How can God be Jealous?

“For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” (Deut. 4:24).  Wait — what?  Isn’t jealousy a sin?  In Galatians 5:20, it’s listed as a work of the flesh!  1 Corinthians 13:4 says, “love is not jealous.”  But if 1 John 4:8 says, “God is love,” and love is not jealous, how can God be jealous? 

The dictionary defines “jealousy” as “resentment against someone because of their success or advantages,” or “characterized by suspicions or fears of losing love.” Is God jealous of our success?  Is He like a paranoid husband stalking His wife for fear of losing her love? Is He sinning?  Of course not.

The dictionary also gives a less familiar definition for “jealous”:  “vigilant in maintaining or guarding something.”  For example, “The American people are jealous of their freedom.”  It means we’re protective of what rightfully belongs to us.  This is the key to understanding God’s jealousy.

Sinful jealousy yearns for what belongs to someone else.  Righteous, Godly jealousy yearns for what belongs to oneself.  Sinful jealousy is jealous of.  Righteous jealousy is jealous for.  Husbands are jealous for their wives (Numbers 5:29-31).  Parents are jealous for their children (2 Sam. 17:8).  We must be jealous for one another in the fight against sin (Numbers 25:11-13)!

We belong to God!  He created us, sent Jesus to save us, and He’s passionate about keeping us for Himself!  In his commentary on Judges, Dale Ralph Davis responds to God’s jealous anger when His people sin:

“Such anger should not surprise us.  It is the price we pay for being loved.  Yahweh told Israel He would brook no rivals, ‘for Yahweh’s name is Jealous; he is the jealous God’ (Exodus 34:14).  Jealousy is the flip side of love; it is required where exclusive love is called for.  Suppose a husband had sad but true evidence that his wife is having an affair with another man…what if the husband’s reaction were ‘Well, ya win some an’ ya lose some; that’s the way the cookie crumbles’?  What would you think?  Why, simply that He does not love his wife, for if he truly loved his wife there could be no such nonchalance.  If lively love was there, he should be upset, he should be jealous, he should be angry.  Jealousy is love burst into its proper flame.” (“Judges: Such a Great Salvation,” p. 38)

How comforting to know God loves us so deeply that His jealous anger is inflamed when we seek other lovers.  It’s His righteous jealousy that vigilantly protects us from Satan’s forces — and when we’re lured away by sin, it’s what drives God to come find us, bring us back, and rain down judgment on our enemies! (Deuteronomy 4:29-31; 32:36-43).

How can God be jealous?  How can He not?  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…” (John 3:16).

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