful. As things are, we cannot do without them. Earth is not a superfluous gift. We require light and air; we require bread and human society, and a multitude of other things; but creatures are not absolutely needed. If God chose, He could dispense with them. Assuredly, it is not in creatures to satisfy us. They yield us more or less pleasure; and it would ill become us to despise them; but we have a mind above them. Deal with them as we may, they leave us unsatisfied. We were made for God, and, till we find Him, there is a void within. He is "the fountain of living waters," and besides Him there is no fountain. Thirst has an injurious effect upon the body's life, beauty, health, and strength, and is a most painful sensation. Well, what do the thirsty need? Lead them to a bubbling fountain, and they are satisfied.
II. THE TWO EVILS WITH WHICH JUDAH IS CHARGED.
1. The first evil is desertion of God. "They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters." To forsake God in any physical sense, in the sense in which birds sometimes forsake their nests, and children home, is impossible. We can put local distance between us and our fellow creatures, but not between us and God. The forsaking referred to is departure of a moral kind, or departure in thought and affection. This species of departure from God was possible to the inhabitants of Judah. Like ourselves, they were morally free. They might either think about God or not, either love Him or not, either trust in Him or not, either do His will or not, either seek their happiness in God or not; and how did they act? It seems that the departure from God which we have characterised as possible, became actual. God did not turn His back on them; but they deserted Him, and in deserting Him they "forsook the fountain of living waters." They forsook Him as a people, and in forsaking Him they committed an "evil." They neither did God nor themselves justice, Morally, they backslided from Him — dismissed Him from their minds and hearts, and lapsed into A state of sin and idolatry. Instead of seeking their happiness in God, they began to seek it in other objects. What God pronounces an evil must be an evil. It is criminal to forsake God; and, as we would expect, it is as injurious as it is criminal.
2. The second evil is attempting to find a substitute for God. "And hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns," etc. These two evils go together. The one naturally leads to the other. The religious is perhaps man's strongest instinct. There is something which men of the world ever supremely fear and love, to which they look and pray in times of danger and distress, and on which they lean for happiness. Accordingly, when we cease to worship God — the right object of worship — there is not with us an end of all worship. There is merely a change of worship. Wrong objects are put in the place of God. Man is not competent to the supply of his own wants, and he knows it. He cannot rid himself of the consciousness of limitation and dependence. Hence, when he departs from God, he precipitates himself on a variety of objects, and devotes himself to a variety of pursuits, with the view of indemnifying himself, Nothing will do for those who renounce God, but trying their hand at cistern making They are driven to exert themselves in order to the discovery of a substitute for God; and are they successful? No. One cistern may be larger than another, or differ from another in shape, or other respects; but the best cisterns are leaky. Water may be poured into them, but, alas! they let it through. Whatever may be thought of them by the maker, they fall infinitely short of God, "the fountain of living waters."
III. THE SUMMONS TO ASTONISHMENT ADDRESSED TO THE HEAVENS. "Be astonished," etc. Were a fountain of living waters and a leaky cistern put before a person suffering from thirst, it would excite wonder were he to prefer the cistern to the fountain. We would be strongly tempted to call in question his sanity. Were a youth to leave a happy home — to forsake a father well able to provide for, protect, school, guide him, advance his temporal and spiritual interests, how would we feel on being introduced to him as a deserter from home? We would look on him with no small measure of pity and surprise; and how can we help being affected with the profoundest astonishment when with the mind's eye we contemplate an intelligent and free creature turning his back upon God?
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.