How do you know that you really love someone? That is one of the many challenges that nearly everyone faces when transitioning from the teenage years to adulthood, especially as it relates to getting married. For me, there were a number of different indicators, but one of them was most definitely jealousy. When I was dating Kristy, whom I would end up marrying, there was a season when another guy was getting a little too close to her, in my opinion. He would make her laugh and his name kept coming up in our conversations. It made me uncomfortable, even a little angry. I was jealous for her affection! If I just thought of her as a friend or she did not mean much to me at all, I never would have cared about what was going on with the other guy. I might have even been happy for her. However, since I was beginning to love her, it bothered me that she might be giving affections to him that I wanted to belong to me.
Jealousy Is A Bad Thing, Right?
We are all too familiar with the evils of jealousy. English philosopher Francis Bacon described jealousy as the vilest of all passions, distorting everything, blinding our vision, and leading to profound unhappiness. The Scriptures certainly give testimony to this. For, Cain murdered his brother Abel partly out of jealousy (cf. Genesis 4). After David killed Goliath, the following was written of King Saul, “7 And the women sang to one another as they celebrated, ‘Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands.’ 8 And Saul was very angry, and this saying displeased him. He said, “They have ascribed to David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed thousands, and what more can he have but the kingdom?” 9 And Saul eyed David from that day on” (1 Samuel 18:7-9). Jumping ahead to the New Testament, even Pilate could tell that the Scribes and Pharisees wanted to kill Jesus because they were jealous of His popularity (cf. Matthew 27:18).
Jealousy Can Be Good
On the other hand, jealousy is not always bad. One pastor described jealousy as the shadow cast by love. For instance, when a husband has entered into a lifelong loving covenant relationship with his wife before God, it is entirely appropriate for him to desire to be the sole object of her physical intimacy and to be her top priority human relationship. It is equally appropriate for her to desire the same of him. This is reflected in God’s design for human marriage. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). The husband and wife desire affections that rightly belong to them.
Similarly, in 2 Corinthians 11:2-4, Paul writes, “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. 3 But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. 4 For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.” Paul was jealous, not for his own sake but for Christ’s sake, that the Corinthian believers would transfer their affections to someone other than Jesus. For, their affections and worship rightly belong to Jesus alone.
God Is A Jealous God
When understood in this sense, we begin to understand why the God of the Bible describes Himself as jealous. One pastor put it this way. “The jealousy of God does not differ from the jealousy of man. They are alike in this, that both are born of love—a love that cannot tolerate a rival. But the jealousy of man grows dark and terrible because it makes a claim that is impossible. But for God, the jealousy is His right.” Similarly, as it relates to honor, one theologian described it, as follows. “Jealousy for our own honor as human beings is almost always wrong. We are not to be proud, but humble. Yet we must realize that the reason pride is wrong is a theological reason: it is that we do not deserve the honor that belongs to God alone. It is not wrong for God to seek his own honor, however, for he deserves it fully” (cf. Grudem, Systematic Theology, 205).
This is why when God revealed Himself more fully to the nation of Israel after the Exodus, He described Himself as a jealous God. For, they lived in a world of many rival “deities” that would vie for their love and worship. However, these so-called “gods” are not really gods at all. They were nothing. Thus, it should not be surprising that God was jealous for the love and worship of His people whom He had created and redeemed out of slavery. It rightly belonged to Him and Him alone!
In fact, God speaks of His desire for Israel’s exclusive worship and love in two passages that were at the core of Israel’s identity as God’s people. “4 You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God” (Exodus 20:4-5a; The Ten Commandments). “4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5; the Shema). Jesus makes a similar claim for the exclusive devotion of His followers today. “24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25).
“Worthy Is The Lamb … The Only Wise King”
So, when God says He is a jealous God, it’s a good thing! He is jealous for our worship and love that rightfully belong to Him. Have your affections been divided between God and someone or something else? Let me encourage you to turn your heart towards the Lord, worshipping Him and Him alone! Perhaps you could begin by singing along with the following song, by Kari Jobe, that echoes the words of the heavenly chorus in Revelation 4–5 [LISTEN HERE].
Worthy is the Lamb who was slain; Holy, holy is He Sing a new song to Him who sits on Heaven's mercy seat
Blessing and honor strength and glory and power be To You: the only wise King
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty Who was and is and is to come With all creation I sing praise to the King of kings; You are my everything and I will adore You