Isn’t a Cup Simply a Cup?
A pastor friend of mine in Pakistan was reading Psalm 16 and when he read verse 5 he had a question.
“The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot.” (Psalm 16:5)
He wanted to know what the cup symbolized in this text. And I told him that was a very good question. Because the cup is a common reference in scripture. We see it used repeatedly throughout the Bible in both the Old and New Testament.
But what does it mean? What is it referring to?
Depends on the Context
Well, in scriptures often a cup is just a cup. It is simply a vessel to drink water or wine out of. But the word cup is often used symbolically and it has many different meanings in different contexts.
- At times it symbolizes God’s provision or what God provides (Psalm 16:5)
- Other occasions it symbolizes God’s wrath (Isaiah 51:17, Revelation 14:10, Matthew 26:39)
- Sometimes is symbolizes God’s blessing (Psalm 23:5)
- And sometimes it symbolizes the Lord’s table or Lord’s supper (John 6:53, Matthew 26:27-28)
The truth is the metaphor of the cup is a very useful idea in scripture to communicate a number of ideas. And so, in order to understand what the cup means in a particular scripture you need to understand the context.
But, there is a central theme behind most of these references.
The cup ultimately represents a person’s lot in life. Their purpose, God’s plan for them.
The Pulpit commentary says, “A man’s “cup” is, in Scripture, his lot or condition in life (Psalm 11:6; Psalm 23:5) – that which is given him to drink.”  It is the life that God has given to a person to live.
- “Let him rain coals on the wicked; fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup.” (Psalm 11:6) God has a plan for the wicked. It is judgment and justice.
- “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” (Psalm 23:5) God also has a plan for those who belong to Him. It is provision and blessing.
But more than that the idea of the cup is the idea that all we have is from the hand of God. God is our provider. The Lord is our sustainer. He is all we need. God gives us all things.
- The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. (Psalm 16:5)
The chosen portion here is a symbolic reference to food, and the cup is a symbolic reference to drink. And what David is saying that God gives him all he has. And God Himself is all that he needs. God is his food, God is his cup. If David has God he has all that he needs to be satisfied.
This text is also a symbolic fore shadowing reference to Christ. For he is our portion and cup. Remember Jesus said we must eat of his flesh and drink of his blood. (John 6:53) This is a allusion of the Lord’s supper and points toward our ultimate need for Jesus. Jesus, God in the flesh, is all that we need!
Receive What is Given
But the other things we need to understand is it David’s duty to “eat” and “drink” what God has given. He must receive the portion and receive the cup. This means that David is to gratefully receive whatever it is that God brings into his life. Be it times of peace, or times of strife. Times of plenty, and times of want. Times of joy and times of sorrow. Whatever life God gives to David he is to receive it with joy because what ultimately David needs is God himself.
God is sovereign and in control, and all that we have is by His hand. And we are to willingly receive what ever it is that God offers us. Even if that means suffering. Remember Jesus in the garden.
- And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39)
The Wrath of God
The cup here is the cup of God’s wrath that he has stored up against us. And it was Christ’s purpose, His lot in life, before the foundation of the world to take the cup and drink it on our behalf.
Jesus in the garden asks the father to let the cup pass. Why? Because he was about to endure the awful and terrible wrath of God the father. All of God’s hate toward sin was going to be poured on Jesus.
Remember the Bible says that Jesus was so troubled that he sweat drops of blood. (Luke 22:44) Why? It was not because he was terrified of a Roman Cross. No! Jesus was not afraid of physical pain and torture. Instead he was in anguish because He knew that He would have to endure God pouring out His judgment for sin upon Him! Jesus would have to willingly take the cup of God’s wrath and drink it down!
That is why he asks to let it pass. But notice what Jesus says, “Not I as I will, but as you will.”
Jesus knew that this cup was His purpose and His lot in life, and it was His duty to obey and to take the cup and drink it down. And He did! He took God’s wrath for us. And satisfied God’s justice so what we can be washed clean. Jesus willingly received and lived out what God the father had for Him.
And David is saying Lord you are my cup. You are all I need. And I will live for you, no matter what comes my way. Be it sunshine or rain. In good times or bad. Whether I experience joy or sorrow. You or Lord are my portion, you are my cup. You are all I will ever need.