What does the phrase “my cup overflows” in the 23rd Psalm mean? Does it have any application for the believer today?
The 23rd Psalm is perhaps the most beautiful of all the chapters in the Bible, as it gives an accurate description of the protection, provisions and praise of the Great Shepherd. David writes “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup is overflowing”(23: 5) so the question is; what does the “cup” represent? In the context of this verse and chapter, he talks about the provisions and blessings of God. The cup is our normal portion in the life that God gives to each man and woman as He pleases. This psalm made sense to the Jews because when they received a guest they intentionally filled the cup and let it overflow and in doing so the guest would know he was welcome to stay as long as he wanted. The psalmist says that God has prepared the table for him (and for us) us, He has anointed us with oil (representative of the Holy Spirit) and provided everything we will need, even in our difficult times. Our cup is not half empty… it is overflowing.
Presumably David was talking about his cup filled with wine. For Jews, wine is the symbol of joy. This is the association they had with all their feasts as God commanded them to “spend the money on whatever you desire – oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite. And you shall eat there before the Lord your God and you shall rejoice, you and your house.”(Duet 14:26). This does not mean, however, that God tolerates drunkenness. The Day of Atonement was the only exception because it was a day of fasting, but for all other feasts or holy days, God wanted them to rejoice and enjoy the fruits of God’s blessing and the fruit of their work.
Where and when is the cut?
David spoke as if the cup was in the present tense, but it is also easy to see this cup as extending all the way into the kingdom as in the next sentence David writes “Certainly, kindness and mercy will follow me every day of my life and I will dwell forever in the house of the Lord.(Psalm 23: 6). God’s mercy follows him into the kingdom and then he will “dwell in the house of the Lord forever,” but it means more than that; in Hebrew, this means that he will “return to dwell” again in the temple and be there “forever” indicating the resurrection of the body. In other words, this cup accompanies him even after death and into eternal life. It is not a literal physical cup but the portion that it was blessed with and there are so many blessings that it flows over the cup and spreads around it. By the way, this part will remain forever.
More than once Jesus prayed for the cup to be taken away (Luke 22:42). It wasn’t really His share but the sins of the world that were all placed in that cup. The cup of suffering, torture, beatings, flogging, crucification, and then death were part of it, but the greater part and the most difficult part of the cup for Jesus were the sins of the ‘humanity. It’s because He never sinned. All human sins were condensed into one long and bitter drink, but that was our only hope (Acts 4:12) because now the sinner can have peace with God (Rom 5: 1) by justifying us (Rom 8: 1) as it was “It is because of us that he made of him a sin which did not know sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.“(2 Cor 5:21). Each believer will have their own cup of suffering, but of course not as Jesus suffered. What’s your cup of suffering? When you understand what the Psalmist wrote, you will see your cup overflow and overflow and run into eternity and never half empty.
If you have repeatedly refused to believe these messages of salvation over and over again, then you have rejected the only way to eternal life (John 3:16). The more you refuse to humble yourself and repent, the more you harden your heart and accumulate the wrath of God so that it will someday come upon you (Rom 2: 5). Only the mighty barrier of God’s mercy is preventing him from consuming everything in his path at this time. Someday this stream of judgment will burst through the barrage of his patience and long-suffering and either your future will be infinitely wonderful (Revelation 22) or indescribably horrible (Revelation 20: 12-15).
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is the pastor of Mulvane Brethren Church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the senior editor of What Christians Want To Know, whose mission is to equip, encourage and energize Christians and answer questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Teaching Children the Gospel available on Amazon.