Jealousy can be a dangerous emotion. Yet God describes Himself as jealous, which seems out of character for Him. What does God mean? Randy Bushey explains.
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Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God (Exodus 34:14).
We’re nearing a celebratory occasion in our family: a grandchild’s birthday party. But as a grandparent, I’m a little conflicted. Here’s what is positive: it will be a milestone, a strong affirmation of our love, and an occasion of great fun for the little boy about to turn 5.
But it will be offset by the inevitable negative reaction of siblings, cousins, and other children. All the attention, the affection – and the gifts! – will be showered on the birthday boy. The other children – no matter how well prepped by parents and grandparents – will sense a little tinge of envy.
We know it will happen. We’ve all experienced it. And not matter how much we remind each child that when it was their birthday, they too were equally celebrated, it probably won’t much help.
Jealousy is Difficult to Shake
Jealousy is a tough emotion to shake. And not just for kids. That’s why Exodus 34 is such a tough passage to comprehend. How – or, why – would God be jealous? It seems so out-of-character. Even unsavory for God to be jealous, and to proclaim that characteristic for Himself. What does He mean? What are we to understand?
In the historical narrative, Moses ascended Mount Sinai to meet the Lord again. In his hands were the new stone tablets on which the Lord would again write His law. (You’ll recall that Moses had broken the first set of tablets literally, when Israel had broken God’s law metaphorically.)
In that encounter the Lord first identified Himself:
The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin (v.6-7a).
He then declared a life principle that adds gravity and weight to the role of human fatherhood – what I call the Principle of Morality and Human Heritage:
Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation (v.7b).
The Lord asserted to Moses what we’ve all witnessed: the natural consequence of deliberate and intentional immorality is a lasting legacy, negatively impacting our children for generations.
God is a Jealous God
But what is so jarring to us is to read God’s continued Self-disclosure:
Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God (v.14).
In other words, jealousy is so closely ingrained in His character, that His very Name is Jealous!
So here’s our interpretive challenge: we must understand the multi-faceted definition of the term jealous. That’s because we typically use the word only in a negative context.
My old Funk & Wagnalls dictionary (circa 1960) sheds some light: although somewhat obsolete in our era, in a differently nuanced usage the term was closely associated with the word zealous.
Think of the institution of marriage. the maintenance of intimacy and trust are built on a foundation of exclusivity. There can only be 2 people – each committed solely to the other – in any successful marriage. And we understand that this unique priority provides protection for each partner.
That’s what the Lord is explaining to Moses. In His covenant relationship with Israel, God is jealous – or, zealous – for their exclusive love and worship. Not because He’s unable to compete with someone else getting all the attention, the love, the gifts. But the One whose Name is Jealous insists on having His rightful place of exclusive primacy in our lives.
Takeaway: Let’s not miss the purpose: as our loving Father, the Lord makes this demand on our lives, for our protection. Any substitute – any idol – will over-promise and under-deliver. We were created to find our joy in Him. Anything else will disappoint.
Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever (Westminster Shorter Chatechism).
Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in Thee (Augustine of Hippo).
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Images Courtesy of:
Angry Woman – RobinHiggins
Balloons – Outliner
Couple on Dock – Mabel/Amber