Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Broken Cisterns, 3

We looked last time at one sin the LORD accuses His covenant people of committing. They worshipped false gods. This sin the LORD likens to digging cisterns for themselves.

The second sin multiplies the sad state of affairs and the wrongness of the sin. They "have forsaken [the LORD,] the spring of living water..." (Jeremiah 2.13 NIV.) Idolatry always leads to emptiness because it worships what is false, not real. But these people have acted more unrighteous than this. Pagans worship in ignorance out of the human need to worship. The covenant people have FORSAKEN the real and adopted the false.

This implies willful choosing with knowledge. They knew better. The Truth had revealed Himself to them and they chose to close their eyes, hearts and worship to Him. They have FORSAKEN Him.

They have forsaken the spring of living water. He is the source. There was no need to dig rock retainers when they had a source of all that is life-giving. The LORD provided, in His gracious favor, everything needed for life and godliness. Like a spring, He continually brought forth fresh supply. His supply did not depend on rain or other circumstance. In Himself, He was enough.

Living water implies it gives life. The needs for hydration of the body and crops are met with fresh water. The means to clean untensils, clothing and the body come from fresh water. Water brings life. The LORD brings life.

Living water implies movement of replenishing, freshening. The water in a cisterm can become stagnant, poluted, unusable unless artificially stirred. Living water purifies itself, maintains it level and freshness.

What a pitiable exchange. The real for the fake. The replenishing for the diminishing. The purifying for the putrifying. The refreshing for the stagnanting. How pitiful to live with less than you know is possible.

Where am I tempted to trade the real for the imaginary? Where have I traded the fresh move of the Spirit for the stagnant pools of ritual? Where am I vulnerable to make the pitiable exchange?

Monday, May 14, 2012

Broken Cistern, 2

Through the prophet Jeremiah, God files grevance against His special, covenant people. He delivers His breach-of-contract complaint in two-lines. "They have forsaken me, the spring of living water and they have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water" (Jeremiah 2.13 NIV.)

I said previously that since God Himself calls this two sins, He leads us to break this parallelism unit down, though the two are related. We will look today at the second sin. His covenant people "have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water."

This image provides a metaphor for the sin of idolatry. Many peoples worship gods other than the LORD. Idols strickly speaking involves an image set up for worship. It has been broadly applied to the worship of any thing, person or power other than the LORD. The prophets often call the covenant people to see these stone, wood and metal objects as deaf, mute and impotent. They are literally made in our image for our purpose by our hands and cannot be greater than ourselves.

The stone imagery echoes in the hollow hole hewn from the subterrainean rock that comprises a cistern. These man-made water reservoirs catch and contain run-off rainwater. They only have an inlet without an outlet. People construct cistern when there is no water source around.

People possess a propensity to praise. The human soul seeks something to worship. Anthropologists find fetishes, images, objects and ritual in every community inhabited by homo sapiens no matter where in time/space they exsisted. To be human is to worship. Only in rather recent times has atheism stood alone. And I would even argue that atheism worships human reason and is therefore a form of idolatry.

This sin makes up at least two of the Decalogue -- the 10 Commandments -- given by the LORD to His people. "No other gods before me" and "no graven image" specifically tell us this type of worship is wrong. This second stanza of the couplet deals with false worship and false gods.

What have I "dug" with my abilities? What is my source for life, love and meaning? How might I be committing this sin for which the LORD calls us to account?

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Broken Cisterns

Recently I had a book with this title, Broken Cisterns, pass through my hands. Just the title reverberated in my spirit. Then I looked up the verses listed on the slip-cover, Jeremiah 2.13 (NIV.) Wow, what a depth of meaning and application! Here begins my reflections on Broken Cisterns and Jeremiah 2.13.

The LORD says,
  "My people have committed two sins:
       They have forsaken me,
             the spring of living water,
        they have their own cisterns,
             broken cisterns that cannot hold water."

First note the LORD says this.This all-caps word is the spoken title that honors the inutterable Tetragrammaton, the four-letter name of God disclosed to Moses on the Mountain of Revelation. His people Israel will not even speak it aloud out of reverencial fear. They change pens when they write it during creation of a new hand-written copy of the Scriptures. God uses this form of "I AM" when speaking of His covenant with His covenant people. God's personal, relational name reminds Jeremiah's hearers of His special, promise-based relationship to the ones He speaks to and speaks of.

My People
In continuation of this idea of intimate, covenant relationship, the LORD addresses His people. People who connected to Him through a series of mutually-binding promises. For sure, like the suzerainty treaties of the area/time, the LORD make the first and largest promises. But these people, His people, willingly have bound themselves to Him by oath as well. They have a special closeness, favor and commitment distinguishing them from the other peoples of the earth.

Two Sins
The poetry of the Bible is parallelism. This rhyming of thought, as C.S. Lewis calls it, consists of two related lines or a couplet. These two lines work in tandem to emphasis a singel thought or point. This emphasis comes from repeating the idea in different words or using a direct opposite. It translates to any language because it depends on the thought, not particular words in rhyming relationship. Proper understanding requires treating the two as a single thought rather than separating the halves of the couplet.

Note that though there is a easy-to-see unity in the two branches of the couplet, the LORD specifically breaks this pairing by saying His people have committed two sins. He wants us to dissect this parallelism. This adds emphasis to the nature of the sins committed by a people covenanted to the LORD they sin against. This behavior must be extra bad, extra heart-breaking.

They Have...
The people of the LORD have forsaken Him. They have abandoned their promises. They have cooled in their commitment, like a dissatisfied spouse. They have distanced themselves from Him.

The people of the LORD have dug their own cisterns. They have looked for life and love elsewhere.  They have not just cooled in committment to their vows, they have actively persued others, like an adulterer.

How have I cooled toward my God?

Where, besides Him, have I sought love and life?

More to come...