Bible Questions?

What does it mean that God is jealous? (Exodus 20:5)

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Exodus 20:5 “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,”

In this passage, God declares that He is a “jealous” God. How are we to understand the jealousy of God? Especially if God is love, and according to 1 Corinthians 13:3, it states that love is not jealous. If that is the case, then how can we reconcile the two? Usually, when we think of the word “jealous”, it is often in the sense of a sinful type of jealousy, or “envy”. Other parts of the Bible describes jealousy as a sin. Galatians 5:20-21 says, “idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

Both in the Old and New Testament, we see examples of sinful jealousy in various stories. In Genesis 37:11, we can see examples of sinful jealousy where Joseph’s brothers were jealous of him because of his father’s favoured position. Another example is Acts 5:17, where the Apostles were preaching with power and performing miracles of healing. Many were added to God’s kingdom because of these signs and wonders; the Jewish religious rulers were furious and filled with jealousy. 

Likewise, we see the use of positive jealousy in other parts of the Bible. The Apostle Paul uses this word to describe his care for the people in the Corinthians church. 2 Corinthians 11:2 says, “For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ.”

Now, how about the jealousy of God? When the Bible speaks of God’s jealousy, it needs to be understood in the light of a relationship. It is to be understood in a way that God seeks to protect His own honour. He desires worship to be given to Him and not to false gods or anything that takes His place in your life. It is linked to His love for His people. It is to be understood in terms of a relationship such as a husband and a wife. Even from a human perspective, if a husband and wife have a genuine love for one another, then they can be “jealous” if that intimate love relationship is threatened. Human marriage is patterned after the relationship between God and His people, both with Israel in the Old Covenant and between Christ and the Church in the New Covenant. Amen! Likewise, in the same way, we can understand the love of God, just like a husband is jealous for the love of his wife, so God is jealous for the love of His covenanted people. 

When we break the covenantal bond through idolatry (in other words, anything that takes the place of God in our lives), then there is divine jealousy of God for His people. The Hebrew word “jealous” used in the Old Testament is “qanna”. The fact is that “Jealous” or “Qanna” is also one of the names of God. Exodus 34:14 says, “(for you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God),“. Qanna is translated as “jealous,” “zealous,” or “envy.” The fundamental meaning relates to a marriage relationship. God is depicted as Israel’s husband; He is a jealous God, wanting all our praise for Himself and no one else. (cf. Exd 34:14) (blueletterbible.org)

Wayne Grudem defines God’s jealousy as “God continually seeking to protect his own honor” (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000], 205).

So you see, this is one of the names of God, and it is beautiful. It describes the relationship, care and incredible love for His own. Ultimately we see the perfect outworking of this jealousy, which helps us understand the depth and goodness of His zeal for His own. It is true love. This love was displayed when the righteousness of God was made manifest in Christ Jesus by coming to this world as a sacrifice for His bride. Despite all our failures, disobedience, and idolatry in our lives, Christ comes to pay the price for our sin on the cross. When we went astray, he came to bring us back to Himself. By doing so, He was also protecting His own honour because He is the true King, and there is none beside Him. He deserves all honour, glory, and power from His creation. He is infinitely worthy of being praised, and all shall bow in His beautiful presence.

In conclusion, take time to meditate on the name of God as “Jealous”. I pray that as you do so, the power of the Holy Spirit would enable you to stand in awe and wonder about the attributes of God and see the beauty in His love for His people. May it prompt you to leave behind all the idols taking the place of Christ in your life, and instead, you would love Him with all your being. Come back to God and live in a right relationship with Him, beholding Him and doing all things for the glory of His Name. Amen!

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