For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns…
Whilst two evils are specified, we are not to suppose they are ever committed separately: no man forsakes the living fountain who does not also hew out the broken cistern — for there is a search after happiness in which all men naturally engage; and if they do not seek happiness in God, where alone it may be found, they will inevitably seek it in the creature, though only to be disappointed. Yet notwithstanding that these truths are attested by universal experience, there is continually going on the same forsaking of the fountain, the same hewing out of the cistern, so pathetically and indignantly denounced in the text. There is something very striking in the expression "hewed them out cisterns." What labour does it indicate, what effort, what endurance! Had the cisterns been ready made to their hands, there had not been so much with which to upbraid them. But God has caused that it shall be actually toilsome thing for men to seek happiness in the creature. Witness the diggings, so to speak, of avarice: the painful climbings of ambition: the disgusts and disappointments of sensuality. God makes it an aggravation of the sin of his being forsaken that He is forsaken for that which must demand toil, and then yield disappointment. He sets the "fountain of living waters" in contrast with "broken cisterns" — as though He would point out the vast indignity offered Him, in that what was preferred was so unworthy and insufficient. It is the language not only of jealousy, but of jealousy stung to the very quick by the baseness of the object to which the plighted affection has been unblushingly transferred. "Wonder, O heavens, and be astonished, O earth." God speaks of His people as offering Him this indignity; but He does not speak to His people. He tells His grievance to the material creation, as though even that were more likely to feel and resent it than the beings who were actually guilty of the sin. And ye who are setting up idols for yourselves, ye who, in spite of every demonstration of the uselessness of the endeavour, are striving to be happy without God, we will not reason with you: it were like passing too slight censure on your sin, it were representing it as less blinding, less besotting, than it actually is, to suppose that you would attend to, or feel the force of, an ordinary remonstrance. It may move you more, ye worshippers of visible things, to find yourselves treated as past being reasoned with, than flattered with addresses which suppose in you the full play of the understanding and the judgment. Ye will not hearken: but there are those who witness and wonder at your madness: the visible universe, as if amazed at finding itself searched for that which its own sublime and ceaseless proclamations declare to be nowhere but in God, assumes a listening posture; and whilst the Almighty publishes your infatuation, He hath secured Himself an audience, "whether ye will hear, or whether ye will forbear"; for the accusation is not uttered till there have been this astounding call: "Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this," etc. But let us proceed to the case which is perhaps still more distinctly contemplated by the passage before us — that of the abandonment of the true religion for a false. If ever God discovered Himself as a "fountain of living waters," it was when, in the person of His own Divine Son, He opened on this earth a "fountain for sin and for uncleanness." The justifying virtue of the work of the Redeemer, the sanctifying of that of the Spirit — these include everything of which, as sinful but immortal beings, we can have need: by the former we may have title to the kingdom of heaven, and by the latter be made meet for the glorious inheritance. Nevertheless, can it be said that men in general are ready to close with the Gospel, to partake of it as the parched traveller of the spring found amid the sands? Even where religion is not neglected, what pains are bestowed on the making some system less distasteful to pride, or more complacent to passion, than practical, unadulterated Christianity! What costly effort is given to the compounding the human with the Divine, our own merit with that of Christ; or to the preparing ourselves for the reception of grace, as though it were not grace by which, as well as for which, we are prepared, grace which must fashion the vessel, as well as grace which must fill it. Truly, the cistern is "hewn out," when the fountain is forsaken. Let Christ be unto you "all in all," "made unto you of God, wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption," and the fountain gives a river which, like the rock struck in Horeb, never ceaseth to make glad the believer. But turn away, though by a single step, from Christ, and, oh, the toil, the dissatisfaction, of endeavouring to make — what? "a broken cistern," "a cistern that can hold no water" — if creature comforts are such cisterns to those who seek happiness, creature systems must be to those who seek immortality. For what shall endure the severity of God's scrutiny, but that which is itself of God's appointing and providing
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
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.