God Is Not A Monster – God’s Jealousy
We take a closer look at the question of whether the God of the Bible is a jealous God.
In our last article we looked at God’s attitude toward women. We saw the laws surrounding the treatment of women in the Old Testament were there to control and regulate a “fallen human” problem–not idealize it or condone it! God is not misogynistic, but instead loves and values women greatly!
In this article, we will take a closer look at the question of whether the God of the Bible is a jealous God and whether or not His demand for praise and sacrifices is due to His arrogance and need for affirmation from His creation!
We begin by asking the question: Is jealousy always a bad thing? Think about it.
Jealousy that is prompted when others use our possessions or are friendly with our friends can cause selfishness or insecurity. However, jealousy can also be provoked by deep love!
Is jealousy always a bad thing?
A husband or wife who does not feel jealous or angry when another flirts with their spouse may not be fully committed to the marriage relationship, or they may feel secure in the relationship and trust their husband or wife implicitly. Likewise, if a married person treasures their spouse, they will guard their relationship with all they have and not deliberately cause the other to feel jealousy. If they do not, the other half may rightly feel they are not cared for.
The Apostle Paul was inspired to write, “I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him.” (2 Cor 11:2)1 This is how Paul felt about the believers in Corinth! His jealousy was due to his deep love for his spiritual brothers and sisters, not hurt, pride, or selfishness. This is how the Bible defines “godly jealousy.”
God felt this way about Israel in the Old Testament. He committed Himself as a loving husband and expected the same in return from the people He treasured. In the context of His strong feelings for His people, despite their unfaithfulness, God passionately says: “My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused.” (Hos 11:8).
In Isaiah 54:5 (KJV), we read, “For thy Maker is thine husband; the LORD of hosts is his name; and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel; The God of the whole earth shall he be called.”
And Jeremiah 31:32 (KJV) says, “which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD.”
God’s strong feelings toward His people were like a young person’s emotions toward a new spouse. As is said in Jeremiah 2:2 (NET), “This is what the LORD says: ‘I have fond memories of you, how devoted you were to me in your early years. I remember how you loved me like a new bride.’”
We see then that God often responds like a wounded lover, reluctant to bring judgment, for Israel specifically, and all His people ultimately! He demonstrates patience and love—only reacting with divine jealousy and anger when provoked beyond measure or when He is fearful for His beloved’s best interest.
Feel the emotion when God agonizingly says in Ezekiel 6:9, “They will [eventually] realize how I was crushed by their unfaithful heart that turned from me and by their eyes that lusted after idols.”
For example, we may read about the incident of the golden calf in a detached way and feel surprised at God’s strong reaction to the people’s idolatry. But, since Israel had just pledged their allegiance to God and had promised to serve only Him, it would be like a newly married person finding their spouse in bed with someone else on their honeymoon!
God is not some immaterial entity or impersonal being, as some people think He should be. He is not a computer program or super intelligent AI system dispassionately running the universe. God is an engaging, personal being who connects with humankind. He is looking for a reciprocal relationship with us! That relationship is so important to Him and so necessary for our well-being that He guards it jealously.
God knew that worshiping idols would lead His people to moral perversion. Idol worship generally involved some sort of immorality, child sacrifice, violence, or at the very least, undermined God’s authority. God knew it would result in not only a rejection of His principles and the moral standards that held the society together but, more importantly, a spiritual breakdown that would affect their eternal salvation.
God wants us all to participate in His promised, incredible eternal future. Idol worship will lead His beloved to eternal death. It is like a husband or wife watching their spouse being seduced by a villain. Of course, they will jealously guard them against an imposter they know will harm them. But even then, God’s jealous reaction is an attempt to win over His people! He still loves them and would take them back, despite their unfaithfulness!
He says in Ezekiel 18:30-32 (NET):
Therefore, I will judge each person according to his conduct, O house of Israel, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and turn from all your wickedness; then it will not be an obstacle leading to iniquity. Throw away all your sins you have committed and fashion yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why should you die, O house of Israel? For I take no delight in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!
God’s jealousy implies vulnerability and the capacity to experience pain. He is not a petty, power-hungry deity obsessed with dominating people! In fact, God gets jealous precisely because He cares and loves His people deeply!
God gets jealous of our best interests, and His commandments are given for our good. It is only self-harm when we live selfishly and create our gods in our own images, living as if nothing is beyond our tiny mortal existence. Most importantly, we lose the precious opportunity to share in the glorious future God has promised to those who love Him and keep His commandments.
Noted author C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) commented on the smallness of our perspective compared to the vastness of God’s. He described how that relates to our obsession with idolatry in all its forms and God’s jealous reaction to our shortsightedness:
“If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink, and sex, and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at sea. We are far too easily pleased.”2
We see the same kind of jealousy for the things of God when Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers, driving the merchants out of the Temple. Many observers may have thought Jesus was overreacting and out of control. But the disciples recalled another verse that is helpful in our discussion in this article: “Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up.” (John 2:17 NKJV). Jesus would allow all kinds of abuse to be heaped on him. Still, when his Father’s house was mistreated, the righteous anger born from jealousy burned in him. His anger showed how much he cared for his own people, as well as the Gentiles, whose courtyard had been turned into a marketplace!
So, given that God is a jealous and passionate God and His son, the Lord Jesus Christ, displays the same emotion and love, is it wrong or inappropriate for God to require praise, admiration, and devotion? Is He, as the New Atheists would have us believe, a power-hungry, maniacal, arrogant being? Nothing could be further from the truth! On the contrary, we see the God of the Bible as a humble, self-giving Being, focused on the needs of others. Jesus perfectly manifested these characteristics in his life, death, and resurrection.
The true nature of pride and humility can perhaps best be seen in the incident of the washing of the disciples’ feet. At this time, Jesus “knew that the Father had put all things under his power” (John 13:3), and yet he “got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” (vv. 4-5). It was a choice to serve, despite his superior position. This is true humility—having the power to serve.
False humility, which is actually disguised pride, is seen in Peter’s reaction to the Lord’s service: “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” (v. 6). Jesus gently rebukes him and then reminds all the disciples:
Do you understand what I have done for you? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. (vv. 12-17).
What more appropriate response could there be than to honor and glorify such a Lord and Master? “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” (Rev 5:12). How much more his Father? God is God and worthy of all praise. He does not mandate praise, like an egotistical dictator that rules with an iron fist and mandates obedience. Rather, the natural reaction of anyone who truly appreciates all that God has done for us, His love, and the sacrifices He made so we can have abundant life, is to acknowledge how much He deserves praise and worship of the highest order!
You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being. (Rev 4:11).
In our next (and last) article, we hope to examine the topic of God and genocide.
Collingwood Ecclesia, ON
- All Scriptural citations are taken from the New International Version, unless specifically noted.
- Lewis, C.S., “The Weight of Glory,” in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses, New York, HarperOne, 2001, Page 26