Broken Cisterns That Hold No Water

July 5, 2013
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My people have committed two sins:  They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.  Jeremiah 2:13

A visit to the modern state of Israel would be incomplete apart from a visit to Masada–the great fortress overlooking the Dead Sea where nearly 1,000 Jews held off the Roman army beginning in 70 A.D.  Built by Herod the Great as a fortress to which he could withdraw in the event of attack, the stronghold was taken by Jewish patriots who eventually gave their lives in suicide for the cause in which they believed.

Keeping a thousand people alive atop this desolate, small plateau scorched by burning sun, isolated from civilization, was no small task.  Grain could be stored, but water was the critical factor. To provide water for the defenders, an elaborate system of drainage ditches and canals was constructed which led to storage vaults or cisterns, carved out of the soft limestone.

When the Romans took the fortress in 70 A.D., there was an adequate supply of water in the storage vaults, and grain in the storage bins, obvious proof that the defenders had capitulated voluntarily.

The defenders of Masada were not the first to carve out

cisterns to hold water.  As far back as Jeremiah’s day, cisterns were dug in an attempt to provide a water supply.  When I first saw these great cisterns and marveled at the ingenuity of their builders, I couldn’t help thinking of what the prophet Jeremiah said about the same thing when, as a spokesman for God, he cried out, “My people have committed two sins:  They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water” (Jeremiah 2:13).

There’s a missing piece of information which makes what Jeremiah said even more meaningful.  In ancient days, when builders would begin to excavate a cistern for water, the final test of success came only as the rains filled the cistern and it held water.

Occasionally, cracks or fissures, too small to be detected, would allow the water to quickly drain, something which rendered the cistern useless, or nearly so.  What do you do with a cistern which doesn’t hold water?  They used it as a place in which they buried their dead.  Broken cisterns that hold no water became funeral vaults!

When Jeremiah charges that “the people have forsaken God and instead have carved out broken cisterns that hold no water,” he is saying that what they are trusting “doesn’t hold water,” and is as worthless as a cistern that is flawed and cracked.

You know, those who abandon truth end up with flawed systems which result in death, not life.  Jesus said so simply, “Whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst.  Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14).

How do you know whether your belief system will hold water, or is badly cracked and flawed?  Does what you believe square with what Christians have held to for 2,000 years?  Are your beliefs an embodiment of Biblical teaching and truth?  Or, are you holding to something new, something which you have been told replaced the worn-out belief system of Christianity?

Can you not imagine the frustration of a farmer who spent literally years carving out his cistern, and then when the testing of the rains came, discovered it would not hold water?  At the end of your life, it’s too late to make the discovery, which is why you need to determine whether or not you have forsaken God, just as had the people of Jeremiah’s day. Remember, a belief system that doesn’t hold water ends up being a funeral vault. Think about it.

Resource reading:  Jeremiah 2:1-13.

Bible References

  • Jeremiah 2:14
  • John 4:13 - 14