Is the Believer’s Death Precious to God?

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Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

From the article

How, then, do we explain Ps 116:15 in the context of the entire psalm? The answer appears to be the way the word “precious” has been traditionally mistranslated. The word is yāqār has the idea not only of something that is precious, but also something that is rare (McCann, 1996), prized, or highly valued (Ross, 2016). If we translated the verse with the ability to work with this wider semantic range, the psalmist appears to be saying that because God preserves the lives of his people, their untimely deaths are rare.

"Rare" seems quite unlikely in my view. The psalm doesn't say "precious ... are the untimely deaths" it just says "precious... deaths." And death is the least rare thing in human experience ! (OK, given the death-dodging of Enoch and Elijah, death is slightly less rare than sin.)

The idea is almost certainly very close to how we usually use the passage at funerals--or at least how I've always assumed people were using it, and I used it myself: that death is not cheap and meaningless in God's eyes.

But in my experience, at funerals, the verse is usually simply quoted, with no interpretation at all. That leaves listeners to interact with the poetry much as they have for thousands of years . . . in a personal way. They're going to take it in one of several ways:

  • God's people are precious to Him and so their coming into His presence is also precious
  • For believers, death is progress, and this is also precious
  • This life is important and so, the ending of it is not trivial in God's eyes
  • For many, death ends great suffering, and so that deliverance is also precious

The verse is powerful all on its own without interpreting it for the audience. But if we're going to interpret it, "precious" fits far better than "rare."

TylerR's picture

Editor

I used Psalm 116 as a funeral sermon several years ago, but I didn't know it was a popular "go to" text for funerals. I was literally just reading through some psalms, searching for a good text, and found it. I only found out later that it was a bit of a "stock" text for funerals. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

David R. Brumbelow's picture

I agree.  Precious, rather than rare, seems to be the best translation for Psalm 116:15.  Apparently English Bible translators also agree.  

David R. Brumbelow