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  • Writer's picturePastor Jared

The LORD, whose name is Jealous

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 20:4-6; cf Deuteronomy 5:8-10

For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God. -- Deuteronomy 4:24; cf Hebrews 12:29

They have made me jealous with what is no god; they have provoked me to anger with their idols. So I will make them jealous with those who are no people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation. -- Deuteronomy 32:21

Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the LORD, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good.” -- Joshua 24:19-20

Thus says the Lord GOD: Surely I have spoken in my hot jealousy against the rest of the nations and against all Edom, who gave my land to themselves as a possession with wholehearted joy and utter contempt, that they might make its pasturelands a prey. Therefore prophesy concerning the land of Israel, and say to the mountains and hills, to the ravines and valleys, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I have spoken in my jealous wrath, because you have suffered the reproach of the nations. Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: I swear that the nations that are all around you shall themselves suffer reproach. -- Ezekiel 36:5-7

The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD is avenging and wrathful; the LORD takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies. -- Nahum 1:2

Thus says the LORD of hosts: I am jealous for Zion with great jealousy, and I am jealous for her with great wrath. -- Zechariah 8:2

Jealousy is a word with negative, sinful connotations. When we see it in ourselves or others it reeks of selfishness, resentment, and even hostility toward others. So, it may be surprising to discover the kinds of texts quoted above - and there are many more - which indicate, even celebrate, that God is a jealous God. In fact, in Exodus 34:14, God reveals that Jealous is his name. So how are we to understand divine jealousy?

The first thing we must understand is that to use the word ‘jealous’ of God is an anthropomorphism - it is projecting a human experience or emotion onto God in order to explain something in God, in this case an attribute, that we would never comprehend without reference to our human experience. (cf Packer, Knowing God) Second, we must remember that not all human jealousy is a vice, such as the jealousy of a husband for his wife or the jealousy of one person for the name of God. There are moments of jealousy that are not sinful and in fact are virtuous. It is this latter type of jealousy that God is and demonstrates.

The Scriptures present God’s jealousy in three ways. (cf Beeke and Smalley, Reformed Systematic Theology, vol 1) First, as a husband zealous for an exclusive relationship with his wife. (cf Ezekiel 16:38, 42) This is the most used metaphor of divine jealousy in Scripture. God does not want his people to worship any other gods but him because he is jealous and will not tolerate his people committing adultery with other gods. His people are bound to him by covenant and therefore owe him their complete fidelity. This is probably the clearest picture of divine jealousy; he has the exclusive rights to her love and affection and for those to be given to anyone else evokes his righteous, loving jealousy. Second, God is pictured as a warrior charging into battle. (Isaiah 42:13) This picture invokes zeal and the strength, motivation, and power that God possesses in order to protect his holy name. Third, divine jealousy is pictured as a consuming fire. (Deuteronomy 4:24; Hebrews 12:29) This fire connects God’s love of his name with his protection of his people, as in the pillar of fire in the desert, and judgment against those who violate his people and thus his name.

We could define divine jealousy thus, God is perfectly zealous for his own name, honor, and glory. Put simply, God seeks what he should seek as God, his own glory. To do anything else would be idolatrous. Thus, for anyone else to do anything other than pursue his glory is idolatrous and stirs God to jealousy. Packer notes that, according to Scripture, God’s ultimate objective in the world is threefold -- (1) to vindicate his rule and righteousness by judging sin; (2) to redeem his people; (3) to be loved and glorified by his people for his glorious acts of salvific love. It is in this latter pursuit that his divine jealousy can be stirred. This jealousy, then, works for the protection of those who are truly his and against the wicked who would dishonor him and despise his people. Packer states, when God reveals that he is a jealous God, he means “that he demands from those whom he has loved and redeemed utter and absolute loyalty, and will vindicate his claim by stern action against them if they betray his love by unfaithfulness.” (Knowing God) There is no selfishness in his jealousy. No envy either. His jealousy is simply an expression of his divine covenant love, his holiness, and his righteousness.

How do we respond?

First, we should acknowledge that divine jealousy is motivated by his divine love for his people. The picture of God as a husband and we, his people, as his bride is extremely informative. Packer once again, “God’s jealousy over his people… presupposes his covenantal love; and this love is no transitory affection, accidental and aimless, but is the expression of a sovereign purpose. The goal of the covenant love of God is that he should have a people on earth as long as history lasts, and after that should have all his faithful ones of every age with him in glory. Covenant love is the heart of God’s plan for his world.” (Knowing God) Divine jealousy is due to the covenantal love that God has for his people. That is very encouraging.

Second, we need to recognize that the highest pursuit of all creatures in this world is to be the fame and glory of God. Isaiah 42:8 captures this perfectly, “I am the LORD, that is my name; I will not give my glory to another, nor my praise to graven images.” Anything less than that is idolatrous and invokes the dark side of divine jealousy. Our right response to God’s love and his salvation given to us in Jesus Christ is to love God with the same zeal that he demonstrates towards us. A zeal that abandons idols (such as money and possessions), abandons sin, abandons the pursuit of anything other than his glory in all things.

Third, we need to admit that God’s jealousy is dangerous for those who are not jealous for him. As we noted above from Packer’s Knowing God, it is God’s desire to save a people unto himself and to have those people zealously pursue his fame and glory above all things. When that does not happen, and his people choose idolatry instead, his jealousy is stirred. We know from the ample biblical evidence that God does not tolerate the worship of anything but himself. When this jealousy is stirred, his wrath and judgment falls.

Fourth, the church must be fully committed to the glory of God. Jesus sent this message to the church at Laodicea, “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth… Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.” (Revelation 3:15-16, 19) It is so easy for a church to get distracted in human endeavors to make people happy, or to suffer mission drift, pursuing things that are not part of our fundamental mission.

Fundamentally divine jealousy should lead us to ask ourselves regarding anything and everything we do - Does this glorify God? Does this make God famous in our world?

Soli Deo Gloria


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