“Just as the LORD has found great pleasure in causing you to prosper and multiply, the LORD will find pleasure in destroying you. You will be torn from the land you are about to enter and occupy.” – Deuteronomy 28:63
How do we reconcile this verse with Ezekiel 18:23 and Ezekiel 18:32 where God says that He takes no pleasure in the death of anyone? How could God be so sadistic at the notion of destroying his own people?
I asked some apologists about this and this is what they had to say:
“I would say this is a little bit of Hebrew parallel thought. The one hand and the other hand. One hand he enjoyed blessing them (Israel), on the other hand, because of their evil, he enjoys their correction (those whom he loves). As was said about Jesus’ suffering, “for the joy set before him. He endured the cross.” The joy is in their correction (destroy or be undone), not their damnation. We are speaking of Israel here, a corporate judgment, not individual damnation.” – Dane Gjesdal
“Destruction doesn’t equal annihilation or death. God takes pleasure in executing his divine judgment (on Israel in this case), but that is not the same as taking pleasure in the death of a unsaved or wicked person. In all his judgments, God desires repentance.” – Eric Miller
It’s possible that God could have mixed feelings about punishing the Israelites. On the one hand, He does it with a heavy heart because He loves the Israelites and doesn’t want to punish them, on the other hand, He’s happy that justice is done and that the wicked don’t get away with the sins they have committed. I felt this way when Bin Ladin was shot. On the one hand, I hated that another soul God finds precious went to Hell, on the other hand I felt glad that that maniac was no longer a threat to the US. I don’t want anyone (not even terrorists) to go to Hell to suffer forever but I also don’t want them to be a danger to us. After all, he can’t hurt us if he’s dead. So in that case, I guess you could say I was sad and glad at the same time. Not that God was gleeful at the thought of causing them to suffer but that he was glad that evil would not go unpunished. And as Eric Miller said in the above quote, this was talking about punishment in this earthly life not about condemnation to the fires of Hell. God is referring to eternal, spiritual death in Ezekiel 18:23 where as He’s referring to temporary punishment in the Earthly life in Deuteronomy 28:63.
Also, I think there is a distinction between finding something pleasing and finding it pleasurable. The former means that the thing is agreeable (i.e. “If it pleases the court…”) while the latter means to derive enjoyment from it. So looking at these scriptural examples, God finds it agreeable to punish the wicked, but he does not find it enjoyable, in fact it saddens Him to have to do it to those whom He loves, just as a parent would find it agreeable to spank his 3 year old when he’s acting up, nevertheless it saddens him that he has to do it because he loves his 3 year old deeply and doesn’t want to make him cry (but he knows if he doesn’t, he’ll never learn not to misbehave).
Words tend to have a range of meanings dependent on context. It’s also worth noting that there is a Hebrew word for “pleasure” (chaphets, חפץ) that appears in Ezekiel 18:23 and Psalm 135:6 but is not used in other verses (that word is suws, שוש).
So, again, while it pleases/is agreeable to the Lord to punish the wicked, he does not find it pleasurable.
That, along with the fact it appears twice in the verse; the first time in reference to a positive thing, the second time in reference to a negative thing, leads me to think that it could possibly be a literary device, rather than a literal statement. For Example: a parent could say to his child “If you obey me, I’ll be happy to reward you, but if you disobey me, I’ll be happy to punish you”.
We must always remember to interpret the unclear passages of The Bible in light of clear passages in The Bible. God does not enjoy punishing people. He enjoys blessing people and answering prayers but judgment is not the kind of thing He takes pleasure in. He is glad that justice is done, but He is saddened that justice even had to be done in the first place. Why? Because He loves us all so much!
“He said to them, ‘This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, to whom you sent me to present your petition, says: ‘If you stay in this land, I will build you up and not tear you down; I will plant you and not uproot you, for I am GRIEVED OVER THE DISASTER I have inflicted on you.’” – Jeremiah 42:9-10
“And God sent an angel to destroy Jerusalem. But as the angel was doing so, the LORD saw it and was grieved because of the calamity and said to the angel who was destroying the people, ‘Enough! Withdraw your hand.’ The angel of the LORD was then standing at the threshing floor of Araunah [a] the Jebusite.” – 1 Chronicles 21:15
Supposed Contradiction also answered here: