This is an illustration of my bad habit of assuming that people of course already know what I know when responding to questions.
I came home from work one day to find a message that a woman in our ward had a question about what the “cup of staggering” referred to in Isaiah 51:17. So I dashed off the following e-mail:
The Hebrew underlying “cup of staggering” is qubba’at
kos hattar’alah, which literally says “the goblet, the
cup [that causes] staggering.” The word “cup” (HEB
kos) was probably not original, but was a gloss in
the Masoretic Text to explain the word “goblet of”
As is often the case, the cup stands by synechdoche
for its contents, in this case intoxicating wine.
Both the cup and the idea of intoxication are common
prophetic imagery for the judgments of God meted out
against the people (in this case, by the Assyrian Empire).
The next day I got another message. This question was actually from the woman’s teenage daughter, who apparently needed it for an English class. And neither she nor her mom had understood a word of it. So I tried again:
I’m sorry, Sandy just now told me that you called,
that this answer was meant for you, and that you
didn’t understand it. Sorry; I thought I was writing
it for your mom.
The important part to realize is that this is an
example of a rhetorical figure of speech called
“synechdoche.” Synechdoche is the use of the part to
represent the whole. So, for example, when a teenager
talks with his friends about his “wheels,” he is
talking about his car; the wheels are literally only a
part of the car, but they represent the whole car, and
everyone recognizes that usage.
Similarly, the cup represents not only a cup, but its
contents, that which is in it. And in this context,
that which is in the cup is intoxicating wine, which
causes men to stagger. This is a metaphor or image
for the destruction that God brought upon the
Israelites by having the Assyrian army defeat them and
take them captive into other lands. When a man is
drunk, he stumbles, weaves, slurs his words, acts
irrationally, and eventually falls down like a fool in
a stupor. That is pretty much what the Israelites did
when they rejected their God, and Isaiah portrays this
in a vivid image.
I hope this is a little bit clearer for you.
I then received the following note from her mom:
HELLO, this is perfect for me, and remember that I need this level of info when you answer [my daughter] or me. Thanks for the flattery though, you really scared me with all those big words.