Calling God ‘jealous’ sounds offensive. Nobody would invent a jealous God. However, His jealousy was one of the first things God taught Israel after rescuing them from Egypt (Exodus 20:5). A short time later, He told Moses “…the Lord whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Exodus 34:14).
The Bible has a lot to say about God’s jealousy. In the Pentateuch: Deut 4:24, 6:15, 32:16,21. In the history books: Joshua 24:19; 1 Kings 14:22. In the Prophets: Ezekiel 16:38,42, 23:25; Joel 2:18; Nahum 1:2; Zephaniah 1:18, 3:8; Zechariah 1:14, 8:2. In the NT: 1 Cor 10:22.
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How can jealousy be a virtue in God and a vice in men?
- Biblical statements about God’s jealousy are anthropomorphic, i.e. descriptions of God in language drawn from the life of man. In reading anthropomorphisms, we need to remember that man isn’t the measure of his Maker, and that none of the limitations of humanhood are implied (see chapter 15). Consequently, God’s jealousy isn’t tainted with frustration, envy and spite, but is a zeal to preserve something precious.
- There are two kinds of jealousy among men. One says, “I want what you’ve got, and I hate you because I haven’t got it.” The other is manifested in romantic relationships, and is the fruit of marital affection. This sort of jealousy is a positive virtue, as its aim is to keep the marriage intact.
Often, the OT describes God’s covenant as His marriage to Israel. Israel’s idolatry, disobedience and unfaithfulness was equivalent to spiritual idolatry which provoked God to jealousy. God’s covenant love for His people demands absolute loyalty.
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What are the lessons we can learn?