December 27, 2016

Tom Lowe



Title: The Cup of God’s Wrath

(To the chief Musician on Neginoth; A psalm or song of Asaph)

Theme: A song of deliverance


Psalm 75 (KJV)

1 Unto thee, O God, do we give thanks, unto thee do we give thanks: for that thy name is near thy wondrous works declare.

When I shall receive the congregation I will judge uprightly.

The earth and all the inhabitants thereof are dissolved: I bear up the pillars of it. Selah.

I said unto the fools, Deal not foolishly: and to the wicked, Lift not up the horn:

Lift not up your horn on high: speak not with a stiff neck.

For promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south.

But God is the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another.

For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup, and the wine is red; it is full of mixture; and he poureth out of the same: but the dregs thereof, all the wicked of the earth shall wring them out, and drink them.

But I will declare for ever; I will sing praises to the God of Jacob.

10 All the horns of the wicked also will I cut off; but the horns of the righteous shall be exalted.


Introduction to Psalm 75

One day the horrified Jews of Jerusalem looked out over the battlements of their city and saw that the dreaded army of Assyria had encircled them. Those dreaded storm troops and siege troops, those fierce, violent men who had ravaged scores of cities already stretched as far as eye could see. They had marched at will over all the Middle East. They had left behind them smoking ruins, flayed and impaled human beings who screamed out their last hours in indescribable anguish, mounds of corpses, demoralized survivors. They were invincible.

Now they were encamped outside Jerusalem.  Their spokesmen and propaganda chief had done his best to further demoralize king, defense force, and citizens.  His contemptuous letter had been handed to Hezekiah who, in turn, had read it to the Lord.

The sun set on the sight.  The paralyzed Jews crept to their beds in dread of what tomorrow might bring: rape and ruin, torment and torture, deportation and degradation; and for king and court, heads of state, and military officers; death and torture.

The sun arose one morning shortly afterward.  The Jews crept back to the walls.  The tents were still there, the Assyrian banners were still flapping in the breeze.  But what was this?  Vultures were assembling and circling the camp.  There was a dreadful stillness everywhere, the stillness of death.  Then the truth dawned.  The Assyrians were dead!  God had read that letter, and He had replied to it by return post.  The Assyrians were dead; Jerusalem was saved; the horror was past.

This is an Asaph psalm[2], the fourth of twelve.  It has the footnote “To the chief Musician on Neginoth.” That is, it is a psalm which has to do with “smiting”—with God’s providential smiting of the foe.  Prophetically the psalm anticipates the Lord’s return to smite His foes at the second coming.  The context of the psalm is a worship service in the Temple at Jerusalem.



1 Unto thee, O God, do we give thanks, unto thee do we give thanks: for that thy name is near thy wondrous works declare.

“Unto thee, O God, do we give thanks, unto thee do we give thanks . . .” We can almost feel the high spirits of the psalmist. Like the rising of the Jordan as it approaches flood stage, his joy overflows all its banks. The believing soul gives thanks to God before the blessing of deliverance has come; before God has acted to destroy the Assyrian army.

The psalm writer lived in times which were not unlike our own—unsteady, shaken, and insecure.  Enormous disorder has spread over the earth, and unrest is felt in the whole populated world.  This prophetic utterance comes without warning or introduction, which adds greatly to its effectiveness.  The psalmist is speaking in the name of God.

True worship centers on the Lord and not us, our personal problems, or our supposed needs. We praise God for who He is—His glorious attributes—and for His wondrous works (see 44:1-8; 77:12; 107:8, 15).  Though God wants us to bring our burdens to Him and seek His help, worship begins with getting our eyes of faith off the circumstances of life and focusing them on the Lord God Almighty.

“. . . for that thy name is near thy wondrous works declare.” Throughout the Old Testament when God wished to reveal Himself in a new way to Israel He often did so by revealing to them another one of His names: Elohim, Jehovah, El-Shaddai, Adonai, Jehovah-jireh, Jehovah-nissi, Jehovah-shalom, Jehovah-shammah, Jehovah-tsidkenu, Jehovah-ropheka, Jehovah-mekaddishkem.

The psalmist rightly identifies the nearness of God with the “name” of God—“thy name is near.” Here he appeals to Him by the first name by which He revealed Himself in the Old Testament—Elohim.  His very presence is cause for praise.  The psalmist looks out upon the tens of thousands of dead Assyrians and he breaths the word—Elohim. This is the psalmist’s first note in his overflow of joy. God is sovereign in His person.

The connection between the nearness of God’s “name” and people telling of His deeds can be understood in two ways. Perhaps it means that those who worship the name of God naturally begin to talk about the great things He has done. Or it may be the other way around; as people recall the wonderful deeds of God, they can’t help but give thanks that He remains so near.

When I shall receive the congregation I will judge uprightly.

The psalmist abruptly shifts to God’s voice, and God speaks as a judge: “When I shall receive the congregation I will judge uprightly.” God’s judgment may shake the earth and its people, yet He continues to be a stabilizing force. The Lord does not lash out at His enemies in blind passion. He is calculating, deliberate, and methodical in His ways. God speaks here and in the following verses, declaring His sovereignty and His justice.  A better translation is “at the time which I have appointed I will render fair judgments.” The judge of all sets his own time.”

The word “congregation” has been translated “at the right time” and “a set time.” The idea behind the word is that of a “congregation,” a collection of people, coming together at a set time.  Here the word simply means that God has an appointed time for the judgment of those assembled.

Little did Sennacherib know that his armies marched to God’s timetable.  He assembled his generals in Nineveh and gathered them around the great war map of the Middle East.  “We must take Jerusalem.  You will have your plans ready for me by tomorrow.” So the armies marched south.  They drew up in battle array around Jerusalem.  They became a congregation.  What they did not know was that God was in their midst.  He had a set time.  There they were, on time for their meeting with an outraged Almighty God.

“How long?” is the great cry of Psalm 74.  “Until the right time” is God’s answer in Psalm 75.  God always works to His own unchangeable timetable.  He does so in the material universe.  On earth, we too have taken a leaf from God’s book and organize our lives by set times. “At the right time!” That is God’s answer to the question, how long?

The Lord, then, reminds the psalmist that He judges “uprightly” (righteously).  He is never tardy; He is always on time.  He does not act, like Peter, impulsively, on the spur of the moment, in a sudden surge of emotion.  He acts deliberately, decisively, definitely.

The earth and all the inhabitants thereof are dissolved: I bear up the pillars of it. Selah.

The present state of the kingdom was very bad: “The earth and all the inhabitants thereof are dissolved . . .” and it is no wonder, when the former government was so corrupt that everything went from bad to worse. There was a general corruption of manners, for lack of putting in effect the laws against vice and profaneness.  The people were all divided; two against three and three against two, and they formed factions and parties, which was likely to lead to their ruin.

Verse three can also be rendered, “When the earth shakes, and all of its inhabitants, it is I who will bear it up and keep its pillars steady.” When it seems like “the pillars” of morality are falling down, it’s good to remember that the Lord knows what He is doing (46:6; 1 Samuel 2:8).  Jesus Christ is on the throne and holds everything together (Colossians 1:17; Hebrews 1:3).

“. . . I bear up the pillars of it.” The “pillars” are the social structure of the world.  God acts in accordance with fixed moral principles so that the social order, even though it might seem to be crumbling and tottering, is upheld by Him. But how does He do it? He does it by maintaining true religion and justice, and by setting up good political leaders, and encouraging good ministers, and good men, which are indeed the pillars of a nation.  What a comfort it is to feel that amid the chaos and anarchy which sweep the surface of the earth, God is holding fast to the solid foundations, on which we may build without fear! 

God’s moral government of the world often puzzles us.  Evil men are allowed to come to power and wicked regimes seem to go on from age to age.  God allows a nation to get the kind of government it desires.  That is why Paul tells us that we are to give honor to those in positions of authority: “the powers that be are ordained of God.”

“Selah”[1](according to the Jewish Encyclopedia) is aTerm of uncertain etymology and grammatical form and of doubtful meaning.

I said unto the fools, Deal not foolishly: and to the wicked, Lift not up the horn:

 Verses 4-6 portray arrogant people as unruly animals with outstretched necks and raised horns (4-5), resisting any kind of control. God warns such people to humble themselves. No power on earth can overrule God’s judgment, so it is the essence of wisdom to yield to God while there is still time.

“I said unto the fools, Deal not foolishly . . .” In God’s good time, accounts will be balanced and retribution will be visited upon those who persist in their sinful ways. Foolish people are impious people.  In the Old Testament “fools” and the “foolish,” are not the silly or the thoughtless, but the evil and the godless. “Deal not foolishly” is a warning to such people that they must cease from their impious and injurious practices, which shall no longer be ignored, as they were in the past.

“. . . and to the wicked, Lift not up the horn.” Lifting up the horn is a symbolism derived from an animal tossing its head in defiance and conscious power. The phrase “Lift not up the horn” has been paraphrased, “Do not flaunt your power”; and the meaning is “do not carry yourselves either arrogantly, boasting of your own strength, or scornfully and maliciously towards me or others of God’s people.  This is a message for the godless (75:4-5), and it warns them not to be arrogant and deliberately disobey the will of God.  Before it lowers its head and attacks, a horned beast proudly lifts its head high and challenges its opponent, and the ungodly were following this example.

Perhaps the psalmist has in mind the blasphemous speech of Rabshakeh as he stood before the walls of Jerusalem and ridiculed Israel’s God, Hezekiah’s foreign policy and religious reforms, and Jerusalem’s defenses.  However, God knows how to lower human pride. 

Lift not up your horn on high: speak not with a stiff neck.

“Lift not up your horn on high.” Now the psalmist becomes the speaker.  The “horn” is the strength of certain beasts, and is the symbol of power (Deuteronomy 33:17; 1 Samuel 2:1-10); and often of the power of the ungodly (Daniel 7:7).  This phrase is a metaphor taken from untamed and stiff-necked oxen, which will not bow their heads to receive the yoke, but lift up their heads and horns to avoid it.

“. . . speak not with a stiff neck” refers either to stubbornness, contempt, and pride, refusing to bow the head, or “with full throat”—that is, loud and boastful.  A “stiff neck” and proud speech are marks of an insolent and rebellious person, not one who is bowed down in submission to the Lord (Deuteronomy 31:27; 2 Kings 17:14; 2 Chronicles 36:13; Jeremiah 7:26).

For promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south.

“For promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south.” If “promotion” comes “neither from the east, the west, or the south,” then it must come from the north.  Why the north?  That is where God’s throne is.  Also, looking in that direction would mean seeking help from the enemies of Israel—Assyria and Babylon (Jeremiah 1:13-16; 4:6; 8:22-26).

“Promotion” stands for deliverance—the lifting up of God’s help; it has nothing to do with getting a better job or being highly publicized.  The arrogant were lifting themselves up only to be cast down by God, but the humble wait on the Lord and He lifts them up (1 Peter 5:6).

It is justice, not chance, that controls the ultimate outcomes of life.  “Whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted” (Luke 14:11).

Isaiah records Satan’s pride and presumption when he planned to dethrone God and to exalt himself: “I will ascend unto heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will set also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides [the word means “recesses”] of the north” (Isaiah 14:13).  Ezekiel, describing his vision of the four living creatures, says: “And I looked, and behold a whirlwind came out of the north.” He then gives a long description of the cherubim and the chariots, of those mysterious wheels within wheels—all of which has to do with God’s government of the world.  All is connected with the north. [Also see what is written in Leviticus 1:11; Job26:7]

But God is the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another.

“God is the judge” is a fact His people seem to have trouble keeping in mind.  He does not give the right of judgment to any other.  This truth is the terror of the godless.

For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup, and the wine is red; it is full of mixture; and he poureth out of the same: but the dregs thereof, all the wicked of the earth shall wring them out, and drink them.

In this verse we have mention of the “cup” of God’s wrath. We need to take the time to study that cup. There are three things about this cup that you need to know, if you don’t know it already: the depths of the cup, the drinking of the cup, and the dregs of the cup.

  1. The Depths of the Cup

This thought will take us to Gethsemane.  We see our Lord prostrate in agony as Peter, James, and John fall asleep.  Upon His brow the sweat stands out to run down His anguished face in rivulets of blood.  He is gazing into the depths of a cup.  “For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup, and the wine is red; it is full of mixture.” The cup is full of God’s wrath against sin. The wine is red, the color of Israel’s best wine (Deuteronomy 32:14; Proverbs 23:31), and so strong, and invigorating, and intoxicating. Or, it is troubled; as the word more properly signifies, which may note its newness, when it is in fermentation, not yet cleared nor settled, and is therefore more intoxicating. This is how he expresses the power and fierceness of God’s wrath and judgment.


“It is full of mixture” means the wine is mingled, not with water which was the usual method in those hot countries (Proverbs 9:5), but with spices; or rather strengthening and intoxicating ingredients, which drunkards preferred (Isaiah 5:22).


How can we ever know what the Lord Jesus saw as he gazed into its dreadful depths?  The hymn writer has caught something of His anguish:


Three times, alone, in the garden

He prayed, not My will but Thine;

He shed no tears for His own grief

But sweat drops of blood for mine.

Mirrored in that cup the Lord Jesus saw a whole world’s sin; He saw the dreadful penalty it had accrued.  It was being offered now to Him, and he must take it and drink it.  So great was the agony he faced that angels came down to mop His brow, to strengthen Him in case He die there in the garden.  Peter, James, and John slept on.  The Lord Jesus Christ drank the cup for us (Matthew 26:36-46), but those who refuse to trust him will drink the cup of judgment to the very dregs.


  1. The Drinking of the Cup

Our thoughts turn from Gethsemane to Golgotha. First, the searing pain as the nails was hammered through the hands and feet and into the wood of the cross. Then, the jarring of every joint and bone as the cross was dropped into its socket.  Next the hours of pain and despair, the muscle cramps, the rising fever, the burning heat, the thirst, the mocking crowds, the sneering priests.  These, however, were but the beginning of sorrow.  Darkness followed, and the cup had to be drunk in all its bitterness and gall.  From the darkness came one choking cry: “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” The cup was being drained to the dregs.  The Holy Sufferer tasted the bitterness, the burning agony of that cup, tasted the horror of being lost, abandoned, under the wrath and curse of God:

Death and the curse were in our cup—

O, Christ, ‘twas full for Thee;

But thou hast drained the last dark drop,

‘Tis empty now for me.

That bitter cup, love drank it up;

Left but the love for me.


How shall we ever comprehend what it meant for Him to drain that cup, that mixture, that concentrate of the wrath of God!


  1. The Dregs of the Cup

This takes us to Armageddon: “But the dregs thereof, all the wicked of the earth shall wring them out, and drink them.” The Apocalypse speaks of it twice, both times in connection with the filthiness of Babylon (Revelation 14:8; 18:3).  It speaks of it also in connection with those who commit the final apostasy and receive the mark of the beast: “And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb” (Revelation: 14:9-10).


We read in the same chapter, of “the great wine press of the wrath of God” (Revelation 14:19).  The Lord has drunk that cup for us.  But those who will not accept the cup of blessing and joy He now asserts will have to wring out the dregs of God’s wrath and face His fury, if not at Armageddon then certainly at the great white throne.  God is sovereign in His punishments.

“For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup,” filled with red wine (lit, “foaming,” dangerously fermented), which the wicked shall drink to the last bitter drop of “the dregs thereof.”  The sufferings of Christ are called a cup (Matthew 20:22; John 18:11).  The judgments of God upon sinners are “the cup of the Lords right hand” (Habakkuk 2:16).  The wicked man's cup, while he prospers in the world, is full of mixture, but the worst is at the bottom.  The wicked are reserved unto the day of judgment.

But I will declare for ever; I will sing praises to the God of Jacob.

In sharp contrast, the righteous, represented by the psalmist, “will declare” God’s goodness and His great and glorious works “for ever,” and “sing praises to the God of Jacob” (Israel). The God of Jacob is the God of all grace—the God who met Jacob at Bethel when he had nothing and deserved nothing but wrath.  God’s grace is something to sing about, especially when seen against the background of that cup.


“I will declare” indicates decision on the part of the psalmist.  Asaph had participated in the sanctuary worship and helped lead the music, but he, too, had to make a decision to obey the Lord and tell others about him.  Witness and praise go together.

“The God of Jacob” is a frequent title for Jehovah in the Psalms (20:1; 24:6; 46:7; 81:1, 4; 84:8; 94:7; 114:7; 132:2, 5; 146:5).  It’s easy for us to identify with Jacob, who was not always a great man of faith, and yet God intends to be called by Jacob’s name!  What an encouragement to us!

10 All the horns of the wicked also will I cut off; but the horns of the righteous shall be exalted.

It appears that the psalmist returns to God’s voice in verse 10. Almost certainly it is God who intends to lift up the righteous while cutting off the horns of the wicked—their source of power and pride.

“The horns” stands for the power “of the wicked” and “of the righteous.” For the wicked it was an instrument for harm which was used to oppress good men. The power “of the wicked” will be “cut off” when the psalmist is advanced to the throne, when he will have the power and authority to do what now he can only desire and pray for. “The horns of the righteous shall be exalted”; good men shall be promoted and encouraged, and entrusted with the management of all public affairs, which will be a blessing to all my people. The fact that God will one day judge the wicked ought to motivate us to share the gospel with them, and the fact that God’s people (“the righteous”) will be exalted ought to humble us and give us faith and courage in the difficult hours of life.

God is yet to be universally praised for the way He has administered the affairs of the moral universe.  The four and twenty elders will see it and cast their crowns at His feet in ecstasy at what they see.  The universe will see it one of these days.  “There,” says this old-time poet, “send that to the chief Musician, That is something worth singing about.”


Special Notes

[1]Selah is a Hebrew word used seventy-four times in the Hebrew Bible—seventy-one times in the Psalms and three times in Habakkuk. The meaning of the word is not known, though various interpretations have been put forward. It is probably either a musical mark or an instruction on the reading of the text, something like "stop and listen." Selah can also be used to indicate that there is to be a musical interlude at that point in the Psalm.

[2] Because of the warning against boasting (4-7), some students associate this psalm with King Hezekiah and Jerusalem’s deliverance from the Assyrian invaders (Isaiah 36-37). Sennacherib’s officers certainly boasted about their achievements.