Why does a cup enter so many expressions in the Bible? The cup of suffering, wrath, blessing, and salvation are all examples of what we overlook to focus on what each cup is about. Today we’ll travel back in time for more appreciation.
THE CUP’S CONTEXT
Are you used to really roughing it while camping? Have you ever lived without running water in your home? Imagine all your life, water only runs in brooks, streams, and rivers for everyone. All digging of wells or cisterns is done by hand. Water becomes much more scarce as summer wears on. All cleansing rituals required water, and becoming unclean was far too often and easy. Often water was carried a great distance (usually uphill) for all drinking, cooking, and most cleaning. More was needed for the invalids, sickly, and small ones. Then as the water dried up toward the end of summer, grapes or milking the goats was the only way to quench thirst.
HOSPITALITY, CULTURAL EXPECTATIONS
To this day visitors to the Middle East are often taken aback by how quickly a cup is pressed into their hands by people whom they have just met; it is simply the way most social or business transactions begin. This modern tradition has roots that stretch deeply into Bible times where the offered cup was a sign of hospitality and illustrated the host’s willing acceptance of the visitor (Matthew 10:42; Mark 9:41). To share a cup…signaled the presence of a relationship no matter if…a person or an animal (2 Samuel 12:3).Zondervan Dictionary of Biblical Imagery
A modern analogy is also helpful. Today “power” has roots in almost every aspect of our culture. If we’re “out of power” the electricity is off, like with our recent hurricane (don’t open the fridge!). And all around us, money, authority, politics, knowledge, prestige, influence, technology, machinery, all give or remove power. In all this, God’s power can seem unreal if we let our focus get off him and his word. But the cup had a similar, all-encompassing root of value for them in Bible times.
AS A RELATIONAL SIGNAL
The offering of a cup as a relational signal among mortals was also extended in the direction of the divine. The psalmist longs to show his thanks to the Lord and express his close relationship to him by pressing a cup into his hand. He sings of this desire: “I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord” (Psalm 116:13). But this godly passion to connect with the Lord via the cup also expressed itself in ungodly ways when God’s people filled up bowls and offered them to false gods (Isaiah 65:11) or when they used cups to pour out libations to the demons (1 Corinthians 10:21).Zondervan Dictionary of Biblical Imagery
AS A CUP OF DIVINATION
Another special use of the cup was in the practice of divination, using dark arts to discover hidden knowledge or to discern which path might lead to future success. We are surprised to learn that Joseph had such a cup (Genesis 44:5) and that he…gave the appearance of using this cup for divination (v. 15). It is the role of Joseph’s silver cup as a tool in revealing the true concern of Joseph’s brothers for Benjamin, however…. The apparent theft of Joseph’s special cup was such a serious offense that it gave the brothers of Benjamin every reason to turn on their youngest brother and abandon him as they had abandoned Joseph years before. But the cup that purportedly provided access to deep secrets offered public knowledge that these men had changed.Zondervan Dictionary of Biblical Imagery
AS RHETORICAL LANGUAGE
Rhetorically the cup appears in the Bible to deliver either a very positive or a very negative message. The cup can signal divine favor, blessing, and forgiveness. That is particularly the case where the Lord is pictured as the host extending the cup of hospitality (Psalm 16:5), a cup that is not only filled but overflowing with blessing (23:5). The cup was also present at the Passover. In fact, if the later Jewish traditions represent the New Testament reality, four different cups of wine were passed, a unique message associated with each.Zondervan Dictionary of Biblical Imagery
RITUAL AND GOD’S PRESENCE
God’s holiness is demonstrated by God’s cup of wrath (Isaiah 51:17; Jeremiah 25:15-16; Ezekiel 23:31-34; Revelation 14:10). Jesus used the Passover cup to remind us of his sacrifice on our behalf (Luke 22:20; I Corinthians 10:16).
…today, ritual can be so empty when the presence of God is not with his people…ritual is important…Leviticus is not shy in promoting its cause. However…ceremonies…clothe the covenant of grace. At the heart…is…the Immanuel principle… “God with us” ….This means…how holy a thing God’s worship is.Leviticus, An EP Study Commentary
Praise God when he gives us a clear conscience and gratitude over our relational communion cups!
The above picture and some text is scanned from the Zondervan Dictionary of Biblical Imagery