“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” Jeremiah 2:13
What we refer to as ancient wisdom would be better characterized as universal truth. The term ancient indicates old, and universal truth is ageless. Why? Because universal truth depicts the reality of how things work. We may or may not accept it as true, but we are well advised to notice when certain ideas keep emerging through various cultures and eras.
The book of Jeremiah, compiled from a variety of sources, probably came together in the second century BCE. The reference to the spring of living water is later echoed twice by John in his depiction of Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, and later, when he has Jesus saying, “Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them” (John 7:38). It’s a good analogy for the inner Spirit.
A cistern does not have its own water supply. It depends on external sources like rain or trucked-in water. The amount of water taken out depletes the supply. If the cistern is cracked, this depletion occurs even when we draw no water. In contrast, when you draw water from a spring it immediately replenishes.
The cistern is equivalent to the self-image. The spring of living water is our spiritual essence, the soul. Our cultural training has taught us to devote our lives to filling the cistern but has all but ignored the inner spring.
We are designed to be filled first from within, to tap our own inner spring of inspiring life that opens our mind to new possibilities. Though it sounds as if Jeremiah is leveling a criticism, he is simply pointing to the key to a more prosperous and successful life. Most of us have dug our own cistern because this is what we’ve been taught to do. When we’re ready to try a different way, we’ll find the connection to the living water that leads to a more abundant life.