The Fifth Cup of Passover

It’s that time of year again. The time when the Jewish people (and some of us, as well) clean out their cabinets and refrigerators in anticipation of the quickly approaching feast of Passover. 

Passover reminds us of so much – the Exodus from Egypt, God redeeming His people, freedom from sin given to us by our Messiah, just to mention a few. But, on this Passover, with the strict quarantines, spreading pandemic, and fear, one aspect of Passover seems to offer a ray of hope that is especially relevant to our times. 

One of the most prominent traditions of the seder on the night of Passover is the drinking of the four cups of wine. These cups symbolize the four “I will” promises made by God to the Jewish people in Exodus 6:6-8:

I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians…”

I will rescue you from their bondage…”

I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgements…”

I will take you as My people and I shall be your God.”

But wait, are there only four? What about the very next verse? 

“And I will bring you into the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and I will give it to you as a heritage: I am the Lord.”

These two final “I will’s” are the culmination of the Exodus story, so to speak. They are the end goal of the previous four promises. Shouldn’t these very important and culminating “I will’s” take center stage? Shouldn’t they also be represented by their own cup during the seder? 

It just so happens that the sages of Israel have debated whether there should be four or five cups for the Passover seder extensively, throughout history. Ultimately, the sages have left the question open ended, never coming to an official conclusion. A “compromise” seems to have been decided on by in fact pouring a fifth and final cup, but not ever drinking it. Instead, it is left symbolically for the prophet Elijah. Why was the decision not to drink the cup made, and why is it left for Elijah of all people? 

The answer lies in the way the sages decided to approach the idea of Israel entering the land, as mentioned in Exodus chapter six. By the time the discussion was in progress, Israel had already entered the land and been exiled. They were once again waiting for God to fulfill His ultimate promise of bringing them into the land for a final time. This would be a period when God would redeem His people again, sending the Messiah to set up His throne in Jerusalem. This is what the fifth cup represents, and this is why the decision was made not to drink it. The fullness of the Redemption hadn’t been realized. 

The first four are cups we can fully partake in now, things we can actively seek or look back on in our daily lives. But what about the fifth one? Is it strictly reserved for Elijah and the ushering in of the Kingdom of God? 

“Behold I send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.”  Malachi 4:5

Today, some Jews have decided that the resuscitation of the Hebrew language, the return of many Jews to Israel (approximately 47% are now living here!), and the miraculous agricultural restoration, are enough signs of the Great Redemption to go ahead and partake of the fifth cup.

It is an amazing time to be alive! We are certainly witnessing the beginning of something very significant. Should you drink the fifth cup? You decide. A good alternative might be to pour a cup that you do not yet partake of for Elijah, signifying that he has not yet come to usher in the Messiah, and pour a cup for the Great Redemption that you do drink, signifying that there are clear signs of redemption taking place right now!

The main point is, on this Passover, let us not only remember all the things that God has so faithfully brought about for His people in the past. Let us also acknowledge what he is doing right now and remember His future promise of creating a Kingdom in Israel with the Messiah seated on the throne of David, a Kingdom that will benefit all the nations of the earth. 

We have been given so much in our generation, but yet, have so much still to look forward to. I think we can all say together with much anticipation, “Next year in Jerusalem,” and not only in Jerusalem, but in the rebuilt Jerusalem with God’s House standing again in all of its glory. 

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