Sunday, March 18, 2012

A Drink of Cistern Water

Once the thermometer inches above 80 degrees like it did this past week, our household begins consuming more water to replace what the body loses through profuse sweating in the south Louisiana sun.

I take for granted being able to walk in the kitchen and turn on the tap for a high pressured stream of crystal clear, filtered water. But in other parts of the world, water is much more difficult to come by.

In the deserts of ancient Israel, fresh, pure living water was scarce, which led people to dig individual or community cisterns for storing large quantities of rainwater. A typical cistern was 2-3 feet wide at the top, 15-20 feet deep and was carved out of solid limestone to hold several thousands of gallons of rainwater underground .* Still, during the severe drought of summer, many would dry up.

Although most cisterns were covered with a large chunk of rock to keep out critters in search of a drink, you can imagine how much debris accumulated over time in these giant water vats. According to the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, “Cisterns, belonging to the common natives, are rarely cleansed, and the inevitable scum which collects is dispersed by plunging the pitcher several times before drawing water. When the water is considered to be bad, a somewhat primitive cure is applied by dropping earth into the cistern, so as to sink all impurities with it, to the bottom.”

In other words, having access to cistern water was better than having no water at all, but the water was stagnant and stale, at best. And at worst, it was contaminated with animal excrement that washed in the cistern along with the rainwater and perhaps even small dead animals who fell in and drowned.

Knowing how cistern water would taste, why would anyone choose it if she had access to living water?

In Jeremiah 2:13, God criticizes Israel for just that…for choosing to dig its own cisterns rather than rely on Him for the refreshing, living water: “For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, The fountain of living waters, To hew for themselves cisterns, Broken cisterns That can hold no water” (Jer. 2:13).

The problem isn't the physical act of digging an underground rain barrel. Instead, it's the attitude of self-sufficiency. When the rain failed to fall, Israel would rely on its cisterns to provide rather than on God to sustain them through the hard times.

Jesus tried to explain this concept to the Samaritan woman, a woman who would have understood the benefits of living water over cistern water: “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, 'Give Me a drink,' you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water…. Everyone who drinks of this [well] water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life" (John 4:10, 13-14).

Christ identifies Himself as the living water that purifies, as the only sustainable source of water…quite the opposite of what a cistern provides.

Each day, we can choose to carve out our own cistern. To do so means we are choosing to trust in ourselves to meet our needs and wants instead of relying on God to satisfy our thirst. And since by nature, we are all broken, human vessels, we should realize that trying to provide for ourselves in our own strength, with our own talents, through our own successes—it’s useless. The water collected by our own hands will seep out slowly until we are dry and unable to provide for ourselves any longer.

My prayer is to leave the cistern of self-sufficiency and rely in faith on the fountains of living water like David did: “As the deer pants for the water brooks, So my soul pants for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Ps. 42:1-2).

* “Ancient Cisterns” Bible Background Study.

(Posting from the archives this week as I am literally overwhelmed with a twin's sinus infection coupled with packing for a last minute car trip to see my brother and his wife at the 100th Cherry Blossom Festival in D.C. Pray for us all good health and journey mercies.)

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