(This sermon can be heard by clicking this link.)
In First Samuel, chapters 5 and 6, we are told about the time that the Philistines captured the ark of the covenant and took it back to their territory. The ark stayed in their land, moving from city to city, for seven months. Wherever the ark went, the people suffered punishment from God and finally, they returned the ark to Israel in hopes of removing the plague from their land.
In the beginning of this Philistine victory, they brought the ark to the city of Ashdod and set it in front of their god, Dagon. No doubt this would be a symbolic means of showing that Dagon was greater than the God of Israel. However, in the morning, Dagon was discovered face down before the ark. Restoring Dagon to his position, they found him the next morning before the ark with the head and hands removed, lying on the threshold. They restored Dagon and decided the Ark of God had to go to another city.
One might think that they would have realized that God was greater than Dagon, who was no god at all. They knew that God had conquered the gods of Egypt. One might think they would wonder if it wouldn’t be better to serve the God of Israel instead. However, we find that Philistia did not turn away from their god, who was no god, but were very loyal to him. In fact, they even made the threshold, where Dagon’s head and hands had lain, a holy place and did not step on it.
Seeing the loyalty which the pagans had to their gods, who were no gods, you would think that the nation which was called by THE God of Heaven and Earth, who had delivered them from Egypt and made them a people for Himself, surely, that nation (Israel), would be even more fiercely loyal to the only true God. Right?! Wrong!
“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. (Jer 2:9-11)
Jeremiah asks the question of whether a nation ever changes its gods. It is a rhetorical question. The answer is, of course, “No!” as the Philistines showed. However, Israel was not the same way.
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. (Jer 2:12-13)
They committed two evils in that first, they departed from God and second, they built cisterns for themselves which were broken. God was the source of water and they wanted to collect water elsewhere (foreign gods) and store it in their own cisterns which wouldn’t hold water.
These ‘broken cisterns’ can stand for many things in our life. False doctrines that we want to hold onto-even when we know the truth, philosophies that we want to abide with that leave no room for God, or just simply wanting to do everything ourselves-as if we have the wisdom necessary to live without God. All of these and more are broken cisterns.
What will we do?
We are the Israel of God today. What will we do? Will we leave the God of creation or stand by Him, loyal to the end? On what will we build our lives: Rock or sand?
Elijah encouraged the people to stop limping between two opinions. They needed to choose between Baal and God. This is the same choice we have to make today and Jesus puts it in a different metaphor: that of building a house.
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” (Mat 7:24-27)
The only difference between the builders was where they built. They both heard the word. One built on sand and the house fell, the other built on the Rock and the house stood.
Those who leave God and try to build broken cisterns are those who build on the sand. It will not last and the results will not be good.
Where will you stand? To whom will you be loyal? The God of Heaven and earth or your own desires?