Question: "What does it mean that God does not delight in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11)?"
Answer: The topic of individual responsibility for sin is explored in Ezekiel 18:20–32 and resurfaces in Ezekiel 33:10–20. In these passages, Scripture makes plain that people have a choice to either live righteously or wickedly. The Lord emphatically states, “I take no pleasure in the death of wicked people. I only want them to turn from their wicked ways so they can live. Turn! Turn from your wickedness, O people of Israel! Why should you die?” (Ezekiel 33:11, NLT). Yes, it is true that God does not delight in the death of the wicked.
God made Ezekiel a watchman for the people of Israel. Ezekiel is charged with keeping guard, warning God’s people that judgment for sin is coming. If they persist in their evil ways, they will die. But because of the Lord’s mercy, grace, and love, because He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, God is careful to warn of judgment and call His people to repentance. It doesn’t matter how righteously they have lived in the past. If they are sinning now, they must turn to God immediately and live (Ezekiel 18:23–24).
Ezekiel 33:11 reveals that God’s mercy and grace are not strictly New Testament concepts. What jumps to the forefront in the passage is that God is a God of forgiveness. Seeing a backslidden person repent brings Him gratification. God delights not in punishing the wicked but in giving life to those who turn away from sin. Movies and television shows glamorize vengeance killings as though an evil person’s death is something to celebrate and applaud. But Ezekiel 18:32 tells us that God does not delight in the death of anyone. God wants everyone to understand the truth, repent, and be saved (1 Timothy 2:3–4). Like the father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, what pleases God is welcoming home repentant sinners (Luke 15:11–32). God longs to restore people to right relationship with Himself.
When we consider the punishment of evil people, we must remember the patience of God. As believers, we’ll want to check our attitude toward the death of the wicked by keeping in mind God’s incredibly merciful, gracious, and longsuffering heart (Psalm 78:38). Yes, God will judge evildoers. Yes, He will punish wickedness (Isaiah 13:11; 26:21; Psalm 37:38; Deuteronomy 32:35; Ecclesiastes 12:14). At the same time, God is full of compassion, patience, and forgiveness (Psalm 86:15; Isaiah 48:9). “The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion” (Numbers 14:18), “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:8–9). There is a grand celebration in heaven when even just one lost sinner repents and returns to God (Luke 15:7).
Before a person comes to saving faith in Jesus Christ, he or she lives in rebellion toward God. We may not have considered ourselves evil or living in outright wickedness before salvation. Nevertheless, we were separated from God by sin (Isaiah 59:2; Ephesians 4:18). For this reason, the apostle Paul gives this stern admonishment to anyone who might delight in the death of the wicked: “You may think you can condemn such people, but you are just as bad, and you have no excuse! . . . Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin? But because you are stubborn and refuse to turn from your sin, you are storing up terrible punishment for yourself. For a day of anger is coming, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed” (Romans 2:1–5, NLT).
While God does not delight in the death of the wicked, Proverbs 11:10 observes that “the whole city celebrates when the godly succeed; they shout for joy when the wicked die” (NLT). Just as every individual is responsible for his choice to live righteously or wickedly, whole societies reap the benefits and damages of these moral choices. When godliness and morality prevail in this world and evil is defeated, there is reason to rejoice because God’s will is accomplished on the earth (Romans 13:1–7). We can delight in justice being done and evil being conquered, but the everlasting condemnation of a soul should never be celebrated.
The eternal fate of every person is not a matter to be taken lightly. The death of the redeemed is, in one sense, an excellent reason to celebrate because that person has entered eternal life with Christ (Psalm 116:15; Philippians 1:21). But the death of the wicked is a tragedy because that person’s chance to be saved and live forever with God has passed. Eternal separation from God is the fate that awaits everyone who ultimately rejects Him in this life (Matthew 25:46; Daniel 12:2; Revelation 20:15). Rather than delight in the death of the wicked, we should pray for them to receive salvation before it’s too late.