Psalm 23 is a favorite passage among many Christians. Comfort and encouragement are readily found in this psalm, which wonderfully reminds believers that God is with them ("for you are with me" Psalm 23:4). But what does it mean when the psalmist says "my cup runneth over"(Psalm 34:5")? Made up of two parts, it is in the second poetic section that we see gratitude for God's provision through this cup imagery.
Well-known for its use of pastoral scenery, Psalm 23 invokes vivid images of rolling hills, pastures, and sheep following their Shepherd. God is the Shepherd in this verse, who graciously protects and provides for His flock of followers.
Despite the overwhelming pastoral imagery used, this psalm has two sections. The first section consists of the poetic imagery of God as the strong Shepherd who caringly watches over His sheep.
Following this depiction, is a section of the psalm, which compares God to a host at a banquet. Included in this second part is the rich imagery of anointing and an overflowing cup of drink (Psalm 23:5).
This imagery conveys the truth of God’s abundant provision for the lives of those who follow Him. God is more than enough in all situations.
Background: A Shepherd-King in Hiding
Although this psalm has been used by many people at funerals, Psalm 23 is a hopeful psalm categorized by trust. With a background as a shepherd, David vividly described the Lord as a Shepherd who cares for His “sheep.”
The focus of the poem is that God is David’s leader and provider, which is undergirded by the image of God as a host.
David was a man familiar with hiding and running away from his enemies. In fact, when God asked David to choose a punishment because of his pride in taking a nationwide census, David quickly turned down the option of being hunted by his enemies since he had already experienced this numerous times (2 Samuel 24:12-14).
In jealousy, Saul had relentlessly pursued David with the intent of taking his life (1 Samuel 23:15-18). Because of this, the young shepherd, who had been anointed as the chosen king of Israel, had to go into hiding, often taking up residence in caves (1 Samuel 23:29; 24:3).
Later in his life, David also had to flee from his vengeful son, Absalom (2 Samuel 15:13-17). After his son had rebelliously declared himself king, David traveled over the Mount of Olives to hide in caves once again (2 Samuel 15:10,30; 17:8-9).
Being surrounded by enemies and experiencing the threat of death was nothing new to this shepherd-king. Despite these events, however, David trusted in the Lord to protect and provide for him, as Psalm 23 wonderfully illustrates.
'My Cup Runneth Over' Meaning: Abundant Blessings
Psalm 23:5 in the New Living Translation more clearly shows the focus of the abundant blessings David received from God, by stating “My cup overflows with blessings.”
Through the imagery of a host-guest relationship at a banquet setting, David poetically describes the truth of the wonderful, overflowing blessing He has received from God. Hospitality was highly valued in biblical times with hosts giving generously from their own food and water supply (Genesis 18:1-8).
Not only is David’s “cup” described as full to the brim, but it is also running over. Based on the host-guest relationship, this imagery clearly teaches that God provides much more than expected.
Some people may read this part of the verse and think material blessings of food, shelter, and money are intended.
While the psalm does use the image of an overflowing cup of wine, this does not necessarily mean that David is talking about material goods. In context, David is describing his blessed state while his enemies were surrounding him.
Being no stranger to harsh conditions by hiding in caves and living in fear of enemies overtaking him, David’s blessed state was because God was present and providing for him, both physically and spiritually, amid hardship.
Although enemies surrounded him and the future seemed uncertain, David knew he could trust his life to the Lord. Some commentators interpret the cup in this passage as referring to David’s lot or station in life (Ross, Allen P. “Psalms,” Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament).
God is trustworthy to provide for the needs of His people in both good and hard times. He supplies His people not just “to the brim,” but rather abundantly and generously.
Abundant Provision in the New Testament
Psalm 23:5, with its picture of abundant blessings and provision, carries over into the New Testament as well. In Jesus’ earthly ministry, He displayed an overwhelming generosity in His miracles.
When feeding the five thousand, Jesus provided for the crowd beyond their needs using only five loaves of bread and two fish (Matthew 14:16-19). Once everyone had received enough, the disciples picked up an abundance of leftovers, which filled 12 baskets (Matthew 14:20).
In another miracle, Christ enabled Peter, James, and John to catch a multitude of fish (Luke 5:4-6, 9-10). There were so many fish that the nets were full to bursting and the boats began to sink due to the abundant catch (Luke 5:6-7). Later, after His resurrection, Jesus performed a similar miracle (John 21:5-6).
For those who are believers in the church age, an even greater blessing has been given, where one’s cup can excitedly be said to “runneth over.” This gift or blessing is salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9), and the presence of the Holy Spirit given to every believer (John 14:17).
Jesus promised that “Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them” (John 7:38, NIV). With the imagery of overflowing water, Jesus spoke of the future giving of the Spirit, which had not yet taken place (John 7:39).
God Provides Everything We Need and More
God provided David and other Old Testament saints with everything they needed to live their lives for Him. David vividly illustrates the significance of God’s abundant provision in his poetic statement of “my cup overflows” (Psalm 23:5, NIV).
Although followers of God throughout time did experience hardship, God was always faithful to meet them in their brokenness and pain.
Today, believers are greatly blessed with the presence of the Holy Spirit, who is described as an overflowing spring of water given by the Lord Jesus (John 4:13-14). With the Holy Spirit, the believer has everything they need to live a godly life following God (2 Peter 1:3).
Not only that, but God has given His followers even more than they need, for He “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20, ESV).
Even in the presence of enemies, hardships, or death, believers can find comfort in the fact that their “cup” runneth over with God’s abundant provision and presence.
Psalm 23:5 should not be taken to mean that material goods will be poured out in one’s life or that nothing bad will ever happen.
Rather, Christians can live a joyful life through the gift of salvation in Jesus Christ and the overwhelming blessing of the Holy Spirit. Throughout the Bible, God has been shown to generously provide for His followers. You can truly experience a life where your cup overflows.
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Sophia Bricker is a freelance writer who enjoys researching and writing articles on biblical and theological topics. In addition to contributing articles about biblical questions as a contract writer, she has also written for Unlocked devotional. She holds a BA in Ministry, a MA in Ministry, and is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing to develop her writing craft. As someone who is passionate about the Bible and faith in Jesus, her mission is to help others learn about Christ and glorify Him in her writing. When she isn’t busy studying or writing, Sophia enjoys spending time with family, reading, drawing, and gardening.