Israel 2016

Israel 2016
Roman architectural influence in Bet Sean, Israel

Monday, June 23, 2008

A Jealous God?

I had a number of folks come up to me after Sunday's sermon and ask, "What do we do about the Scripture that says, "I am a jealous God?"; (Ex 20:5, Ex 34:1, Deut 4:24 and others)

Apparently this is a question that Oprah Winfrey struggled with, causing her to abandon the Christian faith and adopt her own form of universalism. Aside from Ms. Winfrey's heretical observations, this comes up from time tiem and needs to be addressed.

Before we attempt a word study on 'jealous', we have to be very careful in trying to ascribe human characteristics to God. In other words, God does not experience things the way we do. He does not react to circumstances the way we do. God does not love and feel the way we do. He is God. Anything that proceeds from Him is absolutely perfect and absolutely Holy. We hear something like jealousy ascribed to God and immediately begin to define it in human terms of emotion and reaction. This is a mistake. God is described in Scripture, at various times as being angry (Deut 4:21), vengeful (Psalm 94:1) and hateful (Malachi 2:16). All of these are human traits we are instructed to avoid. But, God is not human. He does not have the failings of the flesh and the fallen nature we have as humans. When He is angry, vengeful, hateful, jealous or in any other disposition, it is always against something that is unholy, imperfect, flawed, sinful, evil or unrighteous.

We struggle with all this because, as a general rule, we view things from our own sense of self-righteousness. "If God can do this or feel this way….then I should be able to as well!" This type of self-justification stems from our incomplete and inaccurate understanding of God's holiness and perfection. If we were able to fully understand these two primary attributes of God, holiness (Psalm 99:2) and perfection (Deut 32:4), then we would never assume that any of His behaviors or proclamations would bear any hint of humanness. We have to bear in mind at all times that holiness is 'set apart' (from us, the world, from all of creation) and His perfection is pure and complete. As such, any jealousy that would flow from God is pure, holy and perfect, not flawed and tainted by fallen flesh and blood.

On to the word study….

If you heard yesterday's sermon you heard that the Greek word for jealous meant 'earnest desire' or 'zeal'. It can have a good connotation or a bad connotation depending on the context it is used in. The Hebrew word is similar in its' definition and usage. It can be good or bad, depending on the context it is used is and it means 'zealous love'. God has a 'zealous love' for His children, a desire for the absolute best for them. His holiness and perfection are what is best for us and as such, He will not tolerate being supplanted in importance or priority by anything or anyone else. Placing anything or anyone else above God is a sin and has consequences. These consequences are a reflection of the type of 'zealous love' God has for us….His jealousy. It does not flow out of anger, hurt, disappointment, surprise or emotional over-reaction. It flows out of a heart that wants the very best for His children. Yet, that heart is holy and perfect and will not tolerate sin. His love is 'zealous' but His perfection is absolute and demands our absolute devotion and attention.

The great blessing, for us as we are unable in and of ourselves to do all this, is that His grace is the umbrella that covers, redeems and renews us (2 Cor 2:19). When we surrender to Him, turn from our wicked ways (Acts 26:20), God looks past our inability to conform ourselves to His nature and does it for us (Php 3:20-21). He does this by seeing the righteousness of Christ in us (2 Pet 1:1). This blessing is a gift. When we consciously and deliberately rise up against this gift, shake our fist at God and insist on having our own way instead of bowing to His, this rebellion is met and addressed with God's holy, perfect and pure zealous love………His jealousy.

This is hard for believers to understand (1 Cor 2:12-13). It's impossible to understand for anyone who is not regenerated by the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives (1 Cor 2:14). As believers, our understanding will come in time (1 Cor 13:12). For the rest…….well, they always have Oprah.

Here's a word study on the 'jealousy of God'. It comes from 'The Complete Word Study Dictionary of the Old Testament" edited by Warren Baker and Eugene Carpenter:

Other texts, however, appear to assert that God is indeed jealous. Exodus 20:5 clearly states, "I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God." Deuteronomy 29:20 reiterates, "The Lord will never be willing to forgive [the person who invokes God's blessing on himself and goes his own way thinking it is safe to do as he pleases]; his wrath and zeal [jealousy] will burn against that man." Psalm 78:58 asserts, "They angered him with their high places; they aroused his jealousy with their idols." Ezekiel 36:5 confirms, "This is what the Sovereign Lord says: In my burning zeal [or jealousy] I have spoken against the rest of the nations and against all Edom, for with glee and with malice in their hearts they made my land their own possession so that they might plunder its pastureland." So how are we to understand God?

The anthropopathic descriptions of God (which describe God's emotions in human terms) help us understand that God is not just an abstract idea but a living and active person. He does have emotions similar to our human emotions of jealousy, vengeance, anger, patience and goodness—with the exception that none of these are tainted with sin.

Certainly God has many agreeable traits, as Nahum 1:7 goes on to affirm: "The Lord is good. … He cares for those who trust in him." In Nahum 1:3 God is also described as being "slow to anger and great in power." But what of his seemingly less attractive emotions?

God's jealousy is often linked in Scripture with his anger. As such, it is an expression of his holiness: "I will be zealous [or jealous] for my holy name" (Ezek 39:25). But in no sense is his jealousy or zeal explosive or irrational. Those depicting the God of the Old Testament as having a mysterious if not primal force, which could break out against any of his creatures at any time for any or no reason, have an overly active imagination. Never does God's zeal or wrath border on caprice or the demonic.

God's wrath is indeed a terrible reality in both Testaments, but it always reflects a totally consistent personality which cannot abide the presence of sin. God's anger never causes him to avenge himself or retaliate, as if he were briefly insane. In our Lord, anger may be defined as his arousing himself to act against sin.

The same could be said about the word translated "vengeance" in the hard saying at hand. Divine vengeance can only be understood in the light of the Old Testament's teaching on the holiness and justice of God. Of the seventy-eight times this word is used in the Old Testament, fifty-one involve situations where God is the perpetrator. The classical text is Deuteronomy 32:35, "It is mine to avenge; I will repay." God cannot be God if he allows sin and rebellion to go unpunished. His very character cries out for the opposite.

Basically, there are two ways in which God takes vengeance: (1) he becomes the champion of those oppressed by the enemy (Ps 94) and (2) he punishes those who break covenant with him (Lev 26:24–25).

If the book of Nahum appears to exhibit savage joy over the crushing defeat of the Assyrian capital, Nineveh, the question must arise: When is one justified in rejoicing over the downfall of a despotic and tyrannical nation? If the answer is that one must wait until the rejoicing nation has been purged of their own sins, then we should be careful in our smugness over the destruction of Nazi Germany. Our own purging may lie ahead.

Contrary to the popular criticism of the book of Nahum, Nahum's condemnation of Nineveh grows out of a moral and ethical concept of God. In the prophet's thought, God is sovereign Lord over the whole creation, including all the nations. As a holy God, he abhors any form of unrighteousness, but all the more when it is committed on an international scale.

There are three basic reasons why God decreed the end of the Assyrian empire. First, the Assyrians not only opposed Israel, they opposed God (Nahum 1:9, 11, 14). Second, they flouted the law and moral order of God. Not only did Assyria draw her own citizens into the dragnet of idolatry, but she also lured many other nations into her practices, just as a harlot lures her prey to destruction (Nahum 2:13; 3:4). Finally, Assyria's imperial greed provoked robberies and wrongs of every sort.

God, therefore, does not indifferently and helplessly watch the sins of the nations multiply. Instead, he is a warmhearted, understanding, but thoroughly just and righteous God who will act against those who persist in flouting everything he is and stands for. The fact that God expresses jealousy, vengeance or wrath is a sign that he cares for his people and champions their cause. He can and he will administer justice with equity among the nations.

The words jealousy—or, as it is more accurately rendered when referring to God, zeal—and vengeance may both be used in a good and a bad sense. When applied to God, they denote that God is intensely concerned for his own character and reputation. Thus, everything that ultimately threatens his honor, esteem and reverence may be regarded as the object of his jealousy and vengeance. The metaphor best depicting this emotion is that of the jealous husband, which God is said to be when false gods and false allegiances play the parts of suitors and potential paramours. He cannot and will not tolerate rivalry of any kind—our spiritual lives depend on his tenacious hold on us.


  1. You know I've always kinda struggled with this concept of God and His feelings, having heard both sides to the arguement. The problem with what's stated here is that it's built exclusively on Old Testament scripture. I'd like to see the same position built to include the New Testament and Jesus. Could we hold to our same views knowing Jesus - who turns over money tables, weeps over a city and expresses about every other human emotion?

  2. Once again, we have to be careful trying to ascribe human emotions to God or Jesus knowing that whatever emotions Jesus expressed, they were perfect, sinless and selfless.

    When Jesus got 'angry' (John 2:15) it was not sefl-righteous anger, it was anger over the disprespect shown to the Father. Even at that, we assume that He was enraged because that's how we process anger. The Scripture never says He was enraged and out of control. As a matter of fact, because Jesus was fully God and fully man, his anger would be toward sin and would be the same type of holy sinless and perfect anger (Eph 4:26)described in my posting. We shoujld never be in a position that allows us to express unholy anger because we thought something like, "Jesus got angry in the temple so, it's OK for me to be angry in this situation."

    When He wept, it was over the fact that God's chosen people did not yet undrstand the significance of Jesus' coming (John 11:35, Luke 19:41). The tears He shed were not the self-pitying, dissappointing tears we shed when our expectations are not met. Nor were they tears of grief over unexpected suffering. We are told repeatedly that suffering will come to us (1 Pet 5:10, 2 Thess 1:5). Our reward in not here but in heaven. The tears Jesus shed in all cases were over the sacrifice that was about to be made and God's children's inability to understand where their salvation was coming from.

    When He loved, His love (and every other emotion he expressed, BTW) would have conformed to every guideline depicted in 1 Cor 13, a chapter that quite fully describes His nature and character. All of the emotions Jesu experienced were pure, holy and sinless. If not, He would not have been without sin. While we can relate to the fact that He had emotions, it would be a mistake to think that His emotions were similar in nature and focus to ours. Our emotions are, almost invariably, self focused while His were focused on the Father.

    As far as using the OT instead of the NT, 2 Tim 3:16 tells us that ALL Scripture is inspired by God. Nowhere in Scripture does it indicate that certain passages are preferable or superior to others or that some are outmoded and superceded by others. A careful reading of NT Scripture will reveal that whenever Scripture is quoted in the NT, it is actually OT Scripture that they refer to. All the Scriptural teaching and preaching found in the NT is based on the only Scripture they had back then, the OT. Jesus and all the Apostles recognized the authority of the OT. We should do the same.