Faced with Death
(15) The voice of joy and victory (resounds) in the tents of the righteous: “The right hand of Yahweh does valiantly! (16) The right hand of Yahweh is exalted! The right hand of Yahweh does valiantly!” (17) I will not die, but live to recount the deeds of Yahweh. (18) Yahweh has chastened me severely, but he has not given me over to death. (19) Open for me the gates of righteousness that I may enter through them and give thanks to Yahweh. (20) This (is) the gate of Yahweh. The righteous shall enter through it. (21) I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.
Additional strong, chant-like repetitions characterize this segment of Psalm 118. “The right hand of Yahweh” is found three times in succession as a shout of triumph (vss. 15 & 16). Twice in these same verses “valiantly” is the adverbial descriptive employed. Twice the psalmist mentions escaping death (vss. 17 & 18). “Entering the gates” of righteousness that lead into Yahweh’s house of worship is repeated (vss. 19 & 20). We also find three occurrences of “righteous/righteousness” (vss. 15, 19, & 20). Finally, “thanks” offered to Yahweh is mentioned twice (vss. 19 & 21).
- in the victory gained by Yahweh’s right hand (15 & 16)
- in escaping death to live and glorify Yahweh (17 & 18)
- upon entering Yahweh’s presence to offer him thanks (19-21)
Because Yahweh has given us the victory and kept us from death, we will offer him an outpouring of praise and thanksgiving.
King Solomon wrote, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot” (Eccl. 3:1 & 2). For all of us there inevitably comes “a time to die.” However, if that time were to meet us unexpectedly, confronting us with being cut off in the midst of an active and fulfilling life, we might very well find ourselves crying out to God, “Please let me live!” It could be due to a diagnosis of cancer or some other dreaded disease. It could be the result of a terrible accident that leaves us battling for life in a hospital emergency room. Whatever the reason, such moments cause us to realize how fragile are our lives and how dependent we are on God for every breath that we take.
According to 2 Kings 20 King Hezekiah found himself in such a predicament. The chapter begins with Isaiah, the prophet, conveying to the king the following message: “This is what Yahweh says: ‘Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.’” A fatal illness was terrible news indeed for a strong ruler at the height of his powers. Hezekiah did what any of us would have done, that is, cry out to Yahweh for a reprieve. God responded by telling Isaiah to return to Hezekiah and convey to him the message that he had been granted an additional fifteen years of life. This segment of Psalm 118 could well have come from Hezekiah’s own lips as he rejoiced in God’s gracious gift: “I will not die, but live to recount the deeds of Yahweh!”
From time to time we do well to ask ourselves, “How will I respond when faced with the inevitability of death? Will I tremble with fear or will I entrust myself to the grace of a loving Father?” May God grant us the kind of faith that honors him and serves as a testimony to all who know us when we walk through that dark valley of death that leads us into his glorious presence.