The Bible clearly teaches that God is a jealous God. Exodus 20:5 states, "You shall not bow down to them [other gods] or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God." How are we to understand God's jealousy when the Bible also says that jealousy is a sin (Galatians 5:20)? Isn't this a contradiction?
What does it mean that God is a jealous God? Why is God jealous?
The key is context. In Exodus 20, God revealed the Ten Commandments to the people of Israel. He commanded allegiance and worship to Him alone. He would not tolerate the worship of other gods (a practice common in Egypt and other nations). God was "jealous" in the sense that He expected full devotion, not merely a partial, lukewarm commitment. Worship belongs to God, and He is right to be "jealous" of it.
In other contexts, jealousy is listed as a sin to be avoided. In these cases, jealousy refers to being resentful over something another person has. It could be a material possession ("I am jealous of his Camaro"), a physical attribute ("I am jealous of her waist size"), or a special ability ("I am jealous of the way they can sing"). Such jealousy is often associated with suspicion, envy, and rivalry, and it is always sinful. We are called to be content in all circumstances. "I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need" (Philippians 4:11-12).
Joseph's brothers were sinfully jealous (or envious) of Joseph (Genesis 37:11). They saw Joseph as a rival for the father's attention, and their sin of jealously led to other sins. They sold their own brother into slavery and lied to their father. Years later, these brothers felt guilt for their shameful acts that resulted from jealousy.
However, even in interpersonal relations, jealousy is not always synonymous with envy. Paul provides an example in 2 Corinthians 11:2, "I feel a divine jealousy for you." In what way was Paul "jealous"? Very simply, he sought for the church to be fully devoted to Christ. His "jealousy" should be understood as a "guarding" of their relationship with God. Paul wanted the Corinthians to abandon the pursuit of anything that distracted from worshiping the Lord. This is not sinful jealousy. Another example is the statement "Americans are jealous of their freedom"; jealous simply means that we are diligent to protect what we have.
Yes, God is a jealous God. Why? Because He will not share His praise with another: "I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols" (Isaiah 42:8). God carefully maintains and protects what is rightly His. This is divine jealousy, and it is worlds apart from the type of sinful jealousy that causes people to envy, suspect, and resent others.
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