Every now and then you come across a description of God that doesn’t seem to “fit.” We all have our ideas about who God is, how He works, and so on. And when something happens that doesn’t fit our “box” we might cringe at first. But sometimes, it’s God Himself who is telling us this particular truth, and so whether it fits our “box” or not doesn’t really matter.
As the class I teach continues to study 2nd Corinthians, we came to the 11th chapter where Paul tells the church that he “feels a divine jealousy” for them. For most of us, “divine” and “jealous” may not seem to fit. We see jealousy as a negative emotion stemming from mistrust, insecurity, etc. Yet Paul’s comment points out that not only does he feel jealousy in a way that’s not sinful, but it’s God’s jealousy. That’s right, God is jealous.
In fact, more than just an occasional emotion on His part, jealousy is actually a defining characteristic of our God. We like to think in terms of “God is love” or even “God is holy;” but jealous?
Well, according to Deuteronomy 4:24 and 6:14-15 He is. According to Ezekiel 8:3 He is. According to Exodus 20:4-5 He most certainly is. And according to Exodus 34:14 God not only is Jealous, but His very name is Jealous.
Sam Storms, in his study on 2nd Corinthians, puts it like this: This is no momentary or sporadic or infrequent or occasional bust of anger or minor irritation in the heart of God’s heart. This is no passing twinge in God’s mind. This is the incessant, intensely persistent burning in the heart of the infinitely powerful, uncreated God. In the ancient Near East, the word for ‘jealousy’ literally meant to become intensely red, a reference to the effects of anger on one’s facial complexion. Jealous in God is not a ‘green-eyed monster’ but a ‘red-faced lover’ who will brook no rivals in his relationship with his people.
Wow; a red-faced lover? Actually, that seems to fit with the rest of what we read about God’s passionate love for His people. Over and over again our relationship is described as husband and wife; Christ is even called the Bridegroom and we are His Bride.
In fact, God uses some pretty strong language when referring to the unfaithfulness of His people. When His Bride goes after any other God, shows any other allegiance other than to our Bridegroom, God calls it what it is: He says “they played the whore in their deeds” (Psalm 106:39). That word, that image, is used over and over again. God indeed is a passionately jealous lover.
So what are we to do with that idea of God? J. I. Packer in his classic Knowing God includes a chapter on God’s jealousy and he concludes with these two practical lessons.
1. The jealousy of God requires us to be zealous for God. As our right response to God’s love for us is love for him, so our right response to his jealousy over us is zeal for him. His concern for us is great; ours for him just be great too… God’s people should be positively and passionately devoted to his person, his cause and his honor.
I wonder if most of us in the church have that sort of absolute zeal for God, like a wife’s passionate devotion to her husband. Is our zeal for his glory, or for our own comfort, popularity, etc. When we chase the gods of comfort and popularity and success and whatever else, we prostitute ourselves and our God sees us with the red-faced passion of a man walking in on his wife and her adulterous lover. Not a nice image, not one we often think of perhaps, but a true and biblical image. Which leads to Packer’s other practical lesson.
2. The jealousy of God threatens churches which are not zealous for God. The Lord Jesus once sent a message to a church very much like some of ours – the complacent church of Laodicea – in which he told the Laodicean congregation that their lack of zeal was a source of supreme offense to him. “I know thy works, that thou are neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.” Anything would be better than self-satisfied apathy! “So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth…Be zealous therefore, and repent. (Rev. 3:15-16, 19 KJV)
Do we have that zeal for God? Does God see us, our church, as a “whoring” wife; a lukewarm mouthful worth only spitting out? Or are we truly living faithfully for His glory, His honor in all things?
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to rouse God’s jealousy, even though I know I probably often do. I for one am praying for strength to be faithful to the one who made me, loves me, and redeemed me. And as a pastor, I’m praying to lead our church in the same way, so as Paul said, we can present ourselves as a pure Bride to our Bridegroom. And I pray the wedding feast comes soon!