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Jealous God?

Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God. (Exodus 34:14, NIV)

Of all the attributes of God the Bible explains, his jealousy is surely the one we find strangest.  When we hear it said that he’s gracious, wise, loving or powerful, we aren’t surprised.  But jealous?

Often when we speak of jealousy we really mean envy.  This seems to be Shakespeare’s sense, describing jealousy as a“green-eyed monster”.  Each of us knows too well the destructive effects of envy in human relationships.

However, a moment’s thought should persuade us that God’s jealousy cannot be the same as human envy.  For the Creator of the Universe has nothing to envy anyone for!

So what does the Bible mean by God’s jealousy?  God spoke the words quoted above to his people at Sinai as he made a covenant with them.  The creator of the universe entered into a special relationship with these people, so that he would be their God, and they would be his people.  In this they had a privilege unlike any other people on earth.  And he wanted them to stick faithfully to him.  A sign of just how much that mattered to him was that he was jealous of them going after any other god, such as those of the nations around Israel.

The closest earthly analogy to this heavenly friendship between God and his people is of course marriage.  Here is a covenant relationship which is to be similarly exclusive.  In their wedding service, I ask each couple whether they will be “forsaking all others” as they enter marriage.  This relationship is so close that it is to be jealously guarded!  We would all understand how a wife would be right to be jealous if her husband went off after other women.

So what the jealousy of God – which sounds fierce and strange – is actually highlighting is a relationship of great closeness and depth between God and his people.  It is because he loves them so much that he is jealous of them going after other gods.  It is notable that while many religions in the ancient world were happy about people having a variety of Gods, the God of Israel was, and is, never willing to share his people in an open relationship with other gods or idols.  Whenever his people did that, they were saying “we don’t really care about the specialness of our relationship with the LORD.”

So God in his jealousy is guarding a very special relationship.  The right response from us is our wholehearted service of him – never making up our own ideas of god, and never serving idols instead of him.  Zeal for his name is the mark of the Christian who’s understood the good news behind God’s jealousy for us.