Thursday, February 23, 2017

A Jealous God

Scripture, we know, is the Word of God. Some of Scripture is actually God's words. One such place is in Exodus 20 where God is giving Israel the initial covenant that we know as "The Ten Commandments". God speaking says, "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery." (Exo 20:2) Got it. He goes on to warn against "no other gods in My presence" (Exo 20:3) and against making images to worship (Exo 20:4) and tells why. "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 ..." (Exo 20:5) In Deut 4:24 we read "The LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God." Moses warned the people to destroy their idols saying, "for you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God." (Exo 34:14) So God self-identifies as jealous and Moses says His name is Jealous.

Now, hang on. Isn't jealousy bad? Isn't God ascribing sin to Himself? It might be helpful if we took a look at this concept.

In English, the word can be used synonymously as "envy". But there are other meanings. The root of our word, "jealous", is the Latin for "zealous", and many try to say that it isn't jealousy in view in those passages, but zealousy. Okay, no such word, but you get the idea. He's zealous, not jealous. The Hebrew doesn't help. The root word is qânâ', meaning "zealous" ... or "jealous". Strong's goes on to say that it can be translated as jealous, zealous, or envious. Great! Clear as mud.

Then I came across this. According to vocabulary.com, "Envy is when you want what someone else has, but jealousy is when you're worried someone's trying to take what you have." Oh, now that makes a difference. That provides some distinction. If jealousy is a concern for someone trying to take what is yours, then it is not necessarily sin, is it? We might say, for instance, "I guard my privacy jealously." That's not an evil jealousy. It's not envy. It's simply, "My privacy is mine and I intend to protect it." So to call it sin, you have to answer two questions. First, is it yours? If you are anxious about someone taking what is yours, but it isn't actually yours, then that's not a valid jealousy. Second, is it something you need to guard? Your religious freedom, for instance, may be something that's yours, but a zeal to protect it isn't biblical so intense emotions over it aren't reasonable.

There is, then, a bad jealousy and a good jealousy. Which is it for God? When He claims to be jealous, is He right to do so?

First question: Does it belong to Him? He told Israel, "I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine." (Lev 20:26) We are all, in fact, under God's ownership. As Creator, He is the Owner of everything. Yes, then, everything in general and Israel in particular belong to Him.

Second question: Is He right to zealously guard what is His? Yes, indeed! A spouse is linked ("the two shall become one") to the other half and is right and correct to guard that link. It isn't sin when a spouse is rightly concerned about an intervening person attempting to steal away the partner. God is much, much more than a spouse. He is much more right in jealously guarding what is His.

If this is accurate, the ramifications are large. First, God owns everything. That means your shoes, your home, your car, your family, your life, your freedoms -- everything, including you, belongs to Him. That makes us stewards, not owners, caretakers, not possessors. It ought to change our entire view of things. Second, the idea that He jealously guards what is His ought to give us great comfort. Jealousy a sin? Maybe. But not in God's case. In His case it's a good thing, an excellent thing.

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