His Name is Jealous
by S. Wang
This is the full text of a topic that I researched and labored on for a message I gave at In Christ Alone, my college fellowship. My message was a mere 18 minutes, so I definitely overprepared.
In the Bible, there are many names for God. He is the Great I AM, He is our Shepherd. He is the Alpha, the Omega. And all of these names are in the Bible, and we often talk about these verses.
And then there’s this verse.
(for you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God)
The first thing to note is that this is actually one of God’s names. In the Hebrew, it is called “Qanna”, and it is used five other times in the Bible.
And the second thing to note is that the topic of God’s jealousy is hardly ever talked about. I searched on Discipleship Library for “jealous” and I got a single message, and it’s not even on God’s jealousy. It’s about how envy and jealousy is bad, based on Psalm 73. So why do we avoid this topic so much? Well, it’s probably because of our view of jealousy.
We think of jealousy as something negative, something bad. We don’t realize that it is a core characteristic of God, a perfect part of Him, something He Himself wants to be known as.
First, we need to understand what jealousy is. Second, we need to recognize how God is jealous. Finally, we can use this understanding to come up with applications for our spiritual walk and relationship with God.
What is Jealousy?
Instead of just defining jealousy, it’s better to approach it in terms of points. So the first point about jealousy is that jealousy is not envy. And while the words jealousy and envy are commonly interchanged in the English (and Greek) language, which makes interpreting the contextual meanings in the Bible really, really difficult, formally these two concepts are different.
Envy is when a person desires to have something that other people have but he or she doesn’t. For example, I can envy Obama for his US Birth Certificate or Kobe for his basketball skills, as I will never have either.
Jealousy is when a person feels like something they have or should have is being taken away by someone else. Jealousy is also used specifically in the context of social relationships. For example, if every time Eugene and I talk about anime, Eric comes in and drags Eugene off, I would feel jealous of Eric for having more priority over Eugene than I do. This unique three-person relationship is what makes the phrases “jealous of” and “jealous for” both grammatically correct.
Let’s look at biblical examples of each. For envy, the classic example is the story of Cain and Abel (Genesis 4). Cain envied Abel for his better sacrifice, and chose to act out of his envy and kill his brother (Abel never directly got in the way between Cain and God). Another example of envy in the Bible is King Ahab and Naboth’s vineyard (1 Kings 21). Ahab wanted something that someone else had, and committed murder in order to have it. Typical envy.
What about examples of jealousy? This gets a little trickier. I think a good example is Joab, the commander of David’s army. Joab valued his position and relationship to David, but whenever someone David favored more came around, Joab was filled with jealousy and killed the other person (2 Samuel 3). This happened twice (2 Samuel 20). While he might have simply been envious of their superior leadership or skills, it is always the perceived threat of being replaced by them in relation to David that drives Joab to commit murder. A second example of jealousy comes from Boaz and Ruth (Ruth 4). This one is interesting – Boaz loves Ruth, and Ruth is willing to submit under Boaz, but the catch is that legally there is another person who has first dibs on Ruth. Boaz calls all the elders of the town and persuades the kinsman redeemer to give him all the property under Naomi’s name along with Ruth as wife. Even though the Bible does not explicitly say it, the setup of the situation (the kinsman redeemer being an obstacle between Boaz and Ruth) suggests that Boaz is acting out of a jealous love for Ruth. This is further supported by the various interactions Boaz has with Ruth (telling her to glean in his field, giving her preferential treatment, etc), all of which allude to a desire for exclusivity.
Envy comes out of a place of desire and covetousness, which is clearly a sin in the Bible. But jealousy is different. The core of jealousy comes from a sense of justice or “shalom”, the feeling that “this is the way this relationship should be, but it isn’t”. Of course, our human jealousy is also very broken and imperfect, compared to God’s, which brings me to my second point.
What does that look like? Well, let’s first see what human jealousy looks like. According to Psychology Today, jealousy encompases feelings from fear to rage and humiliation, and I’ll add doubt in there as well.
We experience fear because we’re worried about being hurt or betrayed. But 1 John says that perfect love casts out fear, and we know that God’s love is perfect (1 John 4:18). So while our jealousy is rooted in fear, God’s jealousy is rooted in perfect love.
Next is doubt. Our insecurities come from the fact that we don’t know a lot of things. Maybe we don’t actually deserve what we’re jealous about, or maybe we think that, in a relationship, our significant other may be better off with someone else. God, on the other hand, holds the future in His hands (Isaiah 46:9-10). He knows exactly what we’re getting ourselves into when we’re turning to other things, and He’s fully confident that we are the ones who are missing out. We are jealous in our lack of knowledge, and God is jealous in His perfect knowledge.
Some people experience a lot of rage and anger with jealousy. This can be anger directed towards ourselves, the significant other, or the third party. Even if the anger is justified, human rage brings about only destruction. God also feels anger and wrath, but this anger is directed not towards people necessarily but towards sin (see: the entire Old Testament). And we all know what lengths God went to completely and utterly destroy sin – He sent His only begotten Son to die for it. The end of our rage is brokenness; the end of God’s wrath is justice and redemption.
Finally, our jealousy comes with humiliation and shame. We feel inadequate, we feel unloved, we feel betrayed. There’s no such thing as a perfect version of shame – shame, like fear, comes with sin and imperfection. Instead, the Bible sometimes says that when God’s glory is tarnished God feels grief (Genesis 6:6, Psalm 78:40, Psalm 95:10). It’s interesting at how selfless that is. When we feel shame, we can think of nothing but ourselves and our sorry state. But when God experiences grief, He is deeply moved and troubled for His creation. Even though He Himself has been hurt, He grieves the fallen state of His people.
The Intersection of Love and Righteousness
When I think about it this way, God’s jealousy is really just the actualization of God’s overwhelming love and spotless righteousness. I had always wondered how the paradox of love and righteousness could ever be resolved, but after meditating on God’s jealousy it really seems that this is where the two ends meet. God knows that He deserves our everything, and anything less from us is a huge blot to justice itself, yet when we do the utter worst and betray Him and chase after other loves He doesn’t just outright smite us in His anger but in the fullness of His knowledge and love He burns with intense jealousy for us. It’s love like a hurricane, and we are the trees. His mercy is great, but who can stand before His jealousy? And so we bend beneath His winds, until we learn to only point our branches towards Him and Him alone (Ezekiel 17).
Like a hurricane, our God’s love is full of force and impact. It is not a passive, slow-burning, soft-spoken kind of love. It is complete passion, complete 100%, pedal to the medal, no stops. Sometimes, especially when I’m being complacent about my spiritual life, I like to think of God’s love kind of like my dad’s love, when I’m not at home. We don’t talk that much every day, he’s not overbearing, but I know he loves me, and we’re cool like that. I like this relationship with my dad because it allows me to do whatever I want, knowing that I, as his son, have his passive support.
This is not our God’s love. He is not passively supporting our lives like a college father. He is actively pursuing, intimately involved, and entirely overbearing – the love of an overprotective parent or husband.
He’s not simply content to sit back and watch over our lives, making sure nothing catastrophic happens. We might want that kind of love, but God doesn’t. No, He’s much closer and personal, almost too close for comfort. He wants to actively tear down all the strongholds, the temptations, and the things that pull us away from Him. And when we still choose to let our gaze wander, He allows us to fall into the temptations and experience the emptiness, brokenness, and loss, so that we will return to His open arms. And all the while as we’re struggling with our fickle hearts, His heart is constantly being hurt, broken, grieved, angered, and yet He’s still overflowing with His passion in loving us.
Is this picture strange? New? It really doesn’t seem like an almighty God, to be honest. Now, of course, this is only one facet of God and His love. He is just as stoic as He is passionate, just as controlled as He is wild, just as encompassing as He is overbearing. This is not the whole picture, but it is undoubtedly one part of the picture, and a part that can be easily overlooked…
…is what I’d like to say, but it’s very interesting just how often the Bible reiterates the jealousy of God. It’s repeated time and time again by God Himself and quoted by many of His prophets. In Romans 10:19, Paul quotes Deuteronomy 32:21, which refers to God’s jealousy, with the preface “but did Israel not know?” Clearly after so many times of impressing upon the Israelites, the Israelites should be fully aware of their jealous Creator. Yet the reality could not be further from the truth. Something like this is not easily overlooked, but more likely purposely overlooked. I can think of many reasons why I would choose to ignore the jealous aspect of God’s love – simply put, it’s too committal, too intense. I want to keep something, hold something back, have a plan B or even C. And of this holding back I personally need to repent and grow in, otherwise I might lose out on the grace of God, just like the Israelites did.
The bottom line is, our God’s love is intense and heated, sometimes the complete opposite of what we want or expect. If we’re looking for our own freedom, space to do our own things, and a passive, supportive kind of love, we’re going to be severely disappointed in what God gives us. But if we understand more of the jealous aspect of God’s love, we can appreciate its true worth, and learn to abide in His love.
Before we get into what this means for us today, let’s look at some biblical examples of God’s jealous love in action.
History: Jealous for Israel
When we think about God’s relationship with His chosen people, turbulent is one of many mixed terms we would use to describe it. Definitely a lot of ups and downs, some good moments and a lot of pretty terrible ones. You can see God go through these cycles of mercy and justice from the moment Moses talks to the elders, even before the plagues begin (Exodus 5:19-6:12). The Israelites were always doubting God, turning to other things as sources of deliverance or satisfaction. God was always pissed, and demonstrated His greatness through countless miracles and happenings. Sometimes the Israelites got into some deep deep trouble, but no matter what circumstance they were in, the moment they repented, God would deliver them out with great power. This is seen most clearly in the book of Judges, but remains true during and after Saul, David, and Solomon.
Things got a bit dicey towards the end of the kingdoms of both Israel and Judah. By this point God had endured centuries of wishy-washy worship from the Israelites, and it was about time for the Messiah to arrive on the planet (note: “about time” in God’s language is like less than 1000 years – remember that “soon” or “quickly” is at least 2000). Not that God’s patience was running thin or anything (2 Peter 3:8-9), but it was the right time for the children of Israel to understand the feelings of a jealous God. So, He allowed two foreign nations to conquer and lead Israel and Judah into exile for seventy long years. Was this because the nations of Assyria and Babylon were more righteous than Israel? No. The Bible makes it very clear that God was purposely using wicked nations to discipline and oppress Israel, just as during the time of judges past (Ezekiel 7). Through these nations, God made Israel jealous for their homeland, for the promised land, and for their previous relationship with God. Much like the prodigal son remembering his father’s house, the exiles longed for the city of Jerusalem (Psalm 137). Without that burning desire, the Jews would have adapted to their new lives in exile – but instead, they were longing for their promised homes. So when Cyrus allowed the Jews to return home, there was so much energy and push for rebuilding the temple and restoring the heritage of Israel (Ezra 1). I think it’s not a stretch to say that without the jealousy that the Jews had, there would be no temple by the start of the common era, and Christ would not have come when He did.
At the same time, Habakkuk clearly shows that God despises these nations that the exiles lived in, and promised to judge them according to their sins (Habakkuk 2). So it’s apparent that God’s jealous anger and righteousness not only burns towards Israel (the tempted) but also towards these foreign nations (the tempters). Every nation that tempted and led Israel astray during this time God eventually judged guilty and condemned for these very things, starting from Egypt all the way to Assyria, Gog, and Babylon. These are found in prophecies from almost every prophet, major and minor, and they are in fact exclamations of God’s jealous judgements on both unfaithful Israel and the wicked tempting nations.
Story: The Scandal of Love
Ezekiel 16 is a provocative picture of all of this. It depicts God (presumably a grown man) finding an abandoned baby on the side of the road. After taking the baby in and sheltering it, God waits for the child to mature before straight up professing His love for it. Now honestly even I find this super repulsive on instinct, it sounds like some disgusting concept that some perverted anime  cooked up, but it’s the Bible. That’s the extent of God’s love, and it’s not meant to be creepy. It reveals the level of commitment and investment and waiting that God has put into Israel. There is that strange, off-putting mix of both a father’s tenderness and a husband’s passion. It is complex, it is deep, and it confounds human logic and reason. Of course, the young and free-willed Israel gets none of this and goes off and plays the harlot with all the nations around her. And the result is the fullness of God’s jealousy.
We are that young maiden. We, having been taken in by God when we were dying in our sin/blood, have been raised and pampered in His presence, raised to become the subject of His full affections. We were nothing, yet His eye saw us and called us beautiful, and He saw something that was worth loving, protecting, and treasuring. And we choose to lavish all the gifts and blessings that God has bestowed to us in His love on worldly things, other loves, idols, and the like. We sell our bodies, the bodies that God carefully protected when we couldn’t ourselves and lovingly nurtured to beauty, as slaves to sin and unrighteousness (Romans 6:13).
Can you see this picture of love? The story unfolds in almost K-drama fashion as we’re betrayed and destroyed by the very things we chase and long after. Our shame is uncovered, our weaknesses revealed, and we are ruined. And that’s what brings us back to God, to our Creator, to the one who chose to love us before we were all this or that, and to the only one who can truly understand and meet our needs. The one who will forever be jealous for us.
Called into Submission, Called into Passion
Now that we have a better understanding of God’s jealousy, it’s time to see how that jealousy applies to our lives, both experiential (God’s jealousy towards us) as well as applicable (God’s jealousy from us towards others).
How do we begin to experience God’s jealousy in our lives in a transformative way? A key verse for all of this is James 4:2-10. Here, James outlines the current predicament of a believer who is unversed in God’s jealous love: lusting and not having, warring and not obtaining, and infighting amongst the brethren. James minces no words and calls them adulterers and adulteresses, words laden with the weight of God’s jealousy. He calls them to submit, to resist the devil, draw near, mourn, and be humble. Only after all this will God’s jealousy become something uplifting rather than weighty.
The first part is submitting to the jealousy of God. This means first, understanding that God loves jealously, and second, striving to submit under His jealousy as in lordship. God commands that we are to love Him and none other, to have no idols before Him (Exodus 20:1-6). Do we submit to this? Sure, maybe we have our own ideas and thoughts and opinions. Those can be figured out over time. But when God asks for our undivided worship, are we willing to give it to Him? I think without seeing this as part of God’s jealous love, it’s pretty hard to submit. It just seems to me like a selfish, arbitrary rule that God makes. But when I think about it in the terms of His jealousy, it makes me realize that this commandment is part of His passion for my good. God isn’t passive about this, or just “whatever” if I don’t worship Him exclusively. He feels godly jealousy when I stray and wander and chase after other things. And in His perfect knowledge, He knows those things will not satisfy, so He commands that I not waste my time on those things and focus on Him and Him alone. That encourages me a lot to submit under His lordship.
The second part is being jealous like God. Paul calls us to be imitators of God as dear children (Ephesians 5:1). That means we are meant to inhibit and exhibit all aspects of God, and that includes His jealousy. Now, I’m sure not many of us are practicing godly jealousy – I mean, it just sounds so weird. But there is definitely application with regards to this jealous love that God first loves us with. If we remember that we are to love one another as God has loved us, and connect it to the aspects of God’s love that are characterized by His perfect jealousy, then we see that there is a real need to grow in jealous love for one another as well as for God. Just as God is jealous for us in our relationship, so does God want us to be jealous like Him in our relationships – with Him first and foremost, and then with other people.
Now, this is kinda tricky. If human jealousy is often plagued by sin, and we’re human, how do we practice godly jealousy? I think the answer is in the manner in which we love people. Again, not passive. Jealousy stirs up and calls for action. If we love passively, we are being complacent; if we love earnestly and actively, we grow in godly jealousy towards one other. We become aware of the importance of people in our lives, and we become even more aware of the loss when people are absent or struggling. We begin to treasure time spent with family members. We start fighting for the physical and spiritual growth and well-being of our brothers and sisters. We become our brothers and sisters keepers for real, the complete opposite of envious Cain. We learn to be on guard for the things, the temptations and pitfalls of life that could take any precious person away. Of course, everything in moderation, but that kind of fiery love is the consuming fire that our God is. With the image of that fire, the author of Hebrews calls us to continuing loving one another (Hebrews 12:29-13:1).
We say that all of God’s characteristics are eternal. However, strangely enough, it seems that jealousy might be one of God’s shortest-lived attributes. After all, when Jesus comes again and calls us to His marriage feast, who does God have to jealous of anymore? Not of all the false gods and lesser spirits, those will be cooking nicely in hell. Not of any earthly temptation or love, that’s all gone. Not of any of the believers, for we will be Christ’s body and bride, excitedly awaiting with newlywed joy for our bridegroom and king. It really seems to me that even though God will still be the jealous lover that He always is, there will be no more competition whatsoever. Our eyes will be transfixed upon the beautiful face of our lover, and His smile will ever be in our direction. It seems like a fairy tale ending, a happily ever after.
But that day is not today. And so, while we are still figuring out what to do with our free will, while we are still navigating the travail-filled waters of human living, while we are still trying our best to somehow please both God and ourselves, I hope we won’t forget that we have a lover, a jealous lover. And no matter what anyone says, no matter what anyone thinks, no matter what anyone tries to do, the truth remains: He is jealous for me.
Appendix A: The Law of Jealousy
With God’s law, there’s usually both practical as well as a spiritual reason. Practically, this law serves as protection for both the husband and the wife. If the wife has been faithful and the husband is jealous for no reason, the law protects the wife from being subjected to her husband’s endless jealousy – she can be divinely acquitted and proven innocent. If the wife has not been faithful, however, the law protects the husband from investing and loving a person who is taking advantage of him. While it would be nice to see a reverse of this law to keep guys accountable, remember that at that time it was common practice for men to have multiple wives – which makes a reverse of this law somewhat confusing (in the New Testament, however, Paul advocates a monogamous relationship and being faithful both ways).
Regarding the cup of the curse – historically, it was unusual for a woman to actually drink the water. If she was guilty, her conscience would betray her and she would be unable to even say the “Amen”, and confess to her sins. Additionally, some husbands likely opted for a quiet divorce over the public attention that this trial of bitter water brought.
There is a deeper spiritual illustration here. How can we relate to this law? If we were a character in this illustration, who would we be? The answer is the tested wife, and God is our jealous husband. He loves us dearly, and lavishes His treasures and attention and love on us, but we are prone to wander and leave Him. Does God sit idly by? No! In His perfect jealousy, He asks us to submit proof that we have been faithful, just as He is faithful to us. In His perfect knowledge, He knows the truth of our situation – which is why He presents us with the cup of curse and gives us a decision.
It’s a decision, because we can either choose to drain the cup and its consequences, or confess to our sins. And here the full picture comes into play – none of us are innocent. We have all committed the sin of adultery, of turning to lust after idols and running away from God. And He’s well aware of that. If we were to take the cup, we would be struck with the full effects of the bitter water. And here is where God offers His forgiveness, that when Jesus came down, He was the one who drank the bitter cup instead of us. While this is mostly speculation (and also since it doesn’t appear in several old manuscripts), Jesus’s encounter with the adulterous woman where He writes in the dust can be seen as a New Testament example of this law in action (the similarities are definitely there). Instead of condemning the woman, He forgives – and it’s the same way with us. As long as we are willing to repent, He forgives, but it’s our decision. We can still choose to drain the cup of curse and suffer the unbearable consequences of God’s Word and Law.
Appendix B: The Kind of Person Who Arouses God’s Jealousy
I briefly mentioned several attitudes that are not very compatible with God’s jealous love. Namely, a free willed, independent, no strings attached kind of person will find God’s intimate, sticky love extremely frustrating to deal with. I am definitely a very flexible and free spirit, so I personally often feel weighed down and trapped by God’s exclusive love. I had always wondered why my life couldn’t just be “Jesus+”, be whatever I want it to be as long as I have Christ. I’m still currently struggling with this.
For me, Deuteronomy 29:19 echoes eerily in my heart. How often I want to have peace, even though I’m just doing whatever I want to do! But the Bible is clear that these people are those whom God’s jealousy burns for the most. Every curse in Deuteronomy at least, if not more, is set apart specifically for those who want to live their own lives and somehow still feel entitled to the peace and support that comes from God.
So what’s the cure, then? Is there any hope? (Un?)luckily, there is. Deuteronomy 32:21 talks about what happens when God is provoked to jealousy by this kind of living – God provokes us to jealousy by the things in our lives, the very things we turn to and chase after. God’s cure for those who cannot submit to His jealousy is to make them jealous themselves for God. A very humorous solution for sure, but one that reframes the trials and tribulations in our lives.
There’s a clear example of this in the parable of the prodigal son. After the son wastes his father’s wealth on worldly things, he begins to struggle and face opposition and poverty. Luke 15:17 says “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!’” There! That’s jealousy. It might look like envy on the surface, but the key point to note is that he is comparing himself (as a son) to his father’s servants – not just looking at material things (otherwise he could have compared himself to basically anybody else) but at the relationship between himself and his father. Also note that he’s not jealous of the servants – they’re not stealing his father away. Rather, he understands that the thing keeping him from his proper relationship with his father is his sin, which is why he resolves himself to confess and repent and return home.
If we are trying to live a life of freedom and escape, then expect to become driven to a point, like the prodigal son, where our only burning desire is to return home.
 So, there’s this manga called Usagi Drop. It’s about a 30 year old man named Daichi, single and living a mundane life, when suddenly his grandfather passes away. At the grandfather’s funeral, he meets a young 6 year old girl who has a complicated backstory – she’s actually his grandfather’s illegitimate daughter, and her mother had left soon after her birth (which makes her Daichi’s aunt, technically). Being illegitimate and in a really bad situation, the poor girl (her name is Rin) is despised and rejected by all the other family members, so Daichi reaches out in compassion and takes her in. It’s a really heartwarming story of this single man who tries his best to love and raise a rejected, unloved girl. He learns how to love, and she learns what it feels like to be loved. And they lived happily ever after…
…except that’s only the first half, and this is Japan. Fast forward 10 years and Rin is now in high school, having lived a fulfilling childhood life. She’s got a crush on her childhood friend, she’s thinking about future aspirations, she’s living the peak of her youth when suddenly she finds out that she’s actually totally adopted and not Daichi’s grandfather’s illegitimate child (didn’t see that one coming). Which means…she has zero biological relations with Daichi. After finding out the truth, her feelings spiral out of control but she realizes that she actually likes Daichi. Romantically. (What). And after rejecting her childhood friend’s confession and turning down her future career plans, she confesses her love to Daichi, who is also pretty “are u srs” but really has nothing to say against it, and tells her that if she her feelings remain true after graduation he’ll think about it.
So after two years they end up getting married. She’s 18 and he’s 42.
When I first read the manga after watching the anime (the anime was very good), I was APPALLED. It was the weirdest, kinkiest, most twisted kind of story I could have ever imagined, and the ending just *shudders* makes it so much worse, the fact that Daichi ends up in basically his grandfather’s supposed situation from the beginning (having relationship with a much younger girl). I thought, only Japan could think up this kind of garbage.
But after preparing this message and reading Ezekiel 16 again, I’m shocked at the similarities between God’s story of love and Usagi Drop. It’s eerily similar – taken out of a despised and worthless state, we are brought into a household of love until eventually we fall in romantic love with the person who saved us. The 24 year age gap between Daichi and Rin pales in comparison to the indefinable gap between our God and us. Yet we’re called into that same romantic, marriage relationship – corporately as a church, lived out through the lives of individuals. It’s so weird, it’s so strange, it doesn’t make sense. In a sense it’s gross and disgusting. But it’s God’s story of love for us. It’s the scandal of divine love.