I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. 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. (Exodus 20:2-6). But Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins.” (Joshua 24:19).
Therefore thus says the Lord God: Now I will restore the fortunes of Jacob and have mercy on the whole house of Israel, and I will be jealous for my holy name. (Ezekiel 29:35).
Jealousy is not good. At least, it’s not for us. And yet, the Bible tells us repeatedly that God is jealous. So, what does this mean? And furthermore, how is this at all good news for us?
Webster defined jealous this way: “Solicitous to defend the honor of; concerned for the character of.” This is a helpful starting point to understand the jealousy of God. In the Bible we see the jealousy of God expressed in two ways; jealousy of his holiness, and jealousy for his people. And this presents us with a dilemma.
In Exodus we read that we are to have no other gods but The Lord, Yahweh, the truth and living God. Why? What is the reasoning behind this? Because God is a jealous God. He is jealous for his people, and jealous for his holiness. God knows that if we, his kids, go seeking after other gods and alternative identities, then it’s bound to go bad for us—really bad. In fact, much of the Old Testament is the historical record of exactly how bad it goes when God’s people act like they aren’t. Because God loves us, he is jealous for our affection. This isn’t because he’s codependent or needy, though. It’s because he is good, and knows that no one else can truly take care of his people.
But God is also jealous for his holy name. God will not suffer the smudging of his credibility or greatness. Now, perhaps you hear this and think that God must be insecure. But it’s not like that at all. When we watch human jealousy, it often comes from people who are insecure about who they truly are. Jealous people are pitiable, because they’re not really all that great. God’s jealousy is totally different, because God actually is the greatest, holiest, most extravagantly wonderful being in existence. His jealousy is the only kind that makes sense, because he actually is worth being jealous over. This is good news for us, but it also creates a problem.
Joshua told the people of Israel that, given their sinfulness, they would be unable to truly serve God. We are no different. We are broken and cannot, on our own, serve and love God as we ought to. What are we to do? The only possible solution must come from God himself. And come it does.
In Ezekiel, we find an amazing promise. God’s jealousy becomes the foundation for our redemption. Even though we are sinful and unable to serve God, he will save us. The great dilemma between God’s jealousy for his people and his own holiness is resolved. How can God possibly forgive and redeem people who refuse to love him, and not violate his own holiness? In Jesus Christ.
In Jesus we find the great resolution of the tension between God’s love for us and his commitment to uphold the wonder of his holiness. He can’t just sweep sin under the rug, because if he did he wouldn’t be holy. Neither can he just forget his people, because he is jealous in his love for them. What is he to do? What are we to do?
The only hope we find is in Christ. In Christ, God’s jealousy for his people overflowed in the loving gift of his Son. In Christ, God’s jealousy for his name overflowed in the death of his Son for sin. In it all, we are redeemed, God is made glorious, and we are set free. What a great God!