Have you ever been part of a jealous relationship? Maybe you were the one feeling the jealousy, maybe you were the object of the jealousy, or maybe you were the innocent by-stander who got to hear about the whole sordid affair. In any case, human jealousy is messy, nasty, sometime pride oriented and often a symptom of very deep insecurity. All-in-all, not a very nice thing to experience. Richard Strauss describes jealousy as “possessive, demanding, and overbearing; and that is repulsive. It stifles freedom and individuality, it degrades and demeans, it breeds tension and discord, it destroys friendships and marriages.” (https://bible.org/seriespage/jealous-god) We bring that understanding to the Bible. We can’t help it. We only have one perspective on what it means to be jealous.
So when we read, in Deuteronomy 4:24 “For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God” we bring our human understanding to it; and we sit back and say: “Huh, that doesn’t sound like a very nice attribute for God to have…in fact it sounds downright ugly.”
Let’s try that exercise again with another word. This time think about the word zealous. I know, it’s an old fashioned word. It means to be passionate about something precious. People are often zealous about their beliefs, or zealous about a family heirloom or about their rights as a citizen. When you think of someone who is zealous or passionate about something, you picture them as caring enough about something to either defend or pursue it.
The Hebrew word for jealous is essentially the same as the word for zealous, they share the same root word. So when we read about God being jealous, it means that God is eagerly protecting what is precious to him. The easiest way to talk about it is to use the picture of marriage. A husband or wife expect exclusive devotion from their spouse. When/if their spouse were to chase after other lovers, it would cause the husband/wife to become jealous in a healthy manner. They would then act zealously to protect what is precious to them, that being their marriage relationship. So when Israel chases after other gods, they are “cheating” on God, which causes him to be jealous, because he expects exclusive rights to their worship and attention.
Does this make God an egotistical guy? No. The Bible makes it clear on a couple of occasions that God alone is worthy of all honour, praise, power and glory. Not only that, but worship is one of the key ways that we participate in our relationship with God. Of course he is jealous when we worship other things! It means we’re spending time and energy giving our devotion to something else. It’s actually kind of cool if you think about it. God cares about you enough, you are precious enough to God that he is zealous for your attention. If I were a girl I might flutter my eye-lashes and blush a bit…
- What was familiar from this passage of scripture? What was something I already knew?
- What was new from this piece of scripture? What was something that really stood out for me that I have never paid attention to before?
- Does Jesus appear in this passage of scripture?
- How does this passage apply to my life, here and now? Do I need to do anything about it?
- What prayer would I offer up to God after reading this piece of scripture?
Tomorrow’s Reading: Deuteronomy 5-7