A cistern is an artificial reservoir for storing water. Specifically, it is an underground tank for catching and storing rainwater. For about half the year, rainfall in Palestine is scarce, falling mainly during the winter months. As a result, it was important that water be stored during the rainy months for the long dry season.
A cistern differs from a well in that a well is fed by underground water seepage, while a cistern stores runoff rainwater. In most cities, each house generally had its own cistern. Rain falling on the roof was collected and channeled to the cistern, usually situated beneath the house.
Most references to cisterns in the Bible are symbolic. In the writing of the peril of adultery, Proverbs 5:15 says, “Drink water from your own cistern, and running water from your own well”- a cool, pure, natural spring. But Judah’s unfaithfulness amounted to “broken cisterns that can hold no water.”
Empty cisterns are used as prisons. Joseph was cast into a “pit” or a cistern. Jeremiah was cast into one which was miry at the bottom, so deep that he had to be let down by cords. Cisterns yield only a limited supply of water, unlike an ever flowing spring. The stonework of these tanks often become broken, and the water leaks into the earth’ at best, the water is not fresh long.
While we were in Israel, my wife and I visited Masada, which was Herod’s mountain fortress located on the vast shore of the Dead Sea just south of Engedi. The magnificent view from that stronghold was incredible. One of the most fascinating characteristics of this location is the cisterns that were scattered through this hill to make sure the people had enough water to drink. One especially was very large. If my memory serves me right I believe it was at least fifty feet deep and seventy feet across.
The needs of the cisterns were because the people had no fresh water. There were no springs or streams from which to drink. It was a very dry and arid land and water was surely its greatest commodity. Even in the villages guards would be stationed at the wells by the gate. If an enemy found that the well was unsupervised, they would sabotage it and poison the waters.
Please listen to me with an opened spirit. I am going to be as transparent as possible. I have been privileged to have been in some great moves of God where it seemed the rain of heaven was unending. I have also witnessed times of great drought to the point of wondering if it would ever rain again. I have found that within my own ministry when it seemed the rain of God was falling I would hew out cisterns where I could store up what God was doing and then I would have something to draw from just in case God didn’t show up. I have files upon files of messages I have preached. Some were highly anointed of God and others, well, let’s leave it at that. We are continually trying to make things happen in the church to insure that God is operating on our behalf.
In times of weariness and frustration, I would find myself going to the cistern to draw rather that the well. I have considered “my cistern” a storehouse or a pantry where I could take from my reserve and feed the people. Besides, it was much quicker. Especially since we live in a “fast food” society. It came as no surprise when I found out that which I had placed in the cistern had lost what I had treasured most, “The anointing.”
In keeping with the environmentalists I would find myself recycling parts of old messages I had previously preached to bring the people something new. However, if it has been in the cistern long it has bacteria growing on it and it takes more than revision to remove it. No name no blame, but there are ministers who preach the same messages over and over again. I am aware we learn by being repetitious, but we have become ridiculous.
Man is born with the thirst because all men are in need of spiritual refreshment. We find ourselves trying to quench our thirst by the elements of this world. You and I know better, but we do it anyways. We involve ourselves with every project that comes down the pike, trying to fill the void that only Christ can fill. Only Jesus can satisfy your soul. Let’s talk about the problems that arise when we forsake our God. We say “Oh, I would never forsake my God.” We just fail to visit with him.
When we cut off our supply of living water, we begin to dig out cisterns. We try to bring fulfillment to our lives by things and stuff. The greatest loss of the prodigal son was not the food which he craved but rather the father whom he had forsaken. God is the fountain of living water. His refreshing grace is ever flowing. There is no stagnation when the water flows directly from the Rock.
God makes the fresh stream and man makes the cistern. Cisterns have limited supply and God has a never ending supply. We try to satisfy our thirst with the offers of the world. What little water we have in our cisterns leaks away because they are made of earthen vessels.
God has placed a hunger and thirst in our nature. We have desires that we try to satisfy with the things of this world, yet only God can satisfy it.
I am rediscovering the value of going to the well rather that to the cistern and drawing out that which has become stagnant. Stagnant water becomes a breeding place for a critical spirit and a fault finding heart.