God’s all-sufficient, amazing grace is the central theme of Psalm 116. Again and again, the Lord helps us in our weakness and saves us when we are powerless to help ourselves (Isaiah 40:29–31; 2 Corinthians 12:9; Philippians 4:13). Recognizing his enormous debt of gratitude, the psalmist asks, “What can I offer the Lord for all he has done for me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and praise the Lord’s name for saving me. I will keep my promises to the Lord in the presence of all his people” (Psalm 116:12–14, NLT).
What was this cup of salvation the psalmist lifted in praise to the Lord? Most likely, it was a symbolic reference to the drink offering prescribed in Leviticus 23:13. At the yearly Feast of Firstfruits, the Israelites were to submit a drink offering of “a quarter of a hin of wine” (about one quart) to God in gratefulness for His salvation and continued provision in the Promised Land. The liquid offering was poured out on the altar, accompanied by other contributions from products of the land. These offerings were given as reminders that the rich fruits of the harvest were all from God and depended on His favor.
Drink offerings were frequently presented in the Bible to thank God for His salvation. After the Lord appeared to Jacob at Bethel and changed his name to Israel, Jacob set up a stone pillar to mark where God had met with him and spoken to him. Then “he poured out a drink offering on it” (Genesis 35:14).
At the ordination of the priests, a drink offering was presented (Exodus 29:38–41). As a test of obedience, God gave additional rules for offerings in Numbers 15, including burnt offerings accompanied by a drink offering (verses 5, 7, 10).
In the New Testament, the apostle Paul compared his sacrificial ministry to an act of worship: “But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you” (Philippians 2:17). In the face of death, he told Timothy, “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near” (2 Timothy 4:6).
The “cup of salvation” is also suggestive of God’s good gifts to humans, which David extolled: “You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings” (Psalm 23:5, NLT).
The psalmist’s “cup of salvation” is the counterpart to the “cup of wrath,” representing God’s judgment of sin and His wrath reserved for the wicked to drink (Psalm 75:8; Isaiah 51:22; Jeremiah 25:15–16; Ezekiel 23:31–34). This cup of wrath is associated with Jesus Christ’s extreme suffering and death on the cross (Matthew 26:39; Luke 22:42). The Lord’s mention of it in Gethsemane anticipated the excruciating moment when Jesus would cry, “God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Jesus was about to drink the cup of God’s wrath for us so that we might be spared and saved.
In lifting the cup of salvation, the psalmist offered praise to God for the blessing of His salvation. In the manner of a salute, he raised the cup high and partook of it amid praise and thanksgiving for God’s tremendous and abundantly gracious deliverance. This illustration is an excellent image for believers to contemplate when offering our thanks to God.