“For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin.” Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians in 11:2.
I once adopted a darling little Boston terrier I named Pepper Ann. She was already six when she came to me but before completing the deal I asked the breeder many questions about her temperament. I didn’t want a dog with any aggression issues. I was told she did bite someone one time only, when a stranger stuck his hand into her litter of puppies and tried to pick one up. I didn’t blame her. In fact, I approved of her being properly “jealous” over her babies. She was a very good mother.
So jealousy is sometimes a good thing? Doesn’t 1 Corinthians 13:4 condemn it? “Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant.” That scripture might seem to collide with God’s description of himself as a jealous God. In Exodus 34:14 he says, “--for you shall not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” In fact I counted seven additional times in the Old Testament when God claimed to be jealous over his people.
The distinction between God’s jealousy and the human perversion of it can be a very important one indeed. What if the famous Oprah Winfrey had understood that distinction years ago as she sat in church listening to a sermon about God being a jealous God? At that time she was still a Christian. Her mind could not reconcile the idea with her own negative concept of jealousy. “If he’s that type of God something is wrong here,” she said to herself. Her misunderstanding was the beginning of the end of Christianity for her and she veered off into New Age.
Actually, God’s jealousy over us should make us feel secure, protected and deeply loved. The root word in Hebrew is as often translated “zealous” as it is “jealous.” The true idea is very close to a mother guarding her young the way my little dog did her litter. They were her puppies and she was not about to let them out of her sight or away from her protective care.
God had a covenant relationship with his people Israel beginning with Abraham. Very like a marriage, two people agree to exclusive rights and privileges over each other including absolute faithfulness. Israel had promised to be faithful and serve only the one true God. Before they entered the Promised Land Moses reminded them, “So watch yourselves, that you do not forget the covenant of the Lord your God which He made with you, and make for yourselves a graven image in the form of anything against which the lord your God has commanded you. For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” (Deuteronomy 4:23-24)
Yet over and over again Israel broke their end of the covenant with God and rebelled. “They made Him jealous with strange gods; with abominations they provoked Him to anger.” (Deuteronomy 32:16) God’s reaction to their unfaithfulness was a broken heart. He would become angry with his people but from his side never broke his covenant. He always grieved and then sought a path back to the love bond between himself and his people. His jealousy was rooted in his passionate love.
Both human and divine jealousy starts with intense emotion. In fact, jealousy doesn’t erupt when you don’t care very much for someone, right? In our culture, however, jealousy is a negative that connotes suspicion, insecurity, intolerance, and hostility. Those are probably all the things Oprah was thinking of when she rejected a jealous God.
But God is not like a man. Rather, think about a God who would jealously guard the object of his deep affection. A God who takes his love seriously and will not brook infidelity. A God who will “bite the hand” of one who might consider interfering with his beloved. Now we have divine jealousy! Well justified, I might add.
Is God jealous over you and me? I certainly hope so!