This week I finished a study of the book of Jeremiah. In one of the final chapters, Jeremiah describes the judgment of Babylon. Part of the study also looked at the fate of Babylon in the book of Revelation.
As I read, I was struck the repeated use of the word cup in describing God’s wrath. As I considered the power and extent of God’s wrath, I found it strangely comforting that He measures it with a cup. There is a precision in this image…a focused exactness…like a tested recipe that requires an exact amount for a perfect result, no more, no less. God’s anger isn’t like ours that spills over on anyone around. It is measured for a precise result.
Drawn by this image of the cup, I did a word study of its use in the Bible. Interestingly enough, the first time the word cup is used is in reference to a ruler: Pharaoh. In Genesis 40, Pharaoh’s butler tells Joseph his dream where he places the cup in Pharaoh’s hand. A few chapters later (Gen. 44) in the same story, Joseph has his silver cup placed in the mouth of Benjamin’s sack, in order to test how loyal his brothers will be.
The book of Psalms has six references to cup that show clearly the two ways the cup is used in the Bible: either for life or for death
For in the hand of the LORD there is a cup, and the wine is red; It is fully mixed, and He pours it out; Surely its dregs shall all the wicked of the earth drain and drink down. Psalm 75:8
I will take up the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the LORD. Psalm 116:13
Isaiah 51:17 uses the same image of the cup of trembling; this time, Jerusalem drinks it to the dregs, but in a more hopeful follow on, in Isa 51:22, the Lord takes the cup out of Israel’s hands and pleads her case (He is our advocate!). In Jeremiah 25:15-28, Jeremiah 49:12, and Lamentation 4:21 the nations drink the cup of wrath. Jeremiah also makes reference to Babylon as being “a cup in the Lord’s hand,” making the nations mad (Jeremiah 51:7).
The image of the cup of wrath is used by other prophets: Ezekiel 23:32-33, Habakkuk 2:17, Zechariah 12:2. In the New Testament, Jesus mentions the cup in Matt 20:22, and in Matt 26:39 he agonizes over it in the garden of Gethsemane, knowing that He will drink fully the wrath meant for us.
The other cup—the one that gives life—is held in Luke 22:17-20. Here Jesus raises the cup of Passover wine and declares it to be the new covenant in His blood. For those who do not receive the cup from Jesus, there remains the final cup in the book of Revelation reserved for those who receive the mark of the Beast and for Babylon: Rev 14:10, Rev 16:19, Rev 18:6
How wonderful to know that the cup of salvation is offered freely to all and how desperately we need to drink of it each day.