When I hear the word “jealous”, I tend to think of these connotations:
- Envy: “They have something that I want.”
- Selfish: “Mine, all mine!”
- Creepy, abusive psycho: “You’re mine. Don’t you dare have any thought that I don’t control.”
Somehow, I doubt that is what God means when he says:
You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God…Exodus 20:4-6 (Also Deuteronomy 5:8-10)
So what does He mean? How about:
- Mama Bear: “Don’t mess with my cubs!”
When a parent reacts strongly to a stranger offering candy and a ride to their child in exchange for help finding a lost puppy (yeah, right!), we don’t consider them to be envious or selfish or psycho. We know that they are properly loving parents who are fiercely protective of their child. When a husband gets between his wife and the man trying to pick her up, again we see that as loving and protective rather than possessive and creepy. The difference is that the parent or husband really does have both the right to exclusive commitment, and the responsibility to care for their loved one. In that context, “jealous” is a very good thing.
In a broad sense, everything that God created belongs to Him. Anything trying to pull one of His creatures away from Him is the stranger with the candy: Seeking to cause harm and warranting a protective reaction.
But more specifically, all the Biblical references to God as being jealous refer to His relationship with His own people, the Israelites who had voluntarily chosen to enter into a unique covenant with Him (Exodus 19:3-8, Exodus 24:3,7-8). That covenant was a contract that He would be their God, and they would be His own chosen people (Deuteronomy 26:18-19). It follows that He had a right to object to them sharing their worship with any other god (Exodus 34:14, Deuteronomy 4:23-24, Deuteronomy 6:14-15 , Deuteronomy 32:15-22, Joshua 24:19-22).
Extrapolating from that covenant to my own Christian life, I also have chosen Him. He has a right to expect me to then not turn to anyone or anything else. I have given Him the right to be “jealous” on my behalf. He is in the position of both parent 1 and husband 2 to me.
Under those conditions, God’s jealousy is a two-sided coin. It is enormously comforting to know that He watches over me and will bring His full might against anything that would harm me or separate me from Him (John 10:27-29, Romans 8:35,37-39). It is also sobering to realize that if (when) I betray Him, He has a right to be hurt and angry. But even if that results in consequences for me, it doesn’t change His commitment to me. He will always love, and always forgive when I turn back to Him (1 John 1:9, Deuteronomy 30:1-3).
Being jealously guarded and held close by a mama bear of a God is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s pretty wonderful!