“And God spoke all these words, saying… ‘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 fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
Exodus 20:1, 4-6
What does God mean when He says He is jealous? Our understanding of jealous is a negative one. Usually we think of jealousy as envying someone in some way or suspicion of someone’s unfaithfulness toward us. But here, the word means “[to be] fiercely protective or vigilant of one’s rights or possessions.”
God has a right to our praise, adoration, and undivided love. He is God. He created everything. Everything in heaven, on earth, and throughout the entire universe is under His authority and command. We are designed to be in complete harmony with God, belonging completely to Him alone. Of course God is going to be fiercely protective of His right as God to be worshiped and us as His beloved sons and daughters.
God has no tolerance for those who do not recognize His sovereignty. He shows no mercy on those who hate Him and reject Him. For those who do not repent and turn to God, He does not give forgiveness. Those people will be eternally separated from God, condemned to exist in a place where God can never go.
But for those who love and seek Him, He has a never-ending, steadfast love. He loves us. He desires to lavish blessings upon us. He wants us to see His love and kindness everywhere. He wants us to look at our lives and see Him. His jealousy is born of love and desire for His children.
God is a jealous God because He is holy and set apart, and because of His great love for us. As Christians, we are God’s chosen sons and daughters. He loves us. He chooses to love us. He doesn’t have to, but he desires to. And because of that love, He is fiercely protective of us. That God is jealous does not mean He does not trust us or that He is suspicious of our faithfulness, but that He loves us so much that He will never let us go. We belong to Him, completely and irreversibly. He will fight to protect and defend us, and He will lavish blessings upon us because of His jealous love for us.
“But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.”