Bible Question:

How do you resolve Deuteronomy 28:63 where God takes pleasure in the death of the wicked and Ezekiel 18:23 where He does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked?

Bible Answer:

Here are the two passages that you have asked about.

It shall come about that as the LORD delighted over you to prosper you, and multiply you, so the LORD will delight over you to make you perish and destroy you; and you will be torn from the land where you are entering to possess it. Deut. 28:63 (NASB)

Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked,” declares the Lord GOD, “rather than that he should turn from his ways and live? Ezek. 18:23 (NASB)

Both passages deal with wicked men and women and how God will deal with their disobedience. The message is that God willingly chooses to punish the wicked because He is holy, but He does not really enjoy doing it. Now let’s look at each passage carefully.

Deuteronomy 28 is addressed to the nation of Israel. In verses 1 through 14 God calls them to obedience and promises blessing if they will obey. Verses 9-10 are a beautiful summary of the opening part of the chapter.

The LORD will establish you as a holy people to Himself, as He swore to you, if you keep the commandments of the LORD your God and walk in His ways. So all the peoples of the earth will see that you are called by the name of the LORD, and they will be afraid of you. Deut. 28:9–10 (NASB)

Then in verses 15-68, God warned them that if they were ever disobedient He would punish them. In spite of their complaints to God about His care for them, it is clear that they felt privileged and special. Earlier in Deut. 7:6-8 God had told them that He had selected them to be His own people, not because of anything that they had done or were, but because He loved them. God revealed His heart for them. They were loved and cherished. Now they were about to enter the Promised Land. They were excited and eager to enter the land of Palestine and take possession of a land that was once their own.

As a side note, it is important to remember that the Promised Land had been promised originally to Abraham and his descendants. After Joseph was sold into Egypt (Gen. 37:26), one of his descendants, Jacob, moved his entire family down into Egypt (Gen. 46:1-34). After four hundred years (Gen. 15:13; Ex. 12:40-41) of captivity in Egypt the Israelites were returning to the land in which Abraham had been living and was now promised to them.

Consequently, in Deut. 28:63 God sends them a message. Even though He cherished or delighted in them, they would still be punished if they were disobedient. Verse 63 sends that message using strong wording. The Hebrew word that is translated twice as “delighted” in verse 63 is SUS. The word means “to delight, to be glad, to be pleased or to exult.” It is a weak Hebrew word that God used to express pleasure. So when God says that He delighted in the Israelites in the past, He was making a positive statement but just as willingly He will punish them in the future if they disobey. Later in Deut. 30:9 God tells them that He will SUS when they return to Him.

In Ezekiel 18:23 God says that He does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked. The Hebrew word that is translated as “pleasure” is HAPES. It is not the same word that is used in Deut. 28:63. This Hebrew word is actually repeated, occurring twice. Our English Bibles do not indicate that the word is repeated. The repetition adds emphasis. HAPES means “to take pleasure or to desire.” By repeating HAPES God made a very strong statement that He does not enjoy the death of the wicked. He might cause their death, but that does not mean He really enjoys it. He would rather not. Because of His holiness He chooses to punish – or SUS – but He does not take HAPES. Therefore, when God disciplines or destroys us for our disobedience He willingly – “delights” – makes that decision, but He does not really enjoy their death.

Conclusion:

Deuteronomy 28:6 and Ezekiel 18:23 are in agreement.

Reference Links:

The Rescue -Salvation
What does it mean Israel is God's chosen people?