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 shalt not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and 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 and Deuteronomy 5:8-10, ESV; all Bible quotations are from the ESV).
God jealous? But doesn’t Paul list jealousy among the works of the flesh and warn that those who practise it will not inherit the kingdom of heaven? Yes, he does, in Galatians 5:19-21. But, at least according to my dictionaries, jealousy has a praiseworthy as well as a blameworthy meaning. “Jealousy” in the form of “envious resentment of others because of their success or advantages” certainly deserves blame, but “jealousy” in the form of “intolerance of unfaithfulness or rivalry” can deserve praise.
Although none of my systematic theology books except Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Zondervan, 1994) classifies jealousy as an attribute of God, yesterday my family and I read what it says about the God’s jealousy in our after breakfast Bible reading time. Defining God’s jealousy as meaning that He seeks His own honour, Grudem argues that God deserves honour from His creation and thus that it is proper for Him to seek it.
Some Bible passages referring to God’s jealousy besides the one with which I opened this post are:
– “For you shall worship no other God, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Exodus 34:14).
– “Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the LORD your God, which he made with you, and make a carved image, the form of anything that the LORD your God has forbidden you. For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God” (Deuteronomy 4:23-24).
– “But 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 never forgive your transgressions or your sins'” (Joshua 24:19).
– “Therefore thus says the LORD God: Surely I have spoken in my hot jealous against the rest of the nations and against Edom, who gave my land to themselves as a possession with wholehearted joy and utter contempt, that they might make its pasturelands a prey” (Ezekiel 36:4-5).
– “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).
Some Bible passages commending our being jealous on behalf of God are:
– “And the LORD said to Moses, ‘Phinehas the son of Eliezer, son of Aaron the priest, has turned back my wrath from the people of Israel, in that he was jealous with my jealousy among them, so that I did not consume the people of Isreal in my jealousy'” (Numbers 25:10-11; Phinehas had killed a man of Israel and the Midianite woman whom he’d brought to his family.)
– “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away” (1 Kings 19:10, 14; Elijah is answering a God’s question as to why he was hiding in a cave).
– “I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:2).
Grudem closes his section on God’s jealousy by asserting that our realizing that it is right for God to seek His honour and giving it to Him is to find the secret of true worship.