WHY IS THE GOD OF THE BIBLE CALLED “THE LIVING GOD?”
by Shawn Brasseaux
“For who is there of all flesh, that hath heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived?” (Deuteronomy 5:26). Exactly why is the God of the Bible called “the living God?”
The title “the living God” appears 30 times in our King James Bible. Its first occurrence in God’s Holy Word is Deuteronomy 5:26 (above). In the context, Moses is rehearsing for this new generation of Jews what happened 40 years earlier to him and their parents. There, at Mount Sinai, God had spoken to them His words. Moses had received the Ten Commandments, and the other demands of the Law. He had faithfully given those commands. They heard a grand voice that thundered from darkness, on a mountaintop that burned with fire. Deuteronomy 5:26 is Moses quoting what Israel’s leaders had told him 40 years prior to Deuteronomy. How they trembled to hear the Creator God’s voice!
Read Deuteronomy 5:26 in context: “ And it came to pass, when ye heard the voice out of the midst of the darkness, (for the mountain did burn with fire,) that ye came near unto me, even all the heads of your tribes, and your elders;  And ye said, Behold, the LORD our God hath shewed us his glory and his greatness, and we have heard his voice out of the midst of the fire: we have seen this day that God doth talk with man, and he liveth.  Now therefore why should we die? for this great fire will consume us: if we hear the voice of the LORD our God any more, then we shall die.  For who is there of all flesh, that hath heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived?  Go thou near, and hear all that the LORD our God shall say: and speak thou unto us all that the LORD our God shall speak unto thee; and we will hear it, and do it.”
Yes, Israel called the Creator God “the living God,” but they demonstrated they had no idea what it meant! Israel, in Deuteronomy 5:26, acknowledged JEHOVAH as “the living God.” Additionally, they had told Moses in verse 27: “Go thou near, and hear all that the LORD our God shall say: and speak thou unto us all that the LORD our God shall speak unto thee; and we will hear it, and do it.” This was their problem—they wanted to “do” something.
Indeed, Israel was terrified to hear “the living God” thundering words on Mount Sinai. Why? They had agreed to a works-religion covenant with Him. They wanted Him to deal with them on the basis of their performance. He gave them their wish (note Exodus 19:3-8, and chapter 20). The Mosaic Law was a very strict system, especially dominated by fear. God, once their Blesser (Exodus chapters 14-18), now their Judge. Moreover, save for Moses, He would not tolerate man or beast ascending—or even touching—Mount Sinai. Trespassers approaching Him were to be immediately stoned or shot through with a spear (Exodus 19:12,13)!
Centuries earlier, God had selected Abraham and promised to make of him a special nation. God in His grace would make Abraham a blessing and then bless the world through Abraham—God’s gift! Abraham had to do absolutely nothing to get it. Notice, it would be what God would do, not what Abraham would do! Genesis 12:1-3: “Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and [I will] make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and [I will] curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.” The living God wanted to do something for and with Abraham and Israel. Israel, however, wanted to do something for the living God. They got death!
The Jews, sons of Abraham but also (sinful) sons of Adam, had been barred from entering the Promised Land because of their unbelief (see Numbers chapters 13 and 14; cf. Hebrews 3:7-19). Refusing to take God at His Word, Israel doubted He would surely drive out their enemies. They doubted they would dwell safely in Canaan. So, once that generation had died off in the wilderness, at the end of 40 years, Moses addressed Israel’s new generations in Deuteronomy (see Deuteronomy 5:26). He reminded them just how strict God is under the current Covenant of Law. Not long after Deuteronomy 5:26, Moses died, making Joshua God’s leader for Israel. We come to the second instance of “the living God.”
Reading Joshua 3:10: “And Joshua said, Hereby ye shall know that the living God is among you, and that he will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Hivites, and the Perizzites, and the Girgashites, and the Amorites, and the Jebusites.” Israel is where she was with Moses 40 years earlier, before the wilderness wanderings. Joshua reaffirmed that Israel had “the living God” on her side. There was great power to give them victory. While Israel under Joshua’s command had some notable military triumphs, Israel once again doubted God’s Word to her and was never faithful in remaining separate from her pagan neighbors.
The next two instances of “the living God” concern little boy David’s victorious fight with Goliath: “And David spake to the men that stood by him, saying, What shall be done to the man that killeth this Philistine, and taketh away the reproach from Israel? for who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?….Thy servant slew both the lion and the bear: and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be as one of them, seeing he hath defied the armies of the living God” (1 Samuel 17:26,36). There is power with “the living God!”
The fifth and sixth occurrences of the term “the living God” are 2 Kings chapter 19, verses 4 and 16. About 710 B.C., Assyrian King Sennacherib attempts to invade and destroy Judah and Jerusalem. Judaean King Hezekiah, seeking the LORD’S counsel, sends men to speak with the Prophet Isaiah. These men tell Isaiah in verse 4: “It may be the LORD thy God will hear all the words of Rabshakeh, whom the king of Assyria his master hath sent to reproach the living God; and will reprove the words which the LORD thy God hath heard: wherefore lift up thy prayer for the remnant that are left.” And, Hezekiah prays in verse 16: “LORD, bow down thine ear, and hear: open, LORD, thine eyes, and see: and hear the words of Sennacherib, which hath sent him to reproach the living God.” This is similar to when young David, anticipating military victory, spoke of “the living God” on Israel’s side (1 Samuel 17:26,36).
When the Psalmist saw God as his Deliverer, he wrote Psalm 42:2: “My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?” This closely resembles Psalm 84:2: “My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the LORD: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God.”
Isaiah, commenting on the events of 2 Kings, used the term twice more. Isaiah 37:4: “It may be the LORD thy God will hear the words of Rabshakeh, whom the king of Assyria his master hath sent to reproach the living God, and will reprove the words which the LORD thy God hath heard: wherefore lift up thy prayer for the remnant that is left.” Verse 17: “Incline thine ear, O LORD, and hear; open thine eyes, O LORD, and see: and hear all the words of Sennacherib, which hath sent to reproach the living God.”
The Bible’s definition of “the living God” is becoming more pronounced.
When we get to the eleventh time the phrase appears in our King James Bible, it is used to contrast the God of the nation Israel to the idols of the Gentiles. Notice Jeremiah 10:10: “But the LORD is the true God, he is the living God, and an everlasting king: at his wrath the earth shall tremble, and the nations shall not be able to abide his indignation.” Jeremiah 23:36 is a rebuke of Israel’s religious leaders for their deceiving the nation in the name of the one true God: “And the burden of the LORD shall ye mention no more: for every man’s word shall be his burden; for ye have perverted the words of the living God, of the LORD of hosts our God.”
We find the term twice in the book of Daniel. After Daniel the Prophet was thrown into the lions’ den for refusing to pray to a pagan king, Darius, King of Media, we read what happened the next morning. Daniel 6:20: “And when he came to the den, he cried with a lamentable voice unto Daniel: and the king spake and said to Daniel, O Daniel, servant of the living God, is thy God, whom thou servest continually, able to deliver thee from the lions?” During the ordeal, Darius was evidently converted to Israel’s God. Observe what Darius said in verse 26: “I make a decree, That in every dominion of my kingdom men tremble and fear before the God of Daniel: for he is the living God, and stedfast for ever, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed, and his dominion shall be even unto the end.”
So, we see that, in addition to denoting power and victory, the term “the living God” is used in contradistinction to idols, the gods of the heathen. There is still much to learn about “the living God,” for we are only halfway through our list of references.
We learn about Israel’s restoration in the last days, prophecy that will be fulfilled after our Dispensation of Grace ends: “Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured nor numbered; and it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people, there it shall be said unto them, Ye are the sons of the living God” (Hosea 1:10).
The next occurrence of the term is in the Apostle Peter’s famous profession of faith. Matthew 16:16: “And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” When the Lord Jesus is on trial, the high priest quotes the Old Testament, although in unbelief: “But Jesus held his peace, And the high priest answered and said unto him, I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God” (Matthew 26:63).
Peter, spokesman of the 12 apostles, told Jesus in John 6:69: “And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God” (cf. Matthew 16:16, quoted above). Paul and Barnabas, travelling in Lystra, urged idolaters in Acts 14:15: “And saying, Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein:”
In reference to Israel’s future restoration in the Millennium, Romans 9:26 is Paul quoting Hosea 1:10, which we looked at earlier: “And it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people; there shall they be called the children of the living God.”
The 21st through 25th instances appear in the Pauline epistles. They are associated with us, the Church the Body of Christ. Paul penned in 2 Corinthians 3:3: “Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.” And, 2 Corinthians 6:16: “And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
Referring to grace assemblies in Crete, Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 3:15: “But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” And, 1 Timothy 4:10: “For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe.” Finally, 1 Timothy 6:17: “Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy;”
While we will discuss this more fully later, for now, suffice it to say “the living God” that was once exclusive to the nation Israel can now be the God of the nations (Gentiles). That is, the one true God who did not deal with non-Jews apart from the nation Israel, is now offering fellowship with all people (Gentiles). In Paul’s writings, the Gentiles are urged to “turn to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (1 Thessalonians 1:9). Let us look in the Bible to see where Israel is urged to do the same!
Recall how we discussed Deuteronomy 5:26 when we began these studies. Although Israel declared their God was “the living God,” they really did not believe it. Remember, not long after they accepted the Covenant of Law, they fashioned and worshipped a golden calf idol (Exodus 32:1-35). Their behavior never improved. As the centuries passed, the Israelites became increasingly idolatrous. They embraced additional gods and goddesses the Gentiles had worshipped and served. (Hence, as our earlier studies show, JEHOVAH repeatedly reminded them He was “the living God.”)
We have finally reached the last five occurrences. After our Dispensation of Grace (mystery program), Israel’s prophetic program resumes where it paused 2,000 years ago. Notice what Hebrews 3:12 says to Israel in those last days: “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.” And, Hebrews 9:14: “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?”
Also, Hebrews 10:31: “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” And, Hebrews 12:22: “But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels,….” Finally, Revelation 7:2: “And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea,…”
The Jews are encouraged during Daniel’s 70th week to turn from their spiritual blindness, renounce their idols, trust the living God, and not return to that ignorant idol worship. During that seven-year Tribulation, Israel will be greatly pressured into accepting the Antichrist’s false religious system. If they are to survive God’s wrath, they cannot embrace the Antichrist’s idols and Satan’s policy of evil.
Now, to summarize!
The term “the living God” elicits cross-references. Psalm 135:15-18, for example: “ The idols of the heathen are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands.  They have mouths, but they speak not; eyes have they, but they see not;  They have ears, but they hear not; neither is there any breath in their mouths.  They that make them are like unto them: so is every one that trusteth in them” (cf. Psalm 115:4-7).
Note, “neither is there any breath in their mouths” (verse 17)—opposite of “the living God.” In Scripture, we see JEHOVAH, Israel’s God, “the living God.” We also see Gentiles’ silver and gold idols—unable to speak, see, hear, and breathe. They are dead; they can do nothing for their worshippers. Those who worship them must carry them around, and yet, those who carry them around pray to these inanimate idols for help. (Ludicrous!)
Habakkuk chapter 2: “ What profiteth the graven image that the maker thereof hath graven it; the molten image, and a teacher of lies, that the maker of his work trusteth therein, to make dumb idols?  Woe unto him that saith to the wood, Awake; to the dumb stone, Arise, it shall teach! Behold, it is laid over with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in the midst of it.” “The living God” versus heathenism’s dead gods.
When Scripture mentions “the church of the living God” (1 Timothy 3:15), or “turning to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (1 Thessalonians 1:9), this is monotheism. There is only one God, not hundreds, thousands, or millions. He, not dead idols, is the living God. He is powerful; idols are powerless. He can commune with us, and we with Him. Idols cannot. Remember, Genesis 2:7: “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”
The God of the Bible is living. He can actually do something for you. Idols can do nothing for you. The “living God” has a Son, Jesus Christ (Matthew 16:16). As He gave us physical life in creation (Genesis 2:7), He offers us spiritual life. There is no life apart from Him (John 1:1-4). If you want life, you must find it in the God of the Bible. You can only find God the Father through His Son, Jesus Christ (John 14:6). “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3).
Life is not in Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, mysticism, or any other religion. We must go beyond dead gods, false prophets, fake gods, and false religions, to find “the living and true God.” It is not we striving to find life in and of ourselves (religion), but rather Christianity, the living God offering us His life a free gift because we are spiritually dead.
While there was a dead goddess in Ephesus, Diana (today’s “Queen of Heaven,” Blessed Mother, the Virgin Mary)—Acts chapter 19—there was also in Ephesus the Church the Body of Christ, “the church of the living God” (1 Timothy 3:15). We become a member of it by simply trusting exclusively Jesus Christ’s finished crosswork. He died for our sins, He was buried, and He rose again to give us His resurrection life (1 Corinthians 15:3,4).
In the future, Israel will learn that the living God must give her life. She will not find life in heathen religion. She will not find life in her works-religion (the Mosaic Law). She is spiritually dead, unable to do anything that God instructs. But, as she experienced the living God delivering her from Egyptian and bondage to idols, He can (and will) redeem her from Satanic captivity and hellfire as well. No idol can or will ever do it… for Israel… or for us! 🙂