Theological Thursdays: Knowing God: The Jealous God

Rebecca of Rebecca Writes commented that our last week’s subject, The Goodness And Severity Of God comes from one of her favorite scriptures. Indeed Packer chose Rebecca’s favorite for his opening words, which are taken from the first half of Romans 11:22.

Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God!

The week, in closing Section Two of our study, we will venture into an area that most Christians consider outright sinful and find the possibility of ascribing to God such feelings as downright unchristian, if not blasphemous. The subject is jealousy and today we examine The Jealous God, but first a necessary reminder. If you are new to this study, you can find all of the previous lessons using the Knowing God category link. There are also study materials for the book available at

Richard Bach, the famed author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, said it for most people.

The idea that we are physical beings descended from primeval cells in nutrient soups, that idea does violence to my intuition, stomps all over it with football-shoes. The idea that we are descended from a jealous god who formed us out of dust to choose between kneel-and-praying or fires-of-damnation, that stomps me worse.

Bach rebelled against both of those choices. He fits in well with most Christians. They too rightly rebel against being considered children of an evolutionary accident, while at the same time have a serious problem seeing themselves as the created beings of a jealous God.

In another short chapter (at least to relief of a lot of readers he keeps the unpalatable discussions brief) Dr. Packer deals head on with the idea that any of this jealousy stuff is imagined. He says outright, “Nobody would imagine a jealous God.” While I understand where he is coming from, I have to respectfully disagree since the Greeks were very adept at imagining gods who were very jealous and very petty.

That said, Dr. Packer goes on to center the understanding of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as jealous within the sacred scriptures and not in someone’s fevered imaginings. In the end it is in the written record, the sum and substance of our historic faith, where we find God declaring himself as jealous. In the second commandment given to Moses and inscribed by his own finger, God says:

You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

I think any reasonable and objective person should be able to understand how God would be jealous of his people turning away from him and going after false gods. They should be able to see it as a fundamental perversion of their relationship with him. But given that context, God goes a step further. He tells Moses and the people,

Take care, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land to which you go, lest it become a snare in your midst. You shall tear down their altars and break their pillars and cut down their Asherim (for you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God), lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and when they whore after their gods and sacrifice to their gods and you are invited, you eat of his sacrifice, and you take of their daughters for your sons, and their daughters whore after their gods and make your sons whore after their gods.

Whose name is Jealous…think about that. This is the great I AM, who just a moment earlier had said,

The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin…

Oh yes, we love that statement, while at the same time we shrink back from the other ones. Just so you can’t argue that this is all Old Testament overstatement or hyperbole, Paul asks this fundamental question of the Corinthians.

Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he? 1 Corinthians 10:22

Paul’s question/warning is given in the similar context of idolatry that we saw in Exodus so that one thing appears obvious in the both the Old and New Testaments: God is decidedly jealous of those whom he calls his own when it comes to any form of idolatry. Packer further amplifies this context by referring to James 4:4-5 where the author presents God as jealous of our wholehearted love and devotion and is especially concerned that we do not grieve the Holy Spirit that resides within us.

You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”?

Having biblically established that God is a jealous God, Packer then asks the fundamental question: How can what is normally a vicious vice when seen in us be a virtue in God, a matter worthy of praise? He answers this question two ways.

1. Jealousy in God is anthropomorphic. God uses the concept of jealousy to help us understand something fundamental about himself. It is not the “frustration, envy, and spite” that we commonly evoke, but in God it is a “praiseworthy zeal to preserve something supremely precious.”

2. Not all human jealousy is wrong. We are all familiar with the mad obsessiveness, which being infantile and covetous should be condemned wherever we see it. But there is also a fervent zeal to protect, to guard that which is fundamental, e.g. a marriage relationship. That is not wrong, but right and true.

From the beginning, God’s relationship with his people has been cast in the image of marriage. Even Jesus Christ calls the Church, his chosen called-out ones, his bride. Throughout the Scriptures, Old and New, God is seen as husband and brooks no defilement of the marriage bed. This marriage between God and his people is the fundamental covenant, the sealing of his eternal love for his people and as Paul reminds in Ephesians 5:27 it reflects his ultimate purpose.

…so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

So great is God’s love that he is jealous that his bride be undefiled. Think about it. Isn’t that a reasonable way for God to be?

Packer ends this chapter with this question: do we have a zeal for God? Do we have the same passion to cleanse our own lives that Jesus had when he cleansed the temple? It was said of him, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” Does zeal for our temple, the home of the Spirit of God, consume us? Are we jealous that God should receive us spotless, holy and without blemish? If not, why not? Do we want to provoke his jealousy?

These are hard questions and tough demands. This has been a difficult section in that it ends under the weight of four difficult examinations. It is not a pleasant or easy task to face up to pages 138-175, but a necessary one, a very necessary one.

Next week we will review this difficult section and try to put everything in context. Until then, remember to always see God’s jealousy as an active component of his everlasting love for us. Do not forget that jealousy is a dangerous emotion. It is so easily perverted into something extremely ugly and dangerous. That said, we still have to learn to properly apply this emotion whenever the context demand its expression. Always remember that righteous jealousy is jealous for not jealous of.

May God bless you and keep and my he guard your heart and mind, keeping it pure, holy and blameless, to his honor and glory.