Kows: Remember the CUP

CUP: kows (feminine noun). (Strong’s 3563).

Root: כּוֹס

Sounds like: koce

Much of the world will be celebrating New Years Eve tomorrow, where a cup is raised to remember a year gone by and to honour the start of a new beginning. The Cup is often associated with remembering, but the first time we come across the word cup in the Torah it’s in a dream.

In Genesis 40 the Pharaoh of Egypt sent his Cup-Bearer and his Baker to prison for some unnamed offence. While in prison they both had similar dreams and their attending prison-mate, Joseph, interpreted the dreams for them:

Genesis 40:9-19

So the chief cupbearer told Joseph his dream: “In my dream there was a vine before me, and on the vine were three branches. As it budded, its blossoms opened and its clusters ripened into grapes. And the cup [w’kows] of Pharaoh was in my hand, and I took the grapes, squeezed them into Pharaoh’s cup [kows], and placed the cup [ha-kows] into his hand.”

Joseph replied, “This is the interpretation: The three branches are three days. Within three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore your position. You will put Pharaoh’s cup [kows] into his hand, just as you did when you were his cupbearer. But when it goes well for you, please remember me and show me kindness by mentioning me to Pharaoh, that he might bring me out of this prison. For I was kidnapped from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing for which they should have put me in this dungeon.”

When the chief baker saw that the interpretation was favourable, he said to Joseph, “I too had a dream: There were three baskets of white bread on my head. In the top basket were all sorts of baked goods for Pharaoh, but the birds were eating them out of the basket on my head.”

Joseph replied, “This is the interpretation: The three baskets are three days. Within three days Pharaoh will lift your head off of you and hang you on a tree. Then the birds will eat the flesh of your body.”

Here the cup bearer was destined for life. The baker was destined for death. It is no coincidence that these dreams involved the bread and the cup. After 3 days the body/bread faced death, but the bearer of wine had his head lifted and he was restored to life. This story is rich with Messianic overtones. The body (bread) died, but the fruit of the vine, after three days, lived. We are to remember that Yeshua’s body was broken for us, and we are to celebrate that Yeshua’s poured blood was the cup of the New Covenant:

Luke 22:14-20

When the hour had come, Jesus reclined at the table with His apostles. And He said to them, I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before My suffering. For I tell you that I will not eat it again until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.

After taking the cup, He gave thanks and said, Take this and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until the kingdom of God comes.

And He took the bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, This is My body, given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.

In the same way, after supper He took the cup, saying, This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is poured out for you.


Portion of their Cup

Jesus, of course, was very familiar with the Torah, the Prophetical writings and the Psalms. From the point of Joseph’s dream interpretation onward, the cup was revealed as a vessel that held some kind of fate. The contents in the portion of their cup was a reflection of their behaviour and desires on earth:

Psalm 11:4-7

YHWH is in his holy temple; YHWH’s throne is in heaven;

His eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man.

YHWH tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.

Let him rain coals on the wicked; fire and sulfur and a scorching wind

shall be the portion of their cup [kows’am].

For YHWH is righteous; he loves righteous deeds;  the upright shall behold His face.

There are various cups of destruction announced throughout the Bible. In Ezekiel 23:33 it was the cup of devastation and desolation; in Isaiah 51:17 it was the cup of God’s fury; in Jeremiah 25 it was the cup of the wine of wrath:

Jeremiah 25:15-18a, 27-29

This is what YHWH, the God of Israel, said to me: “Take from My hand this cup [kows] of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink from it. And they will drink and stagger and go out of their minds, because of the sword that I will send among them.”

So I took the cup [ha-kows] from YHWH’s hand and made all the nations drink from it, each one to whom YHWH had sent me, to make them a desolation, an astonishment, a hissing and a curse, as they are this day…

…“Then you are to tell them, ‘This is what YHWH of Hosts, the God of Israel, says: Drink, get drunk, and vomit. Fall down and never get up again, because of the sword I will send among you.If they refuse to take the cup [ha-kows] from your hand and drink it, you are to tell them, ‘This is what YHWH of Hosts says: You most certainly must drink it! For behold, I am beginning to bring disaster on the city that bears My name, so how could you possibly go unpunished? You will not go unpunished, for I am calling down a sword against all the inhabitants of the earth, declares YHWH of Hosts.’”

For Jeremiah, first hearing God’s words, this Psalm may have come to mind:

Psalm 75:6-8

For exaltation comes not from east or west or out of the desert,

but it is God who judges; He brings one down and exalts another.

For a cup [kows] is in the hand of YHWH, full of foaming wine mixed with spices,

He pours from it, and all the wicked of the earth drink it down it to the dregs.

This is a God who relents from bringing destruction (Jonah 4:2) but who eventually says “enough is enough”. If the people were so bent on living destructively God would give them what they wanted… and they drank it down like gluttons.

But recall what we read earlier in Psalm 11, that the upright would behold His face. When the people turn to God, as their portion and their cup, then they are filled with gladness, joy, pleasure, security and life, as it was meant to be lived:

Psalm 16:5-11

YHWH is my chosen portion and my cup [w’kows’i]; You have made my lot secure.

The lines of my boundary have fallen in pleasant places;  surely my inheritance is delightful.

I will bless YHWH who counsels me; even at night my conscience instructs me.

I have set YHWH always before me. Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will dwell securely.

For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol, nor will You let Your Holy One see decay.

You have made known to me the path of life;

You will fill me with joy in Your presence with eternal pleasures at Your right hand.

Cup and the Messiah

The cup was often associated with a Messianic promise. In this instance (Psalm 16) it is that, your [YHWH’s] Holy One will not see decay. Lamentations directly spoke of YHWH’s Anointed being captured, with the enemies rejoicing… but those enemies would also be handed the cup:

Lamentations 4:20-21

YHWH’s Anointed [Meshiach], the breath of our life, was captured in their pits.

We had said of him, “Under his shadow we will live among the nations.”

So rejoice and be glad, O daughter of Edom, who dwells in the land of Uz.

Yet the cup [kows] will pass to you as well;

you shall become drunk and expose yourself.

The history of humanity has shown that humans consistently destroy themselves by the stupid choices that they make. Even the Messiah, who came to save them, they saw as their enemy. For those directly involved in calling for Jesus to be crucified, they chose their own cup… eventually they would be poisoned by it. Yeshua walked through the shadow of death, at the hands of his own people:

Psalm 23:4-6

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil, for You are with me;

Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.

You anoint my head with oil; my cup [kows’i] overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life,

and I will dwell in the house of YHWH forever.

Although this verse gets associated with King David, running from his power hungry son, Absolom, the verse is also applicable to his Messianic descendant, God’s anointed Son. His cup is filled to the brim (and beyond) with goodness. This Messiah, to be named, Salvation was, and is, central to the Judeo-Christian story. Yeshua is the Cup of Salvation. We are to take up his mission and call on the name of YHWH.

Cup of Salvation

Psalm 116:12-14

How can I repay YHWH for all His goodness to me?

I will take up the cup of Salvation [kows yeshu’ot] and call on the name of YHWH.

I will fulfill my vows to YHWH in the presence of all His people.

Messiah Jesus [Yeshua], whose name literally means Salvation, constantly talked about the cup. He used the image of a cup to deliver a particularly condemning message to the scribes and Pharisees of his day:

Matthew 23:25-28

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, so that the outside may become clean as well.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside, but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and every impurity. In the same way, on the outside you appear to be righteous, but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

In this instance, we are the cup. We are a vessel that is filled with both virtues and vices. But we should aim to be a clean cup on the inside AND the outside. Greed and pride tarnish the inside of our cup, no matter how clean we are on the outside. Even the disciples of Jesus were made to realize this:

Matthew 20:20-23

Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and knelt down to make a request of Him.

What do you want? He inquired.

She answered, “Declare that in Your kingdom one of these two sons of mine may sit at Your right hand, and the other at Your left.”

You do not know what you are asking, Jesus replied. Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?

“We can,” the brothers answered.

You will indeed drink My cup,” Jesus said. “But to sit at My right or left is not Mine to grant. These seats belong to those for whom My Father has prepared them.”

This request came out of pride and Jesus saw right through it. But he made an interesting statement: Can you drink the cup I am going to drink? What was this cup that Jesus had to drink?

Cup of Death

The Tanakh had cups of God’s fury  and wrath, and cups of desolation and destruction… all products of humanity’s sin. Humans chose to define good and evil for themselves, and failed miserably.  Jesus had to drink from a cup he did not deserve. He had to drink the ultimate cup of destruction… taking the fury upon himself so we didn’t have to. This is a cup of death… the result of our sin… by the painful execution on a Roman cross.

The sons of Zebedee would indeed drink this cup as well. This could be read in a few ways. Those who followed Yeshua would feel the sorrow and heaviness of their own sin when they witnessed his death on the cross. They would also feel the burden of taking up their own cross and following the resurrected Jesus. In the instance of most of the disciples, they would eventually be executed as followers of Yeshua… ultimately drinking the same cup of death, as Yeshua did.

Although, at the time, they were not aware of their own impending executions, Jesus was most certainly aware of his own piercing death to come. The night before his execution he had an agonizing prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane:

Mark 14:32-46

Then they came to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus told His disciples, Sit here while I pray.

He took with Him Peter, James, and John, and began to be deeply troubled and distressed. Then He said to them, My soul is consumed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch.

Going a little farther, He fell to the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour would pass from Him. Abba, Father, He said, all things are possible for You. Take this cup from Me. Yet not what I will, but what You will.

Then Jesus returned to the disciples and found them sleeping. Were you not able to keep watch with Me for one hour? He asked Peter. Watch and pray so that you will not enter into temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak.

A second time He went away and prayed, My Father, if this cup cannot pass unless I drink it, may Your will be done. And again Jesus returned and found them sleeping—for their eyes were heavy.

So He left them and went away once more and prayed a third time, saying the same thing. Then He returned to the disciples and said, Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour is near, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us go! See, My betrayer is approaching!

His betrayer, Judas Iscariot, came with an entourage to arrest Jesus:


So He asked them again, Whom are you seeking?

“Jesus of Nazareth,” they answered.

I told you that I am He, Jesus replied. “So if you are looking for Me, let these men go. This was to fulfill the word He had spoken: “I have not lost one of those You have given Me.”

Then Simon Peter drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus.

Put your sword back in its sheath! Jesus said to Peter. Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given Me?

Then the band of soldiers, with its commander and the officers of the Jews, arrested Jesus and bound Him.

Jesus was resigned to the fact that he must drink from the cup of death, that his arrest must occur, and that his suffering was necessary to swallow the sin of humanity so that we could truly live. This was the cup that God had planned for him to drink all along. Jesus was resigned to doing the will of YHWH, no matter the cost.

This great sacrifice should never be forgotten. We should consistently remind ourselves of what Yeshua did for us, and there is no better way to remember this sacrifice than at the communion table. 

1 Corinthians 11:23-26

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: that the Lord Jesus, on the night He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me. In the same way, after supper He took the cup, saying, This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me. For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.

As we raise a glass to the New Year, remember the Messiah came and dwelt among us, he also died among us, and his death swallowed our sin and set us free. That is something worth cheering about!

Next week: Beginning

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