“Let Not the Flood Sweep Over Me”

Yesterday’s post was about Jeremiah’s comparison of false religion to a broken cistern, with God alternatively being “the fountain of living waters.”[1]  Jeremiah lived when most of God’s people – including most of the priests and prophets – had turned from Him to follow other gods.  As Jeremiah remained faithful, correctly predicting that Jerusalem would fall to Babylon, he was persecuted, including this instance in Jeremiah 38:6, where King Zedekiah’s officials “took Jeremiah and cast him into the cistern of Malchiah, the king’s son, which was in the court of the guard, letting Jeremiah down by ropes. And there was no water in the cistern, but only mud, and Jeremiah sank in the mud.”

Since God is “the fountain of living waters,” the only path to eternal blessing, it’s incredibly ironic that Jeremiah, one of the few remaining faithful prophets and therefore a rare source of God’s “living waters,” should be cast into a cistern with no water.  Perhaps it was broken.  King Zedekiah thought he could silence the “living waters” Jeremiah represented by casting them into a cistern, trading truth for falsehood.

Later, Jeremiah seems to recall the cistern experience in Lamentations 3:52-57, where he said:

I have been hunted like a bird
            by those who were my enemies without cause;
they flung me alive into the pit
            and cast stones on me;
water closed over my head;
            I said, ‘I am lost.’
‘I called on your name, O LORD,
            from the depths of the pit;
you heard my plea, ‘Do not close
            your ear to my cry for help!’
You came near when I called on you;
            you said, ‘Do not fear!’”

Returning to the book of Jeremiah, we read that Ebed-melech, an Ethiopian eunuch, heard of Jeremiah’s situation and pleaded his case: “My lord the king, these men have done evil in all that they did to Jeremiah the prophet by casting him into the cistern, and he will die there of hunger, for there is no bread left in the city.”[2]  This unlikely source – a foreigner – was Jeremiah’s deliverance from God to rescue Jeremiah from the well.  Ebed-melech gathered 30 men, “Then they drew Jeremiah up with ropes and lifted him out of the cistern. And Jeremiah remained in the court of the guard.”

Jeremiah was not the only Old Testament figure to suffer for his faithfulness.  Many years earlier, King David also referred to “sinking in the mire” in the Messianic Psalm 69, verses 14-15:

“Deliver me
            from sinking in the mire;
let me be delivered from my enemies
            and from the deep waters.
Let not the flood sweep over me,
            or the deep swallow me up,
            or the pit close its mouth over me.”

David knew this feeling of sinking came not because of his sin, but when he was faithfully serving his Lord.  David’s “sinking in the mire” happened under these circumstances from verse 9 of the same Psalm:

For zeal for your house has consumed me,
            and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me.”

In Jeremiah’s case, as well as David’s and that of Jesus, whom Psalm 69 foreshadowed[3], we know that cannot judge our faithfulness based on whether it improves our circumstances.  When we do, we might stop being faithful because it seems we are “sinking in the mire.”  Being reproached by the world and feeling down aren’t the circumstances we prefer, but “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”[4]  Through these and all other circumstances, God develops in us deeper trust in Him.

Therefore, with David may we pray:

But as for me, my prayer is to you, O LORD.
            At an acceptable time, O God,
            in the abundance of your steadfast love answer me in your saving faithfulness.” – Psalm 69:13

And in His time, He will deliver us, perhaps in ways we don’t expect.


In 1995, Christian rock group Jars of Clay released their self-titled album, and the track “Flood” has similar themes to this post.  The song was also a mainstream hit, charting as high as No. 12 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart,[5] amazing for a song that is essentially a prayer like David’s in Psalm 69.

You can check out the song’s lyrics here: https://genius.com/Jars-of-clay-flood-lyrics

Or, if you have 3 ½ minutes, watch the music video here:

[1] Jeremiah 3:13
[2] Jeremiah 38:9
[3] John 2:17, 15:25, Acts 1:20, Romans 11:9-10, 15:3
[4] Matthew 5:10
[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flood_(Jars_of_Clay_song)

Broken Cisterns Can Hold No Water

Sometimes word pictures in the Bible weren’t written for people like me.  In my life I haven’t thought much of cisterns, but the Old Testament prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah refer to them a few times in their prophecies, and Jeremiah ends up thrown into one.  To Jeremiah’s original audience, and others living now, the meaning behind these pictures might be obvious.  But for me, it took a little research.

A cistern-centered comparison in Jeremiah 3:12-13 particularly drew my attention, where broken cisterns are used as a picture of false religion and idolatry:

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.”

God is the “fountain of living waters,” but how is false religion like “broken cisterns”?

Looking up “cistern” in the American Heritage Dictionary I find it is: “A receptacle for holding water or other liquid, especially a tank for catching and storing rainwater.”  So, a cistern is not a fountain, a source of water, but instead is dependent on another source (usually rain) for its water.  So, Jeremiah’s accusation is that false religion can’t create its own water, which brings us to the second point…

The false religions of Judah in Jeremiah’s day weren’t even good cisterns – they were broken.  While a cistern is a vessel for storing water in reserve when there is no rain, when broken it’s not even that.  Even with another source of water, putting it into a broken cistern was no better than pouring it out into the sand.  Jeremiah’s second accusation is that false religion can’t even store good things from other sources.  The picture here is that if they took parts of true worship and mixed them with other religions, not only were the other religions wasted, but whatever they would have gained from God is also wasted.

Without God, many things are like broken cisterns.  Things that make us happy in this world are temporary and require our Creator God to provide us with more.  A food you like might satisfy you for a while, but eventually you need to find more food.  Rain may satisfy your garden plants, but eventually they will need more water.  Money may seem alluring for its own sake, but it only buys things that are temporary like everything else.

In Jeremiah 2:18, he tells the people not to look anywhere other than the true God of Israel for the source of living water and eternal satisfaction:

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?”

Like a cistern, even the Nile and Euphrates only get their water from some other source.  They can’t make their own, and God can even determine if the rivers are empty or full.  Later, in Jeremiah 14:2-3, he says that because Judah had forsaken God, He had caused a drought, and therefore:

Judah mourns,
            and her gates languish;
her people lament on the ground,
            and the cry of Jerusalem goes up.
Her nobles send their servants for water;
            they come to the cisterns;
they find no water;
            they return with their vessels empty;
they are ashamed and confounded
            and cover their heads.”

The people mourned their earthly problem but did not care about their spiritual problem which is infinitely more important.  No provision – any science, philosophy, or religion – can defend against a drought caused by forsaking God, because false gods – anything we put in His place – cannot deliver rain.  They are but broken cisterns.

Consider that if there is no Creator behind the workings of nature, or if that Creator doesn’t care about us, why should we expect the world to act in ways that predictably bless us, instead of just being completely unpredictable and random?  Why do things seem to work most of the time?  Rain, friction, food, gravity, math, and on and on.  Fortunately, our God “sends rain on the just and on the unjust,”[1] and to His own He gives “a spring of water welling up to eternal life”[2]

He calls all people to know Him as “the fountain of living waters.”  No cistern needed.

Soli Deo Gloria

[1] Matthew 5:45
[2] John 4:14

The Beautiful Letdown

While this blog got its name from an old twenty øne piløts song called “Taxi Cab,” my second choice would be to use something from “The Beautiful Letdown” by Switchfoot.  The line – “set sail for the Kingdom come” – would have been a good blog title!  I’ve intended to post about the song for some time, and it fits in with this week’s other posts, so here we are.

The theme of “The Beautiful Letdown” is that while we don’t like being let down or disappointed, it’s a beautiful and blessed thing when we are let down by the things of this world, because that is when we can find God.  In Jeremiah 3:21-23, God calls His people to turn back to Him from the many temptations of the world in striking language:

A voice on the bare heights is heard,
            the weeping and pleading of Israel’s sons
because they have perverted their way;
            they have forgotten the LORD their God.
“Return, O faithless sons;
            I will heal your faithlessness.”
“Behold, we come to you,
            for you are the LORD our God.
Truly the hills are a delusion,
            the orgies on the mountains.
Truly in the LORD our God
            is the salvation of Israel.

The language is striking because we don’t like being told that the things we worship are a delusion, and we don’t like being accused of spiritual adultery, but regardless, being let down from the delusions of the world is a beautiful thing, because it’s a requirement for knowing God more deeply.  Back to the Switchfoot song, the lyrics say it’s beautiful when we find out that “all the riches this world had to offer me would never do,” but that “we’re still chasing our tails and the rising sun.”  It also says its ok to be “painfully uncool” by the world’s standards because those are the wrong standards.  We are “the church of the dropouts, the losers, the sinners, the failures and the fools.”

But perhaps my favorite part of the song is the bridge:

“Easy living, you’re not much like your name
Easy dying
Hey, you look just about the same
Won’t you please take me off your list
Easy living, please come on and let me down”

Wouldn’t it be nice to be “off the list” of messages from the world lying about how amazing it is, and how easy things would be if we just bought the right products and had the right lifestyle?  If only we floated along with the world’s idea of progress?  However, as C. S. Lewis wrote: “We all want progress…but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.”  Being let down by the world is a good thing.

To listen to the full song, click on the video below.
To just read the full lyrics on genius.com, use this link: https://genius.com/Switchfoot-the-beautiful-letdown-lyrics

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.  Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” – Philippians 3:7-8

God Has a Plan for Your Life

In a commonly quoted Bible verse, the prophet Jeremiah says in Jeremiah 29:11 – “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”  But who was Jeremiah talking to and what were God’s plans at that time?  God was about to exile Israel from the Promised Land and take away all of their cherished (and God-given) political and religious institutions.  Jerusalem and the temple would be torn down and burned by the Babylonians, while God would tell the Jews to love their brutal enemy, and to be a blessing to them[1], contributing to the prosperity of the Babylonian kingdom.  After 70 years of exile, Jerusalem and the temple would be rebuilt, but disappointing: “many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid”.[2]

This is not the plan I would wish on any of us, but it was God’s will at the time, to discipline His people.  Clearly, God has different plans for each one of us – specific to us and not a photocopy of specific Biblical people or situations.

The prophet Isaiah provides an excellent picture of how God cares for individuals.  Right after declaring that God would lay a new cornerstone, a new foundation, in Zion[3] (later revealed to be Jesus), he declares in Isaiah 28:23-26:

Give ear, and hear my voice;
         give attention, and hear my speech.
Does he who plows for sowing plow continually?
         Does he continually open and harrow his ground?
When he has leveled its surface,
         does he not scatter dill, sow cumin,
and put in wheat in rows
         and barley in its proper place,
         and emmer as the border?
For he is rightly instructed;
         his God teaches him.

Isaiah describes how a farmer works diligently with God-given wisdom to plant his crops.  The farmer does things step by step, plowing, then sowing each plant according to its kind.  Some crops grow best in rows, and some are suitable as borders.  Everything is in its time and place.  Isaiah then continues with verses 27-29:

“Dill is not threshed with a threshing sledge,
         nor is a cart wheel rolled over cumin,
but dill is beaten out with a stick,
         and cumin with a rod.
Does one crush grain for bread?
         No, he does not thresh it forever;
when he drives his cart wheel over it
         with his horses, he does not crush it.
This also comes from the LORD of hosts;
         he is wonderful in counsel
         and excellent in wisdom.

Here, some crops need to be threshed or even crushed, but other crops do not.  All of the farmer’s work is done with God’s wisdom.  Yet is Isaiah only concerned with crops?  No, because the context in Isaiah is a story of Judah’s discipline, followed by a restoration. Just as a farmer’s wisdom in dealing with crops is from God, in the same way God knows how to deal with His people skillfully, to each as needed.

The Reformation Study Bible notes on verse 29: “Yet the Lord is wiser than any good farmer…and knows exactly the methods to use to cultivate His harvest—when to judge and when to restore His people.”  As different grains need to be planted and treated differently, so God treats each person according to His own intentions for them and to their own needs.  After laying the cornerstone of Jesus Christ, God, like a farmer, knows how to deal with each of His people individually, giving each exactly what they need when they need it, building His family diligently, step by step, and with infinite wisdom.

Therefore, when Jeremiah says: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope,” he declares the general principle that for each of us, God has a plan, a future, and a hope.  The Lord delivers us from evil and provides for our welfare in eternity for all time, after our sojourn in this world is complete.

For every meal, thank a farmer, but for every opportunity to grow in Christ, in good times and in bad, thank the Lord for His wisdom in dealing with you as an individual.  Only He, as Creator, knows best how we are broken and how we are intended to be.

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” – Philippians 1:6

[1] Jeremiah 29:7
[2] Ezra 3:12
[3] Isaiah 28:16

The Weight of Lent

When reading the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah, chapters 34 and 35, I noticed the two chapters together have an interesting contrast. In chapter 34, with Jerusalem under siege by the Babylonians, King Zedekiah ordered the people to release all of their Hebrew slaves, seemingly with the motivation of appeasing God.  However, soon the people were returned to slavery.[1]  In chapter 35, this behavior is contrasted with the Rechabites, who, for about 200 years, had obeyed their ancestors’ vow to not drink wine, or build houses, but to live in tents.  God tells Jeremiah to call some Rechabites together, pour them some wine, and offer it to them.  But they refused to drink, citing their ancestral vow.[2]  The two stories together illustrate that this family could obey a stricter code than God’s, from a lesser authority (their human ancestor), and on less-important issues.  The Rechabites are an admirable example to the rest of God’s people, and a testament to what the covenant faithfulness of God to us looks like.

What does this story have to do with Lent?  This metaphor from the Apostle Paul provides some help:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.  Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.  So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.” – 1 Corinthians 9:24-26

Paul says discipline and self-control are valuable in the same way that training is valuable to an athlete – they bring us closer to obtaining an objective that is valuable to us.  To those who love God, being a disciple will require discipline, and vows are a form of discipline.

Lent is celebrated many different ways by many different people but is generally seen as a time to practice spiritual discipline as a way to greater awareness of, gratefulness toward, and/or obedience to, God.  Often something is given up for the 40 days of Lent, which makes it in some ways similar to the vows of the Rechabites, or the Nazirite vow taken by Samson (or by his parents) in the book of Judges[3].

However, if we do not value the prize – God Himself – nothing we give up for Lent will make us – or God Himself – happy.  Lent will not help us love Him, or our neighbors, more.  Like the Israelites who flip-flopped on slavery, treating it as a bargaining chip with God and not as an act of faithfulness to Him, wrong motivations can lead to cycles of disappointment.  But, for those in Christ, the prize is worth every ounce of effort we can put into it.  Discipline during Lent can be like lifting weights for an athlete, strengthening them, and enabling them to better compete in their sport, but discipline during Lent for the sake of self-denial or for trying to impress God is to aim too low.  True religion to God is not a trade – He has already given us everything in Christ Jesus and we can’t earn more.  “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” – Matthew 5:5

I’ll close with this long quote C.S. Lewis’ sermon, The Weight of Glory:

“The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself. We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire. If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”[4]

[Note: Today’s post idea came to me this morning, based on the beginning of Lent and tying together a couple of things I’ve recently read.  While not really part of the Beatitudes series, this post seemed fitting.  However, with Return To Office beginning, Lent has already begun by the time I could write this!]

[1] Jeremiah 34:8-11
[2] Jeremiah 35:1-10
[3] Judges 13:7
[4] Lewis, C.S.  The Weight of Glory (1949).  P. 25-26.