Summary: God is “jealous” in the sense that He expects complete, exclusive devotion; not merely a partial, lukewarm, half-hearted religious observance. Worship belongs to God. He is worthy of worship and has a right to be “jealous” of it.
The Bible clearly teaches that God is a jealous God. That doesn’t sit well with us; the very notion of the jealousy of God sounds offensive. We think of jealousy as an entirely negative quality--a sin. Yet God declares that He is jealous.
God restricts allegiance to Himself alone: “You shall have no other gods before Me.” He does not tolerate the worship of idols (a practice common in Egypt and other nations; keeping all the gods happy). God is “jealous” in the sense that He expects complete devotion, exclusive commitment; not merely a partial, lukewarm, half-hearted religious observance. Worship belongs to God; He is worthy of worship and has a right to be “jealous” of it. He wants to be known, and recognized for who He is. “Other” gods are nothing. Oswald Chambers warned, “Beware of anything that competes with your loyalty to Jesus.”
In human contexts, jealousy is considered a destructive sin. It’s a combination of anger, fear and greed. Jealousy is being resentful over something another person has. It’s not just wanting what others have; it’s wanting them to not have it. We may be jealous of a material possession, a physical attribute, a talent or ability. Jealousy is often accompanied by suspicion, envy, and rivalry. It can lead to slander and violence. We’re cautioned in Scripture to be content in all circumstances and glad for the good fortune of others.
But jealousy is not always a negative passion. Just as there’s a godly fear, and a godly anger, there’s a godly jealousy. In II Corinthians 11:2, the Apostle Paul confronted the church: “I feel a divine jealousy for you.” He wanted them to be fully devoted to Christ alone. Tim Keller writes that “Godly jealously is angered love that stays love.” It’s not about hurt pride. Godly jealousy wants to rescue the love-relationship. Paul wanted the church to abandon anything that distracted from worshiping the Lord to guard against false teachings. Paul was jealous because the honor of God was at stake. This was clearly not sinful jealousy.
Divine jealousy is about protecting a special relationship, and could be compared to the covenant of marriage. We may like to think of God as a grandfather, but God is more like a husband committed to an exclusive covenant, and He will fight to keep it. He will fiercely guard this relationship--to keep it intact--and He will oppose anything that might threaten to sever it. He wants our loyalty, and He deserves it. How could God’s anger and love stay love? Because He is committed to us, all the way to the cross. God’s jealous love is a love that will not let us go.
For those of you who are married, you know that your marriage gets hurt when something takes the place of your first love…when your job comes first, or your parents, or your children, or your friends, or your hobbies. There’s nothing wrong with these, unless they come first. If you’re going to have a real marriage, you need to be assured you have first place in your spouse’s heart, or the marriage will fall apart. Where’s God in our priorities? He doesn’t want us to just go through the motions of religion; He want to know that our hope lies with Him, and that nothing is more important than our relationship with Him. God wants (and needs) to be first in our life, over everything.
God will not share His praise with another. He carefully maintains and protects what is His. In Ezekiel 39:25 God says, “I will be jealous for My holy Name;” and in Zechariah 1:14 He declares, “I am jealous for Jerusalem with a great jealousy.” God is possessive of us, for good reason. He made us, and we are His. We dethrone Him when we think or act otherwise. When we rely on anything other than God, we are committing spiritual adultery. Like a husband, God expects fidelity from us; we show our commitment by being faithful to Him. To praise God as King of the ages is to deny the claims of anybody else to ultimate kingship.
“No other gods.” We are not idolaters, according to our understanding of idolatry. But consider this definition: An idol is whatever is loved, depended on, feared, or delighted in--more than God. Our god is the one we want to please the most. We can make an idol out of anything. Idolatry is trusting people, possessions, or positions to do for us what only God can do. We devise counterfeit, substitute gods that usurp the proper place of God in our lives. All sins are the result of putting other gods on the throne. So, are we devoted to God, or are we embracing idols? “When God’s love captivates us, we spurn all our other lovers” (Jeremy Wilson).