What Does it Mean That God Is a Jealous God?
- Jessica Brodie Contributing Writer
- 2021 12 Feb
"Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God." (Exodus 34:14)
When we hear the word “jealousy” we might think of someone with an inferiority complex—someone envious of another’s looks, spouse, or status in life. A “jealous woman” is considered to be a rival, a hostile, bitter person filled with petty resentment. A “jealous man” is considered insecure and petulant, perhaps controlling or wildly competitive. But God tells us in the Bible that He is a jealous God. In fact, in Exodus 34, He even claims His name is “Jealous.”
Why and how is God jealous, and what does that mean? Are we supposed to think that our God is bitter and resentful, filled with trifling insecurities like some frail human? How can our “perfect Father” also be a jealous Father?
What Does it Mean That God Is a Jealous God?
In Exodus 20:5, when God commands that His people worship no other gods, He acknowledges it is because “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God" (NIV).
And in Exodus 34:14, God insists His people destroy altars to other, lesser gods, for, He says, “Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.”
The word in Hebrew used for these instances of “jealous” is qanna, and not only does it mean jealous but also zealous, as in caring passionately. For we know that God does indeed love us with passion, fervent zeal and wants us to be His people. He does not want us to fall under the spell of any other. As our Creator and Father, He knows what is best for us and wants to keep us safely in His fold, where He can love, guide, and protect us. That is the jealousy God speaks of.
The NIV Quest Study Bible says this jealousy stems from a loving, unselfish concern for those under his care, which is why He demands our exclusive devotion. Indeed, this is a bit like the jealousy the apostle Paul talks about having in his letter to the early church in Corinth, where he says, “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 Corinthians 11:2).
It’s a righteous jealousy Paul is speaking of, protective and in our best interest, and that is the kind of jealousy God reflects—only it is perfect, for God Himself is perfect. God reminds the people of His jealousy in Deuteronomy 5 and again in Deuteronomy 6:14-16, He says this.
"It’s a pure jealousy, meant for our good. God knows that other forces exist in the world to tempt us, from other gods to the devil, the “father of lies” (John 8:44). He created us to be in relationship with Him, and He loves us truly and completely" (Deuteronomy 7:7-8).
God Is Jealous for You Scriptures
Exodus 20:5: "You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me."
Deuteronomy 4:24: "For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God."
2 Corinthians 11:2: "For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ."
Nahum 1:2: "The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord is avenging and wrathful; the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies."
Psalm 78:58: "For they provoked him to anger with their high places; they moved him to jealousy with their idols."
What Does Godly Jealousy Mean in the Bible?
God’s jealousy is different from human jealousy. But we often feel confused because there are so many negative, sinful connotations regarding human jealousy. Human jealousy is selfish; it is fueled by envy. We, humans, are stained by sin. Romans 3:23 reminds us “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Only through Jesus, God’s Son, do we have salvation.
But God is sinless. Jesus tells us our Father God is “perfect” (Matthew 5:48). The original Greek used here is teleios, from telos, which Strong’s Greek Concordance tells us means complete, having reached “the end,” much like the pinnacle. When God declares He is jealous, He doesn’t mean sinful human jealousy but the right, good jealousy that a father feels in claiming his own.
Human jealousy is rooted in anger, envy, pride, and the individual ego. Romans 1:29 includes it among characteristics of wickedness, and Proverbs 6:24 says “jealousy arouses a husband’s fury, and he will show no mercy when he takes revenge.”
The apostles were persecuted by Sadducees filled with jealousy (Acts 5:17), and 1 Corinthians 3:3 indicates quarreling accompanies human jealousy. In 2 Corinthians 12:20, Paul says he fears the people will display jealousy along with other wickedness when he finally is able to see them, descending into discord, fits of rage, selfish ambition, slander, gossip, arrogance, and disorder.
And Galatians 5:19-21 urges us to steer clear of acts of the flesh, which are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.
“I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God,” Paul writes. This, then, is human jealousy. It is far different from God’s pure, proper, righteous, and loving jealousy.
What Hope Can We Draw from This Characteristic of God?
Unlike human jealousy—which shows a person loves themselves more than the object of their jealousy and envy—God’s jealousy shows something beautiful. God’s jealousy points to the fatherly love He has for us and the claim He stakes in our lives. God gave us free will, so when it comes to following Him and choosing to align ourselves with Him, it is indeed a choice. But He designed us in His image (Genesis 1:2) and genuinely wants us to choose Him.
For, as Jesus explained in Mark 16:16, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” There is much at stake. There is great hope in the jealousy God has for us, we know we are wanted. God desires us to be with Him. God selected us. This means we don’t have to fear or worry about anything.
Jesus assures us of this in the Gospel of Matthew, when He says, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:28-31).
God is God, almighty, all-powerful, all-knowing. Indeed, He is the “Great I Am.” So let His words about jealousy sink into your heart with warmth and welcome, for His jealousy is good and right and true. It claims us as His own and tells us we are important and loved.
God loves us all.
God's Statement and Our Response
Do not worship any other god,
for the Lord, whose name is Jealous,
is a jealous God.
From the Father's Heart: My child, do you crave unswerving devotion from your spouse? The thought of betrayal is enough to fire up every jealous nerve in your body and spirit. Of course I desire all of your attention, all of your time, and all of your self. I am a jealous God, but not because of a fear of being replaced, as you feel. I love you so much that I am not willing for anyone to steal your heart away. I gave My life for you because I want none to perish.
Our Response: Your jealousy is not a flaw in Your character, Lord. Because You love me so much, You demand no less than my total devotion. You tolerate no other loves. In my negligence, I often build idols of my own choosing. But how can my heart truly worship another but You, Lord? Only You satisfy.
(from Daily in His Presence, by Rebecca Barlow Jordan)
Photo credit: Unsplash/grakozy
Jessica Brodie is an award-winning Christian novelist, journalist, editor, blogger, and writing coach and the recipient of the 2018 American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Award for her novel, The Memory Garden. She is also the editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate, the oldest newspaper in Methodism. Learn more about her fiction and read her faith blog at jessicabrodie.com. She has a weekly YouTube devotional, too. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and more. She’s also produced a free eBook, A God-Centered Life: 10 Faith-Based Practices When You’re Feeling Anxious, Grumpy, or Stressed.