The first and greatest evil in this verse, and really in general, is turning away from God’s life giving Spirit. Being turned from God is death, not because God is punishing us, but that God is life. His Spirit has always been, and will always be, the substance of life. When we are turned away from God, we try to fill this void all manors of activities and relationships, but they always fall short, leaving us unsatisfied, empty, lonely, and without life. When we are turned from God, what we are really doing is failing to trust in God to provide our needs. When we fail to trust God, we do not allow God to be Yah·weh yir·’eh, ‘the Lord will supply’, in our lives.
In I Kings 9:6-7, God gave Israel a warning to keep their duties, as defined in the covenant. As vassels, Israel held land at the good pleasure of the suzerain or lord, God. The suzerain, God, provides land and protection while the vassel is in accord with the terms of the covenant. The terms of the covenant relate directly to the two evils above.
6 “But if you or your sons indeed turn away from following Me, and do not keep My commandments and My statutes which I have set before you, and go and serve other gods and worship them, 7 then I will cut off Israel from the land which I have given them,
Turning from God can be turning toward idols or just a dependence on oneself. On the other hand, turning toward God is simply trusting in Him for provision, acknowledging that all we have is by His grace, glorifying, and worshiping Him. Any turning toward God is turning toward life. God tells us that His desire is that we have life in Him: “For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,” declares the Lord GOD. “Therefore, repent and live.” Ezekiel 18:32
Repent here is to turn to God. Israel turned her back on God and it lead to the exile.
Then He said to me, “Son of man, raise your eyes now toward the north….” So I raised my eyes toward the north, and behold, to the north of the altar gate was this idol of jealousy at the entrance…. And He said to me, “Son of man …. do you see …. the great abominations which the house of Israel are committing here … yet you will see still greater abominations.” Then He brought me to the entrance of the court …. So I entered and looked, and behold, every form of creeping things and beasts and detestable things, with all the idols of the house of Israel, were carved on the wall all around .… seventy elder …. each man with his censer in his hand …. each man in the room of his carved images? … And He said to me, “Yet you will see still greater abominations…. and behold, women were sitting there weeping for Tammuz. He said to me….Yet you will see still greater abominations than these.” …. at the entrance to the temple of the LORD …. twenty-five men with their backs to the temple of the LORD and their faces toward the east; and they were prostrating themselves eastward toward the sun. Ezekiel 8:5-15
We are born doing what as is right in our own eyes. At the same time we have a desire for God. He has put the desire for eternity in our heart. Trusting in ourselves is not the way to life. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” In the course of His ministry on earth, there was a time when Jesus said, 47 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life.” Many who were following Christ turned and walked away at this point. The thought of eating His body was hard to understand and accept. The twelve disciples had to decide whether they would turn away or follow. When Jesus asked them if they wanted to go away as well, “68 Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. 69 “We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.”
When Israel turned from God, they lost life with God. Their regular relationship with God ceased to be. His protection ended and they were carried into exile. Though God brought the exiled nation back from exile, there is still a condition of death. In Ezekiel, God promised that He is yet to bring the house of Israel back to life.
“…the Spirit of the LORD … set me down in the middle of the valley; and it was full of bones …. they were very dry. He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” … So I prophesied as I was commanded …. and the breath came into them, and they came to life and stood on their feet ….“Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel…. “Behold, I will open your graves …. My people….“I will put My Spirit within you and you will come to life, Then you will know that I, the LORD, have spoken and done it,” declares the LORD.’” Ezekiel 37:1-14
“Broken cisterns” relate to that which is formed by our hands, hands of the creature and not the Creator. What we make is flawed. The life we imagine apart from God does not fulfill. In talking with the woman at the well, Jesus uses the allusion of water as life. “If you knew the gift of God and who is asking you for a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”
God is Life. Again, the first evil is to turn away from God. This creates a vacuum in the place that God created to live in us. This is as idolatry. Trusting or hoping in that which is not God, is like investing in a broken cistern, a vessel that leaves you empty.
Emptiness and loneliness are universal to all people. Still, I find it amazing how often we know this emptiness, but as bad as it can be, we are not moved to turn away from our broken cisterns. We each need to turn toward God for life.
37 Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” 38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.