Broken Cisterns That Can Hold No Water

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Israel during the Iron Age (started before 1000 B.C. and ended around 700 A.D.¹) is believed to have had a climate similar to today’s. It can be very hot and dry, particularly during the summer months. Jerusalem typically receives less than 22 inches (554 mm), which is significant rain for a semi-arid region, but Jerusalem receives no to trace amounts of rain on average during the months of May through September. This makes the storage of potable water vital for sustaining life. In ancient times (and modern) cisterns were cut into rock and, if necessary, lined with waterproof plaster. Cisterns could be small or large, even large enough to be classified as reservoirs. Cisterns could collect rain water directly or receive run-off water that was filtered through layers of sand, silt, and rocks. Methods of construction varied by location throughout Israel and as technology advanced. One example of a cistern found in Israel is depicted below (Figure 1). Other cisterns were open and many were small. Open cisterns, such as those that were common throughout ancient Israel, were constructed in the following manner: “Only the conduits and the upper opening of the cistern can be seen on the surface. The opening is marked by a large stone in which a hole was cut, to which a wooden or an iron door was often attached. Below the opening a bottleneck was cut, lined with well-cut and dressed stones. This neck went down to the bedrock, usually the soft chalk. Below the bottleneck the cistern widened, typically in a rounded shape achieved by cutting into bedrock.” (Rubin, 1988). Many homes had cisterns built into the foundation in order to collect rain and drainage from the roof (Figure 2).

cistern

Figure 1. From Rubin, Rehav. “Water conservation methods in Israel’s Negev desert in late antiquity.” Journal of Historical Geography 14, no. 3 (1988): 229-244.

Figure 2. Small house cistern. Rubin, Rehav. "Water conservation methods in Israel's Negev desert in late antiquity." Journal of Historical Geography 14, no. 3 (1988): 229-244.

Figure 2. Small house cistern. Rubin, Rehav. “Water conservation methods in Israel’s Negev desert in late antiquity.” Journal of Historical Geography 14, no. 3 (1988): 229-244.

Water was and is important. Cisterns had to be constructed correctly otherwise they could leak water or the water could become contaminated. Cisterns had to be lined precisely and often needed plastering for waterproofing. If this was not done or was done incorrectly, the cistern was broken and could not hold water.

The prophet Jeremiah was from a village called Anathoth, which was 3 miles (4.83 km) north of Jerusalem. He lived around 600 B.C. The Lord called Jeremiah as a prophet and Jeremiah began his ministry around 626 B.C. and continued at least until the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 587 B.C.

Jeremiah showed great courage in the face of many trials. He prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem and called the people to repentance. The prophet Lehi, who plays a prominent role early in the Book of Mormon, was a contemporary of Jeremiah. Whereas Jeremiah’s mission was to remain as a warning voice to Israel, Lehi was commanded to flee Jerusalem, running over the wall, and head to a new, promised land. How lush and bountiful the Americas were compared to the land of Israel!

Jeremiah has been referred to as the “Weeping Prophet” because of his lamentations over the destruction of Israel and the wickedness of the people: “How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people! how is she become as a widow! she that was great among the nations, and princess among the provinces, how is she become tributary! She weepeth sore in the night, and her tears are on her cheeks: among all her lovers she hath none to comfort her: all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they are become her enemies.” (Lamentations 1:1-2). The great artist Rembrandt painted lamenting Jeremiah (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Lamenting Jeremiah. Rembrandt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Figure 3. Lamenting Jeremiah. Rembrandt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In the book of Jeremiah we read of the two great evils of the people of Israel: “For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.” (Jeremiah 2:13). The people of Israel turned away from God. They rejected the Living Fountain. The people of Israel had forgotten the miracle of Moses – the great salvation provided by God – when their mothers and fathers wandered in the wilderness: “And the people thirsted there for water; and the people murmured against Moses, and said, Wherefore is this that thou hast brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst? And Moses cried unto the Lord, saying, What shall I do unto this people? they be almost ready to stone me. And the Lord said unto Moses, Go on before the people, and take with thee of the elders of Israel; and thy rod, wherewith thou smotest the river, take in thine hand, and go. Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb; and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink. And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel.” (Exodus 17:3-6).

The Israelites forsook the Lord. They also “hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.” Broken cisterns were life-threatening, particularly during the summer months. Wells and other sources of water were available but cisterns could be built close to homes and could be more easily defended. The Lord, through Jeremiah, lamented over the poor eternal craftsmanship of the Israelites. They were more focused on the things of the world than they were on the things of God. Many Israelites made choices to worship the golden calves created by their hands rather than turn to the Lord in remembrance of His great power and salvation. The people of Israel longed for the things of Babylon while not believing that destructive Babylon was on their doorstep, about to demolish their homes and lead them away into captivity. Rather than partaking of the living waters of the Lord and remaining free, their cisterns were broken and many perished. It’s no wonder that Jeremiah lamented!

                                                                                                                                     

¹Side note on the subject of iron and carbonized iron (steel). Steel was likely first produced before 3000 B.C. There is evidence of manufactured steel dating to about 1800 B.C. found in an archaeological site in Turkey (Akanuma, H. (2005). “The significance of the composition of excavated iron fragments taken from Stratum III at the site of Kaman-Kalehöyük, Turkey”. Anatolian Archaeological Studies 14: 147–158.). Steel dating from 667 B.C. has also been found in archaeological excavations in Thebes  (Williams, Alan R., and K. R. Maxwell-Hyslop. “Ancient steel from Egypt.”Journal of Archaeological Science 3, no. 4 (1976): 283-305.). This steel was thought to be brought by an invading Assyrian army. While bronze, copper, and iron were used broadly, steel was manufactured for tools and weapons all around the Mediterranean region, particularly the near/middle east. Steel was thus produced and used during the time of Jeremiah (which was also the time of Lehi, Nephi, and Laban [who, according to the Book of Mormon prophet Nephi, owned a steel sword]).

A Wellspring of Eternal Life, Part 2

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Water is a powerful force – in large amounts it can destroy nearly all life. It can also be used and controlled to bring and sustain life. The Lord’s control and power over water was demonstrated many times throughout the scriptures. Moses parted the Red Sea to escape the Egyptians. Elijah divided the waters of the River Jordan, as did Elisha (see 2 Kings 2). Elisha also healed the waters of Jericho: “And the men of the city said unto Elisha, Behold, I pray thee, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord seeth: but the water is naught, and the ground barren. And he said, Bring me a new cruse, and put salt therein. And they brought it to him. And he went forth unto the spring of the waters, and cast the salt in there, and said, Thus saith the Lord, I have healed these waters; there shall not be from thence any more death or barren land. So the waters were healed unto this day, according to the saying of Elisha which he spake” (2 Kings 2:19-22). Our own spiritual waters can also be healed and cleansed as we partake of the blood of the Atonement and as we follow our priesthood leaders, especially the Lord’s prophet. [Image by Andrew.gd].

The Jaredites and the people of Lehi both crossed over the oceans in order to travel to the Promised Land. They survived their trials by water with faith in the Lord. The prophet Alma baptized in the waters of Mormon. Sometimes the waters beat down and seem to attack our very foundation but if we are built upon stony ground instead of sand, we can weather the storms.

I am always thankful to have clean water to drink and use. I am ever grateful to the Savior who demonstrated His power over water numerous times. The Lord gave Moses power to turn water to blood, in the hope that Pharaoh would let the Israelites go free: “And Moses and Aaron did so, as the Lord commanded; and he lifted up the rod, and smote the waters that were in the river, in the sight of Pharaoh, and in the sight of his servants; and all the waters that were in the river were turned to blood” (Exodus 7:20). This blood was symbolic of the Savior’s atoning blood that provides the power to free Israel spiritually. The Lord also gave unto Moses power to purify water and to cause it to flow from a rock, quenching the thirst of the weary children of Israel. The Savior demonstrated the importance of baptism by water when He was baptized in the River Jordan; baptism in part symbolizes the cleansing of our sins but baptism is also a covenant we enter into with our Father and an ordinance He has commanded us to receive. Baptism is essential for exaltation, which is why the Savior was baptized even though He was and is without sin. Jesus turned water to wine and calmed raging storms. He walked upon the water. The Savior shed tears for friends as well as in Gethsemane and upon the cross. We use water today for the sacrament in remembrance of the Savior’s atoning blood.

I am grateful unto Him, who is the source of all pure water; He is the fountain of living water. He promises that we too, can be like a spring of water whose waters fail not. “Come, Thou Fount of every blessing, Tune my heart to sing Thy grace; Streams of mercy, never ceasing.” We, as we follow the Savior, will become like watered gardens. These promises are both physical and spiritual but mainly spiritual. We will be well watered, even though much of the rest of the world is in drought. We will have access to a wellspring that never fails, even the Lord Jesus Christ.

Link to Part 1 of this essay.

A Wellspring of Eternal Life, Part 1

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Growing up in the desert, I gained a strong appreciation for water. Whether it was conserving water at home or making sure we had enough water while camping or backpacking, I learned how vital water, especially clean water, is for life. When I was young I went on two multi-day backpacking trips with my father and the varsity scouts. On both excursions we relied heavily on spring water to survive. When there were no springs to replenish our water we had to purify our water by filtering, boiling, or using iodine tablets. The water from streams and rivers needed purification due to the various microorganisms in it, especially giardia. If we had not purified our water, the results could have been drastic and long-lasting. If we did not have water, we would not have survived the hikes, or at least would have barely survived. [Image by Hypergurl].

We preferred the spring water because it did not take as much effort to process as did stream water, which needed filtering or boiling or iodine to be pure. When we were able to get water from springs we did because the ground naturally purified the water. It was water for which we did not work hard to procure but still reaped its benefits and blessings – we were like the Savior’s disciples who were told: “I sent you to reap that whereon ye bestowed no labor” (John 4:38). Even though the spring water was naturally pure, we still filled our bottles as close to the source as possible, to avoid the impurities that enter once the water leaves its subterranean origin.

Many of the events in the Bible occur in deserts. The early part of the Book of Mormon also takes place almost exclusively in deserts. The Savior lived in Israel around Jerusalem, which receives little rainfall each year. Water is a precious resource. Potable water is even more precious. Because of the desert surroundings of many of the prophets in the scriptures, water plays a prominent role in many parables or scripture stories. “Then said he unto me, These waters issue out toward the east country, and go down into the desert, and go into the sea: which being brought forth into the sea, the waters shall be healed. And it shall come to pass, that every thing that liveth, which moveth, whithersoever the rivers shall come, shall live: and there shall be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters shall come thither: for they shall be healed; and every thing shall live whither the river cometh” (Ezekiel 47:8-9). In the desert, where water is, there is life. Because water provides and symbolizes life, it is easy to understand why so many prophets, including the Savior, referred to water in their teachings.

When the earth was created, water covered the face of it (see Moses 2:2). The Lord commanded the waters to gather together and the dry land to appear (see Moses 2:9). Water was there from the beginning. Water was used to cleanse the earth of the gross wickedness in Noah’s day. Water is used literally, metaphorically, and symbolically throughout the scriptures.

Fasting and Prayer, Part 6

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“And satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.” Growing up in the desert, I gained a strong appreciation for water. Whether it was conserving water at home or making sure we had enough for water while camping or backpacking, I learned how vital water, especially clean water, is for life. I am ever grateful to the Savior who demonstrated His power over water numerous times. He gave unto Moses power to purify water and to cause it to flow from a rock, quenching the thirst of the weary children of Israel. The Savior demonstrated the importance of baptism by water. He turned water to wine and calmed raging storms. He walked upon the water. The Savior shed tears for friends as well as in Gethsemane and upon the cross. I am grateful unto Him, who is the source of all pure water; He is the fountain of living water. He promises that we too, can be like a spring of water whose waters fail not. We, as we forsake water for a time during our fast, will become like watered gardens. These promises are more than just physical promises – they are spiritual. We will be well-watered, even though much of the rest of the world is in drought. We will have access to a well-spring that never fails, even the Lord Jesus Christ.

“And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in.” These last series of promises are all connected. The blessings of fasting and faithfulness extend beyond ourselves to bless the lives of our children. They in turn can bless our lives; they can build up the waste places. The hearts of the children will turn to the fathers. By our faithfulness, we are strengthening the foundation of many generations. We can be the one who forges a strong link between generations. We can repair the breach in the wall and rally others to our side with the words of Shakespeare: “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more” (Shakespeare, Henry V, Act 3, Scene 1, line 1).

Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley spoke of this responsibility, this need to be faithful and not be a weak link.

In that sacred and hallowed house [the temple] there passed through my mind a sense of the tremendous obligation that was mine to pass on all that I had received as an inheritance from my forebears to the generations who have now come after me.

I thought of an experience I had long, long ago. In the summer we lived on a farm. We had a little old tractor. There was a dead tree I wished to pull. I fastened one end of a chain to the tractor and the other end to the tree. As the tractor began to move, the tree shook a little, and then the chain broke.

I looked at that broken link and wondered how it could have given way. I went to the hardware store and bought a repair link. I put it together again, but it was an awkward and ugly connection. The chain was never, never the same.

As I sat in the celestial room of the temple pondering these things, I said to myself, “Never permit yourself to become a weak link in the chain of your generations.” It is so important that we pass on without a blemish our inheritance of body and brain and, if you please, faith and virtue untarnished to the generations who will come after us. (Keep the Chain Unbroken, Hinckley, 1999).

If we are faithful, our generations will praise us as ones who kept the faith, who restored the paths and rebuilt the breached wall.