My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. (Psalm 42:2)
The psalmist longed for the “living God” – not for the dead “god” of the past, not for the misshapen pagan ideas about God that had littered his mind in the past, not for the deadness of legalistic concepts of God, and neither for the sleepy, aloof “god” that some conceive of as far-off, distant, and uncaring. The living God was the God of instant help, of close companionship, of strength and wisdom, and of redemption and salvation.
The living God satisfied hearts
Another psalm by the sons of Korah used similar words:
My soul longs, yes, faints
for the courts of the LORD;
my heart and flesh sing for joy
to the living God. (Psalm 84:2)
In that beautiful psalm the author notes that in the temple of God “even the sparrow finds a home,” noting the nesting birds and how they depict the loving grace of God.
The sons of Korah had a dubious beginning in scripture, being unhappy with their assigned positions to care for the things of the tabernacle, and aspiring for the more public role of serving priests, they were part of a rebellion that occurred in the wilderness, causing God to bring judgment (Numbers 16, 26:9-11). Later the sons of Korah necame doorkeepers and custodians of the temple (1 Chron. 9:19-21). But they wrote eleven of the psalms, among which are the memorable inspired words:
As the deer pants for water, so my soul pants for you, O God. (Psalm 42:1)
Be still and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10)
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of wickedness. (Psalm 84:10)
They had learned that what the soul truly longs for is not fame or power but loving acceptance by God. I believe that virtually every person who has ever held a position in Christian leadership for very long has been impressed by two thoughts – (a) their unworthiness to hold the position and (b) the inner desire of their heart to be in the company of those who love and accept them unconditionally. Often Christian leaders are pressured by immature Christians to please them – and immature Christians are never pleased actually – and feel pulled this way or that way.
Which is why it is so important that we know the living God as the God who satisfies hearts. If we do not stand in Him and rest in Him and feel His leadership and His peace, we will be miserable in our service. And make others unhappy in the process.
The living God defeats enemies
Joshua also used this phrase “the living God.” As he led the nation into the promised land, he said to them:
This is how you will know that the living God is among you and that he will certainly drive out before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites and Jebusites. (Joshua 3:10)
These nations represented more than opposing viewpoints. They personified the fallenness and sinfulness of the world, and the cultural backdrop that Israel had been called out of. They practiced child sacrifice along with other immoral practices in their religions and were evil and despicable societies.
Their evil was a constant temptation to Israel, just as the world is to us. We are not called to wage physical war against sinful societies today – though for one practicing child sacrifice nations might agree as a united force to take military measures to stop the practice – but we are called to put an end to sin and to association with sin in our lives. We need the strength of the living God to do so.
The living God moves by His Spirit in this world and in our hearts, and He takes captives our thoughts to make them obedient to Christ (2 Cor 10:4-5). Dead legalism will only motivate us not to get caught in our sinning, but the living God brings victory over sin in our hearts. “But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code” (Rom. 7:6).
The living God delivers His people
The prophecy of Daniel also uses this phrase, following the deliverance of Daniel from the lions’ den. King Darius said the words, but the phrase he must have learned from Daniel. Finding Daniel alive in the morning, after having spent all night among the lions, the king exclaimed of the God of Daniel:
for he is the living God,
his kingdom shall never be destroyed,
and his dominion shall be to the end.
He delivers and rescues;
he works signs and wonders
in heaven and on earth,
he who has saved Daniel
from the power of the lions. (Daniel 6:26-27 ESV)
The living God has a living and eternal kingdom and He shall fulfill His promises to His people. In eternity we shall live because He lives. The angel in Revelation swore by Him who lives forever and ever (Rev. 10:6) and in Hebrews it is written of Christ:
Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. (Hebrews 7:25)
Our salvation and deliverance is secure because it is upheld by the eternal One of the universe – God Himself. Because He is the living God, we have hope and confidence, as well as comfort, deliverance, and victory.