God's jealousy vs. ours

©2018 michael martin | mike@truthquest.org

1. jealousy vs. jealousy

Time and again in the Bible, God describes Himself as a jealous God, and yet, we as humans are told not to be jealous. How can this be? This question has caused some people to stumble, largely because they have not understood God’s character, or the meaning of the word “jealousy” properly.

Famously, Oprah Winfrey has stumbled on this question and publicly turned aside to counterfeit forms of faith as a result.

Oprah wondered how God could be jealous of her. It was a fair question, and the answer is actually quite simple. God was never jealous of her; He is jealous for her. Indeed, there is no reason whatsoever for God to be jealous of any of us. But God is jealous for Oprah, just as He is for all of us.

Sadly, Oprah dismissed God because of her confusion, but we don’t have to be confused. Let’s explore this concept in more detail.

2. definition of “jealous”

Let’s start by taking a look at what jealousy is. There are three basic meanings to the word, as defined by Dictionary.com and Merriam-Webster. Let’s take a look at each definition:

a. definition 1: feeling or showing envy of someone or their achievements and advantages.

This definition of jealousy is the kind we tend to think of first, meaning that one person is sinfully jealous of another person, their possessions, or their accomplishments.

This is a form of jealousy that most of us can relate to. We wish we had the possessions or success of someone we know, and we harbor bitterness because we don’t have what someone else has.

This kind of jealousy is sinful. One synonym of this first form of jealousy is covetous. It means to want something that your neighbor has, to the point that you want yourself to have it instead of your neighbor. This is specifically commanded against in Exodus 20:17:

exodus 20:17

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

Another synonym for this form of jealousy is envy. Envy, as defined by Dictionary.com, is a feeling of discontented or resentful longing aroused by someone else’s possessions, qualities, or luck. Instead of being happy for our neighbor who has what we don’t have, we resent him, not content with what God has given us. This kind of jealously does is not loving, and is therefore sinful, as these Scripture passages remind us:

job 5:2

Resentment kills a fool, and envy slays the simple.

proverbs 3:31-32

Do not envy the violent or choose any of their ways. 32 For the Lord detests the perverse but takes the upright into his confidence.

proverbs 14:30

A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.

proverbs 23:17

Do not let your heart envy sinners, but always be zealous for the fear of the Lord.

proverbs 24:1-2

Do not envy the wicked, do not desire their company; 2 for their hearts plot violence, and their lips talk about making trouble.

While the passages above clearly tell us not to envy others or what they have gained through evil means or any other means, the next few passages turn up the volume on this point, listing envy among other sins that we might consider to be especially awful:

mark 7:20-23

He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. 21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”

romans 1:28-31

Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy.

Galatians 5:19-21

The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Titus 3:3-7

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. 4 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.

James 3:14-16

But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

1 Peter 2:1

Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.

In addition to the warnings given in Scripture about the dangers of envious jealousy, we can also see examples of how this form of jealousy led people into sin. Consider just a couple of examples:

acts 7:9

“Because the patriarchs were jealous of Joseph, they sold him as a slave into Egypt. But God was with him

acts 17:4-5

Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women.

5 But other Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jason’s house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd.

Envious jealousy, as we have seen it defined here, is sinful because it shows discontentment with what God has done for us. This kind of jealousy is the opposite of the Godliness that is great gain for us:

1 timothy 6:3-6

If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to Godly teaching, 4 they are conceited and understand nothing. They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions 5 and constant friction between people of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that Godliness is a means to financial gain.

6 But Godliness with contentment is great gain.

Finally, this form of envious jealousy is sinful because quite simply, it is not loving.

1 Corinthians 13:4-5

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

What we can clearly see here is that this first definition of jealousy–this envious, resentful and discontented version–is sinful. It does not seek the best interests of our neighbors and does not wish them well. It is not Godly, not loving, and not right.

b. but how can God be jealous if jealousy is a sin?

Clearly, since this definition of jealousy is sinful, this is not the kind of jealousy that God exhibits. We must never forget the fact that God is holy and sinless! Consider these Bible passages:

2 Corinthians 5:21

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Hebrews 4:15

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.

1 John 3:5

But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin.

Isaiah 53:9

He was assigned a grave with the wicked,

and with the rich in his death,

though he had done no violence,

nor was any deceit in his mouth.

1 Peter 1:18-19

For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.

Clearly from these passages and others, God is holy and righteous and completely without sin. Therefore, when God says that He is a jealous God, He cannot be talking about the envious, sinful type of jealousy we’ve discussed so far.

The answer to our question, then, is in the other definitions of jealousy. Let’s take a look at the next one:


c. jealousy definition 2: feeling suspicious or angry because of unfaithfulness in a relationship

This type of jealousy is the kind that a husband might have for his wife when another man is making advances on her, or when she is not being faithful to him. It comes when a person who owes loyalty and faithfulness to you behaves unfaithfully.

Unlike the envious. sinful type of jealousy we studied earlier, this form of jealousy is appropriate in some circumstances. While a boyfriend might not be fully justified in being jealous for the affections of his girlfriend, who does not yet belong to him, a husband is certainly justified in being jealous for the faithfulness of his wife, and the wife for her husband.

It is no accident that God describes the church as the Bride of Christ. Indeed, believers in Christ do belong to Him. As we previously mentioned, God has no reason to be jealous of us or of anything we possess or have achieved. After, all, everything we have is from Him. But it is completely appropriate for God to be jealous for us, because we belong to Him.

In Joshua chapter 24, Joshua explains to his people that God is not only jealous, He is holy.

Joshua 24:19-20

Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the Lord. He is a holy God; he is a jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins. 20 If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign Gods, he will turn and bring disaster on you and make an end of you, after he has been good to you.”

Clearly, God’s jealousy for us is not sinful. If it was, then God could not be holy. But since we know that God is both holy and jealous, we know that God’s jealousy for us is not only not sinful, it is right.

And so, when properly understood, these Biblical examples of God’s jealousy prove to be appropriate and just.

exodus 34:14

Do not worship any other God, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.

exodus 20:5-6

You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Deuteronomy 5:8-10

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 9 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 10 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Deuteronomy 6:13-15

Fear the Lord your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name. 14 Do not follow other Gods, the Gods of the peoples around you; 15 for the Lord your God, who is among you, is a jealous God and his anger will burn against you, and he will destroy you from the face of the land.

Deuteronomy 24:23-24

Be careful not to forget the covenant of the Lord your God that he made with you; do not make for yourselves an idol in the form of anything the Lord your God has forbidden. 24 For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.

God was telling the truth when He said He was a jealous God, and in this next example, we see exactly what it is that makes Him jealous.

Deuteronomy 32:16-18

They made him jealous with their foreign Gods

and angered him with their detestable idols.

17 They sacrificed to false Gods, which are not God

Gods they had not known,

Gods that recently appeared,

Gods your ancestors did not fear.

18 You deserted the Rock, who fathered you;

you forgot the God who gave you birth.

In this example, God’s chosen people, whom He had created, provided for, cared for and loved, turned away from Him to worship foreign Gods. No wonder God was jealous!

When we remember that God created us and that we owe everything to Him, it becomes perfectly understandable that He is jealous for us.

Just as the husband who has married his wife and who cares for her, provides for her and loves her is right in being jealous for his wife, God is right in being jealous for us. In fact, a wife would be concerned if her husband wasn’t appropriately jealous for her.

We should not only accept that God is jealous for us; we should be glad that God is jealous for us. God’s jealousy for us is actually proof of our importance to Him and His love for us!


d. jealousy definition 3: fiercely protective or vigilant of one’s rights and possessions

This third form of jealousy comes into play when something or someone threatens or harms someone or something that belongs to us. Even if unfaithfulness is not present, an urge to protect is in play.

For example, if a man makes advances on another man’s wife, her husband would be right in being jealous. Even though his wife hasn’t been unfaithful, her husband becomes jealous to protect his wife from the stranger.

Similarly, parents are rightly jealous, in the protective sense, when other kids are cruel to their children on the playground.

We see God’s protective jealousy at work in the following examples, when other nations whom God had used to punish Israel’s disobedience went too far, or took pleasure in Israel’s suffering. Although God brought about Israel’s punishment from His jealousy for their unfaithfulness, His protective jealousy was now kicking in, as these examples show:

Zechariah 1:14-15

Then the angel who was speaking to me said, “Proclaim this word: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘I am very jealous for Jerusalem and Zion, 15 and I am very angry with the nations that feel secure. I was only a little angry, but they went too far with the punishment.’

Zechariah 8:2-5

This is what the Lord Almighty says: “I am very jealous for Zion; I am burning with jealousy for her.”

3 This is what the Lord says: “I will return to Zion and dwell in Jerusalem. Then Jerusalem will be called the Faithful City, and the mountain of the Lord Almighty will be called the Holy Mountain.”

4 This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Once again men and women of ripe old age will sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each of them with cane in hand because of their age. 5 The city streets will be filled with boys and girls playing there.”

Joel 2:18-19

Then the Lord was jealous for his land

and took pity on his people.

19 The Lord replied to them:

“I am sending you grain, new wine and olive oil,

enough to satisfy you fully;

never again will I make you

an object of scorn to the nations.

Just as God is rightly jealous for the welfare of His people, Paul exhibited the same kind of Godly, protective jealousy for the church in Corinth:

2 Corinthians 11:1-2

1 I hope you will put up with me in a little foolishness. Yes, please put up with me! 2 I am jealous for you with a Godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him.

Paul was protectively jealous for the church in Corinth, wanting to protect them from false teachers who might sway them away from Christ.

And so, we see that there are forms of jealousy that are not sinful, and that are even appropriate in some circumstances.


e. wrath and vengeance from jealousy

As we’ve seen, God’s jealousy is not sinful, but right. As such, when God’s jealousy is aroused, He is right in acting upon His jealousy.

Nahum 1:2-3

The Lord is a jealous and avenging God;

the Lord takes vengeance and is filled with wrath.

The Lord takes vengeance on his foes

and vents his wrath against his enemies.

3 The Lord is slow to anger but great in power;

the Lord will not leave the guilty unpunished.

His way is in the whirlwind and the storm,

and clouds are the dust of his feet.

Zephaniah 3:8

Therefore wait for me,”

declares the Lord,

“for the day I will stand up to testify.

I have decided to assemble the nations,

to gather the kingdoms

and to pour out my wrath on them—

all my fierce anger.

The whole world will be consumed

by the fire of my jealous anger.

Importantly, we must remember that unlike us, God is holy and just. While He is right in carrying out His wrath and vengeance from His jealousy, we are not!

Deuteronomy 32:35

It is mine to avenge; I will repay. In due time their foot will slip; their day of disaster is near and their doom rushes upon them.

romans 12:19-21

Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;

if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.

In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Hebrews 10:30-31

For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

While some forms of jealousy are acceptable, and even appropriate, the Bible does not give us license to act out on that jealousy out of wrath, vengeance, or anger.

Clearly, God alone is right in acting out of wrath and vengeance, because only God is holy and right.

For our part, we are to overcome evil with good and let God judge and avenge as only He could see fit.

f. conclusion

God is a undoubtedly a jealous God. But God is not jealous in the envious “I wish I had what you have” sense. We have nothing that God didn’t give us, and He neither desires or needs anything we possess.

God isn’t jealous of us. He is jealous for us.

God simply wants us, and as our Creator, Provider and Savior, He is absolutely right to want our devotion and love. God’s jealousy is not sinful; it is further proof of His love for us. It is the kind of protective, loving jealousy that prompted Him to send His only Son to die for us so that we could be with Him.

Yes, God is a jealous God, and for that, we can be very thankful!