I am a jealous God
It’s right there in the midst of the ten words from Mount Sinai:
“I the LORD thy God am a jealous God” (Exodus 20:5)
What a horrible idea, we might think, a jealous God!? What kind of a God gets jealous?
Well Mount Sinai is no unguarded moment of candour. The LORD is very open about His jealousy. At a glance I found 34 times in the bible where the LORD is said to be jealous. This is not something He seems to be embarassed about.
And here in Exodus 20 it serves as the justification for his words against graven images. It’s a case of “Don’t go after other gods because I’m jealous.”
Well again we have to ask, What kind of a God gets jealous?
Answer: A God of love.
You see the concept of jealousy depends on the context of committed relationships. And the LORD wants a devoted, exclusive, covenant union with His people. Because He’s a God of love, He’s a God of jealousy.
Let’s notice a few things about the LORD’s jealousy.
First the word for “jealous” could just as well be translated “zealous”. In fact both English words have come to us from the Greek translation of this word (“zelos“).
In Hebrew it’s derived from the word for ‘red’. It’s the idea of hot-blooded commitment.
The bible has all sorts of examples of good jealousy on a human level (e.g. 2 Corinthians 7:7,11; 9:2; 11:2)
And we can all think of good jealousy. Good, appropriate, hot-blooded, protective, possessive zealous ardour.
In fact if this jealousy is missing from a relationships, there’s good reason to wonder whether true love is also missing. True love ought to be jealous love or else you have to question the commitment involved.
So now let’s think of the jealousy of a Father who tells His people: “Thou shalt have no other gods before My Presence.” (Exodus 20:3). He jealously covets His people’s affections and wants them whole-heartedly devoted to their true Bridegroom, Christ.
We are very far here from the popular conception of God as some distant omnibeing indifferent to the plight of his creatures. Neither is he some stern patriarch in the sky unwilling to reveal his feelings lest he lose face. Here is a God with His heart on His sleeve. “I am jealous” He says. In fact a few chapters later He will say “My name is Jealous.” (Exodus 34:14).
God loves with a burning, faithful, marital, rightly possessive, rightly jealous love.
First of all the Father loves His Son in the power of His Almighty Spirit. It is a marriage like love, a burning, faithful, rightly possessive, rightly jealous love.
And then He loves His people – those who are married to His Son – the bride of Christ, the people of God. He loves us with a burning, faithful, rightly possessive, rightly jealous love.
And throughout the bible God’s people, for their part, are called to be “faithful.” Not simply “obedient”, “faithful”! And when we sin we’re not just called “transgressors”, we are called “adulterers.”
To be on the inside of God’s jealous love is a wonderful thing. It is to be rightly possessed and secure and guarded and desired. It’s the sunshine of His love.
To be on the wrong end of His jealousy is a terrible thing. Because for those who demean or threaten or harm the objects of His love (either His Son or His people) they will feel that jealousy as the consuming fire of His judgement.
The same jealous love will be experienced in two very different ways. For some – the sunshine of His love. For others – the blazing fire of His judgements. This is the jealous God.
What kind of a God is this? Certainly not a cold, calculating, clockwork God. And not a God to be tamed or taken for granted. Here on Mount Sinai we see a passionate God entering into committed, covenant relationship with us. And not afraid to wear His heart on His sleeve.
But it’s on the mountain of Calvary that we see the full depths of His passion. There on the cross His heart was not simply bared but pierced. His jealous love was not merely named but demonstrated for all time. With His arms outstretched to the world the question for humanity is not really “Will you continue to disobey this Cosmic Lawgiver?” The question is “Will you continue to spurn this Jealous Lover?”