Deepening my understanding of the four cups

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012 at 7:25 am

For all of my Haggadot reading and reading about the Haggadah, it wasn’t until I was reading a children’s book, Wonders and Miracles: A Passover Companion written and compiled by Eric A. Kimmel, that I began to see the deep significance of the four cups.

Kimmel wrote:

Why do we drink four cups of wine? Why not three or seven?

The traditional explanation is that we drink four cups to celebrate God’s promise of freedom. God told Moses to say to the Children of Israel, ‘I am God, and I will free you from the bondage of Egypt; I will deliver you from your servitude; I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. I will take you to be my people and I will be your God. And you will know that I am the Lord God who rescued you from the bondage of Egypt.’ (Exodus 6:6-7)

…There are four parts to God’s promise to free the Israelites from slavery. In honor of that promise, every Jewish person, no matter how poor, is required to drink four cups of wine at the Seder.

Finally, I understood the names.

Each cup represents one of God’s “I will” claims in this passage. The cup of sanctification: “I will bring you out.” The cup of deliverance: “I will rescue you from their bondage.” The cup of redemption: “I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments.” The cup of rejoicing: “I will take you as My people, and I will be your God.”

This first cup is the cup of sanctification. God said to the Israelites: “I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.” To sanctify is to bring out, to set apart. In bringing Israel out of the land of Egypt, God set them apart as His own chosen people. Likewise, we who have been brought out of bondage to sin have been set apart as the chosen of God.

The second cup reminds us of the second promise in Exodus 6:6-7 is “I will rescue you from their bondage.” This second cup is the cup of deliverance. In Christ, the bondage of sin has been broken.

The third promise of God in Exodus 6:6-7 is “I will redeem you.” The corresponding cup is the cup of redemption. It is this cup that Christ took up after supper, declaring it to be His own blood, shed for us, for the remission of sins. Paul reminds us that “in the same manner, He also took the cup after supper, saying ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, 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 till He comes.”

The third cup was the one most emphasized in my childhood Seder. It is the one we drink over and over again every time we come to the Lord’s table. It is the cup of redemption-the cup that indicates the price has been paid, redemption accomplished. We receive Christ’s blood (metaphorically), taking it into ourselves, recognizing the price paid for our redemption.

Here ends the symbolism of the four cups.


The Christian Haggadot I’ve read and used act as though the symbolism is complete with these three cups.

I disagree, as you shall see.

This is the second part in a four-part series on the four cups of the Seder. Stay tuned for the rest of the posts, which I’ll be rolling out next week.

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Reader Comments (2):

  1. Barbara H. says:

    This explains something I had wondered about. We had a detailed explanation of the seder in a former church, and I had wondered how they got to four cups when that wasn’t mentioned in Exodus at the Passover and whether that was Jewish tradition that was added later. I also wondered if the four cups would have been used in Christ’s day.

  2. Anna says:

    Next year in (the new) Jerusalem!

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