"Broken Cisterns" (Jeremiah 2) June 1
Jeremiah was to "go and cry in the hearing of Jerusalem," yet his message was about all Israel (Jeremiah 2:1-3). And then God's message was to go to the "house of Jacob and all the families of the house of Israel" (verse 4). Yet remember that the northern kingdom of Israel had been taken into captivity a century earlier. Still, we do know that, around three years after Jeremiah's ministry began, a small percentage of Israelites actually returned to the land for a short period—that is, the Scythians who overran the region. Thus, it is likely that Jeremiah's message was intended in some measure for Jews and Israelites of His day. But notice again that the message was for "all the families of the house of Israel." Because the Israelites were scattered throughout the Assyrian Empire at the time Jeremiah prophesied, with many near the Black and Caspian Seas, we may safely assume that his message was never delivered to them in that age.
Since God would not deliver a message to people who could never hear it, these prophecies must then be dual, directed more to the descendants of Israel in the latter days, particularly since the descriptions in this chapter and much of the book certainly fit our American and British societies and much of the world today. (In the book of Jeremiah, "Israel" is named almost as much as "Judah." And "Jerusalem"—ancient capital of all 12 tribes—sometimes clearly refers more to Israel than to Judah.)
The Israelites have a short memory, soon forgetting the source of past and present blessings (verses 7, 32), and quickly turning to myriad forms of idolatry. "Those who handle the law" (verse 8) have turned from the true God and His law to false gods! Whereas most cultures cling to their traditions and gods, Israel, chosen by God to receive the true religion (the only way that brings true reward!), has been quick to forsake God and to do so "for what does not profit" (verse 11). These are the "two evils" here—forsaking God and substituting false gods (verse 13). "God, the fountain of living waters, offered a limitless supply of fresh, life-giving sustenance. Instead the people chose broken cisterns, which were useless for storing water and useless for sustaining life" (The Nelson Study Bible, note on verse 13). God proclaims a dire penalty for rejecting Him, "the fountain of living waters," in Jeremiah 17:13.
As He often does, God colorfully portrays the utter stupidity of making gods of wood and stone, but Israel and Judah make as many dumb deities as the number of cities in Judah (2:27-28). "See if they can save you in the time of your trouble!" God taunts (compare verse 28). Today, our peoples still trust in worthless and inanimate things to save us—such as our weapons of war and our money. And some still serve actual idols, seeing power in crosses, statues of Mary, good luck charms, etc. And then there is a wrong trust in other people, directly condemned elsewhere in Jeremiah (17:5).
Verses 14-16 of chapter 2 show that though God had freed Israel from slavery, the nation subjected itself to vassalage and subsequent plunder and slavery by the Assyrians after making a failed deal with the Egyptians (Noph and Tahpanhes, also known as Memphis and Daphne, were principal cities in northern Egypt). In verse 18, Sihor, meaning "Black," is a reference to the Nile River, while "the River" associated with Assyria is the Euphrates. Judah is here basically warned, "Why trust in Egypt or Assyria when they cannot save?" This should serve as a warning to us now. For modern Israelites often make the mistake of putting more trust in alliances than in Almighty God (compare verses 36-37).
Jeremiah repeatedly portrays Israel and Judah as an unfaithful wife who has both deserted her loving, generous husband and also committed adultery, "playing the harlot," with multiple lovers—false gods and national allies (verse 20). She takes steps to "wash" herself (verse 22)—efforts to feel and appear righteous. But it is her heart that needs washing—her thoughts purified (compare 4:14). And only through true repentance, God's forgiveness and God's power can one be truly spiritually cleansed. Israel is adulterous not just by being seduced, but by actively enticing partners like a female animal in heat (verses 23-25).
Worse, not only has Israel not received correction, but God rebukes the people: "Your sword has devoured your prophets like a destroying lion" (verse 30). Sadly, Israel and Judah have always rejected God's true servants—even subjecting them to martyrdom. While that is not happening right now, times are prophesied to get much worse. God also says, "On your skirts is found the blood of the lives of the poor innocents" (verse 34). Today there is little difference. The most innocent are the children. Few children now are sacrificed to fire, but many are murdered, many more unborn children are slaughtered, and society is so twisted, corrupt and degenerate that nearly all children are set on a path of life that leads to death.
Because obedience to God's absolute laws brings automatic blessings, and disobedience brings automatic penalties, He tells Israel, "You've brought this on yourself" (compare verse 17) and "Your own wickedness will correct you" (verse 19). While a national warning, it is incumbent upon each of us individually to respond. If we are living contrary to God's way, that will eventually catch up with us. Indeed, that is surely producing consequences already. Let us all, then, turn to God now and remain loyal—and avoid the suffering sin brings.