In the Bible, God describes himself as “jealous.” This confuses and turns off many people. At first glance, it seems to be painting a picture of a selfish and insecure being who is not really worthy of our worship. So what does God mean when he calls himself jealous?
When God rescued Israel from slavery in Egypt, he brought them to Mt. Sinai and revealed himself to them. God entered into a covenant relationship with the nation and gave them his law. As he spoke to Israel at the mountain, God said, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image…You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God” (Exodus 20:4 ESV). Later, when God told them to go into the land he was giving them, he commanded them not to worship the gods of the peoples of the land: “You shall tear down their altars and break their pillars…for you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Exodus 34:13-14 ESV). What does this mean?
The problem with our understanding of God’s jealousy comes when we reduce God to being like us. We know that jealousy is most often a bad thing among humans. We think of someone smothering their loved one, becoming angry when they talk to anyone of the opposite sex. We think of abuse and over-protectiveness. But this is not like God’s jealousy. God is not like us: we are finite, fallen and sinful creatures; God is the infinite, holy Creator!
God’s jealousy is not wrong for two reasons. The first reason is that God deserves our allegiance and affection. Sinful jealousy seeks to take for itself what it does not deserve. God’s jealousy is righteous simply because he is God; he deserves our loyalty and love because he created us! God created us for his glory and praise. He is worthy of our worship because of the splendor of his Person and the majesty of his works (who he is and what he has done). It is good for God to forbid us to give that glory and praise to other things, because only he is deserving of it all.
The second reason God’s jealousy is not a bad thing is because he has our best interests at heart. When we give what belongs to God alone to other things or other people, we are worshiping a lie; a god of our own invention. We are becoming enslaved to what is not God; giving ourselves to things that will ultimately not satisfy us. Other gods cannot save us. They cannot help us or eternally fulfill us. Only God rescues us from the sin that brings destruction to our souls, and leads us into the eternal enjoyment of himself! For this reason, God is blessing us when he commands us to worship him alone. His jealousy sets us free from what will bring us harm.
Only God deserves all glory, praise and worship, and the allegiance and affection of our hearts. It is good for God to demand our praise, because there are no other true gods. He is calling us to true worship of the only God. He is worthy of it all as our Creator and Savior. When we demand the affection of others it is wrong, because we are not worthy of it. But it is right and loving for God to do this, because of who he is, and because he is acting for our eternal good.
May we give God what is rightfully his! And may we thank him for limiting our loyalty to the only true God; the only one who can delight our souls forever! Praise God for his jealousy!