We are suddenly stopped in our tracks to read the words “I the Lord thy God am a jealous God” or even more striking, “… the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” (Exodus 34:14, NIV) Yet, jealousy is listed by Paul in Galatians as one of the sins or works of the flesh. In the Scriptures it is condemned; it indicates our fallen condition. It’s absolutely sinful. We are not the first to be initially stunned and speechless by this statement that uses Jealousy as one of His names, along with Jehovah! I once heard a respected and skilled expositor of Scripture actually say this statement was an “embarrassment” to him.
Add to it that this statement about jealousy, it sits nestled next to the holy Ten Commandments God gave through Moses. At first, we may be at a loss of words as we think of it so closely connected. Almost immediately we find ourselves hunting desperately for some variant, some substitute wording for a possible explanation that does not have the same shock effect. And almost we are given to think that it is an overstatement. Yet, here at one moment passing in front of Moses proclaiming that God is “compassionate and gracious … slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” (verse 6, NIV), and yet, in the next breath pronouncing His jealousy! We almost find ourselves saying, “Now, wait a minute, how could this word be used for a God that is holy? Hold up for a minute.” After all, how can the same word used for man’s sins now be attached to God’s holiness? Holiness and jealousy together; there must be some discrepancy, some mistake.
Most of us have seen “green-eyed jealousy” destroy families and friendships. We have watched the horrible effects, distorted characters at their lowest ebb full of destructive jealousy. Often there is almost no recovery. The comment is that a jealous person is an enemy to himself for that person is preoccupied with his own unbecoming and unreasonable thoughts that lead to revenge. There are several roads that lead to hate; jealousy is the shortest of all of them. Very often it is a one-way street.
At last, we find a break in the discussion with the fact that actually the word is neutral in nature. Holy jealousy is God claiming His place for absolute loyalty and exclusive devotion. It has to do with an illegitimate challenge as in marriage where this is a contempt for the challenger of the relationship. It could be called holy intolerance created by a rival. Unacceptable competition in an area of unchallenged belonging; and in that case jealousy is a virtue, even an expected righteous response. We have long believed how an exclusive relationship is rightfully declared; agreed to in the traditional marriage vows. The pledge is for as long as they both shall live. Any effort by anyone to break into that agreement is a wicked intrusion and can never be tolerated; always it is obvious sin. Jealousy in such cases is righteous.
Many examples show us the alternative, competition in sports or in business; that is certainly allowed, it is totally different. Expressions of jealousy in such cases are in the category of wounded pride and highhanded vanity. For a man to be jealous of another man’s success is jealousy of a sinful kind. For a woman to resent another woman’s beauty could be grouped in that same category.
But, with God and Israel the relationship is in the context of marriage. Paul, in II Corinthians 11:1-4 certainly takes that theme to justify God’s jealousy. But to return to the Old Testament setting, it is in the marriage covenant context that exclusive love and continual loyalty is expected. As we come to see it afresh, the jealousy of God is within this bond of marriage. The Jewish people are mentioned as the bride of God’s choosing. This was a covenant of marriage. We realize more, Israel has bound herself by it—love and loyalty are expected. Adoring obedience must be the result. No tolerance is permitted. When the prophets that God sent pointed out these acts of spiritual adultery, we cannot be surprised that the anger of God was expressed because of holy jealousy. With that brief explanation the air is cleared and we understand why God was provoked to righteous anger and holy jealousy.
The logic of all this extends in the Christian sense to the people of the church as the Bride of Christ. The jealousy of God is expressed to all forms of worldliness that lowers God’s unique standing in a life. If one wanted to know what God thinks of it, get a Bible concordance and look up the word “whoring” and read the verses where the prophet said it to Israel, and apply it to us! It is Biblically that bad, for what provoked God in Israel to jealousy and anger is what provokes Him today by worldly Christians behaving as they do. Something has intruded into a spirit of marriage, and God is the one offended, and it is right to have a holy anger and jealousy ablaze. Part of His Bride has betrayed the marriage agreement. A flirtation with the world is spiritual adultery, plan and simple!
Let us extend it—God said that He “so loved the world” and when we see people prematurely aged and diseased because of godless living, we should have a godly jealousy for wasted lives. A deep-felt emotion should move us. It was said if you described what sin was doing in the life of a person to D. L. Moody, his eyes would well up with tears. Paul came to beautiful Athens and saw people fully committed to idolatry and he was stirred and provoked with godly jealousy. Acts 17:16 says his spirit was “provoked within him” when it saw the spectacle of profane heathen idolatry. It should be true of us.
And to take it a step further, that should be the very thing that moves us to do evangelism. Not the experience of a mission trip with friends from the church or the adventure of travel but rather a godly jealousy to see people loved by God through Christ now being prostituted to the world. I wish it were for all of us a dominant incentive. It should give us acute pain to see lost people living lives giving their body and soul to be used.
The prophet Hosea was allowed by God to marry a prostitute. The reason God gave was “This will illustrate the way my people have been untrue to me, committing open adultery against me by worshiping other gods.” (Hosea 1:2, Living Bible) God thinks that way if we do or not!
We love them, but even more so we love Him, and we should not be able to bear to see their lives destroyed; yet, beyond that and most of all, for Him to go without honor and glory due to Him from their lips. We must think this way, that the purpose of His suffering and the cross are discarded and His name humiliated by their living without Him. A saintly Christian wept and said, “I cannot endure existence to go on living and His name not be praised and His cross not be adored, honored, and given glory.” That is an expression of wholesome Godly jealousy alive in us.