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What is the cup of salvation in Psalm 116:13?

The main idea of Psalm 116 is God's tremendous, all-sufficient grace. The Lord saves us when we are unable to save ourselves and helps us in our weakness time and time again (Isaiah 40:29–31; 2 Corinthians 12:9; Philippians 4:13). What can I give the Lord in return for all that he has done for me, the psalmist wonders, realising his immense debt of gratitude? I will bless the Lord for saving me by lifting up the cup of salvation. In front of all the people of the Lord, I shall honour my pledges (Psalm 116:12–14, NLT).

What did the psalmist mean when he lifted the cup of salvation in thanksgiving to the Lord? It was perhaps a symbolic allusion to the drink offering required by Leviticus 23:13. The Israelites were instructed to offer God a drink offering of "a quarter of a hin of wine" (about one quart) during the annual Feast of Firstfruits in thanksgiving for His deliverance and ongoing provision in the Promised Land. The liquid offering was placed on the altar together with other donations made from agricultural products. These offerings were made to serve as a reminder that God alone was responsible for the abundant harvest and that it was dependent upon His favour.

In the Bible, drink offerings were frequently made in remembrance of God's rescue. Jacob erected a stone pillar to serve as a reminder of the location where the Lord talked to him and changed his name from Jacob to Israel when the Lord spoke to him at Bethel. Then "he offered a drink as a sacrifice on it" (Genesis 35:14).

A drink offering was given at the ordination of the priests (Exodus 29:38–41). Numbers 15 has further guidelines for offerings, such as burnt offerings that must be followed by a drink offering, as a test of faithfulness (verses 5, 7, 10).

"But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am pleased and rejoice with all of you," the apostle Paul said in the New Testament (Philippians 2:17). He said, "For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the hour for my departure is nigh," in the face of death (2 Timothy 4:6).

The phrase "cup of salvation" can also refer to God's beneficial gifts to people, as David praised: "You arrange a feast for me in front of my foes. You pay me respect by applying oil to my head. My benefits are many" (Psalm 23:5, NLT).

The "cup of wrath" in the psalmist's "cup of salvation" stands in contrast to God's judgement of sin and His wrath reserved for the wicked to drink (Psalm 75:8; Isaiah 51:22; Jeremiah 25:15–16; Ezekiel 23:31–34). The tremendous suffering and death of Jesus Christ on the cross are connected to this cup of wrath (Matthew 26:39; Luke 22:42). In Gethsemane, the Lord spoke of it in anticipation of Jesus' agonising cry, "God, my God, why have you deserted me?" (See Matthew 27:46.) Jesus was ready to partake of the cup of God's wrath on our behalf, so sparing and saving us.


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