Can a God of Love Be a Jealous God?
by Jack Cottrell (Notes) on Saturday, November 6, 2010 at 3:23pm
QUESTION: If God is love, why does He say He is a jealous God?
ANSWER: One of the biggest mistakes made in reference to God’s nature is to assume that LOVE is His primary attribute, the one over-arching, all-inclusive attribute that must somehow include all other attributes. This false presupposition seems to underlie this question, i.e., isn’t jealousy somehow inconsistent with love? How can love express itself in jealousy?
One of my main theses with reference to God is that there is no ONE, over-arching attribute of which everything else must be an expression. With reference to His moral attributes, there are TWO main and co-equal attributes that are very different but not inconsistent. These two basic sides of His moral nature are His holiness and His love. Because God is holy, He is jealous and wrathful in the presence of sin; because He is love, He is merciful, patient, and gracious toward sinners. His jealousy is thus an expression of His holiness, not His love.
Here I will explain the attribute of jealousy by providing an excerpt from my book, The Faith Once for All, pp. 93-94. (See my book, What the Bible Says About God the Creator, pp. 409‑416, for a more complete explanation.)
The holiness of God when provoked by sin sometimes springs forth in the form of jealousy. In the second commandment Yahweh declares, “For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God” (Exod. 20:5). “You shall not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Exod. 34:14).
Both the OT and the NT words for jealousy refer to an intense feeling of zeal or ardor, a fervor of spirit, a zealousness, a jealousy, even a jealous anger. But we must not think of God’s jealousy as a petty spite or envy directed toward some other deity whose legitimate worshipers He covets. Rather, when jealousy is attributed to God, the background always seems to be His relationship with His people understood figuratively as a marriage relationship. Like a husband, God is jealous with a “godly jealousy” (2 Cor. 11:2) for both the welfare of His spouse and for the maintenance of her exclusive devotion toward Himself. And what is the major threat to both? Idolatry! Thus the biblical references to God as a jealous God most often appear in a context condemning idolatry. This connection is seen in Exod. 20:5 and Exod. 34:14, cited above. See also Deut. 6:14‑15, “You shall not follow other gods, any of the gods of the peoples who surround you, for the LORD your God . . . is a jealous God” (see Deut. 4:22‑24; 29:17‑20). In Deut. 32:21 the Lord declares, “They have made Me jealous with what is not God; they have provoked Me to anger with their idols.” See Josh. 24:19‑20; Ps. 78:58; 1 Cor. 10:22.
False gods provoke God to jealousy because they are rivals to His exclusive claim to Godhood and to His exclusive right to the devotion of His creatures. This is where the concept of the marriage relationship enters. Those who are led astray by false gods are being unfaithful to their rightful spouse; idol worshipers are guilty of spiritual adultery or harlotry. See Num. 25:1‑2; Jer. 5:7; Ezek. 16:17; 23:25‑27. Just as any husband would be hurt and indignant because of his wife’s unfaithfulness, the holy God is provoked to jealousy when His people go after other gods. The heart of this attribute is seen in Isa. 42:8, “I am the LORD, that is my name; I will not give my glory to another, nor my praise to graven images.” As the only true God, he declares, “I will be jealous for My holy name” (Ezek. 39:25).