Have you ever stopped to consider that the Lord proclaims Himself to be jealous? What do you think He means by that?
“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, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Exodus 20:5-6, NIV)
God’s first instruction to Israel was to worship Him alone. That certainly makes theological sense, because given that He is GOD, He is Supreme and above all human frailty. He is worthy of our singular worship. He goes on to say that He is a jealous God. Wait, say what?! We normally see jealousy as a sin, akin to envy and driven by insecurity. Being jealous OF someone has overtones of selfishness, suspicion, and distrust, and often displays a resentment or hostility toward other people because they enjoy some advantage. It is possessive, demanding, and overbearing.
OF as Opposed to FOR
But God is not speaking here of being jealous OF someone. The Lord is talking about being jealous FOR someone. He is passionate that no harm come to those whom He loves. He has a righteous zeal and anger against anything that can cause pain or death for His children. The Old Testament word for jealousy literally comes from someone getting red in the face, and it has to do with a zealous emotional response.
A selfish, insecure person is never justified in being jealous of and resenting someone else; but a husband can be passionate about his wife’s affection; a mother can be jealous FOR her children’s safety. The entire Bible is centered on God’s jealousy for us and His concern that we would allow anything else to come between ourselves and Him. You can take every sin there is and relate it directly to idolatry. We may not bow down to little carved statues, but we all dabble in idolatry from time to time…
There’s a Reason
Sin is selfish. It leads to death, according to Romans 6:23. It is ultimately destructive to those who practice it. Idolatry is dangerous because, in taking us away from our Creator, it will try to kill us. God’s concern about idolatry is not merely that He won’t get the attention He deserves. He hates it because it draws His children deeper into selfish sin.
All selfish sin, whether it is generated by the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, or the pride of life (1 John 2:16) comes from putting your own desires before God’s, so it is essentially worshiping yourself instead of your creator. Therefore, when we follow our own carnal desires, we are actually placing them ahead of our feelings about God.
Why do you think He hates that so much? It is not because He is petty and selfish and jealous OF. It is because He knows that our payment for sin is death, and that we can only find life in Him. Tell me, what things do you worship instead of God? What selfishness do you justify, and what subtle desires do you rationalize as “OK”? It can be easy to leave God out of the picture when there are hundreds of idols to choose from. Here’s a suggestion: Don’t. Bow. Down.
The Jealous Suitor
“I am a jealous God”, said He, “And I’m calling you to worship Me,
Instead of statues carved of stone, or images made of wood or bone…
For worshiping such idle things will end in death and all it brings,
And take from Me adoring eyes, to things they shouldn’t idolize.
So this commandment I will give: Worship Me, and you will live.
Listen, please, and don’t ignore; a thousand generations more
Will feel the love I have because it’s you that I am jealous FOR.