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Accept no substitute

Have you have ever bought ”generic” products? Many of us do.

We’ll go to the pharmacy and we’ll ask for the ”generic” version of the medicine the doctor has prescribed. Or, we’ll go the grocery store and purchase the store version of whatever product Kellogg’s or Land ‘o Lakes may have on the shelves.

And we don’t feel bad because there are times when accepting ”substitutes” SEEMS to make sense. Sometimes there’s almost no difference between the name brand and a substitute.

But, of course, that’s not always true

Centuries ago, when food production moved from the home to the factory, the pressures of large-scale manufacturing and marketing prompted merchants to resort to shortcuts.

Dairymen sold cream thickened with flour, watered down milk and often added chalk or plaster of paris to perk up the color of milk that came from diseased cows.

To stretch sugar, grocers routinely added sand.

Buying butter could be an exercise in futility. Merchants would sometimes put together a collection of calcium, gypsum, gelatin fat and mashed potatoes that they passed off as butter

But oleomargarine – which was known as ”bogus butter” – could be even worse. It was distilled from hog fat, bleach and other unsavory substances.

One of the most blatant cases of food adulteration occurred as recently as 1969, when a man in England was charged with selling phony grated Parmesan cheese. What he was really selling was ground up umbrella handles.

Like I said, sometimes substitutes can be as good as the original – but sometimes not.

The Israelites had gotten into the habit of accepting substitutes for God.

”Has a nation ever changed its gods? (Yet they are not gods at all.) But my people have exchanged their Glory for worthless idols.” (Jeremiah 2:11)

Israel had accepted substitutes for their God.

The verse that really caught my attention was Jeremiah 2:13.

”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.”

When I was a boy, my family would go on camping trips we called night fishin’. Where we would go there was an artesian well. Does know what know what an artesian well is? It’s a source of water that literally shoots up out of the ground without any need for pumps or any artificial assistance. It’s literally ”living water.”

I remember that the water from this well came out of a pipe in the ground and filled a metal horse tank. From there, it spilled out through a hole into a little stream that fed back into the creek where we fished.

On hot summer days, you could cup your hands under the stream and splash the water over your head. Or you could put whole head underneath and feel the freshness of it cool your body.

I’ve never tasted any water since that tasted as good the water from that pipe.

Speaking of the well many people who had artesian wells had cisterns. Do you know what a cistern is?

It’s hole in the ground, an underground tank that is designed to hold water. Many times eave spouts from the house emptied into the tank, and you could access the cistern from a trap door just beside the cistern.

I once asked my mom what the cistern was for and she told me the girls sometimes used it to wash their hair.

Unlike the water from the well, this was soft water.

Most of the time people didn’t drink the water from the cistern. The water would have been stagnant and not exactly appealing on a hot summer day, but it was useful.

Likewise, cisterns were a useful in many parts of the Middle East. Springs weren’t always abundant, and so the people would dig wells and cisterns to catch rainwater and hold whatever water they might be able to carry from other sources to be their source of drinking water for the family and their herds and flocks.

But when push came to shove, any man in his right mind wanted ”living water” not cistern water.

Oddly enough, here in Jeremiah 2, we find that God is accusing Israel of preferring the stagnant waters of a cistern to the cool refreshing living water that God wanted to supply them.

Why would they do that? Why would they prefer stagnant water to fresh?

Well, I believe the key can be found right here in verse 13 – ”they have dug their own cisterns.”

These were THEIR cisterns.

They owned them it was THEIR water.

They didn’t have to ask anyone, let alone God, for permission to use this water.

But to get God’s water there was a price.

”Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.” (Isaiah 55:1-2)

Well now, wait a minute. If this water doesn’t cost any money how would you go about buying it? Well, you had to COME to the waters and you have to LISTEN to God.

Jesus said pretty much the same thing John 7:37-38 where we’re told that Jesus stood up during the feast and in a loud voice He said, ”If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.”

That is the catch in order to get God’s kind of water.

You have to come to God, and you have to listen to what Jesus has to say, and you have to accept His standards and live according to His desires.

Israel had gotten to the point where they didn’t want God or anyone else to tell them what they should aspire to or what they should be.

They wanted to dig their own wells and drink their own water.

It’s not that they didn’t WANT God. They just didn’t want THIS GOD.

They didn’t want His rules, His regulations or His expectations in their lives.

The problem was not that Israel had stopped being religious. They had simply gotten into the habit of creating God in their own image.

They wanted gods.

They just wanted gods that would allow them to dig their own wells. They wanted gods that would mold into their lifestyle.

At times, accepting substitutes for God isn’t a matter of openly rejecting God.

Sometimes it’s simply a matter of compromising our faith so that the God we claim we love doesn’t actually resemble the God who died for us.

We must be careful not compromise our faith.

We must be careful to avoid accepting substitutes for our God.