“Therefore I still contend with you,
declares the Lord,
and with your children’s children I will contend.
For cross to the coasts of Cyprus and see,
or send to Kedar and examine with care;
see if there has been such a thing.
Has a nation changed its gods,
even though they are no gods?
But my people have changed their glory
for that which does not profit.
Be appalled, O heavens, at this;
be shocked, be utterly desolate,
declares the Lord,
for my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me,
the fountain of living waters,
and hewed out cisterns for themselves,
broken cisterns that can hold no water.” – Jeremiah 2:9-13 ESV
God wasted no time in prosecuting Judah’s guilt. And He challenged them to try and find another nation that had done anything as blatantly evil as they had done. Thy would find that there was no precedent for their behavior. Even the pagan nations were not guilty of the crime Israel and Judah had committed. God’s people, the ones He had chosen to bless, had forsaken Him. And God points out the ridiculousness of it all by asking, “Has any nation ever traded its gods for new ones, even though they are not gods at all?” (Jeremiah 2:11 NLT). Even the pagan nations were more faithful to their non-existent, imaginary, man-made gods than the Israelites had been to the one true God. And God warns that their actions would have serious consequences. Their decision to forsake Him would have long-lasting, generation-spanning consequences. Even their grandchildren would feel the effects of God’s wrath and suffer His judgment.
God points out the incredible absurdity of Israel’s decision by demanding that the heavens act as witness against them. He describes the heavens as being shocked and appalled at the scene. The stars, sun, moon and planets, part of God’s created order, are dumbfounded that one of their own, man, would refuse to worship the One who had made him. It was King David who wrote: “The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship” (Psalm 19:1 NLT). Ethan, the Ezrahite, made a similar statement in his psalm: “All heaven will praise your great wonders, Lord; myriads of angels will praise you for your faithfulness. For who in all of heaven can compare with the Lord? What mightiest angel is anything like the Lord? The highest angelic powers stand in awe of God. He is far more awesome than all who surround his throne. O Lord God of Heaven’s Armies! Where is there anyone as mighty as you, O Lord? You are entirely faithful.” (Psalm 85:5-8 NLT).
And the heavens are to be shocked at the two evils that the people of God have committed. First, they were guilty of forsaking God. The Hebrew word is`azab and it means “to depart from, leave behind, leave, let alone” (“H5800 – `azab – Strong’s Hebrew Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). In essence, they had deserted God. Like a husband or wife walking out on their spouse, the people of God had abandoned God. After all He had done for them, they had decided to turn their back on Him. He had chosen them, rescued them out of slavery in Egypt, led them through the wilderness and delivered them into the land, just as He had promised. He gave them victories over their enemies. He provided them with cities they had not constructed, fields and vineyards they had not planted, and homes they had not built. He had given them His law to clearly reveal for them how they were to live as His chosen people. And then He had provided them with the sacrificial system so that they could receive His forgiveness when they failed to live up to His law. He had graciously allowed them to demand a king and had given them Saul. When they discovered just how bad things could be with a king “just like all the other nations” had, He had given them David. And while David had his faults, he was a man after God’s own heart and “he shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart, And guided them with his skillful hands” (Psalm 78:72 NASB).
Over and over again, God had proven His faithfulness to Israel and Judah. But they had returned His favor with faithlessness. They had forsaken Him. But as if that was not enough, God levels the second charge against them. They had chosen replacements for Him. God puts their sin in very descriptive terms: “…they have dug for themselves cracked cisterns that can hold no water at all!” (Jeremiah 2:13 NLT). By forsaking God, they had turned their back on “the fountain of living water.” God had been their sole source of refreshment and nourishment. He had been their means of life support. The term, “living water” refers to fresh, flowing water, as in a stream or a brook. It is pure and free from stagnation or pollution. But it also provides life. It keeps those who drink from it alive and well. But the people of God had chosen to refuse the living water and, instead, had decided to dig cisterns to catch their own water. The picture here is one of stubborn self-sufficiency. Rather than rely on the living water, the free-flowing, life-giving water of God; they had decided to make their own source of water. Cisterns were a common feature in those days. They were simply depressions or holes dug into rock that were designed to collect rain water. In an arid environment, they were a necessity. But the contrast God provides is that of having a free-flowing stream within easy access and choosing to build a cistern instead. One of the natural problems with a cistern is that the water collected in it was prone to stagnation. It was easily contaminated by outside influences such as dust, dirt or even animals. It was less than fresh. That is what makes the comparison sound so absurd. And to make matters worse, God describes the cistern as cracked and, as a result, it leaked. It wasn’t even a good cistern. It failed to do what it was designed to do. What a great description of false gods. They are man-made, designed to deliver life, but incapable of delivering on their intended purpose. The Scriptures are replete with stinging accusations against the absurdity of idols.
Their idols are merely things of silver and gold,
shaped by human hands.
They have mouths but cannot speak,
and eyes but cannot see.
They have ears but cannot hear,
and noses but cannot smell.
They have hands but cannot feel,
and feet but cannot walk,
and throats but cannot make a sound.
And those who make idols are just like them,
as are all who trust in them. – Psalm 115:4-8 NLT
Their gods are like helpless scarecrows in a cucumber field! They cannot speak, and they need to be carried because they cannot walk. Do not be afraid of such gods, for they can neither harm you nor do you any good. – Jeremiah 10:5 NLT
The idol makers encourage one another,
saying to each other, “Be strong!”
The carver encourages the goldsmith,
and the molder helps at the anvil.
“Good,” they say. “It’s coming along fine.”
Carefully they join the parts together,
then fasten the thing in place so it won’t fall over. – Isaiah 41:6-7 NLT
Idols are like a cistern with a crack in it. Crafted by men, but deaf, dumb and blind, and incapable of providing life. The people of God had turned their back on God Almighty, the one who had defeated the forces of Pharaoh and conquered the nations of Canaan. And in His place, they had set up idols that they had made with their own hands. They had offered sacrifices to blocks of wood and pieces of metal. They had put their hope and trust in those things that had no power to deliver help or provide protection. They had staked their lives on lifeless, inanimate objects. Absurd? No doubt. Ridiculous? Absolutely. But we still do it today. In fact, Tim Keller provides us with a great definition of idolatry that brings it into our modern, 21st-Century context.
What is an idol? It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give…
An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, “If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I ‘ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.” There are many ways to describe that kind of relationship to something, but perhaps the best one is worship. (Tim Keller, Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters).
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.