“Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Sam. 17:26b). So asks David when he hears Goliath taunting the timid Israelites. But why does David choose to speak of “the living God”? He does not say that Goliath is defying “the mighty God” or “the sovereign God,” which would make sense in the context of warfare. Neither does he make reference to “the true God” as opposed to the Philistines’ Dagon. He eschews any number of other terms for Israel’s deity—“the jealous God,” “the wrathful God,” “the gracious God”—in favor of “the living God.” Why?
At first glance, the term the living God appears to be a waste of words. Is it really necessary to assert that God is living? As Dr. Nick Needham argues elsewhere in this issue of Tabletalk, God is a necessary being—it is impossible for Him not to exist. When we use the term God, we are already referring to a being who exists. Do we need to say that He is “the living God”?
Thankfully, this term reminds us of a great truth beyond the fact mat God has existence in and of Himself. Consider:
In Acts 14, after God has used Paul to heal a lame man, the people of Lystra prepare to sacrifice to Paul and Barnabas, proclaiming them to be the Greek gods Hermes and Zeus. But the apostles protest vehemently, telling the people that they cannot permit such idolatry, and that they have in fact been teaching the people to turn from such “useless things to the living God” (v. 15). The implication here is that there is no other god, no being even remotely like God. Every other so-called god is just a “useless thing.”
The same truth emerges in Jeremiah 10:10, where God, speaking through His prophet, says, “The Lord is the true God; He is the living God and the everlasting King.” Only God is truly divine; all other so-called gods are false deities.
Finally, in 2 Kings 19, King Hezekiah makes the same point. The Assyrians have reproached “the living God ” (v. 16) by comparing Him to the gods of other nations they have conquered (v. 12). But God is not like those other so-called gods. Hezekiah says, “You are God, You alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth” (v. 15). Other so-called gods are non-entities.
Now David’s point is clear: God is God, but other “gods” are nothing at all. Goliath, therefore, is treating God like a nobody. The Philistine giant is about to fall into the hands of the living God—and that is a fearful thing (Heb. 10:31).