The Jealousy Of God


I, the Lord thy God, am a jealous God (Exodus 20:5).

JEALOUSY IS SO associated with evil that we hesitate to attribute it to God. We would never have ventured to think of God as jealous without the authority of the Holy Scriptures.

A jealous nature in a man or woman is not one that commands our admiration. We do not despise it as we do a mean nature, but we certainly do not admire it.

And all our associations with the Word, gathered from the experience of life, create in us an instinct to avoid attributing jealousy to God.

The Darker Side of Jealousy

Among the passions portrayed for us by William Shakespeare, there is one unrivalled picture of jealousy. Jealousy is the absorbing passion, as it is the ruin, of Othello. And so ingrained into the minds of students is that unrivalled creation of the dramatist, that it has tended to color the jealousy of God.

Here is a nature, essentially great, goaded into the madness of a beast. There is in Othello a certain grand simplicity such as is always found in noble natures. And yet Othello becomes blind and mad, and he
ends by murdering the woman he worshipped–all under the overmastering power of jealousy.

It is such things that make Francis Bacon in his Essays speak of envy as the vilest of all passions. It distorts everything, blinds the vision, and is the mother of profound unhappiness. That is why we
naturally shrink, as our experience of life increases, from attributing the passion of jealousy to God.

Nor is the Bible, to which we owe the thought, ignorant of that darker side of jealousy. It too, in its picture gallery, like Shakespeare, has wonderful portraitures of jealous men.

There is Cain, for instance, on the verge of history, madly jealous of his brother Abel. There is Saul, who was not unlike Othello in a certain heroic simplicity of nature. And yet when the women cried in the day of victory, “Saul hath slain his thousands and David his ten thousands” (1 Sam. 18:7), the heart of the kingly Saul was turned to bitterness.

He who could fight like a lion in the battle, could not tolerate his rival’s eminence. It was as gall and wormwood to his spirit that David should have the precedence in praise. He missed that crowning
touch of our own Lord Nelson, who, when the fleets were closing at Trafalgar, said, “See that gallant fellow, Collingwood, how he carries his ship into action.”

We find also in the New Testament an ample recognition of the darker side of jealousy. We see it in the disciples when they forbade the man who was casting out devils in the name of Christ. We see it also in the Scribes and Pharisees, who were so madly jealous of the Master that nothing but his death would satisfy them.

The jealousy of neighboring towns or villages is too notorious to be disputed. In Galilee, for instance, there were two neighboring villages: Cana and Nazareth. It illuminates the page of Scripture to  remember that it was Nathanael of Cana who asked the bitter and derisive question, “Can any good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46).

We do not need to turn to Shakespeare, then, to understand the darker side of jealousy. In all its tragedy and all its pettiness, it is known and registered in the Holy Scriptures. And yet the Bible, which knows our human hearts and searches out the latent evil in them, assures us of the jealousy of God.

Jealousy: Love’s Shadow

We begin to see the solution of this difficulty when we recall the connection of jealousy with love. Jealousy is the shadow cast by love. That is the difference between jealousy and envy.

For envy, the meaner word, is also by far the broader word. It applies to the intellect as well as to the heart and to ambitions as well as to affections. Envy touches relationships where love is never thought of One scholar may be envious of another, and one actor may be envious of another. But in our common speech, we do not say that a husband is envious of his wife. We say that a husband is jealous of his
wife, because marriage is a relationship of love.

That is why we speak of Cain as jealous because he and Abel had once loved each other. That is why we speak of Saul as jealous–because his heart had been knit to that of David. And even the disciples, when
they forbade the man, were not envious of rival power; they were jealous because they loved their Lord.

We may be envious of other people although it has never been our lot to love them. But an indifferent wife cannot be jealous; she only becomes jealous when she loves. And so in human life, as witnessed in
our speech, jealousy is one side of love, though often a very dark and tragic side.

God’s Jealousy: His Right

It is along such lines that we begin to fathom the possibility of jealousy in God. For the God of the Bible, His essential nature is revealed to us as love. And if that love flows out upon humanity in an infinite and everlasting mercy, it also, if it be deep and mighty, can scarcely lack the attribute of jealousy.

There is no spiritual peril in attributing jealousy to God. God alone has the right to the undivided devotion of the creature. That is where human jealousy is evil. That is the source of all its bitter tragedy.

It is the passionate claim of one poor human creature to the undivided devotion of another. However noble such a claim may be, it is always selfish and forever wrong. No human heart is large or deep
enough entirely to absorb another heart.

We are all finite creatures at our highest, and one such creature cannot fill another. So our jealousy tends to become sinful, because it is our assertion of a claim that is proper to the infinity of God.

Only God can satisfy the heart–even the poorest and the meanest heart. Only He can absorb it without wronging it, for in Him we live and move and have our being. Only He has the full right to say, in the
highest spiritual interest of His children, “My son, give me shine heart” (Prov. 23:26).

Therefore, the jealousy of God does not differ from the jealousy of man. They are alike in this, that both are born of love a love that cannot tolerate a rival. But the jealousy of man grows dark and terrible because it makes a claim that is impossible. But for God, the jealousy is His right.

How closely associated divine love and jealousy are, is witnessed in a very simple way. It is in the Bible, and in the Bible only, that we meet with the thought of the jealousy of God.

That the unseen powers are envious of man is one of the oldest conceptions of the race. You light on it far back in ancient Greece; you detect it in a hundred superstitions. That the gods are envious and
always on the watch and filled with a bitter grudge against too great prosperity, is one of the oldest conceptions of the human mind.

I need hardly point out to you that such divine envy is wholly different from divine jealousy. It does not spring from a great pity; it springs from the malevolence of spite. And not till there had dawned upon the world that truth so wonderful–that God is love, do you ever have the truth that God is jealous.

That is why you find it in the Bible and nowhere else. It is the Bible, and the Bible only, that has convinced the world that God is love. And it is the very depth and splendor of that love, sealed in the
gift of the Lord Jesus Christ, which has given us the jealousy of God.
God’s Jealousy: Revealed in Jesus

I want you to note again that the same attitude is very evident in our Lord Himself. It is something we are apt to overlook.

As we recall how Jesus walked in mercy, we lift up our hearts assured that God is merciful. As we remember His compassion of the fallen, we are filled with the certainty that God is love.

But no one can read the story of the gospels, believing that God was incarnate in humanity, without awaking to the awful truth that the Lord our God is a jealous God.

As surely as God will tolerate no rival, Jesus Christ would tolerate no rival. He makes a claim upon the human heart of absolute and unconditional surrender. Even had we never heard from the Old Testament that there was such a thing as divine jealousy, we should conclude it from the life of Jesus.

There were many things Jesus tolerated that we should never have thought to find Him tolerating. He bore with social abuses with personal discourtesies in a way that is sometimes hard to understand.

But there was one thing Jesus never tolerated, from the first hour of His calling to the last, and that was the division of His empire. “The Father . . . hath committed all judgment unto the Son” (John 5:22). “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man cometh unto the Father, but by Me” (John 14:6). “No man knoweth the Father but the Son” (Matt. 11:27). That is either the most stupendous arrogance that was ever listened to from human lips–or else it is the jealousy of God.

That the Lord our God is a jealous God is abundantly evident in Jesus Christ. It is more plainly written in the Incarnate Word than in any reason annexed to the commandment. And it is good that we should
remember this whenever we are tempted to presume upon that Fatherhood, which is infinitely merciful and kind.

God’s Jealousy: Its Influence

This deep thought of the jealousy of God has been powerfully influential in two ways. It has, in the first place, given tremendous impulse to the vital doctrine of monotheism.

It has been of supreme importance to the race to learn the lesson that God is one. All spiritual progress has depended on it; all true knowledge has depended on it. And that great doctrine, so vital to humanity, has been tremendously deepened in appeal by the truth that ran out on the ear of Israel, “The Lord thy God is a jealous God.”

The first thing that had to be impressed on men was that the worship of many gods was quite intolerable. They had to be taught that for reasons yet unknown to them, it was infinitely offensive to
Jehovah. And it was taught, sublimely and yet simply, to men who as yet were spiritually children, by the ascription of jealousy to God.

It is not easy for you and me today to appreciate the attraction of polytheism. Yet every reader of the Old Testament knows how tremendous were its attractions to the Jew.

And if the office and calling of the Jews was to give to humanity the truth that God is one, do you not see that some mighty thought was needed to keep them true to their spiritual leading? That mighty thought was the jealousy of God: “The Lord thy God is a jealous God.” It burned itself into the heart of Israel that God would tolerate no rival claim.

And thus, not without many a lapse, was the world led to that profound conviction, without which there is no unity nor peace.

That thought, lastly, has been very powerful in making ready for the incarnation. It is really the herald–the strange and shadowy herald–of the love that has been revealed in Jesus Christ.

A jealous God may be a dark conception, but a jealous God can never be indifferent. When love is jealous it may do cruel deeds, but at least it is a love intense and passionate.

So in the Old Testament you seem to find divine sanction for very cruel deeds, but you never find a God who does not care. He loves with a love so burning and intense that He is passionately jealous for His
people. He that toucheth you,” He cries to them, “toucheth the apple of His eye” (Zech. 2:8).

And it was that great love, purged of its grosser elements, and shown in a beauty that man had never dreamed of, that was at last revealed in the Lord Jesus Christ. The jealousy of God is the true key to some of the darkest deeds in the Old Testament. But do not forget that it also is the key to the coming of the Lord and Savior. For it tells of a love so deep and strong and wonderful that it will go at last to any length of sacrifice–even to the giving of the Son of God.

George H. Morrison (1866-1928) assisted the great Alexander Whyte in Edinburgh, pastored two churches, and then became pastor in 1902 of the distinguished Wellington Church on University Avenue in Glasgow. His preaching drew great crowds; in fact, people had to line up an hour before the services to be sure to get seats in the large auditorium. Morrison was a master of the use of imagination in reaching; yet his messages are solidly biblical. From his many published volumes of sermons, I have chosen this message, found in The Wind on the Heath, published in 1915 by Hodder and Stoughton, London.