“. . . for you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” Exodus 34:14
God very explicitly calls Himself a jealous God in the Scriptures. This has been a major stumbling block for a lot of people. The “New Atheists” like Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett chide the God of the Old Testament for His jealousy. Oprah Winfrey was turned off by the Christian God when a preacher said that He is jealous. Isn’t jealousy a vice? If God is all good, how can jealousy be a major part of His character?
First, we need to make this distinction clear: there is a good kind of jealousy and a bad kind of jealousy. In his book, Is God a Moral Monster?, Paul Copan says, “If jealousy is rooted in self-centeredness, it is clearly the wrong kind of jealousy. A jealousy that springs from concern for another’s well-being, however, is appropriate,” (pg. 34). Jealousy, if done properly, can actually be a godly trait. Paul, when writing against false apostles in Corinth, says “I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ,” (2 Cor. 11:2). Think of a married couple. If another man tries to seduce the wife, or if she commits adultery against her husband, the husband is being entirely appropriate by feeling jealous and angry! This isn’t a self-centered and controlling jealousy, but a jealousy that is ultimately concerned with protecting his wife and the covenant he made with her; or a jealousy brought about by the pain of betrayal and a violation of what is his.
In the Old Testament God compares Himself to a husband who is constantly being betrayed by His adulterous bride, Israel. “How I have been hurt by their adulterous hearts which turned away from Me, and by their eyes which played the harlot after their idols,” (Ezek. 6:9). Whenever we worship idols instead of God, we commit adultery against Him. Just think about that! God loves us and desires our love, but it hurts and exasperates Him when we reject Him. According to Paul Copan, “Jealousy implies vulnerability and the capacity to experience pain—not the pettiness of a power-hungry deity obsessed with dominating people,” (pg. 38).
Just as a husband’s jealousy can motivate him to protect his wife and his marriage, God’s jealousy motivates Him to protect us from the self-harm that comes from sin and idolatry. In the Old Testament book of Hosea, God describes Israel as a whore that says “I will go after my lovers, who give me my bread and my water, my wool and my flax, my oil and my drink. . .” But the Lord says “I will hedge up her way with thorns, and I will build a wall against her, so that she cannot find her paths.” He doesn’t do this because He’s controlling and mean, but because she will realize that she needs to return to her first husband, God, “for it was better for me then than now.” God is the one who “gave her the grain, the wine, and the oil, who lavished on her silver and gold. . .” (Hosea 2:5-8).
It is better to be with our Father than to run after other idols, and the Lord is so jealous for us that He seeks to protect that relationship. He may frustrate us in the process, but He’s doing it for our good, that we may find true joy in Him and not seek the pleasures of sin that are fleeting and ultimately unsatisfying. I thank God for His jealousy.