I am a jealous God

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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?”


21 Responses to “I am a jealous God”

  1. Mark Carroll says:

    “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.”

    I am reminded of CS Lewis’ Great Divorce. In the last days advent of full daybreak in heaven .. his rays warmed his saints but his enemies (ghosts) were smitten…mind you the same rays, different affect.

    The Great Divorce Lyrics.

    The light will call you,
    To wrap its arms around you
    The light will find you,
    and wrap its arms around you
    Breathe the air
    Make sure the motives clear
    You hear the voice!
    With the song of celebration!
    The light will call you,
    To wrap its arms around you.
    The light will find you,
    and wrap its arms around you.
    Close your eyes
    Now I’ve arrived
    The light will call you,
    To wrap its arms around you.
    The light will find you,

    http://www.savelyric.com/the-great-divorce-lyrics-1.it :)

  2. Gail Rendle says:

    If he is the one, true, and only god, why would he be jealous? Is it because, contrary to his PR, he is NOT all-powerful? If he’s real, he would know that he was what he said he was. Who was he trying to impress? I submit that this “god” is merely the figment of the imagination of those who needed to unite their people, and writing a “history” of a god to blame for their misfortunes was convenient. If they could make their peple believe in this “god”, they could get away with anything, including murder – “It’s not MY fault, God said to do it!” Oh, how very clever! And those in power have managed to keep it going to the point where many, many people have been tortured and/or died, cruelly, even when opposing forces both told their people, “God is on our side! It’s not my doing, God said to do it!”

    Would a real god create a whole world full of varied peoples, calling them his children, and then set them up against each other? A father who pulled a stunt like that here on earth, pitting his “dearly beloved” children against each other, would be labeled a monster!

    If there were such a thing as an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent and all-loving personal god, and he chose to have a book written, it would not be what we call the bible. It would have instructions for how we are to blend with nature, and it would address issues that would concern everyone. If he were a loving god, and did indeed create all of mankind, he would not put any of his children at risk of being judged by his other children, regardless of sex, sexual orientation, color, or anything else.

    At age 70, I no longer feel ashamed and embarrassed at not being able to fit myself into the christian mold. I am unhappy only that I wasted 67 of those years in trying. The pressure to conform to any of the various christian ways of living has been removed. Wow! I can be kind to everyone – I don’t have to hate anyone! How great is THAT?! Yes, we all have to make some value judgements, but how we respond to the things that happen becomes OUR responsibility, to think things out, not to jump off half-cocked, just because someone is different from us or behaves a bit differently.

    Sorry, but this bible/christian/dogma stuff JUST…DOESN’T…WASH!.

    • Martine says:

      I don’t know if it all washes. But when and where did you get the notion that God forgives people for hating other, Christian or not? Do unto others as you would have them do unto you is a quote from Christ. Terrible things get done in the name of God, but I don’t think that was ever the intent. Just like someone pretending “jealous” or “Possessive” is good rather then bad…sometimes people just want to please God so much they do the very opposite. I could be wrong, but I doubt very much He intended us to hate each other…however the Bible claims that the tower of Babbel is the cause of xenophobia and He did it. But I don’t think the Bible is always right about Him. I think you should listen to your heart. thats Him talking. Not this jealous stuff…

  3. Glen says:

    Hi Gail,
    Sorry to be so late to respond. I hear your concerns. And if I thought God was really like you describe I’d share your beliefs too. Just wondering where you learnt your Christianity from and what you make of Jesus? He is the heart of it all, after all.

  4. [...] of which the Bible speaks are the flames of God’s jealous love.  The LORD who says “I am a Jealous God” burns with zeal for His people.  Those on the inside of this fierce, committed, marital [...]

  5. [...] See also this article entitled: I am a Jealous God [...]

  6. Anwar says:

    I see this Jealous God as none other than Satan himself. Satan is jealous of God and wants to be God but falls short. He wants to replace God and insists his followers worship none other than he (Satan). As for Jesus, Jesus came to serve the sinner. The sinner is forgiven in Christ. Well, Satan would prefer all of mankind to sin constantly. This is why he forgives sin. Actually, Satan condones sin. Actually, when one becomes a Christian one is required to embrace sin and than take a leap of faith and believe Jesus is one’s God. This leap of faith is a contradiction to the individual’s sense of logic. It requires the individual to believe something that they do not believe and as such is a voluntary entry into insanity. A house divided…and conquered. But, you my friend need not believe in this impostor, you can simply listen to your heart without ignoring your mind and you will come to see the truth. We are all born with this understanding and we are taught to ignore it. Rise up and take your rightful place within the kingdom of pure love. Jealousy is the only enemy of Love but it is no match.

  7. Martine says:

    Anwar; Jealous OF God isn’t the same as Jealous God. So that doesn’t work, now does it? I your God am a Jealous God means what it says. God does not want us to worship anyone else. Its often said that its “positively” compared to the jealousy of a husband for an unfaithful wife…but I don’t see this as positive. A husband does not have a right to his wifes love. If he lost it, then he did, and he musyt live with that.

  8. Martine says:

    Ok..He is jealous. But that is His one way of being present and hot blooded? There are better shows of commitment then jealousy. I really don’t know. Do you actually feel like someone should tell you “You MUST love me”? And He is a Cosmic Law Giver no matter what you say. How is He not? The love He wants isn’t a love between equals, of course. Its the love of a huge, omnipotent, powerful, easy to anger being for teeny helpless, hapless creatures that he created and got angry with right away and condemned to misery. Even those who didn’t do anything, but were simply unfortunate enough to have Adam and Eve for ancestors. I mean its wonderful that Jesus is forgiving our sins, especially those we didn’t even commit them personally. I love that. But we have not been allowed back into paradise or Eden. We still live in a harsh world eeking out what living we can by our own hard work and intellect. Now why is that? If He means to give us eternal life and everything, then why not just do it? Why make us suffer and die?

    • Anwar says:

      The way I see it what people call “God” is actually Satan. This Satan entity considers himself to be God and is a jealous God. Jealous because He may be a God to some but He will never surpass the true God. The Abrahamic religions which include Judaism, Christianity and Islam all stem from Abraham who was a pretty smarmy devious guy if you look at his actions. As for God speaking to Abraham..well, who’s to say? We have to take the guy for his word right? Well anyone who believes a guy who accepts gifts in exchange for his wife/sister and who destroys his fathers business and betrays his mother and fathers wishes and has sex with his fathers daughter and lays claim to other people’s land….well is not very sharp. And yet that is exactly the situation most people find themselves in.

      • Anwar says:

        I also want to add that jealousy is an attribute which occurs when man is at his worst. God by nature has attributes we aspire to but can never fully achieve. Satan on the other hand experiences attributes which we try to distance ourselves from…Jealousy being the main motive for all of mans sin.

        • Hi Anwar and Martine, Jealousy is a right and proper intolerance to rivals. When you love someone else and they have committed to you, you are angry when others ‘muscle in’ on your loved one. If you didn’t get angry – if you weren’t jealous – that’s a big sign you don’t really love your loved one. If I was completely indifferent to the fact that my wife went to dinner every Thursday night with an attractive single man and didn’t get back till the next morning, what would you conclude about our marriage? You’d say our marriage was dead!

          Real love means an intolerance towards rivals. We give a name to that and it’s called ‘Jealousy’. It’s not necessarily a bad thing at all.

          God loves His people with a passionate protective love. I think that’s good news :)

          • Anwar says:

            Hello Glen and thanks, the way I see it God has no rival as all others are infinitely inadequate. The idea of “right and proper intolerance of rivals” seems a justification for hatred, war and violence which also quite beneath God and man. If a man and woman love each other there will not be infidelity…it would be impossible. If love ceases to exist and the relationship is forced to continue one member is taking advantage of the other. The response to lost love is pain and not jealousy I think.

          • Glen says:

            Hi Anwar, I don’t see where “hatred, war and violence” fit in. We’re just talking about God loving jealously. And the fact that we go after lesser loves only makes matters worse. If my wife went off with a real loser, I’d be doubly gutted. And not in spite of my love or the rival’s inferiority but *because* of these things.

            The response to infidelity is pain precisely because there’s a protective, rightly possessive love going on. And that’s what jealousy is.

    • Hey Martine, you say that God’s love isn’t a love between equals. Well I suppose by nature it can’t be – but at Christmas we remember that in another way, He has made Himself equal to us. In fact Philippians 2 says God the Son made Himself nothing for us. He stoops down to our level. In Jesus God is face to face with us. And because He’s become one with us, we can know that our future is not for God to beam us up to some other paradise. He’s committed to this world, this kind of life. Come what may He’ll get us through if we’re connected to Him.

      I’d love you to see a short video I made all about it here: http://three-two-one.org

      Let me know what you think,

      • Anwar says:

        Hi Glen,
        It is all very simple Satan is the Jealous God.

        • I agree with you that the monstrous god most people think of as “God” is in fact Satan. But the committed, protective love of the living God does not make Him satanic – Satan could never love enough to be jealous.

          • Anwar says:

            Glen, my take is that jealousy and love are mutually exclusive…”rivals” if you will. You seem to have the idea that jealousy can be an expression of love. In this we disagree.


    Thank you for such insight.

  10. [...] the fires of which the Bible speaks are the flames of God’s jealous love.  The LORD who says “I am a Jealous God” burns with zeal for His people.  Those on the inside of this fierce, committed, marital bond [...]