“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.”
When Jesus spoke with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4, He had to be thinking of this passage from Jeremiah. Jesus proclaimed Himself to be the source of “springs of living water”, a direct quote from this passage. And so we have to look at the implications of this verse, because we know that John’s readers would.
There are in fact no less than four implications in this simple sentence given to Jeremiah. The first is that God’s people have forsaken Him. This is the primary message of this entire chapter, book, and Jeremiah’s life work. By following false Gods, Jeremiah’s contemporaries have turned away from God.
The second is that God is the spring of living water. Springs are never-ending, eternal supplies of water, one of the most valuable and necessary things in all human life. But more than water, this spring brings “living water”, which is the water of cleansing and healing. Water that is “living” is water that is flowing and moving. Washing dirt or sickness in still water, a pool or well, keeps the dirt or sickness in the water – it does not take it away but instead dirties the water. Washing instead in Living Water, in moving, running water, takes the dirt or sickness away. This is why the Law required people to be washed or cleansed in living water. And God is the source of a spring of it.
The third is that God’s people have turned away from this free gift of living water and have attempted to dig wells of their own. They are seeking the healing, cleansing power in sources other than God.
And finally, the idols and false deities to which God’s people turn for salvation and healing can never heal since they aren’t alive. They are “broken cisterns” offering nothing at all.
Jeremiah proclaimed these truths, and Jesus proclaimed them again when He referenced it. I believe we could proclaim it yet again today. We are turning from God to our human leaders, whether political or intellectual or social, and to our own accumulation. We are seeking salvation, safety, and healing from these “broken cisterns”, empty wells that cannot give us what we truly seek. Like Jeremiah’s audience, and Jesus’, we need to heed this warning and turn back to God, to our only source of the living water we truly need.