In following the lectionary readings as a part of a devotional time, I came to a passage in Jeremiah that caught my attention. Jeremiah is proclaiming God’s reaction to the disobedience of His people.
(Jeremiah 2:4-8 NIV) Hear the word of the Lord, you descendants of Jacob, all you clans of Israel. This is what the Lord says: “What fault did your ancestors find in me, that they strayed so far from me? They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves. They did not ask, ‘Where is the Lord, who brought us up out of Egypt and led us through the barren wilderness, through a land of deserts and ravines, a land of drought and utter darkness, a land where no one travels and no one lives?’ I brought you into a fertile land to eat its fruit and rich produce. But you came and defiled my land and made my inheritance detestable. The priests did not ask, ‘Where is the Lord?’ Those who deal with the law did not know me; the leaders rebelled against me. The prophets prophesied by Baal, following worthless idols.
The people of God have lost sight of God. It is pretty extreme; even the priests fail to desire God’s presence. The religious leaders do not know God and have rebelled against Him. Even the prophets are following worthless idols. No doubt, they are far from God. In the next few verses, Jeremiah describes their sin. In verse 13, he lays it out.
(Jeremiah 2:13 NIV) My people have committed two sins:
Jeremiah clearly describes two ways in which the people have turned from God. As we explore this passage, we are challenged to consider how we follow God. We might ask if we are guilty of the same sins. We might contemplate how we approach God.
As we consider this passage, it is helpful to understand how water works in ancient Israel. Scholars describe three sources of water in Palestine. The premium water is fresh running water. It is clean as it comes from a spring or stream. Imagery abounds in the scriptures likening this kind of water to the living water of God. A second source of water is ground water or well water. It is not as healthy as running water, but it serves its purpose. The final supply of water is runoff water which was collected in cisterns. This water can be sometimes be polluted as it collects the impurities of soil and manure. Jeremiah describes both sins in verse 13. First, the people have forsaken God.
(Jeremiah 2:13 NIV) They have forsaken me, the spring of living water
They have turned their back on God, refused to drink the best kind of water and have traded it for the worst kind of water. But more than that, they have attempted to collect the water without God’s help. Look at how their cisterns are described.
(Jeremiah 2:13 NIV) and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water
The imagery of water supply is vivid; God’s people have rejected the pure, clean spring water that God provides and have attempted to collect their own water. Now they have broken cisterns; the water is full of scum, grim and contamination.
This imagery relates to the people of God in 2016. As churches, we often fail to accept the spring water that God provides because we insist on digging our own cisterns. We fail to discern God and follow his leading. Instead, we go our own way. I love the representation that Jeremiah provides. As discerning churches, may we hold this mental picture close to our hearts. Which will it be? Will we accept the path that God is providing? Will we enjoy the fresh, clear water of God? Or will we insist on pursing our own ventures, ending up with a contaminated mess?