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“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” (Exodus 20:4-5). 

In our culture the word “jealous” invokes a myriad of negative concepts. It’s called “The Green Monster” and suggests envy, covetousness, and other unwholesome qualities. That’s why many struggle with God being a jealous God. But His jealousy is in every way good. As a matter of fact, in Exodus 34:14 we find that one of the many names of God is “Jealous.” Some commentators indicate this maybe the only time in Scripture where God is named something that is a pure emotion (they would say love is not a pure emotion). To many this is confusing and even hard to accept. Because the way the world uses this word, as opposed to the way God demonstrates His jealousy, is a turn-off to many. Including Oprah Winfrey. 

According to this article – Oprah Winfrey and God’s Jealousy – and many more you can find similar to it, Oprah chose to seek other paths to God due to the seeming incongruity in the God of the Bible being jealous. It appears that when Oprah was about 27 years old she went to church one Sunday and listened to a very charismatic preacher. She was caught up in all the positive, “warm and fuzzy” things the speaker had to say but was confused and disturbed when she heard that God is a jealous God. She, it seems, could not reconcile a loving God with a jealous one. But, with Him, they are one. God’s jealousy for His children is one of His greatest demonstrations of pure, unconditional love. He wants us to love Him above all else and covets our affections. 

In the verses above, Exodus 20:4-5, God is talking about people making idols, bowing down, and worshiping those idols instead of giving God the love, adoration, and worship that He alone rightly deserves. God is possessive of the affection and love that belong to Him. It is a sin (as God points out in this commandment) to worship or serve anything other than God. We are called to love Him above all else as a reflection of His initiatory love for us (1 John 4:19). 

It is a sin when we are envious or jealous of someone because they have something that we do not have. It is a different use of the word “jealous” when God calls Himself Jealous. What He is jealous of already belongs to Him. He has purchased us with the love-saturated shed blood of Christ, therefore we are His. Yes, we are called to love others and, in reality, all people, (see 1 John 4:12) but we are not to love anything (see Matthew 6:24) or anyone (see Luke 14:26 – which is a statement of comparison) more than Him. So our final affection is due Him alone; our love is to be given to Him above all else.  

Interestingly, in 2 Corinthians 11:2 Paul describes his love for the church at Corinth with the term jealousy: “For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ.” I also believe, due to the marriage analogy of Christ and His church and the picture of purity represented in the term “virgin,” that this passage is also encouraging us to love each other and, of course, God with a divine and holy possessiveness.  

God is love (1 John 4:8) and He is jealous. These are not contradictory but complimentary ideas because He is jealous for us. And aren’t we so very thankful that He has redeemed us for Himself. That He loves us with a possessive love and demands that He, above all, is the focus of whom and what we adore. Jesus has paid the price so that we can become God’s treasured possessions. I can think of nothing more wonderful than being the object of God’s jealous affection. And I can think of little that glorifies God more. For in His jealousy resides supernatural and supreme love, grace, and mercy! 

The words of the David Crowder Band’s song “How He Loves” ring in my head: 

He is jealous for me,
Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree,
Bending beneath the weight of his wind and mercy.
When all of a sudden,
I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory,
And I realize just how beautiful You are,
And how great Your affections are for me.

We are His portion and He is our prize,
Drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes,
If grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking.
So Heaven meets earth like an unforeseen kiss,
And my heart turns violently inside of my chest,
I don’t have time to maintain these regrets,
When I think about, the way…

He loves us

And oh, how He loves us so,
Oh how He loves us,
Oh how He loves.

 

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