Sunday, 27 September 2009


We know jealousy, "the green ey'd monster", as a vice, one of the most cancerous and soul destroying that there is; whereas God, we are sure, is perfectly good. How, then, could anyone ever imagined jealousy is found in him?
Were we imagining that the was a God, then naturally we should ascribe to him only characteristics which we admired, and jealousy would not enter the picture. Nobody would imagine a jealous God. But we are not making up an idea of God by drawing on our imagination; we are seeking instead to listen to the words of Holy Scripture, in which God himself tells us the truth about himself.

When God brought Israel out of Egypt to Sinai, to give them his law and covenant, his jealousy was one of the first facts about himself which he taught them. (Exodus 20:5; 34: 14)

The Bible says a good deal about God's jealousy:
Numbers 25: 11; Deuteronomy 4:24, 6:15, 29:20, 32:16, 21
Joshua 24:19; 1Kings 14:22
Ezekiel: 3-5, 16: 38, 42, 23:25, 36:5 ff., 38:19, 39: 25, Joel 2:18; Nahum 1:2; Zephaniah 1:18, 3:8; Zechariah 1:14, 8:2
salm 78: 58, 70 9:5
1Corinthians 10:22; James 4:5

Biblical statements about God's jealousy are anthropomorphisms - that is, descriptions of God in language drawn from life as humans. The Bible is full of anthropomorphisms - God's arm, hand, and finger, his hearing, seeing, and smelling, his tenderness, anger, repentance, laughter, and so forth. The reason why God uses these terms to speak to us about himself is that language drawn from our own personal life is the most accurate medium for communicating thoughts about him that we have. He is personal, and so a we, in a way that nothing else in the physical creation is. Only man, of all physical creatures, was made in God's image.

But ...

We have to remember that man is not the measure of his Maker, and when the language of human personal life is used of God none of the limitations of human creature are thereby being implied -limited knowledge, all power, or foresight, or strength, or consistency, or anything of that kind. And we must remember that those elements in human qualities which show the corrupting effect of sin have no counterpart in God.

There are two sorts of jealousy among humans, and only one of them is a vice. Vicious jealousy is an expression of the attitude, "I want what you've got, and I hate you because I haven't got it." It is an infantile resentment springing from mortified covetousness, which expresses itself in envy, malice, and meanness of action. It is terribly potent, for it feeds and is fed by pride, the taproot of fallen nature. But there is another sort of jealousy -zeal to protect a love relationship, or to avenge it when broken. This jealousy also operates in the sphere of sex; there, however, it appears, not as the blind reaction of wounded pride, but as the fruit of marital affection. This sort of jealousy is a positive virtue, for it shows a grasp of the true meaning of the husband wife relationship, together with a proper zeal to keep it intact.

Now, Scripture consistently views God's jealousy as being of this latter kind: that is, as an aspect of his covenant love to his own people. The Old Testament regards God's covenant as his marriage with Israel, carrying with it the demand for unqualified love and loyalty. The worship of idols, and all compromising relations with non-Israelite idolaters, constituted disobedience and unfaithfulness, which God saw as spiritual adultery, provoking him to jealousy and vengeance.

God demands from those whom he has loved and redeemed after and absolute loyalty, and will vindicate his claim by stern action against them if they betray his love by unfaithfulness.

God's jealousy over his people, therefore, presupposes his covenant love; and this love is no transitory affection, accidental and aimless, but is the expression of a sovereign purpose. The goal of the covenant love of God is that he should have people on earth as long as history lasts, and after that should have all his faithful once in every age with him in glory. Covenant love is the heart of God's plan to his world.

God's ultimate objective is threefold - to vindicate his rule and righteousness by showing his sovereignty and judgement upon sin; to ransom and redeem his chosen people; and to be loved and praised by them for his glorious acts of love and self-vindication. God seeks what we should seek- his glory, in and through man - and it is for the securing of this that, ultimately, that he is jealous.

[Notes on Knowing God, J Packer, Ch 17]

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