The Cup of God’s Wrath.

Thus the Lord, the God of Israel, said to me: “Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it. They shall drink and stagger and be crazed because of the sword that I am sending among them.”

So I took the cup from the Lord‘s hand, and made all the nations to whom the Lord sent me drink it: Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, its kings and officials, to make them a desolation and a waste, a hissing and a curse, as at this day; Pharaoh king of Egypt, his servants, his officials, all his people, and all the mixed tribes among them; all the kings of the land of Uz and all the kings of the land of the Philistines (Ashkelon, Gaza, Ekron, and the remnant of Ashdod); Edom, Moab, and the sons of Ammon; all the kings of Tyre, all the kings of Sidon, and the kings of the coastland across the sea; Dedan, Tema, Buz, and all who cut the corners of their hair; all the kings of Arabia and all the kings of the mixed tribes who dwell in the desert; all the kings of Zimri, all the kings of Elam, and all the kings of Media; all the kings of the north, far and near, one after another, and all the kingdoms of the world that are on the face of the earth. And after them the king of Babylon shall drink.

“Then you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Drink, be drunk and vomit, fall and rise no more, because of the sword that I am sending among you.’

“And if they refuse to accept the cup from your hand to drink, then you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: You must drink! For behold, I begin to work disaster at the city that is called by my name, and shall you go unpunished? You shall not go unpunished, for I am summoning a sword against all the inhabitants of the earth, declares the Lord of hosts.’

“You, therefore, shall prophesy against them all these words, and say to them:

“‘The Lord will roar from on high,
    and from his holy habitation utter his voice;
he will roar mightily against his fold,
    and shout, like those who tread grapes,
    against all the inhabitants of the earth.
The clamor will resound to the ends of the earth,
    for the Lord has an indictment against the nations;
he is entering into judgment with all flesh,
    and the wicked he will put to the sword,
declares the Lord.’

“Thus says the Lord of hosts:
Behold, disaster is going forth
    from nation to nation,
and a great tempest is stirring
    from the farthest parts of the earth!

“And those pierced by the Lord on that day shall extend from one end of the earth to the other. They shall not be lamented, or gathered, or buried; they shall be dung on the surface of the ground.

“Wail, you shepherds, and cry out,
    and roll in ashes, you lords of the flock,
for the days of your slaughter and dispersion have come,
    and you shall fall like a choice vessel.
No refuge will remain for the shepherds,
    nor escape for the lords of the flock.
A voice—the cry of the shepherds,
    and the wail of the lords of the flock!
For the Lord is laying waste their pasture,
    and the peaceful folds are devastated
    because of the fierce anger of the Lord.
Like a lion he has left his lair,
    for their land has become a waste
because of the sword of the oppressor,
    and because of his fierce anger.” Jeremiah 25:15-38 ESV

This is a relatively long section and, at first glance, not a very uplifting one. In it, Jeremiah is instructed by God to pour out His wrath on the nations. This was a symbolic action, in the sense that there was no literal cup given to Jeremiah by God. What God was commanding Jeremiah to do was to communicate His message of pending judgment on all the nations surrounding Judah. They were not going to escape God’s wrath, while the people of Judah suffered.

“And if they refuse to accept the cup, tell them, ‘The Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: You have no choice but to drink from it. I have begun to punish Jerusalem, the city that bears my name. Now should I let you go unpunished? No, you will not escape disaster. I will call for war against all the nations of the earth. I, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, have spoken!’” – Jeremiah 25:28-29 NLT

Exactly how Jeremiah got this message to the various nations listed in the passage is not made clear. But Jeremiah claims to have obeyed the word of the Lord.

“So I took the cup of anger from the Lord and made all the nations drink from it—every nation to which the Lord sent me.” – Jeremiah 25:17 NLT

It is doubtful that Jeremiah made the lengthy trip to Egypt to hand-deliver his news to Pharaoh. More than likely, Jeremiah sent messages to the long list of nations provided to him by God. This was simply an action designed to let these nations know that God was going to deal with them as well. It was not a call to repentance, since they were not followers of Yahweh. It was a prophetic warning of coming judgment against each and every one of the nations named by God. And the cup of God’s wrath was not the message itself, but the actual devastation that would come in the form of the Babylonians. All of these nations would eventually drink from the cup of God’s wrath and “When they drink from it, they will stagger, crazed by the warfare I will send against them” (Jeremiah 25:16 NLT).

What we have here is a picture of God’s pending judgment against all mankind for its sin and rebellion against Him. In a sense, God is patiently putting up with the sins of men, patiently biding His time until the end, when He will mete out His justice once and for all. The judgment of God was going to come on all the nations contained in the list given to Jeremiah. But it would not result in their complete destruction. That is being reserved for a later date. In the meantime, God is putting up with the sins of mankind. Unlike the days of Noah, when God determined to wipe out all of mankind due to their unrestrained sin, God is choosing to tolerate sin for a time. It is not that mankind’s sinfulness is less egredious than it was in the days of Noah. It is that God chose to delay judgment until His Son came to earth to provide a means of reconciliation for sinful men. And once His Son came, God has been delaying the outpouring of His wrath on humanity until all those who will come to faith in His Son have had the opportunity. The apostle Paul spoke of this patient endurance of God when he wrote to the believers in Rome.

In the same way, even though God has the right to show his anger and his power, he is very patient with those on whom his anger falls, who are destined for destruction. He does this to make the riches of his glory shine even brighter on those to whom he shows mercy, who were prepared in advance for glory. And we are among those whom he selected, both from the Jews and from the Gentiles. – Romans 9:22-24 NLT

God must punish sin. As God, He is obligated by His very nature to mete out justice and judgment on any and all rebellion against His divine will and authority. But He has chosen to delay His final judgment. But the apostle Peter would have us remember that God will not delay forever.

But you must not forget this one thing, dear friends: A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day. The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent. But the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief. Then the heavens will pass away with a terrible noise, and the very elements themselves will disappear in fire, and the earth and everything on it will be found to deserve judgment. – 2 Peter 3:8-10 NLT

So, judgment will come. In Jeremiah’s day, it would be devastating, yet partial and incomplete. Many of the nations on the list still exist in some form or fashion. But there is a day coming when God’s judgment will be complete and final. And Jeremiah uses very graphic terms to describe what that day will look like.

In that day those the Lord has slaughtered will fill the earth from one end to the other. No one will mourn for them or gather up their bodies to bury them. They will be scattered on the ground like manure. – Jeremiah 25:33 NLT

God is patient. He is long-suffering. He has sent His Son as the sacrifice for the sins of men and as payment for the debt owed by men and women for their sins. And all those who accept God’s gracious gift of salvation made possible through His Son’s death and resurrection receive forgiveness of their sins and the assurance of eternal life with Him. But the sins of mankind are real and an offense to a holy and righteous God. They cannot and will not be overlooked by God. He must judge sin. And all those who refuse the gift of His Son, must pay their own debt with their own lives. For as Paul so clearly stated, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23 ESV). All men have sinned and all deserve the judgment of death, including eternal separation from God. But God is patiently holding back His wrath, waiting until all who will be saved have been saved. Then His judgment will be unleashed. And His Son will return, not as Savior, but as Judge.

Then I saw heaven opened, and a white horse was standing there. Its rider was named Faithful and True, for he judges fairly and wages a righteous war. His eyes were like flames of fire, and on his head were many crowns. A name was written on him that no one understood except himself. He wore a robe dipped in blood, and his title was the Word of God. The armies of heaven, dressed in the finest of pure white linen, followed him on white horses. From his mouth came a sharp sword to strike down the nations. He will rule them with an iron rod. He will release the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty, like juice flowing from a winepress. On his robe at his thigh was written this title: King of all kings and Lord of all lords. – Revelation 19:11-16 NLT

But while God delays, we must be about the business of reconciliation, calling people back to God. We must share the good news of salvation with any and all. As Peter so aptly put it, “No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent” (2 Peter 3:9 NLT).

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson