The God of heaven is a jealous God. We see Him portrayed as such throughout the Bible, particularly in the message of the Old Testament. When you think about His jealousy, what comes to mind? Whatever it means for God to be jealous, that does not contradict any of His other traits, including His gracious nature.
Jehovah told the Israelites, “. . . For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God . . .” (Exodus 20:5). In fact, the Lord’s name is “Jealous.” Does that surprise you? It is written, “For you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Exodus 34:14).
The prophet Nahum spoke plainly about God’s jealous nature: “God is jealous, and the LORD avenges; The LORD avenges and is furious. The LORD will take vengeance on His adversaries and He reserves wrath for His enemies” (Nahum 1:2). Note the ideas that Nahum connects with God’s jealously: jealous, avenge, furious, vengeance, wrath.
We often think of “jealous” in a negative sense. In modern times, “jealous” can mean to be “envious or resentful of the good fortune or achievements of another” [www.yourdictionary.com]. In the New Testament, “jealousies” (“emulations,” KJV) are condemned as part of the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:20). The Greek word is “ζήλος/zelos,” which can refer either to “excitement of mind, ardour, fervour of spirit” (that is, zeal) or “an envious and contentious rivalry, jealousy” [Thayer, word no. 2205 via e-Sword].
Here is a matter that bothers some people: If jealousy is condemned in humans, then why is it acceptable on God’s part? (Why is it okay for Him to be jealous)? First of all, because the Lord is perfect in all of His attributes, it is not possible that His jealousy is something that is wrong. In the English language, in addition to the meanings which we noted above, “jealous” also can mean “vigilant in guarding something . . . intolerant of disloyalty or infidelity” [www.yourdictionary.com].
The apostle Paul told the saints in Corinth, “For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy” (2 Corinthians 11:2). Thus, there is such a thing as “godly jealousy.”
When the Israelites committed idolatry and adultery with the Moabite people, Phinehas, the son of Eleazar and grandson of Aaron, put to death two people. By doing that, a plague that the Lord had sent among His people came to an end. God said, “Phinehas . . . has turned back My wrath from the children of Israel, because he was zealous with My zeal among them [‘jealous with my jealousy,’ ASV], so that I did not consume the children of Israel in My zeal” (Numbers 25:11). Obviously, in God’s sight, Phinehas’ jealousy-zeal was a good thing.
On God’s part, what does it mean for Him to be “jealous?” Just as a married person expects and demands complete devotion and fidelity from his/ her spouse, so the Lord God expects and demands such of all mankind. He alone is to be worshipped: He cannot tolerate worship and service being offered to others. He is not willing to share with others the devotion that should be given to Him alone. This is His jealousy. As a jealous God, He “will not transfer to another the honour that is due to Himself (Isaiah 42:8; 48:11) nor tolerate the worship of any other god (Exodus 34:14), but who directs the warmth of His anger against those who hate Him (Deuteronomy 6:15), with the same energy with which the warmth of His love (Song of Solomon 8:6) embraces those who love Him . . .” [C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, Vol. II (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1980), p. 116].
Consider the application of God’s jealousy: how it relates to “the real world.” Again, Jehovah would not tolerate His people serving other “gods” (Exodus 20:2-5). When they “played the harlot,” God punished them. The Northern Kingdom of Israel was destroyed by the Assyrians, in part due to the people’s idolatry (2 Kings 17). God later used the Babylonians to punish the Southern Kingdom for similar rebellion, including their idolatry (2 Kings 24,25).
God was jealous of His faithful people. When they faithfully served Him, He helped them conquer the Canaanites and the neighboring nations that rose up against them. However, when Israel turned against Him, He turned against them (2 Chronicles 15:2).
How does the jealousy of God apply to our lives today? Simply put, because of His jealousy, God demands our affection and faithfulness to Him. He wants us to love Him above all others (Mark 12:30), serve Him as our only Master (Matthew 6:24), and forsake all for Him (Luke 14:33). He demands that He be first in our hearts and lives (Matthew 6:33). Anything less than that is unacceptable to Him and will cause those who are not devoted completely to Him to be the recipients of His wrath if they do not change their ways.
We are blessed that God has revealed Himself to us in His word. The Creator of all things is a jealous God. Let us reverence Him, submit to Him, and be ready to tell others about Him and His saving power.
— Roger D. Campbell