What happened to the Fountain of Living Waters?” based on Jeremiah 2:1-19

Just to set the stage a bit, remember that Jeremiah’s initial call to the ministry happened while he was a boy, probably less than twelve, about three years after the great reformation of King Josiah.  The first three communications or visions from the Lord Jeremiah received were both pastoral and alarming.  First, God communicates His previous love and grace to Jeremiah, giving him a point in his life that he will need to return to again and again.  A much needed memory to comfort him in the future as he suffers at the hands of his countrymen.

 

Jeremiah 1:4

Now the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

 

The second vision was one that encouraged Jeremiah in his task, as a called one, sent to proclaim the Lord’s Word.  Jeremiah would not be listened to and his ministry of proclamation was one filled with loneliness and rejection.  I suspect Jeremiah often felt this rejection as not a rejection of God’s Word but of himself.  Yet God tells him,

 

Jeremiah 1:11,12

And the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Jeremiah, what do you see?” And I said, “I see an almond branch.”  Then the LORD said to me, “You have seen well, for I am watching over my word to perform it.”

 

God was watching His Word, it was not Jeremiah’s word after all but His, and not only was He watching it to see how it would be received, but He was also intent on performing what He would reveal though Jeremiah.

 

What would He reveal through Jeremiah?  Judgment was coming and it was going to be life changing.

 

Jeremiah 1:13-16

The word of the LORD came to me a second time, saying, “What do you see?” And I said, “I see a boiling pot, facing away from the north.”  Then the LORD said to me, “Out of the north disaster shall be let loose upon all the inhabitants of the land.  For behold, I am calling all the tribes of the kingdoms of the north, declares the LORD, and they shall come, and every one shall set his throne at the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem, against all its walls all around and against all the cities of Judah.  And I will declare my judgments against them, for all their evil in forsaking me. They have made offerings to other gods and worshiped the works of their own hands.

 

Jeremiah chapter one is sort of answering the “what” part of the equation.  What sort of judgment is coming?  As we move into chapter two we are going to begin to learn the “why” part of the equation.  Why is God bringing judgment on this people, that had just recently reformed themselves to such a great degree that King Josiah, because of his reforms, will be remembered forever in the words of Scripture as the greatest king to ever rule in Judah.

 

Jeremiah 2:1-19

The word of the LORD came to me, saying,

“Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem, Thus says the LORD, “I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown.  Israel was holy to the LORD, the firstfruits of his harvest. All who ate of it incurred guilt; disaster came upon them, declares the LORD.”

 

Hear the word of the LORD, O house of Jacob, and all the clans of the house of Israel.  Thus says the LORD: “What wrong did your fathers find in me that they went far from me, and went after worthlessness, and became worthless?  They did not say, ‘Where is the LORD who brought us up from the land of Egypt, who led us in the wilderness, in a land of deserts and pits, in a land of drought and deep darkness, in a land that none passes through, where no man dwells?’  And I brought you into a plentiful land to enjoy its fruits and its good things. But when you came in, you defiled my land and made my heritage an abomination.  The priests did not say, ‘Where is the LORD?’ Those who handle the law did not know me; the shepherds transgressed against me; the prophets prophesied by Baal and went after things that do not profit.  “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.

 

“Is Israel a slave? Is he a homeborn servant? Why then has he become a prey?  The lions have roared against him; they have roared loudly. They have made his land a waste; his cities are in ruins, without inhabitant.  Moreover, the men of Memphis and Tahpanhes have shaved the crown of your head.  Have you not brought this upon yourself by forsaking the LORD your God, when he led you in the way?  And now what do you gain by going to Egypt to drink the waters of the Nile? Or what do you gain by going to Assyria to drink the waters of the Euphrates?  Your evil will chastise you, and your apostasy will reprove you. Know and see that it is evil and bitter for you to forsake the LORD your God; the fear of me is not in you, declares the Lord GOD of hosts.

 

God begins by reminding them of a time in their history when God had completely broken their bonds and brought them into existence as a sovereign nation, Israel, with their own land, law, and temple.  During this period, the period of the Exodus and the conquest of the Canaanites, they were a devoted wife, following where God led them, trusting in Him alone for protection and provision.  Now certainly they had their failings in the wilderness, we all know the stories, yet God remembers them as devoted.  Now God, as a faithful husband wants to know what happened to His beautifully devoted young bride.  Why did she turn and seek after things that have no value?  Why is she not asking the question where is the Lord?  This needs a little explaining.

Now remember, as I have already said, during their devoted period God brought them into being as their own sovereign autonomous nation.  He protected them and brought calamity on everyone that tried to attack them, and conquer them, many times in a miraculous fashion.  That’s what God is referring to when He says,

 

Jeremiah 2:3

Israel was holy to the LORD, the firstfruits of his harvest. All who ate of it incurred guilt; disaster came upon them, declares the LORD.”

 

This however, is not the case with God’s people during Jeremiah’s time, or even the previous 75 years or so before Jeremiah.  Judah and Israel were separate countries with different kings.  During Jeremiah’s early ministry Israel had already been conquered and taken captive by Assyria, and Judah was paying protection money to Egypt (becoming a slave while still in their homeland) in order to bribe Egypt to keep Assyria at bay.

 

Jeremiah 2:14-16

Is Israel a slave? Is he a home-born servant? Why then has he become a prey?  The lions have roared against him; they have roared loudly. They have made his land a waste; his cities are in ruins, without inhabitant.  Moreover, the men of Memphis and Tahpanhes have shaved the crown of your head.

 

*Memphis and Tahpanhes are both ancient cities in Egypt and shaving of the crown of the head is thought to be either a religious rite or a sign of slavery hearkening to idolatry and slavery both concepts are developed in Jeremiah 2.

 

Meanwhile, Judah had been negotiating some with Assyria to see if they could just pay them off as well.  This was commonplace in the ancient world.  Some country that was stronger than you rolled up to your city and said come out and fight or pay us and we’ll go away.  Judah is caught between to powers, Assyria and Egypt, and they are being bled financially dry.  But more importantly, Judah is not really a sovereign country any more, it is just a vassal state to Egypt at this point.

So God says, “why have your fathers not asked where I am?”  When I was with you, when I went before you as a fire and a cloud you were safe, you were fruitful, and you weren’t in any of these predicaments.   When I brought you into the land I protected you and caused you to flourish.  So why are you not asking, “Where is the Lord?”  Why are you chasing after other god’s like Baal, Ashterah, and Molech.  These three God’s will be repeatedly used as accusations by God against Judah throughout the Book of Jeremiah, as well as the books of Kings and Chronicles.  This is what God is talking about when He says,

 

Jeremiah 2:5-7

Thus says the LORD: “What wrong did your fathers find in me that they went far from me, and went after worthlessness, and became worthless?  They did not say, ‘Where is the LORD who brought us up from the land of Egypt, who led us in the wilderness, in a land of deserts and pits, in a land of drought and deep darkness, in a land that none passes through, where no man dwells?’  And I brought you into a plentiful land to enjoy its fruits and its good things. But when you came in, you defiled my land and made my heritage an abomination.

 

Which underlines another problem that God brings to the surface.  Not only had the “fathers”, their national and tribal leaders not asked, “Where is the Lord?”  As shocking and grievous as that is, there is another group of leaders who should have shown the way, who should have called their national leaders to confession and repentance.

 

The priests did not say, ‘Where is the LORD?’ Those who handle the law did not know me; the shepherds transgressed against me; the prophets prophesied by Baal and went after things that do not profit.

 

Those men who were called to teach the people God’s Word, who should have been offering sacrifices on their behalf to the Lord, were offering sacrifices to Baal and prophesying according to the teachings of a heathen religion.

The nation of Judah had completely and utterly forsaken God.  Both church and state had turned completely away.  The people of Judah will go into captivity for 70 years once they tip Babylon to the boiling point.  Listen again,

 

Jeremiah 2:9

“Therefore I still contend with you, declares the LORD, and with your children’s children I will contend.”

 

That is a little hint about the length of captivity they were going to endure.

Judah had done something no heathen nation would dare to do, and that is change their god.

 

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.

 

Here is where the language begins to get interesting.  God, referring to himself as the “Fountain of Living Waters”, says out loud and clearly what I have been referring to over the last couple of paragraphs.  I have been forsaken.  Not only has He been forsaken, but His ways have been forsaken as well.  The people had committed two evils.  The original cistern that God had built when He formed Israel into a nation, which is the culture and Laws of Israel, had been forsaken as well.  God is holy and the only container that can contain the life of God, or what He refers to as the “living waters”, must be a holy container.  Judah had left God and His ways.  They had under gone a complete shift in their entire culture.  The reason Josiah’s reform did not avert the disaster of the Babylonian captivity, is that it was Josiah’s reform, meaning it was real only in Josiah’s heart.  The culture of Israel was untouched, they were, using the words of the New testament, a white washed tomb.

Remember that I said the language got interesting here.  God will stay with the theme of water and cisterns (containers).  Compare these verses together.

 

Jeremiah 2:13

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 2:18

And now what do you gain by going to Egypt to drink the waters of the Nile? Or what do you gain by going to Assyria to drink the waters of the Euphrates?

 

God is saying, listen all those years I protected you and made you fruitful.  Then, when you found yourself in a tough spot, and things weren’t as great as they once were, instead of saying, I wonder why the Presence of God is not with us anymore?  Instead of investigating why the source of the “fountain of living waters” had dried up, you just went in search of a new fountain.  With the protection and fruitfulness of God’s Spirit withdrawn they went looking for protection and fruitfulness.  Assyria and Egypt were major players on the world’s stage.  They had lots of cash and fierce armies.  They had big time culture and big time money, and uniquely enough, both were also situated on major rivers that were largely the cause of their financial, agrarian, and war successes.

Judah had better water and a better cistern than those nations. Judah’s success in the world had never been linked to their ability to generate money or their fierceness in the art of war.  They were slaves in a foreign country when God found and delivered them.  Abraham had been an old man with no son.  Isaac only had two boys, Jacob and Esau.  Jacob when he went to Israel to live was only a, little over a hundred people.  God had been their source of life and strength from the very beginning.  He had been their protector.  God withdrew His Presence because they pulled away from Him and then kept pulling away, all the while they never stopped to ask, “Where is the Lord?”  What happened to our Fountain of Living Waters?

I have this uncomfortable feeling in my gut now that I have expounded all of this.  Because as I turn my gaze to the modern church, as far as she is concerned in America, where I live anyway, I can’t help but feel like we are in much the same quandary as Judah is in Jeremiah’s day.  Somewhere along the way we stopped being fruitful, the church stopped growing, and holiness waned.  The culture around us begin to change rapidly and we were losing our sons and daughters, not to a war with Assyria or Egypt, but in a war with the world, with Madison Avenue and the other cultural elites. Instead of saying “What’s happening?”, “Where is the Lord?”, “Why is our life draining away?” and “Why are our children being smitten with the false promises of the world?”  We took up the world’s so-called wisdom, adopted Madison Avenue’s play book and began to advertise and entertain.  We razed the cultural landscape of the Church, burned it to the ground.  We said, “Let’s remove everything that makes people feel uncomfortable, everything that seems churchy.  Let’s use the American idol of entertainment, rock it out, and get slick and efficient and Walmart–like humongous.  Let’s avoid controversy, teach everyone like they are no smarter than a 5th grader, meet what the world perceives to be their felt needs.  I can’t help but wonder if God is not asking us,

 

Jeremiah 2:18

And now what do you gain by going to Egypt to drink the waters of the Nile? Or what do you gain by going to Assyria to drink the waters of the Euphrates?

 

Many are realizing the mistake that the modern church has made, and new church planting initiatives and church networks are beginning everywhere.  There is a desire to return to the historical witness of the church and a renewed interest in doctrine and mission.  It is all so wonderful, I myself am a part of the work, and I hope to help others become a part in the renewal of the church for the future.  Yet I can’t help but wonder if the current attempted reform I am seeing here in America will end like Josiah’s reformation.  It was wonderful in Josiah’s heart and life, but because the culture had shifted so much, there was not enough foundation for it to take root in the hearts of the people and in the end they had a new crisp look with old stony hearts.  I think the question we should be asking as reformers and leaders is an ancient one, one our “fathers” and our “priests” (pastors in our case) should be asking.  It is simply, “Where is the Lord, what happened to our Fountain of Living Waters?”


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