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Is God Jealous?

A fundamental aspect of God is that he is a person.  God has his own his character, will and feelings. That is a tremendous opportunity to us because it means that in many ways God is just like us. We are made in his image and likeness despite our sinful nature. We are able to relate to him. But it is also a danger because in thinking about God we may wrongly think him in terms or concepts that are solely familiar us and not pause to think thoughts about him from his perspective. 

There's no greater danger of this than in the opening lines of Nahum. In the previous meditations on Nahum, we saw that that God is introduced as extremely angry and filled with vengeance. The target of this anger is Nineveh who has been oppressing God's people. Here is what the verse says:
The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD takes vengeance and is filled with wrath. The LORD takes vengeance on his foes and vents his wrath against his enemies. The Lord is slow to anger but great in power; the LORD will not leave the guilty unpunished. His way is in the whirlwind and the storm, and clouds are the dust of his feet. (Nahum 1:2-3 NIV)
There’s a danger in regarding God’s expressed anger in history and our world as purposeless and impulsive. When we get angry it is usually uncontrolled and full of fits of rage. Which we often regret later! But God’s anger is not like ours. When God gets angry it is always for a reason and in concert with all his attributes. And that verse gives us a surprising reason why God gets angry. God is angry because he is fundamentally a jealous God!

Nahum begins by simply saying, “the Lord is a jealous and avenging God”. He is linking God’s vengeance to his jealousness. What does he mean the Lord is jealous? To understand God’s jealousness we must first understand who he is! The title Nahum gives us, “the LORD”. God's jealousness is explained by his name “the LORD”.

The name  “LORD” or Yahweh occurs four times in those few sentences. This is the special name God gave his people Israel. It is God’s unique name that communicated that he is the faithful Lord of Israel. In other words his jealousness is a reflection of his faithful character. God’s name communicated that he was present among them, sovereign  and had authority to rule everything concerning them. His name was a reminder that he is the God who was eternally committed to them. 

Understanding God’s faithfulness is vital in understanding God’s jealousness. The two are inextricably linked. At the heart of God’s statement that“the Lord is a jealous and avenging God” is essentially that he is the jealous Lord of Israel! He is jealous for his own chosen people.

Now jealousy is a word not usually seen as attractive and yet God uses it to throughout to describe himself and his relationship to Israel. For example in Exodus 34:14 God declares : “you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God”. So how how should we understand this? 

I think the world of marriage is the most appropriate example here. In marriage a husband is jealous for his wife. He cares for her and wishes that she loves only him with that unique love that can only exist between husband and wife. This is accepted in almost any culture as "proper jealous". There would be something wrong in the relationship if the husband or wife had no inclination of exclusivity in their relationship.

In this vein it is particularly important to note that the Hebrew word for God’s jealous is “qi nah” . This means “a passionate zeal to guard the exclusiveness of a marriage relationship”. It does not mean “envy”. Rather it speaks of God's love for his people as driven in a passion of love and protection for them. God is jealous for all his children. He loves them passionately! It is this God’s passion that Solomon expresses so well: "Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for love is strong as death, jealousy is fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the Lord" (Song of Solomon 8:6)

The implication of God’s jealousness should be clear for all Christians. God is committed to a complete love and loyalty to Him. Like a jealous husband he is not content with a few proclamations and no long term commitment. He wants all of our hearts! And that commitment comes from a deeper realisation that we who don’t deserve to be loved by infinitely glorious God are indeed loved by him. The jealousy of God should move us to be zealous for Him because his jealousness is an act of tremendous grace on his part! We are worlds apart and yet he makes us an object of his passionate affection. 

That grace ultimately is expressed in Jesus Christ. Jesus means Yahweh saves. In Jesus, God has established a new covenant. We are now his bride. Indeed his very body! Christ now loves us with the same jealousness and protectiveness that we have for our own bodies. This should be a source of comfort for us. If we really know Jesus and have turned to him, he cares for us and loves us passionately! A truth we will do well to remember every. God loves you and me passionately and he leaves no stone unturned to express it!

Related Posts:

Is God Angry ? (Nahum 1:1-2)

Copyright © Chola Mukanga 2013

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