The Divine View of Death
In a psalm that is designed to emphasize the love of God for his children, an inspired writer declares: “Precious in the sight of Jehovah is the death of his saints” (116:15).
The word “precious” is of considerable interest. The Hebrew expression (yakar) is used to depict a variety of things in the Old Testament. For example, the term describes the precious stones the queen of Sheba brought to Solomon (1 Kings 10:2). It refers also to the excellent reputation that David obtained as a youth (1 Samuel 18:30). It was applied to the value of God’s word during the childhood days of Samuel when there was a sparseness of divine revelation (1 Samuel 3:1).
In Psalm 116:15 the word clearly suggests the worth God places on his people, even in death. Some believe that the thrust of the passage is this: God “does not take lightly” the death of his saints (Yarchin 1997, 525). This could serve as a warning to any who would threaten or treat harshly the Lord’s people.
On the other hand, the most common view is that the death of his faithful is a truly “precious” thing to the Creator, equivalent to the value one would place upon a treasured thing. What magnificent measure of comfort there is in this affirmation. Just why would the Lord treasure those who have surrendered to his will?
For one thing, they have assessed the power of his creative ability, the genuineness of his benevolent love, and the blessedness of the hope he provides beyond the grave. Hence, in faith, these have determined to cast aside all impediments in order to serve him—no matter what the consequences. Such are rare qualities in the masses who generally are ambitiously self-centered and obsessed more with time than eternity.
We must observe in passing that the text would have no meaning if: (a) there is no existence after death, or (b) there is not a distinction between the death of a “saint” and one who is not.
Another Vantage Point
On the other hand, to those who languished under the rigors of Babylonian captivity as a penalty for their sins, the prophet Ezekiel, speaking for God, declared: “As I live, says the Lord Jehovah, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked” (Ezekiel 33:11). The Lord is not a “sadistic ogre” who finds pleasure in watching the wicked die (Block 1998, 247).
Our Maker has “no desire” (NEB) to see the wicked pass from this life lost, because when one dies in sin, he cannot be henceforth with his Creator (Luke 23:43; John 8:21; 2 Corinthians 5:8). It is appointed unto humanity once to die, and after this comes judgment (Hebrews 9:27). There is no post-mortem plan of redemption—the various theories of paganism (e.g., reincarnation) and the corrupt ideologies of “Christendom” (e.g., the dogma of Purgatory, the notion of “baptism for the dead,” or the idea of a "second-chance salvation) to the contrary notwithstanding. Neither is there “universal salvation” as some imagine.
Accordingly, through his prophet, the Lord pled: “Turn back, turn back from your evil ways” (11b). Note the intensity of the plea. In essence, this is the biblical significance of “repentance.” How deceived are the multitudes who labor under the impression that they are secure in the deliberate continuation of their wickedness because God is too tolerant to hold them accountable for their sustained rebellion. The prophet’s admonition flies directly in the face of Calvin’s “once-saved, always-saved” teaching.
Further, the modern notion that repentance is merely saying, “I’m sorry,” but then maintaining the status quo (as in adulterous “marital” unions; cf. Mark 6:18) is far from the truth. Jehovah will pardon what we “have been,” if we conform to what we “ought to be.”
When the prophet speaks of the “death” of the wicked, he reaches beyond the moment of physical death, for all suffer the pangs of fleshly death, the common “enemy” that stalks Adam’s offspring until the return of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:26). Rather, “death” (which always implies a separation of sort) is here extended to estrangement from God, especially the eternal separation of divine abandonment (see Matthew 25:41; 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9 [especially here note the phrase, “from the face of the Lord”]; Revelation 20:14).
That God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked is amply demonstrated by the following factors: (a) the integrity of his word (note the oath format in the passage cited—“as I live, says the Lord”); (b) the known quality of the Creator’s character (1 John 4:8; Ephesians 2:4), not “wishing” that anyone should perish (2 Peter 3:9); (c) the profuse manifestation of his benevolence in the gift of his Son (John 3:16; 2 Corinthians 9:15).
It is a tragedy of indescribable magnitude that so many careless souls reject divine love and proceed on the downward slide towards an irreversible and horrible destiny.
Scripture references: 1 Kings 10:2; 1 Samuel 18:30; 1 Samuel 3:1; Psalm 116:15; Ezekiel 33:11; Luke 23:43; John 8:21; 2 Corinthians 5:8; Hebrews 9:27; Mark 6:18; 1 Corinthians 15:26; Matthew 25:41; 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9; Revelation 20:14; 1 John 4:8; Ephesians 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9; John 3:16; 2 Corinthians 9:15
- Block, Daniel. 1998. The Book of Ezekiel – Chapters 25-48. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
- Yarchin, William. 1997. Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis. Vol. 2. Willem A. VanGereren, ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.