“Cup of Wrath, Cup of Grace”
In this passage we observe a kind of parade of nations as God prophecies through Jeremiah the judgment that will come upon not only Judah, but on all the surrounding nations and finally Babylon itself.
Except for a couple of points of interest, this passage reads like a typical judgment chapter in the Old Testament prophets, so it is tempting to pass on its significance. First of all, it goes to great lengths to describe not only God’s heavy judgment, but the depth of sin as well. We learn, through the weight of the judgment how weighty sin is: the punishment fits the crime, so to speak. It is a lesson throughout the book of Jeremiah that judgment is neither arbitrary nor pleasant for God. It is always the just response to rebellion after God has pleaded with His people over and over to repent.
Secondly, Jeremiah uses the image of a cup of wrath. A fairly common image for the Old Testament prophets, it is designed to give us an image of a goblet filled to the brim and overflowing with wine. Jeremiah is vivid in his description of this cup. He says:
16 They shall drink and stagger and be crazed because of the sword that I am sending among them.
27 Drink, be drunk and vomit, fall and rise no more, because of the sword I am sending among you.
These are images, not of someone who has had “one too many,” but of something akin to alcohol poisoning. The rebellious decisions made by these people have destroyed them.
This, however, is not all there is to be said about this cup or wrath. Isaiah 51:17-23 also describes this time in history for Judah with the same image. But near the end something drastic and unexpected is recorded.
22 Thus says you Lord, the Lord, your God who pleads the cause of his people: “Behold, I have taken from your hand the cup of staggering; the bowl of my wrath you shall drink no more…”
How is it the cup is simply taken away from sinful and rebellious people? The answer lies in a prayer spoken by Jesus moments before his trial and crucifixion. In Matthew 26:39 He prays, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” You see, Jesus saw this cup of wrath, being poured out on Him, and shook. Pastor Philip G. Ryken says of this moment, “But were we to watch and pray, to kneel beside our Savior in the grass, to hear his cries of anguish, and to see the bloody sweat upon his brow, then we would see the fearfulness of God’s wrath. And then we would know the sinfulness of our sin.”
Jesus has not only taken away this cup of wrath, He has provided a cup of a new relationship, the one provided by his blood shed on the cross. This is a cup of forgiveness and grace, of relationship with the God of the universe Himself. The English poet George Herbert saw this truth and wrote in his “The Agony”:
Love is that liquor sweet and most divine
Which my God feels as blood; but I, as wine.