People turn to this verse and ministers quote it at funerals for comfort of the grieving. How is the death of God’s faithful precious in His sight? The interpretation given to the verse by The Message captures this understanding. “When they arrive at the gates of death, GOD welcomes those who love him.” A thought which is true, but is this the point being made by the psalmist? The death of God’s faithful is precious to God for they will now be with him in heaven? The death of our fifteen month old grandson Sully was precious in the sight of God? Such a tragic, all too soon, death is a precious thing to God? In this we are to find comfort!? I do not find comfort in this understanding of Psalm 116:15.
Death, the apostle Paul wrote, is an enemy. The last enemy to be destroyed by Christ when he returns is death (1 Corinthians 15:24-26). Death is not a friend of life, not a part of life, but an enemy of life. How can an enemy’s defeat of one of his saints be precious in the sight of the LORD?
In his song the psalmist is thanking Yahweh for delivering him from death. The psalmist’s song is an expression of love for Yahweh and the surrender of his life to serving his God in response to God saving his life. “The cords of death entangled” him. “The anguish of the grave came upon” him. He cried out to God for mercy, calling on the name of Yahweh. In his grace, righteousness, and compassion, Yahweh heard the psalmist’s cry and delivered him from death. Yahweh delivered him so that he might “walk before the LORD in the land of the living.” I find it strange that in this context the psalmist would write that the death of His saints is precious to God.
I believe the following capture the meaning of the psalmist’s words. An older version of the NLT reads, “The LORD’s loved ones are precious to him; it grieves him when they die.” The latest version of the NLT reads, “The LORD cares deeply when his loved one dies.” The Jewish TANAKH translates, “The death of his faithful ones is grievous in the LORD’s sight.” The NJB reads, “Costly in Yahweh’s sight is the death of his faithful.” And so Yahweh answered the psalmist’s cry and delivered him from death. In response the psalmist asks, “How can I repay the LORD for all his goodness to me?”
With this understanding how does this psalm which celebrates God’s deliverance of the psalmist from death help those whose prayers God heard but His answer was not deliverance? Fervent prayers were offered up to God to deliver Sully from his leukemia, his suffering, and death. Like Sully, your loved one was not delivered so that he or she might walk before the LORD in the land of the living.
The psalmist does not answer all the whys. He does help me understand that Sully, that your loved one, that each of his faithful, are so very dear to God, yes, precious to God. When the enemy, death, takes away the life of God’s faithful, God grieves. He grieves with us when His faithful are robbed of His gift of life. “Costly in Yahweh’s sight is the death of his faithful.” I am unable to give God praise and thanksgiving for hearing my cries and delivering my grandson from death. For He did not so answer my prayers as I wanted. Yet I do find comfort in God’s grief over Sully’s death. His heart was so stricken. I find comfort in God’s grieving with me.
I am unable to give God praise and thanksgiving for hearing my cries and delivering my grandson from death. Yet I see God’s grief is so heavy that He shared in Sully’s death by sending His own Son to die on the cross. How precious Sully, all of us, are to God. Such love for Sully, for all of us, lifts up my heart. God’s love and His grace go further. Christ broke the chains with which death entangles us. Rising up from the grave to life, Christ conquered death.
The day is coming when Christ will return, when the last enemy, death, will be conquered. Sully’s earthly body, enchained by death, will break free from death, perfect, whole, created for eternity. In spirit Sully is now with Christ. On that blessed day he will be, in spirit and body, living in the presence of the Father, Son, and Spirit, in the new heavens and the new earth. So it is and will be for all of God’s faithful. For this I give God praise and thanksgiving.
“I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD…. Praise the LORD.”