Ancient Manners and Customs, Daily Life,
Cultures, Bible Lands
In the earliest times of the Bible
were used to store water. They were usually pear shaped, and 15 to
20 feet deep, and the actual opening was only a 2 to 3 feet. There
was usually a stone cover. Cisterns were either large or small,
large enough to store water for the community, or small and
privately owned. Cisterns were like wells of water, which could be
hoisted up with ropes and a bucket. The image above is from Umm al-biyara
(the mother of all cisterns) the ancient site of Edom which became
the Nabataean city of Petra.
Cisterns in Biblical Times
Ancient cistern used for storing rain
In ancient Israel the summer months
were extremely dry, and during this time people dug and carved out
for themselves cisterns out of the solid rock. These cisterns were
like man-made reservoirs that would contain large amounts of water
from the rain falls. Many times these cisterns would be covered in
some way to keep debris away, and also to prevent accidents from
happening. Since much of Jerusalem had a soft layer of limestone at
the surface, it was convenient for the Israelites living in
Jerusalem to carve many cisterns, especially since water was scarce
in Jerusalem. In fact Jerusalem had plenty of water even during
their long sieges because of the abundance of water. The hill
country had a much harder deposits of limestone which made their
water sources more reliable without waterproofing.
Ancient workers developed sticky
lime plaster which they would use to cover the surface of the bed
rock to keep the water from seeping out. But often times a cistern
would develop a crack and all the water would seep out.
Jeremiah proclaimed a scathing
indictment against Israel and their idolatrous ways, accusing them
of worshiping false gods which were compared to cisterns which could
hold no water. Only Their Lord was the true God and the "fountain of
- 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.
Purposes for Cisterns
During Bible times cisterns were
not only used to store water but were also used as underground
chambers, hiding places for fugitives, burial places, and even as
prison cells, as in the case of Jeremiah the prophet, who was held
as a prisoner in a muddy cistern which belonged to Malchaiah, the
son of King Zedekiah (Jeremiah 38:6), where he was eventually hauled
up with ropes:
6 - Then took they Jeremiah, and cast him into the dungeon of
Malchiah the son of Hammelech, that [was] in the court of the
prison: and they let down Jeremiah with cords. And in the dungeon
[there was] no water, but mire: so Jeremiah sunk in the mire.
7 - Now when Ebedmelech the Ethiopian, one of the eunuchs which was
in the king's house, heard that they had put Jeremiah in the
dungeon; the king then sitting in the gate of Benjamin;
8 - Ebedmelech went forth out of the king's house, and spake to the
9 - My lord the king, these men have done evil in all that they have
done to Jeremiah the prophet, whom they have cast into the dungeon;
and he is like to die for hunger in the place where he is: for
[there is] no more bread in the city.
10 - Then the king commanded Ebedmelech the Ethiopian, saying, Take
from hence thirty men with thee, and take up Jeremiah the prophet
out of the dungeon, before he die.
11 - So Ebedmelech took the men with him, and went into the house of
the king under the treasury, and took thence old cast clouts and old
rotten rags, and let them down by cords into the dungeon to
12 - And Ebedmelech the Ethiopian said unto Jeremiah, Put now
[these] old cast clouts and rotten rags under thine armholes under
the cords. And Jeremiah did so.
13 - So they drew up Jeremiah with cords, and took him up out of the
dungeon: and Jeremiah remained in the court of the prison.
Cisterns and Archaeology
Archaeologists have discovered many
ancient cisterns throughout Jerusalem and the entire land of Israel.
At the site believed by some to be that of ancient Ai of the Bible
(Khirbet et-Tell), there was discovered a large cistern dating back
to around 2500 BC which could hold nearly 60,000 cubic feet of
water. It was carved out of solid rock, lined with large stones and
sealed with clay to keep from leaking. Some sites contained over 50
cisterns (Tell en-Nasbeh).
Cisterns and Waterproofing
Waterproofing a cistern with lime
plaster became extremely popular during the period of the Kings in
the Old Testament. This helped immensely with farming, especially in
the hill country where there were not as many rivers and springs.
Yet even the plaster coated cisterns would eventually develop
Cisterns and Droughts
When the rains failed the Hebrews
could depend on their cisterns, yet even their cisterns could fail
them in a drought after summer. Jeremiah gave us a description of a
1 - The word of the LORD that came to Jeremiah concerning the
2 - Judah mourneth, and the gates thereof languish; they are black
unto the ground; and the cry of Jerusalem is gone up.
3 - And their nobles have sent their little ones to the waters: they
came to the pits, [and] found no water; they returned with their
vessels empty; they were ashamed and confounded, and covered their
4 - Because the ground is chapt, for there was no rain in the earth,
the plowmen were ashamed, they covered their heads.
5 - Yea, the hind also calved in the field, and forsook [it],
because there was no grass.
6 - And the wild asses did stand in the high places, they snuffed up
the wind like dragons; their eyes did fail, because [there was] no
7 - O LORD, though our iniquities testify against us, do thou [it]
for thy name's sake: for our backslidings are many; we have sinned
8 - O the hope of Israel, the saviour thereof in time of trouble,
why shouldest thou be as a stranger in the land, and as a wayfaring
man [that] turneth aside to tarry for a night?
The Bible Mentions Cisterns
Proverbs 5:15 - Drink waters out of thine own cistern,
and running waters out of thine own well.
Ecclesiastes 12:6 - Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or
the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain,
or the wheel broken at the cistern.
18:31 - Hearken not to Hezekiah: for thus saith the king of
Assyria, Make [an agreement] with me by a present, and come out to
me, and [then] eat ye every man of his own vine, and every one of
his fig tree, and drink ye every one the waters of his cistern:
36:16 - Hearken not to Hezekiah: for thus saith the king of
Assyria, Make [an agreement] with me [by] a present, and come out to
me: and eat ye every one of his vine, and every one of his fig tree,
and drink ye every one the waters of his own cistern;
Jeremiah 2:13 - 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
Some experts believe that Joseph,
who was cast into a pit by his brothers, was actually dropped into a
Genesis 37:22 - And Reuben said
unto them, Shed no blood, [but] cast him into this pit that [is] in
the wilderness, and lay no hand upon him; that he might rid him out
of their hands, to deliver him to his father again.
They served as a table to place the
sacrifice upon, and also to catch the blood of the sacrificial
victim. In ancient Israel there were altars made of stone, and later
a bronze altar was placed in the tabernacle of Moses. When Solomon
became king he built a temple to the Lord in Jerusalem, and he
created elaborate altars of bronze and gold. The animals were placed
on the bronze altar, as a whole or in parts, bread was also place
there, and meal, incense, and even wine was also offered. The Bible
describes the most sacred part of the altar, these were the four
horns on the corners which symbolized God's power and might which
pointed to the four corners of the earth (Exodus 27:2. God was clear
that his salvation is for everyone, providing that the approach his
way. The sacrifice was a substitutionary atonement, the innocent
victim would receive the full weight of God's judgment while the
guilty person making the sacrifice would receive forgiveness and
justification and atonement from God. The sacrifice literally became
sin, and therefore was called a sin offering. The altar was the
center of Israelite worship, and the unity of the altar was regarded
as an ideal (II Chronicles 32:12). When Christ rose again his
sacrifice was once and for all, and the altar and the ceremonial law
was done away with, because Christ had "been offered once" (Hebrews
9:28). The Bible also says in Hebrews 13:10 that "Christ is our
altar". For the church center of worship now becomes the gathering
of the saints, or believers, who have access to the Lord and can
approach him at any time, because of the shed blood of Christ.
Illustration of a Cistern
Illustration of a cistern
discovered under the Temple mount 43 feet deep with storage
capacity of 2 million gallons
Cistern in Smith's Bible Dictionary
A receptacle for water, either conducted from an external spring or
proceeding from rain-fall. The dryness of the summer months and the
scarcity of springs in Judea made cisterns a necessity, and they are
frequent throughout the whole of Syria and Palestine. On the
long-forgotten way from Jericho to Bethel, "broken cisterns" of high
antiquity are found at regular intervals. Jerusalem depends mainly
for water upon its cisterns, of which almost every private house
possesses one or more, excavated in the rock on which the city is
built. The cisterns have usually a round opening at the top,
sometimes built up with stonework above and furnished with a curb
and a wheel for a bucket. Ec 12:6 Empty cisterns were sometimes used
as prisons and places of confinement. Joseph was cast into a "pit,"
Ge 37:22 as was Jeremiah. Jer 38:6.
Cistern in the ISBE Bible
The efforts made to supplement
the natural water supply, both in agricultural and in populated
areas, before as well as after the Conquest, are clearly seen in the
innumerable cisterns, wells and pools which abound throughout
Palestine The rainy season, upon which the various storage systems
depend, commences at the end of October and ends in the beginning of
May. In Jerusalem, the mean rainfall in 41 years up to 1901 was
25,81 inches, falling in a mean number of 56 days. Toward the end of
summer, springs and wells, where they have not actually dried up,
diminish very considerably, and cisterns and open reservoirs become
at times the only sources of supply. Cisterns are fed from surface
and roof drainage. Except in the rare instances where springs occur,
wells depend upon percolation. The' great open reservoirs or pools
are fed from surface drainage and, in some cases, by aqueducts from
springs or from more distant collecting pools. In the case of
private cisterns, it is the custom of the country today to close up
the inlets during the early days of the rain, so as to permit of a
general wash down of gathering surfaces, before admitting the water.
Cisterns, belonging to the common natives, are rarely cleansed, and
the inevitable scum which collects is dispersed by plunging the
pitcher several times before drawing water. When the water is
considered to be bad, a somewhat primitive cure is applied by
dropping earth into the cistern, so as to sink all impurities with
it, to the bottom. The accumulation often found in ancient cisterns
probably owes some of its presence to this same habit.
Cistern in Easton's Bible
The rendering of a Hebrew word bor, which means a receptacle
for water conveyed to it; distinguished from beer, which
denotes a place where water rises on the spot (Jer. 2:13; Prov.
5:15; Isa. 36:16), a fountain. Cisterns are frequently mentioned in
Scripture. The scarcity of springs in Palestine made it necessary to
collect rain-water in reservoirs and cisterns (Num. 21:22). Empty
cisterns were sometimes used as prisons (Jer. 38:6; Lam. 3:53; Ps.
40:2; 69:15). The "pit" into which Joseph was cast (Gen. 37:24) was
a beer or dry well. There are numerous remains of ancient
cisterns in all parts of Palestine.
Cistern in Fausset's Bible
Bor, a dug pit for receiving
water conducted from a spring or the rainfall. (See CONDUIT.) The
dryness between May and September in Palestine makes reservoirs
necessary; of which the larger are called "pools," the smaller
"cisterns." The rocky soil facilitates their construction. The top,
with stonework and a round opening, has often a wheel for the
bucket; an image of the aorta or great artery circulating the blood
from the ventricle of the heart, or the wheel expresses life in its
rapid motion (James 3:6; Ecclesiastes 12:6). The rain is conducted
to them from the roofs of the houses, most of which are furnished
with them; from whence is derived the metaphor, Proverbs 5:15,
"drink waters out of thine own cistern," i.e. draw thy enjoyments
only from the sources that are legitimately thine. Hezekiah stopped
the water supply outside Jerusalem at the invasion of Sennacherib,
while within there was abundant water (2 Chronicles 32:3-4). So it
has been in all the great sieges of Jerusalem, scarcity of water
outside, abundance within. Empty cisterns were used as prisons. So
Joseph was cast into a "pit" (Genesis 37:22); Jeremiah into one miry
at the bottom, and so deep that he was let down by cords (Jeremiah
38:6), said to be near "Herod's gate." Cisterns yield only a limited
supply of water, not an everflowing spring; representing creature
comforts soon exhausted, and therefore never worth forsaking the
never failing, ever fresh supplies of God. for (Jeremiah 2:13). The
stonework of tanks often becomes broken, and the water leaks into
the earth; and, at best, the water is not fresh long. Compare Isaiah
55:1-2; Luke 12:33.
Cistern in Naves Topical Bible
-Built by Noah
-General scriptures concerning
2Ki 18:31; Pr 5:15; Ec 12:6
The Bible Mentions the Pool
3:15 - But the gate of the fountain repaired Shallun the son
of Colhozeh, the ruler of part of Mizpah; he built it, and covered
it, and set up the doors thereof, the locks thereof, and the bars
thereof, and the wall of the pool of Siloah by the
king's garden, and unto the stairs that go down from the city of
18:17 - And the king of Assyria sent Tartan and Rabsaris and
Rabshakeh from Lachish to king Hezekiah with a great host against
Jerusalem. And they went up and came to Jerusalem. And when they
were come up, they came and stood by the conduit of the upper
pool, which [is] in the highway of the fuller's field.
- And the king of Assyria sent Rabshakeh from Lachish to Jerusalem
unto king Hezekiah with a great army. And he stood by the conduit of
the upper pool in the highway of the fuller's field.
4:12 - And David commanded his young men, and they slew
them, and cut off their hands and their feet, and hanged [them] up
over the pool in Hebron. But they took the head of
Ishbosheth, and buried [it] in the sepulchre of Abner in Hebron.
41:18 - I will open rivers in high places, and fountains in
the midst of the valleys: I will make the wilderness a pool
of water, and the dry land springs of water.
22:38 - And [one] washed the chariot in the pool
of Samaria; and the dogs licked up his blood; and they washed his
armour; according unto the word of the LORD which he spake.
- For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool,
and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of
the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.
- But Nineveh [is] of old like a pool of water: yet
they shall flee away. Stand, stand, [shall they cry]; but none shall
20:20 - And the rest of the acts of Hezekiah, and all his
might, and how he made a pool, and a conduit, and
brought water into the city, [are] they not written in the book of
the chronicles of the kings of Judah?
3:16 - After him repaired Nehemiah the son of Azbuk, the
ruler of the half part of Bethzur, unto [the place] over against the
sepulchres of David, and to the pool that was made,
and unto the house of the mighty.
- He answered and said, A man that is called Jesus made clay, and
anointed mine eyes, and said unto me, Go to the pool
of Siloam, and wash: and I went and washed, and I received sight.
- Then said the LORD unto Isaiah, Go forth now to meet Ahaz, thou,
and Shearjashub thy son, at the end of the conduit of the upper
pool in the highway of the fuller's field;
- And the parched ground shall become a pool, and the
thirsty land springs of water: in the habitation of dragons, where
each lay, [shall be] grass with reeds and rushes.
22:11 - Ye made also a ditch between the two walls for the
water of the old pool: but ye have not looked unto the
maker thereof, neither had respect unto him that fashioned it long
- Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep [market] a pool,
which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches.
2:14 - Then I went on to the gate of the fountain, and to
the king's pool: but [there was] no place for the
beast [that was] under me to pass.
- Ye have seen also the breaches of the city of David, that they are
many: and ye gathered together the waters of the lower pool.
- The impotent man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water
is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am
coming, another steppeth down before me.
- And said unto him, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam,
(which is by interpretation, Sent.) He went his way therefore, and
washed, and came seeing.
2:13 - And Joab the son of Zeruiah, and the servants of
David, went out, and met together by the pool of
Gibeon: and they sat down, the one on the one side of the pool,
and the other on the other side of the pool.
Bible Study and Faith
"The Bible is the most priceless possession of the human race." -
Henry H. Halley
"This handbook is dedicated to the proposition that every
Christian should be a constant and devoted reader of the Bible, and
that the primary business of the church and ministry is to lead,
foster, and encourage their people in the habit."
"The vigor of our spiritual life will
be in exact proportion to the place held by the Bible in our life
"Great has been the blessing from
consecutive, diligent, daily study. I look upon it as a lost day
when I have not had a good time over the word of God." - George
"I prayed for faith, and thought that
some day faith would come down and strike me like lightning. But
faith did not seem to come. One day I read in the 10th chapter of
Romans, 'Now faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of
God.' I had closed my Bible, and prayed for faith. I now opened my
Bible, and began to study, and faith has been growing ever since." -
D. L. Moody
-H. H. Halley "Halley's Bible
Handbook" (Grand Rapids: Zondervan,
1960) p. 4, 6
Archaeological Study of the Bible
"A substantial proof for the accuracy of the Old Testament text has
come from archaeology. Numerous discoveries have confirmed the
historical accuracy of the biblical documents, even down to the
obsolete names of foreign kings... Rather than a manifestation of
complete ignorance of the facts of its day, the biblical record thus
reflects a great knowledge by the writer of his day, as well as
precision in textual transmission."
-Norman L. Geisler, William Nix "A General Introduction to the
Bible" 5th Edition (Chicago: Moody Press 1983) p. 253