In just a few verses, the songwriter of Psalm 116 has climbed from the utter depths of grief and sorrow to the heights of praising God. His journey undoubtedly took many months, however. The song merely recounts his ordeal.
While his praising God marks the pinnacle of his climb, it also appears to be his means of getting there. He didn’t wait until he felt better before giving the Lord praise.
I Shall Praise His Name
Precious in the sight of the LORD
Is the death of His godly ones.
O LORD, surely I am Your servant,
I am Your servant, the son of Your handmaid,
You have loosed my bonds.
To You I shall offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving,
And call upon the name of the LORD. (116:15–17)
The psalmist declares his thanks and praises God’s name in appreciation for all His goodness. Strangely, though, the songwriter mentions “the death of His godly ones” as a part of his praise. Why? I think the answer is connected to his tragic experience mentioned in verses 3–4, 6, and 8. In fact, I believe the psalmist had been delivered from death, perhaps as a lone survivor. In verse 16, he mentions himself as “the son of Your handmaid” from whom he had been “loosed.” In other words, he had been loosed from the bonds of death, if I interpret this correctly. I suggest that the calamity and grief mentioned earlier quite probably snuffed out the life of several of his loved ones, likely including his mother—which resulted in his tears and grief (116:8), sorrow and disillusionment (116:10–11). Even in these circumstances, he rendered his praise to God.
He calls the death of these loved ones “precious” in God’s sight. I don’t think this means that God took delight in the fact that they died, but that He considered their deaths honorable. Moreover, they didn’t die anonymously, without the Lord’s notice. He was intensely aware of their passing, and He gave value to their ordeal.
None of God’s people pass from this world to the next without God’s notice. When they die, He is present and He cares. According to other passages of Scripture, the goodness of God becomes their possession when they enter His presence to be with Him forever. While the composer mourns the passing of his loved ones, and laments how much he misses being with them, he knows they will no longer have to suffer the grind of grief and sorrow. They will never shed tears of sadness again.
In this way, the psalmist praised God in the midst of his own grief because he knew the Lord would raise a wonderful tomorrow from the ashes of today. That is the way it ought to be. Our praise and thanksgiving should be expressed regardless. When we learn to give thanks in everything, we will discover God’s most basic lessons for our lives—even in times of distress—even in times of sorrow and grief.