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A cistern is generally defined as an underground storage tank, or reservoir, for holding water. Known since ancient times, they are still very widely used today in areas where a consistent natural water supply is lacking, thereby requiring that rainfall, or spring water, be stored for use during times when rainfall or flow of spring water is unavailable. The climate and typography of the land of Israel required that cisterns be used, and as such they were well-known throughout Bible History.


Water From A Cistern When the Israelites entered their Promised Land, along with many other things (see also "Land On Which You Had Not Labored"), cisterns were already available for their use:

"And when The Lord [see also Rock Of Ages] your God brings you into the land which He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you, with great and goodly cities, which you did not build, and houses full of all good things, which you did not fill, and cisterns hewn out, which you did not hew, and vineyards and olive trees, which you did not plant" (Deuteronomy 6:10-11 RSV)

The Israelites did however thereafter construct many cisterns of their own:

"Moreover Uzziah [see also Kings of Israel and Judah] built towers in Jerusalem at the Corner Gate and at the Valley Gate [see The Gates Of Old Jerusalem] and at the Angle, and fortified them. And he built towers in the wilderness, and hewed out many cisterns, for he had large herds, both in the Shephelah and in the plain, and he had farmers and vinedressers in the hills and in the fertile lands, for he loved the soil." (2 Chronicles 26:9-10 RSV)

The invading Assyrians promised the people of Judah many things, including cisterns, if they surrendered without a fight - promises that surely would not have been kept even if The Lord didn't thereafter annihilate the entire Assyrian army in response to the blasphemous arrogance of their leader (see The Day Sennacherib Challenged God):

"Do not listen to Hezekiah; for thus says the king of Assyria: 'Make your peace with me and come out to me; then every one of you will eat of his own vine, and every one of his own fig tree, and every one of you will drink the water of his own cistern; until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of grain and wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of olive trees and honey, that you may live, and not die. And do not listen to Hezekiah when he misleads you by saying, The Lord will deliver us. Has any of the gods of the nations ever delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria?" (2 Kings 18:31-33 RSV)

A cistern was used in a proverb that advised against the foolishness of adultery:

"Drink water from your own cistern, flowing water from your own well. Should your springs be scattered abroad, streams of water in the streets? Let them be for yourself alone, and not for strangers with you. Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth" (Proverbs 5:15-18 RSV)

While the Proverb quoted above spoke primarily of physical adultery, a "broken cistern" was also used as an analogy for spiritual adultery (see also The Seventh Commandment for how it applies to both):

"Be appalled, O heavens, at this, be shocked, be utterly desolate, says 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." (Jeremiah 2:12-13 RSV)

Fact Finder: Were empty, or nearly-empty, cisterns also sometimes used as prisons?
Jeremiah 38:6

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