Jealousy is not something that is looked favorably upon in our culture. When the “green eyed monster” rears it’s ugly head it can bring great harm to relationships and lives, and has been at the root of any number of murders.
And yet, God describes Himself this way. Why? It seems in some respects to be an ugly descriptor of Him.
When God gave Moses His ten commandments he said:
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
“You shall have no other gods before me.
“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments, (Exodus 20:2-6, ESV).
He wants wholehearted devotion from, at that time, His chosen people Israel. He likened the nation of Israel straying as being unfaithful, as committing adultery, and even prostituting themselves. Reading Ezekiel 23 today was a poignant reminder of how He viewed Israel and Judea’s unfaithfulness to Him which is what got me thinking about this..
And many criticize (how incredibly humble of them) this aspect of God’s nature, but in reality they do so because they don’t understand Him. They place God on our playing field so to speak and attribute human jealousy to Him, but even all jealousy isn’t bad. Charles Haddon Spurgeon points this out in his 1863 sermon “A Jealous God.”
The passion of jealousy in man is usually exercised in an evil manner, but it is not in itself necessarily sinful. A man may be zealously cautious of his honor, and suspiciously vigilant over another, without deserving blame. All thoughtful persons will agree that there is such a thing as virtuous jealousy. Self-love is, no doubt, the usual foundation of human jealousy, and it may be that Shenstone is right in his definition of it as "the apprehension of superiority," the fear lest another should by any means supplant us; yet the word "jealous" is so near akin to that noble word "zealous," that I am persuaded it must have something good in it. Certainly we learn from Scripture that there is such a thing as a godly jealousy.
Spurgeon defines jealousy whereas God is concerned as…
…that tender regard which God has for His own Deity, honor, and supremacy, and the holy indignation which he feels towards those who violate his laws, offend his majesty, or impeach his character. Not that God is jealous so as to bring him down to the likeness of men, but that this is the nearest idea we can form of what the Divine Being feels—if it be right to use even that word toward him—when he beholds his throne occupied by false gods, his dignity insulted, and his glory usurped by others.
It takes on a further dimension in the New Testament when Jesus boiled down the law to two commands. The first being…
“And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength,” (Mark 12:30, ESV).
God wants wholehearted devotion, and I remember a sermon I listened to by Tim Keller awhile back often times we have to first identify where people’s devotion lay before we can really share the Gospel. Keller described idolatry this way:
When you look to some created thing to give you what only God can give you that is idolatry. An idol is anything in your life that is so central to your life that you can’t have a meaningful life if you lose it.
We need to identify those idols in our lives as we come to Christ and repent. We need to recognize them when they crop up as we walk with Christ. Paul later on identifies the Church, those who follow Christ as the Bride of Christ, (Ephesians 5:22-33; Revelation 21:9). It’s understandable that a married man wouldn’t want his wife flirting with another guy. We would agree that a woman shouldn’t marry a guy who wants to keep seeing a past girlfriend. God our Creator wants our whole self (mind, soul, spirit, strength), and He sent His Son Jesus to pay with His life in order to redeem ours.
So our God is a jealous God, and the basis of that is His zealous love for His Bride and His regard for his own deity, honor and supremacy.