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Broken Cisterns


George always kept a barrel near the garage. Rainwater would fill the barrel, which he used for his tomato plants. His system was really a kind of cistern, a container used to catch and store rainwater. While cisterns can be good, especially in areas with limited water resources, a natural spring is better. A cistern depends on having enough rain. Stored water can grow stagnant. A spring provides a continual source of water that is always fresh.

In today’s text, the Lord accuses Israel of committing two great sins. First, they have forsaken Him by offering their allegiance to false gods. They abandoned the “spring of living water” (v. 13). Second, God’s people exchanged the living God for idols they made for themselves (v. 11). They offered their worship to the works of their own hands. This was even worse than trading the fresh water of the spring for the stagnant water of a cistern, for these self-made cisterns were broken and could hold no water. The people would find no refreshment coming from the idols they venerated, because those gods did not exist.

Israel abandoned God by placing her trust in military and political alliances with pagan nations like Egypt and Assyria. These alliances proved false. By turning from God to rely on the earthly power, Israel essentially sold herself into slavery and suffered a punishment that was of her own making (vv. 17, 19).

Despite this, the Lord appealed to Israel to return to Him “Now why go to Egypt to drink water from the Nile? And why go to Assyria to drink water from the Euphrates?” (v. 18; see Isa. 58:11). God was the source of living water, which He offers through Jesus, freely available to all who ask (see John 4:10; Rev. 7:17).

Apply the Word

Have you searched for living water in broken cisterns? Have you trusted earthly power or status to protect you? Have you chosen self-sufficiency over dependence on God? Have you tried to quench your spiritual thirst anywhere other than faith in Christ? The good news is that God invites you to return to Him! He alone can satisfy you.

BY Dr. John Koessler, Chair and Professor of Pastoral Studies

Dr. John Koessler serves as chair and professor in the division of applied theology and church ministry at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois. He is married to Jane and has two sons, Drew and Jarred. John is the author of The Radical Pursuit of Rest (InterVarsity), The Surprising Grace of Disappointment (Moody) and True Discipleship (Moody). John has written several other books and articles and serves as a contributing editor for Today in the Word.

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