Hollow receptacles, some having lids (Nu 19:15), used to hold liquids or dry materials. (1Ki 17:10; Es 1:7; Jer 40:10) Many were made of clay, wood, metal, or stone. (Le 6:28; 15:12; Nu 7:85; 1Ki 10:21; Mt 26:7) Common containers included jars and vessels “of the bowl sort” (Isa 22:24), bags or sacks (Ge 42:25; Hag 1:6), baskets (Mr 8:19, 20; 2Co 11:33), skin bottles (Jg 4:19; Lu 5:37, 38), and buckets.
Jars, Jugs, and Flasks. The jar, generally a deep cylindrical vessel having one, two, or even four handles, was usually earthenware (Isa 30:14; La 4:2) and, sometimes, made of stone. (Joh 2:6) A common large jar in the days of the kingdoms of Judah and of Israel may have been approximately 65 cm (25 in.) high with a diameter of about 40 cm (16 in.). Some jars were equipped with spouts. (2Ki 4:2) Jars might be kept on a stand (Le 11:35) and were used to hold such liquids as water or oil (1Ki 18:33; 2Ki 4:2), large ones often being employed for wine. (1Sa 10:3; 25:18; 2Sa 16:1; Jer 13:12) Also dry materials, such as flour, were stored in jars. (1Ki 17:12) Sometimes documents, including deeds of purchase, were placed in earthenware jars, or vessels, for safekeeping. (Jer 32:13-15) A number of ancient manuscripts were thus preserved in jars in the Qumran area near the Dead Sea, among the manuscripts being the well-known Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah.
Bowls, Dishes, and Platters. Bowls were used to hold such liquids as wine (Am 6:6), milk (Jg 5:25), and water (Jg 6:38). They were made of clay, stone, and metal. Some banquet bowls were ceramic. As indicated by finds of archaeologists, in the days of the kingdoms of Judah and of Israel ceramic bowls averaged about 20 cm (8 in.) in height, had a diameter inside the rim of approximately 40 cm (16 in.), and sometimes had four handles. In comparison with bowls, dishes and platters likely were shallow.
Cups. The cup, a comparatively small vessel for drinking liquids, was usually made of clay, though sometimes of metal. (Pr 23:31; Jer 35:5; Mr 9:41) Some cups were molded to fit the hand. Usually they were handleless shallow bowls. Those equipped with handles could also serve as dippers.
Figurative Use. The congregator indicated that at death “the jar at the spring is broken.” Apparently this jar is the heart, which in death ceases to receive and transmit the flow of blood throughout the body. It becomes as useless as a broken jar that can hold no water. Also the brain, alluded to in connection with the figure of a “golden bowl” (evidently the cranium with its brain content), ceases to function and undergoes dissolution, “gets crushed.”
Vessels. The Scriptures often refer to people as vessels. (Ac 9:15) Christians are frail earthen vessels entrusted with a glorious treasure, the ministry. (2Co 4:7) Women are designated as the “weaker vessel.” Therefore, Christian husbands, by taking into consideration their wives’ physical and biological limitations, as did Jehovah in the Law given to Israel (Le 18:19; 20:18), act “according to knowledge, assigning them honor as to a weaker vessel, the feminine one.”
An individual should keep separate from vessels “lacking honor” (persons who do not conduct themselves aright) and should pursue a course in harmony with Jehovah’s will. Thus he can be “a vessel for an honorable purpose, sanctified, useful to his owner, prepared for every good work.” (2Ti 2:20, 21) Jehovah’s refraining from bringing immediate destruction upon “vessels of wrath,” wicked persons, serves to spare righteously disposed ones because it gives them time to be molded as “vessels of mercy.”
Cup. The cup is often symbolic of divine retribution or of God’s anger. From such a cup wicked individuals, cities, or even peoples and nations might drink. (Ps 11:6; 75:8; Isa 51:17, 22; Jer 25:12-29; 51:41; La 4:21; Re 14:9, 10; 16:19; 18:5-8) Ancient Babylon, for example, was a symbolic “golden cup in the hand of Jehovah,” from which many nations had to drink the bitter potion of defeat.
When destruction was in store for Jerusalem, the inhabitants were told that people would not “give them the cup of consolation to drink on account of one’s father and on account of one’s mother.” This was possibly an allusion to a cup of wine given to a person mourning over his deceased parents.
The symbolic “cup” that Jehovah poured for Jesus Christ was His will for Jesus. Doubtless because of Christ’s great concern over the reproach his death as one charged with blasphemy and sedition would bring to God, Jesus prayed that this “cup” pass away from him, if possible. Nevertheless, he was willing to submit to Jehovah’s will and drink it. (Mt 26:39, 42; Joh 18:10, 11) Jehovah’s assigned portion, or “cup,” for Jesus meant not only suffering but also Jesus’ baptism into death climaxed by his being resurrected to immortal life in heaven. (Lu 12:50; Ro 6:4, 5; Heb 5:7) It was, therefore, also “the cup of grand salvation” for Christ. (Ps 116:13) According to the divine will, the “cup” that Jesus Christ was given to drink he also shares with the “little flock” of his joint heirs of the Kingdom.