The Old Testament repeatedly describes God as a jealous God. In truth, the fact that God is jealous is codified in the Ten Commandments directly from the mouth of God: “Then God spoke all these words saying . . . ‘You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God’” (Ex. 20:1, 5). Are we to believe, then, that God is sinful? Or how do we warn our children against jealousy when God is said to be jealous?
The sin of jealousy. When used with respect to people, jealousy denotes a sinful attitude, namely, a desire to have the same thing that someone else has. (Envy, someone has suggested, goes beyond jealousy to a wish that someone be deprived of the thing we wish to have.) Jealousy manifests a lack of thankfulness for God’s goodness to us or discontent with some aspect of our status. It implies that God is not good, nor gracious, nor perfect in what He has provided; it is, therefore, a direct assault on the character of God.
The righteousness of jealousy. Though the term is seldom used this way (at least in modern times), jealousy may describe an honorable attitude. For example, it would be proper to describe a husband and wife as jealously guarding the sanctity of their marriage. In such a context, the term does not signify a sinful coveting of something belonging to another, but a zealous desire to preserve and protect an exclusive relationship which is holy before God. Clearly, when Scripture or God Himself asserts that He is a jealous God, the term is to be understood in this second sense as an entirely holy and laudatory thing. When referring to God the term jealousy is used primarily in two ways.
God is jealous for His Person and nature. “Therefore thus says the Lord God . . . ‘I will be jealous for My holy name’” (Ezek. 39:25). With that statement, God conveys the eternal truth that His glory is first and foremost. He alone is glorious; He is altogether glorious. All that He has ever done and ever will do in time and eternity have been to manifest His glory. For a man to make such an assertion would be the height of pride, arrogance, and rebellion because we are weak and sinful creatures, and any good that we possess comes from God. That said, just as it is right for a man to jealously guard his morality as protecting something of great value, so it is infinitely more right for God to guard His glory, for in Him alone can be found all holiness, righteousness, and goodness. Nothing could be more holy, more right, and more good than that God jealously protect the sole Fountain of those attributes. His greatest work might be viewed as the preservation of the sanctity of Himself. Every blessing bestowed on man (salvation in particular) is a holy expression of God’s ongoing self-glorification.
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