When God brought Israel out of Egypt to Sinai, to give them His law and covenant, His jealousy was one of the first facts about Himself which He taught them. In the second commandment (Exodus 20:5) God has the following to say about idols, you shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the LORD your God, am a jealous God. A little later God is even more emphatic with Moses. In Exodus 34:14 we read; do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God. Some people find the very idea of a “jealous god” to be offensive. Isn’t jealousy the green-eyed monster? It is one of the most cancerous and soul-destroying vices. God is perfectly holy – how then can He regard Himself as jealous.
The bible has a good deal to say about God’s jealousy. The Hebrew word is qanna. There are reference to it in the Pentateuch (Number 25:11; Deuteronomy 4:24, 6;15, 29:20, 32:16, 21) in the history books (Joshua 24:19; 1 Kings 14:22) in the prophets (Ezekiel 8:3-5, 16:38, 42, 23:25, 36:5, 38:19, 39:25; Joel 2:18; Nahum 1:2; Zephaniah 1:18, 3:8; Zechariah 1:14, 8:2) and in the Psalms (78:58, 79:5).
- In Galatians 5:20, jealousy (zelos) is described as an act of the sinful nature and also has negative connotations in Romans 13:13, 1 Corinthians 3:3 & 2 Corinthians 12:20. How can jealousy be a virtue in God when it is a vice in us? There are two sorts of jealousy among men and only one of them is a vice. Vicious jealousy says, “I want what you have got, and I hate you for it.” But there is another sort of jealousy – zeal to protect a love relationship, or to avenge it when it is broken. The colour of God’s jealousy is not green but white. Think of an unmarried man who is keen on a lady. He buys her gifts, writes her poems and serenades her. But the woman does not return his affection. She is keen on another guy. Now her potential suitor is jealous. The colour of this jealousy is green – it is fuelled by possessive envy. This is to be condemned. He has no right to the ladies affection. But imagine a married person who discovers their partner is flirting with someone else. They are jealous and justifiably so. This jealousy is white. Their partner is expressing his/her affection in an illegitimate fashion. Now in the same way, there is only one God. He deserves our worship. There is no other legitimate claimant to our worship. If we choose to worship at the various shrines of the world, we will justifiably arouse his jealous anger. He will move to avenge the broken relationship.
- The proper response to God’s love for us is to love Him. In the same way a right response to his jealousy for us is to be jealous for him. Consider a few biblical examples:
a) In Numbers 25 an Israelite man brought a Midianite woman into the Israelite camp to sleep with her. When the priest Phinehas saw this, he took a spear and followed them into the tent and drove the spear through both of them. God’s verdict on this act is found in vrs 11, for he was as zealous (same Hebrew word, qanna, for jealous) as I am for my honor among them.
b) In 1 Kings 19:10, 14 Elijah the prophet declared “I have been very zealous (qanna) for the LORD God Almighty.”
c) In John 2 Jesus made a whip out of cords and drove people who sold animals and money-changers out of the temple courts. In vrs 17 we read, his disciples remembered that it is written: “zeal (zelos – same word as Galatians 5:20) for your house will consume me.”
d) In 2 Corinthians 11:2 the apostle Paul explained why he was so opposed to the false teachers who were leading the church at Corinth astray, I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy (zelos).
e) In Revelation 3, the Lord Jesus wrote a letter to the lukewarm church at Laodicea and warned them that he would spit them out of his mouth. The required remedy to their malaise is written in vrs 19 those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest (the same Greek word zelos), and repent.
We must beware of the green-eyed monster (wanting what others have got, and hating them for having it). We do however need to cultivate a holy jealousy for God, the same jealousy that He demonstrates for His name.