Jealousy: Divine and Human
As best I can remember, it was the spring of 1971. Ann and I had been dating for about seven months. I’m not sure how committed she was to me but I was absolutely certain that we were going to get married. As far as I was concerned, she was my girl and nothing or no one was going to get in the way of our future together. Continue reading . . .
As best I can remember, it was the spring of 1971. Ann and I had been dating for about seven months. I’m not sure how committed she was to me but I was absolutely certain that we were going to get married. As far as I was concerned, she was my girl and nothing or no one was going to get in the way of our future together.
It was early one evening when I called her and she told me that she had just returned to her sorority house after spending the dinner hour at an apartment complex in Norman. An old, high school friend of hers had come to town and had invited her to join him and some others for a cookout. This guy, whose name I will not mention, was in the Army. He evidently found out that Ann was at OU and thought he would do whatever he could to reignite an old flame.
I distinctly remember the rage in my heart when I heard this. Without even thinking about the possibility that this guy could have been highly trained in hand-to-hand combat, I raced over to that apartment complex and called him out. He and I stood toe-to-toe in the courtyard of that complex where I made it crystal clear to him that if he ever pursued Ann again I would do him serious bodily harm. He backed down and I left feeling entirely vindicated and full of myself!
There was a strange mix of emotions and passions at work in me that day. Some were good and some were evil. Some were constructive, others destructive. On the one hand, I hope you would think less of me if I hadn’t stepped in to protect my relationship with Ann. What kind of man would stand idle and passive and allow another man to steal away the affections of the woman he loved? If I had responded with indifference toward that man who was trying to win Ann’s heart and destroy our relationship, I would hardly be deserving of anything but disdain and contempt. A man who will not fight to preserve the integrity of his relationship with the woman he loves is not much of a man. Of course, by the word “fight” I mean contend, not engage in literal combat!
However, on the other hand, there were some things present in my heart that day that were profoundly and unmistakably sinful. To some extent my reaction to this man’s pursuit of Ann was borne of wounded pride. I have to admit that I was offended that she would even have spent ten minutes with him. I was convinced that I deserved better. After all, how would it reflect on me and my reputation if word got out that Ann had dumped me for another guy? If she really respected me and valued our relationship, why didn’t she simply say no when he invited her to the cookout?
There was also some over-protective possessiveness in my heart that was not honoring to Ann. I was angry at this guy because I perceived him to be stealing something that was rightfully mine. But the fact is, Ann didn’t belong to me. We weren’t married yet. And she was ultimately responsible for whatever choices she made concerning our future together.
What this one incident reveals is what I suspect all of you already know: Jealousy can be both good and bad. Jealousy can be driven or motivated both by holy and righteous motives as well as unholy and unrighteous ones. Jealousy can be a sign of both sinful weakness and strength, of both wounded pride, on the one hand, and genuine love, on the other. Jealously is sometimes the expression of an excessively possessive spirit, and at other times the fruit of care and concern for the welfare of the one who is loved. Jealousy is often the result of deep insecurity in a person’s soul, but also a reflection of commitment and devotion to the person that you love.
We all know this, and we’ve all undoubtedly felt the surge and sensation of jealousy in our hearts at some time or another during the course of our relationship with certain individuals. My guess is that we often times can’t even discern whether or not our jealous rage is righteous or wicked. The so-called “green-eyed-monster” is on occasion a cute, cuddly pet, while at other times it can be a vicious and carnivorous creature that devours and destroys.
That is why Christians are often stumped and confused when they read all through the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments, that God is a jealous God! For example:
"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, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments” (Exod. 20:4-6).
"For you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God" (Exod. 34:14).
"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, any of 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” (Ezekiel 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!"
"But Joshua said to the people, 'You are not able to serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God . . . " (Joshua 24:19).
"For they provoked him to anger with their high places; they moved him to jealousy with their idols"(Ps. 78:58).
"Therefore thus says the Lord God, 'Now I will restore the fortunes of Jacob and have mercy on the whole house of Israel, and I will be jealous for my holy name" (Ezek. 39:25).
"Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?" (1 Cor. 10:22).
For people to sit both at the table of demons and the table of the Lord, i.e., for people to walk in idolatry, whatever form it might take, and then to partake of the Lord's Supper, will only serve to stoke the fires of jealousy in God's already burning heart (see also 1 Kings 14:22; Ezek. 16:38,42; 23:25; 36:5ff; 38:19; Joel 2:18; Nahum 1:2; Zeph. 1:18; 3:8; Zech. 1:14; 8:2; Ps. 79:5).
God is an emotional being. He experiences within the depths of his being genuine passions, contrary to those who would affirm the doctrine of divine impassibility. The Bible is replete with references to divine joy, mercy, love, compassion, kindness, hatred, just to mention a few. But what of jealousy? The fact that we balk at the suggestion that God might be truly jealous indicates that we have a weak, insipid view of the divine nature. At the very core of his being, in the center of his personality is an inextinguishable blaze of immeasurable love called jealousy.
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. Such is surely not true of God. Nor 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 thus a zeal to protect a love relationship or to avenge it when it is broken. Jealousy in God is that passionate energy by which he is provoked and stirred and moved 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.
For what, then, is God jealous? God is most jealous for his own glory, fame, and honor! God desires above all else that his name be preserved and promoted and he will act quickly and powerfully to vindicate his glory.
God is jealous for the supremacy of his name in this world, in this land, in your home, in your life, and in our church. It isn't your name that he is jealous to protect, but his own. Your reputation is not first on God's agenda. His is.
Consider the incredible events that unfolded in the life of Nebuchadnezzar as told in Daniel 4. To put it bluntly, he was reduced to live as a cow for seven years. Why, for heaven’s sake? Because he provoked God to jealousy. He claimed glory and responsibility for what God alone had done. His judgment would last until he came to recognize “that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will” (4:32; cf. 4:37).
Worse still was the judgment that came upon King Herod, although the reason for it was the same as in the case of Nebuchadnezzar. We read in Acts 12:21-23: “Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last". God's jealousy for the glory of his name is so intense that he may well send worms to gnaw and consume the flesh of anyone who dares try to keep a little for himself!
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 their affection? We would regard such a person as deficient in moral character and lacking in true love.
If I were to receive a phone call or letter with news that a man had been seen delivering flowers to my wife, expensive gifts, or serenading her outside our bedroom window, and I did nothing, felt nothing, would this not be a reflection on my lack of character, lack of love, and lack of zeal for the welfare of my wife and my relationship with her?
“But Sam. It seems so selfish of God to be jealous for his own glory. It seems so self-centered of him to destroy anything that might hinder our love for him and devotion to him.” Yes, I know it seems that way, but you must remember that God is the only Being for whom jealous passion for his own glory is a supreme act of love.
If God is going to love you he must give you the best, most beautiful, and most satisfying thing in all the universe. He must freely give you the greatest treasure, the most exquisite prize, the most enduring and enjoyable thing in all the universe. And what might that be? Himself, of course! But that is only half the story. God must then work in your heart so that you experience him as the preeminent treasure that he is. He must awaken in your soul satisfaction in himself. He must open your eyes to his beauty and lead you to taste and savor the sweetness of knowing him and loving him and enjoying him.
Does that sound like God is pursuing his own glory and his own praise? Yes. But it also sounds like God is loving you passionately and powerfully. It could not be otherwise unless there is something other than God that is better than God with which he can satisfy your soul. It could not be otherwise unless there is something other than God with which he might captivate your heart and fascinate your mind and with which he might bring you into unending joy and delight and peace and happiness. But there is no such thing! That is why it is true of God alone that for him to pursue his own glory and praise is for him to love and bless you. God’s jealous pursuit of his own glory and fame is the most loving thing he could ever do for you. God’s jealous passion for the undivided loyalty and praise of your heart is the preeminent expression of his love for sinful men and women like you and me. For you to deny that is to say that there is something or someone or an experience of some sort that can satisfy and enthrall your soul more than God can. And that is blasphemy!
Simply put: for God to say, “Come and worship me, come and glorify my name, come and be wholly devoted to my praise and fame,” is the greatest expression of his love for you, because in your worship and enjoyment of him is your highest and deepest and most lasting satisfaction.