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What Does It Mean that God Is Jealous?

Reading Classics Together

Nobody would imagine a jealous God. That’s what J.I. Packer says in Knowing God, and I think he might be right. There are lots of gods we might fabricate in our own minds, but we would naturally create ones who had only the characteristics we admire: Love, mercy, patience, and attributes like that. But jealousy? That’s far less likely.

Yet time and time again, God reveals himself as a jealous God. He even goes as far as to give his name as Jealous (Exodus 34:14). So we do well to ask: “What is the nature of this divine jealousy? How can jealousy be a virtue in God when it is a vice in humans? God’s perfections are a matter for praise; but how can we praise God for being jealous?”

To appreciate God’s jealousy we first need to properly understand it. His jealousy is the kind that zealously protects a love-relationship and which avenges it when it is broken. This is, then, the same kind of jealousy with which a husband longs for the attention and affection of his wife, and reacts strongly when they are directed elsewhere. “This sort of jealousy is a positive virtue, for it shows a grasp of the true meaning of the husband-wife relationship, together with a proper zeal to keep it intact.” We expect and admire this kind of jealousy. We are concerned when it is missing.

So when God tells us that he is jealous, he means “that he demands from those whom he has loved and redeemed utter and absolute loyalty, and will vindicate his claim by stern action against them if they betray his love by unfaithfulness.” There is encouragement here. God is jealous of us because he loves us. Where there is no love there is none of this kind of jealousy. “God’s jealousy over his people … presupposes his covenantal love; and this love is no transitory affection, accidental and aimless, but is the expression of a sovereign purpose. The goal of the covenant love of God is that he should have a people on earth as long as history lasts, and after that should have all his faithful ones of every age with him in glory. Covenant love is the heart of God’s plan for his world.” Thus God’s jealousy is “precisely ‘this zeal of the Lord Almighty’ for fulfilling his own purpose of justice and mercy.” The only good God is, in fact, a jealous God.

Next Week

If you are reading Knowing God with me as part of Reading Classics Together, please read chapters 19 and 20 for next Thursday. If you are not yet doing so, feel free to join us (and catch up with the reading). We are very nearly at the end of the book!

Your Turn

The purpose of Reading Classics Together is to read these books together. This time around the bulk of the discussion is happening in a dedicated Facebook group. You can find it right here. A thousand people are already interacting there and would be glad to have you join in or just read along.

I am now accepting (and encouraging) letters to the editor. This is an experimental feature meant to replace the comments section. If you would like to write a letter to the editor, you can do so here.

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