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The Jealousy of God in the Heart of a Human (2 Cor. 11:1-2)

Few people can maintain a godly balance between sarcasm and sincerity. The latter is all too often swallowed up and eclipsed by the former. The apostle Paul was a notable exception to that general rule.

The sarcasm of the apostle is quite evident in the opening words of 2 Corinthians 11. There he writes, "I wish you would bear with me in a little foolishness. Do bear with me!" (2 Cor. 11:1). Paul was probably accused by his opponents of being a "fool" whom the Corinthians must "bear with." Humor him, they said. He's the sort of person you can't avoid, so tolerate him as best you can. Thus Paul says, in effect, "Since most of you regard me as something of a buffoon, a pathetic excuse for an apostle, a religious clown of sorts, go ahead and patronize me a little longer as I try to make my case."

But note well. This is not Paul trying to vindicate himself out of some petty concern for his own reputation. Paul does not take on the so-called "super-apostles" primarily because they were trying to undermine his influence or to defame him. They were proposing what Paul regards as a "different" and alien Christianity, which he contends is no Christianity, and hence no gospel, at all. The stakes are much higher here than merely one man's position in the community. Eternal destiny is the heart of the matter.

It is here, then, that his equally passionate sincerity and spiritual zeal come to the fore. We see it in the words that describe his feelings for the Corinthian believers. "I feel a divine jealousy for you," says Paul, "for I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ" (2 Cor. 11:2). There is much in this passage to note, but here I want to focus solely on the "divine jealousy" that fills Paul's heart.

This statement in v. 2 might more literally be rendered, "I am jealous for you with God's own zeal" or the jealousy that comes from God himself or, perhaps, my heart is filled with a jealousy that is just like God's.

Whoah! God gets jealous? Are you kidding? No, I'm deadly serious, and so is God. Consider just a few texts that affirm this remarkable truth.

"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. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me" (Exod. 20:4-5; emphasis mine).

Or again,

"for you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God" (Exod. 34:14; emphasis mine).

Here we see that the primary reason for worshiping God alone is the fact that God's name is Jealous! In the ancient world one's name was not merely a label or a tag, but a declaration of one's character. Thus, in the very depths of God's divine character burns the fire of jealousy. Jealousy is central to the essence of who God is. Jealousy is at the core of God's identity as God. Jealousy is that defining characteristic or personality trait that makes God God. Whatever other reasons you may find in Scripture for worshiping and serving and loving God alone, and there are many of them and they are all good, paramount among them all is the fact that our God burns with jealousy for the undivided allegiance and affection of His people.

Consider also these texts:

"Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, has turned back my wrath from the people of Israel, in that he was jealous with my jealousy among them, so that I did not consume the people of Israel in my jealousy" (Num. 25:11).

"For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God" (Deut. 4:24).

"You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are around you, for the Lord your God in your midst is a jealous God, lest the anger of the Lord your God be kindled against you, and he destroy you from off the face of the earth" (Deut. 6:14-15; cf. 29:20).

"They stirred him to jealousy with strange gods; with abominations they provoked him to anger" (Deut. 32:16; cf. 32:21).

An especially interesting text is the following passage from Ezekiel.

"He put out the form of a hand and took me by a lock of my head, and the Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven and brought me in visions of God to Jerusalem, to the entrance of the gateway of the inner court that faces north, where was the seat of the image of jealousy, which provokes to jealousy" (Ezek. 8:3).

The Israelites had placed an idol of some sort at the entrance to the north gate of the temple. Literally, it reads "the jealousy that provokes jealousy", a reference to the passion that this object ignites in God's heart. "Look," says the Lord, "look at that abominable statue which draws away the hearts of my people. They are loving it, not Me. They are bowing down to it, not Me. I am red hot with jealousy, for I will not stand for anything or anyone to come between me and the devotion of my bride!"

The pervasive presence in Scripture of this remarkable truth is simply undeniable. I encourage you to read 1 Kings 14:22; Ezekiel 16:38,42; 23:25; 36:5ff; 38:19; 39:25; Joshua 24:19; Psalm 78:58; 79:5; Joel 2:18; Nahum 1:2; Zephaniah 1:18; 3:8; Zechariah 1:14; and 1 Corinthians 10:22.

God is an emotional being. He experiences within the depths of his being genuine passions and affections. The fact that we balk at the suggestion that God is jealous indicates that we have a weak, insipid view of the divine nature. Absolutely fundamental to God's being God is the presence in his nature of an inextinguishable blaze of immeasurable love called jealousy.

Most of us have seen or felt or been on the receiving end of human jealousy that is destructive and sinful and ugly. We naturally recoil from the suggestion that God might to any degree be tainted with such a terrible flaw of character. But to say that God is jealous certainly does not mean that he is suspicious because of some insecurity in his heart. This kind of jealousy is the result of ignorance and mistrust, features that are utterly absent from the heart of God. Neither does it mean he is wrongfully envious of the success of others. Jealousy that is sinful is most often the product of anxiety and bitterness and fear. But surely none of this could be true of God. Sinful jealousy is the sort that longs to possess and control what does not properly belong to oneself; it is demanding and cares little for the supposed object of its love.

But as J. I. Packer explains, "God's jealousy is not a compound of frustration, envy, and spite, as human jealousy so often is, but appears instead as a . . . praiseworthy zeal to preserve something supremely precious" (Knowing God, 153). Divine jealousy is his zeal to protect a love relationship or to avenge it when it is broken. Jealousy in God is that passionate energy that provokes and stirs and moves him to take action against whatever or whoever stands in the way of his enjoyment of what he loves and desires. The intensity of God's anger at threats to this relationship is directly proportionate to the depths of his love.

This is no momentary or sporadic or infrequent or occasional burst of anger or minor irritation in the heart of God. This is no passing twinge in God's mind. This is the incessant, intensely persistent burning in the heart of the infinitely powerful, uncreated God. In the ancient near east, the word for "jealousy" literally meant to become intensely red, a reference to the effects of anger on one's facial complexion. Jealousy in God is not a "green-eyed monster" but a "red-faced lover" who will brook no rivals in his relationship with his people. Let's look briefly at the two primary ways this jealousy is expressed.

First of all, God is most jealous for his own glory, fame, and honor. He desires above all else that his name be preserved and promoted and he will act quickly and powerfully to vindicate his glory. "The jealousy of Yahweh," writes Ray Ortlund, "is his profoundly intense drive within to protect the interests of his own glory (Ex. 20:4-6; Ezk. 39:25), for he 'will admit no derogation from his majesty.'" (Whoredom: God's Unfaithful Wife in Biblical Theology) [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996], p. 29, n. 15).

Second, God is also jealous for the devotion and wholeheartedness and loyalty and love of his bride, his people. Just as a husband cannot be indulgent of adultery in his wife, so also God cannot and will not endure infidelity in us. What would we think of a man or woman who does not experience jealous feelings when another person approaches his/her spouse and threatens to win his/her affection? We would regard such a person as deficient in moral character and lacking in true love. John Calvin explains:

"The Lord very frequently addresses us in the character of a husband . . . As He performs all the offices of a true and faithful husband, so He requires love and chastity from us; that is, that we do not prostitute our souls to Satan . . . As the purer and chaster a husband is, the more grievously he is offended when he sees his wife inclining to a rival; so the Lord, who has betrothed us to Himself in truth, declares that He burns with the hottest jealousy whenever, neglecting the purity of His holy marriage, we defile ourselves with abominable lusts, and especially when the worship of His deity, which ought to have been most carefully kept unimpaired, is transferred to another, or adulterated with some superstition; since in this way we not only violate our plighted troth, but defile the nuptial couch by giving access to adulterers" (Institutes, II.viii.18).

In summary, the fire of divine zeal will consume and destroy and leave in a pathetic rubble of worthless ash, anything and everything that we have built or worked for or given our hearts to or relied upon that in any way or to any degree detracts from the glory of his name or threatens the purity of his relationship with his bride, the Church.

And it is this very jealousy, this same divine and godly zeal, that now fills the heart of Paul as he contemplates the dangerous path down which so many of the Corinthians appear to be walking. It is this jealousy that alone accounts for the passionate appeal that is to follow. In Paul's case it is a "mixture of love, outrage, and fear: love for the Corinthians manifest in deep concern for their spiritual well-being; outrage at their fickleness, the ease and speed by which they have been seduced; fear for their future if they do not repent and return to the Lord" (Carson, 85).

Yes, our God is a jealous God in whose heart burns a passionate love for his people, a love that will forever labor to win our full affection and unqualified devotion.

Sam