The heart of Psalm 116—a song of thanksgiving—is a deeply personal love story born of salvation. The psalmist has come to realize how intimately God cares for him, especially in matters of life and death: “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints,” says Psalm 116:15 (ESV). The New Living Translation expresses the meaning more naturally to modern readers: “The LORD cares deeply when his loved ones die.”
Taken out of context, one might wonder if “precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints” implies that God delights or finds some satisfaction when His followers die. But if we consider the psalmist’s recent and narrow escape from death, the phrase’s true significance emerges.
The author of Psalm 116 describes a near-death struggle: “Death wrapped its ropes around me; the terrors of the grave overtook me. I saw only trouble and sorrow” (Psalm 116:3, NLT). But when the psalmist calls on the Lord for help, God answers his prayer: “He has saved me from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling” (Psalm 116:8, NLT). In response to the Lord’s goodness, the psalmist promises to praise God for His compassionate concern and vows to serve Him faithfully.
The word translated as “precious” means “of high worth, value, or cost.” In the original Hebrew, the term rendered “saints” refers to the Lord’s faithful followers—those who love and serve God actively and commit themselves to a covenantal relationship with Him. Thus, the statement “precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints” reveals that God is not indifferent about how and when His faithful servants die. “How painful it is to the Lord,” says Today’s English Version.
Just as our “lives are precious to him” (Psalm 72:14, NIV), so is the ending of our lives. God does not regard the death of one of His beloved children lightly. If it is not our appointed time to die, the Lord will hasten to protect us. “Our God is a God who saves! The Sovereign LORD rescues us from death,” says Psalm 68:20 (NLT). The moment and circumstances of our death will not take God by surprise. Scripture says, “All my days were written in Your book and planned before a single one of them began” (Psalm 139:16, HCSB). The Lord knows how, when, and where we will die. He cares deeply about every circumstance we face, and particularly the crucial moment of our death.
God watches fiercely over His servants, says Isaiah 54:17: “‘No weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and this is their vindication from me,’ declares the LORD.” Through Zechariah, God affirms, “Anyone who harms you harms my most precious possession” (Zechariah 2:8, NLT). Like the apostle Paul, we can be confident that God will keep us alive until our work for Him is done (Philippians 1:22–25). We can trust as Jesus did that no one will lay a hand on us until our time has come (John 7:30; 8:20).
When the psalmist was fighting for his life in the “snares of death,” his prayer got God’s attention. His life-and-death predicament was precious in the eyes of the Lord. When we undergo life-threatening experiences, we can know that “the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil” (1 Peter 3:12). We can trust that God will come to our defense, “For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him” (2 Chronicles 16:9). Our lives and our deaths are matters of deep concern for God.