Psalm 23 Series, Part 10

“My Cup Runneth Over”
Psalm 23:5

MUCH is said in the Scriptures about the ‘cup’, and while it is used to symbolize various truths pertaining to the Christian life, there is a close relationship between these truths. To understand them clearly is to have our appreciation of divine love and our relationship to the divine plan enhanced.

When Jesus instituted the Memorial of his death he gave the cup to his disciples and invited them to drink of it, explaining that it represented his blood. Previous to this he had said to two of his disciples, “Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of?” (Matt. 20:22) It was evidently this latter cup which Jesus referred to when, in the Garden of Gethsemane, he prayed, “If it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” (Matt. 26:39) And in Psalm 116:13 we read of the “cup of salvation.” Centuries later, the Apostle Paul contrasted the “cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils.”—I Cor. 10:21

It would be confusing should we attempt to take the same meaning from all these various symbolic uses of the term ‘cup’, although they are related. The Memorial cup of which Jesus invited his disciples to drink is explained by him to represent his blood, his life—a life poured out for the sins of the church and the entire world. We, as the followers of Jesus, are invited to drink of this cup because it represents the fact that through him, through the merit of his shed blood, we have life.

We partake of his cup also in the sense that we lay down our justified lives with him. We are planted together in the likeness of his death. We understand this because, under the Jewish Law, to drink blood was punishable with death; hence when Jesus asked his disciples to drink of the cup which represented his blood, it was the equivalent of asking them to die with him.

This particular symbolism of the cup applies alike to the entire church of Christ. First of all Jesus laid down his life, and all who are to live with him and share in his kingdom reign are to lay down their lives—“planted together in the likeness of his death.” (Rom. 6:5) It is an individual matter in the sense that each one who qualifies for a permanent position in the body of Christ must prove faithful, but the symbolism of the cup applies to all alike because they are members of the body of Christ. In this respect there are not many cups, but only one, and the entire Christ participates in that one cup.

The cup of salvation is closely related to the cup which symbolizes the blood of Christ. It might almost be considered an extension of that symbol, because it is by participating in the death of Jesus that the body members of the Christ attain to the great salvation which began to be spoken by Jesus, and which has been confirmed to the entire church by those who heard him.—Heb. 2:3

It is this association of thoughts that is given by Jesus when he said to his disciples, “Whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life … shall save it.” (Luke 9:24; Matt. 16:25) These words were addressed to the disciples at the time when Peter advised Jesus against going to Jerusalem where his life would be in danger. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to die as the Redeemer of the world, and that only by obedience to his covenant of sacrifice could he expect to obtain glory, honor, and immortal life.

The same is true of all followers of the Master. David wrote, “What shall I render unto the Lord, for all his benefits toward me?” Answering his own question, David continues, “I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord. I will pay my vows unto the Lord now in the presence of all his people. Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” (Ps. 116:12-15) Like Jesus, his true followers have entered into a covenant with the Heavenly Father which is based upon sacrifice—the sacrifice of their all, even unto death. (Ps. 50:5) Having entered this narrow way of sacrifice which leads to life through sacrificial death, they realize that now their only hope of life is in faithfulness to their vows of consecration.

So they accept this arrangement, this provision of the great salvation, with joy. They know that to actually attain salvation in this way will first mean faithfulness unto death. So they call upon the name of the Lord for grace to help in time of need, that they may have the strength to be faithful. They know that the death of the saints is precious to God, and that it is in his strength that they will be faithful unto death, that thus they may attain salvation in the glory of the kingdom.

Here again, then, we find the cup—this cup of salvation—symbolic of that which is common to the entire Christ. There is no variation from this arrangement whereby Jesus and the church attain to immortality and the glory of the kingdom. There is no other way to attain unto the divine nature, no other way to attain to the heights of “Mount Zion.” (Rev. 14:1) Jesus, as the Lamb of God reached his position of exaltation by way of sacrificial death, and those who will share this reward with him will only be those who “follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth.” (Rev. 14:4) There is no other provision of immortality, no other arrangement by which this great salvation may be attained. Therefore, we gladly take this cup of salvation.

It seems to be this cup to which Jesus referred when he asked his disciples, “Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” The fact that Jesus asked this question indicates that it does represent an experience common to all the body members of the Christ—sacrificial death leading to life beyond the veil is common to them all. It is a cup of death and also a cup of salvation for those who share with Jesus in this phase of the divine plan, by laying down their lives, and by so doing, saving them.

When Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane, just a few hours before he was crucified, he prayed to his Father, “If it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” Then he added, “nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” (Matt. 26:39) Here the Master is using the symbol of the cup to represent certain experiences which he realized were impending, and which, in some respects, were peculiar to him alone. The very fact that he considered the possibility of this particular cup as being unnecessary, indicates that it was not the cup in which all members of the Christ alike participate; nor was it the cup which represented the shedding of his blood.

Jesus knew that it was the Father’s will for him to die as the Redeemer of the world. He knew that it was only through death that he could attain to immortality, the divine nature. There was no question in his mind about this, and he was determined to carry out this covenant of sacrifice—to drink this cup of death, knowing that by drinking it the cup would become a cup of salvation. He knew that there was no possibility that this cup was not the Father’s will for him. The Old Testament types had foreshadowed it. The Prophets had revealed that this certainly would be the Father’s will for him.

But now he realized that other experiences were in store for him as well. In addition to dying, he could now see that shame, ignominy and suffering were to be his portion. He could now see that he must die as a malefactor although he had done nothing wrong. He must be an outcast, charged with blasphemy against his God, and of making false pretenses of being a king.

It is not necessary to conclude that Jesus understood every detail of the Father’s will from the beginning of his ministry. When asked concerning the time of his second advent he freely admitted that he did not then know, that this was knowledge which as yet was being withheld from him by the Heavenly Father. (Matt. 24:36) As a test of his faith and obedience it seems reasonable to conclude that certain details of the divine will concerning the exact circumstances under which he was to die were kept from him until the due time came, and when, in Gethsemane, the knowledge of these details crowded in upon his already weary mind, he wondered.

It was then that he prayed, “If it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” Here was suffering additional to what the Master had recognized as God’s will for him. There was no hesitancy in accepting this cup if it was the divine will—“The cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it.” (John 18:11) Jesus wanted to be certain that this indeed was a cup which the Father had poured. When, in answer to his prayer, he was assured that it was, there was no wavering—not the slightest hesitancy nor any semblance of holding back from doing all that had been written of him in the volume of the Book.

Here, then, is a clear indication that at times the cup is used in the Scriptures to represent individual experiences of the consecrated which might not be common to all. These provisions of divine grace, whether of joys or trials, are best suited to the individual needs of those for whom they are provided. It is in this sense, apparently, that David used the symbolism of the cup when he wrote, “My cup runneth over.”

Earlier in this beautiful Shepherd Psalm, David reminds us of the Chief Shepherd’s provisions which are supplied alike for all of his sheep. All of them are made to lie down in green pastures; all of them are led beside the still waters, and all are protected as they walk through the valley of the shadow of death. In these references we are reminded of the abundance of God’s care for all his people through the truth, and the assurances of the exceeding great and precious promises of his Word.

But the provisions of the cup may vary according to individual needs. This thought is born out in the psalm, particularly if we follow the shepherd and sheep symbolism throughout. Those who are acquainted with the customs of Eastern shepherds tell us that they used a cup in connection with their care of individual sheep. This would be at the close of the day when the shepherd inspected them individually for bruises, fatigue, etc. When he found a sheep that had become overwearied and needed particular attention, he would give it a refreshing drink from a cup especially used for this very purpose.

What a precious thought is here illustrated! We know that it is only as we are “in Christ” that we have any right to expect divine favors. We share the general and abundant provisions the Lord has made for all his sheep, and we rejoice in them. It would seem that there is nothing more that the Heavenly Father could do or say in order to assure us of his love. We realize that as we continue to follow the Good Shepherd, there will never be any lack of green pastures nor of still, refreshing waters.

But in the cup symbolism there is a touch of intimacy, of personal and individual care, suggesting a tenderness and warmth of love which is almost beyond our ability to grasp. It is additional assurance that he knows all our individual needs and provides for them also—not meagerly, not stintingly, but abundantly—“My cup runneth over!”

This overflowing cup may be one of either joy or sorrow; and it generally is an intermingling of both. He knows the way that we take, and he knows the needs of that way. Through it all we have the assurance that “no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly”—those who are doing their best to follow his leadings.—Ps.84:11

From the human standpoint, the most valuable experiences of life, and therefore the ones most sought after, are the joyful ones. The pursuit of happiness is usually the all-engrossing effort of the worldly. And this is quite proper; for after all, God’s plan for the salvation of the human race has a similar objective. It is not God’s will that unhappiness or suffering shall forever continue in his universe. There is a time coming when there “shall be no more pain,” either of mind or body.—Rev. 21:4

But joy in itself is not necessarily, nor at all times, the most valuable experience for a Christian. As sheep, we may reveal weaknesses along lines which only a severe trial of a particular nature will correct. When this is true we may depend upon it that the cup which the Good Shepherd will hold to our lips will not be particularly sweet—indeed, it may be bitter! But it will be what is needed, and it will refresh and strengthen us as intended.

And there are many such occasions of need. There is no time, for example, when we are more weak and in greater danger of stumbling and falling by the wayside than when we feel self-sufficient and are not depending as we should upon the provisions of the Good Shepherd. At such times we may think we are strong, but the wisdom of the Good Shepherd detects our incorrect attitude. He knows that if we are permitted to continue on in our own strength we are sure to fall behind and lose our way. He pours a cup of bitterness, of disappointment, of humiliation, of sorrow, or whatever may be for our best interests. He holds it to our lips that we may drink, and thereby have our weakness removed. Since it is only as we ‘tremble while thinking of self’ that we are truly strong in the Lord, whatever experience brings about this proper viewpoint is a refreshing cup indeed!

On the other hand, there are times when a cup of sorrow would discourage and crush us, and when our greatest need is to be encouraged by a cup of sweetness—some gladdening experience which assures us of the Good Shepherd’s smile of approval of the efforts we are making. And in such cases also, we may be sure that our cup will run over with an abundant provision of just that sort of experience.

There are many ways in which our cup of joy runs over. We may be permitted to see some evidence that the Lord has blessed our efforts to bear witness to his truth. Someone may be showing an interest in the divine plan through our efforts to tell them the old, old story. What a joy such an experience is to those who truly love the Lord and his truth! We may learn that some brother or sister in Christ has been blessed by a word we have spoken, by an illustration, by a letter, or by an example we have set. This, too, is a cup of joy, and how our hearts rejoice!

The privilege of attending prayer meetings, class studies, or conventions, may be where special blessings are gained, and can prove to be what we most need. Sometimes a lesson in patience is called for, and then the Lord permits us to wait upon him. In our ecclesias or among the isolated brethren, the individual needs of each are sure to vary. But the Good Shepherd, as he watches over his sheep, discovers those needs, and provides the appropriate cup to suit each occasion. Paul assured us of this fact when he wrote that “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (Rom. 8:28) What a blessed assurance this is as we walk through the dry and thirsty land of an unfriendly world, and through the valley of the shadow of death.

In II Corinthians 9:8 we read, “God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work.” This seems to be Paul’s way of saying that our cup runs over. The Greek word translated abound in this passage means ‘over and above’, or in other words, running over. And this superabundance of God’s grace is our experience always and in all things. Could the Good Shepherd do more for us than this?

Our response to such lavish provisions of divine grace should be that we, in turn, “abound to every good work.” How could any of the Lord’s sheep be indifferent to the Good Shepherd’s tender care and fail to appreciate what is being done for them? May it not be so with any of us! The way is narrow and difficult, but the privilege of drinking the cup of death with Jesus, that we may partake of the cup of salvation together is a glorious one. And the strength needed to share this partnership of suffering, death, and glory, is assured. We can together feed in the green pastures of nourishing truth. Together we partake of the refreshing waters of the Word. All the while the Good Shepherd is watching out for our individual needs, causing our cup of experiences to run over. We will have no lack of strength. Nor will we have lack of any other quality needed in order for us to successfully follow the Good Shepherd.

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