By Jim Jonas
The Old Testament scriptures speak several times of God’s “jealousy.” The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament says this family of words “expresses a very strong emotion whereby some quality or possession of the object is desired by the subject. ... It may prove helpful to think of ‘zeal’ as the original sense from which derived the notions ‘zeal for another’s property’ = ‘envy’ and ‘zeal for one’s own property’ = ‘jealousy’” (Vol. 2, p. 802).
When applied to God, the idea is that God is “jealous” for what rightfully belongs to Him. In explaining the first and second commandments (no other gods or images), God says, “For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me” (Ex. 20:5). God is the only true Supreme Being and as such deserves all reverence, glory and honor. It is a travesty against His nature and existence to have men invent gods with their own hearts and hands and offer to them what God alone deserves.
God promises to display Himself accordingly to Israel: “Behold, I make a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels such as have not been done in all the earth, nor in any nation; and all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the Lord. For it is an awesome thing that I will do with you” (Ex. 34:10). Then He warns the people: “for you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (34:14).
The Old Testament depicts God as a husband and Israel as His bride. He is the one who nurtured Israel from birth to adult nationhood. He was the source of all blessings, and Israel freely entered into covenant promises to be loyal and faithful to God. Thus, when they forsook Him and went after idols, God considered their behavior as adultery, and He responded in a way that might be expected from a jealous husband: “And I will judge you as women who break wedlock or shed blood are judged; I will bring blood upon you in fury and jealousy” (Ezek. 16:38).
The divine rationale for the creation of man is a desire for fellowship and to share His goodness with cognizant, responsible beings. There is no justification within ourselves for our existence; God unilaterally decided to create us to satisfy His own purposes. When men thus reject that purpose and think they can justify their existence on other grounds, they are rejecting the very source of life itself.
God is true; all others are products of rebellion and selfishness. This He will not tolerate. In this respect, God is the one holding all the cards; we may decide either to live by His rules or forfeit our right to live at all. There is no third choice.
But the jealousy of God works for us as well. If we are faithful to Him, He will jealousy defend us, protect us and provide for our needs.
Of those who had humbled and plundered Israel God says, “Surely I have spoken in My burning jealousy against the rest of the nations. ... Therefore prophesy concerning the land of Israel, and say to the mountains, the hills, the rivers, and the valleys, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Behold, I have spoken in My jealousy and My fury, because you have born the shame of the nations”’ (Ezek. 36:5-6).
Our God is not to be trifled with.