One of the characteristics of God that we can often forget or overlook--or at least, I know I can--is that He is a jealous God. Jealousy, from a contemporary perspective, is something that usually carries with it a negative connotation. It is understandable, however, that the term receives the aversion that it does; jealousy is usually marked by an unhealthy or toxic attachment within a relationship that we have. As defined by Merriam-Webster, jealousy is any of the following: being hostile toward a rival or one believed to enjoy an advantage; intolerant of rivalry or unfaithfulness; disposed to suspect rivalry or unfaithfulness; (and a particularly interesting definition) vigilant in guarding a possession. And while jealousy is something we look at as more of an unhealthy emotion, in the eyes of God, it is something that He--unashamedly--is.
1) El Qanna
Terms and vocabulary can carry with it a lot of different meanings. With jealousy, we often bring to mind attributes such as insecurity, fear, concern, anger, resentment, inadequacy, helplessness or disgust--is God insecure? Is He fearful? Does He feel inadequate? Is He helpless, or disgusted by us? None of these are true, but God has indeed said that He is jealous: “for you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Exodus 34:14). The hebrew word used in this verse is qannā' (kan-naw), according to Strong’s Lexicon, which provides a glimpse into another title/name of God: El Qanna. In the verse, the Lord’s name is attributed to literally being Jealous--“whose name is Jealous/Qanna”; that is how serious God is about His characteristic of being a jealous God. And if He is that serious about being a jealous God, and is that clear to us about what He is saying, then there is a reason for it.
One of the main things about God that we have to always remember is that He is the source of all life, love, and goodness--there is no good without God. It is not out of a will to control us, or a desire to enslave us, that God commands there to be no other gods before Him in our worship. There is a reason why He must be the only God of our lives. If we make an idol of anything else, we are placing something of perishable value onto the throne of our hearts, of which is designed to seat only God. There is a reason as to why nothing in the world fulfills except for God; He has set eternity in the human heart (Ecclesiastes 3:11)--only something eternal can fill that void. And it is this void that God knows exists when He does not live within our hearts. We have the freedom to not choose God, but without God we lead ourselves to death.
This reality of eternality within the heart of man is also one of the main topics that Christ consistently preached on. So often, Jesus proclaimed this message of eternal life found in Him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24 NASB); “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16 NASB). It is interesting to note that in the former verse, Jesus says that believing in The Father will grant eternal life; yet, in the latter verse, He proclaims that believing in the Son will also save us--this brings light to the Trinitarian reality of God. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: the sole, omnipotent Ruler of all things that is one being, yet, at the same time, three distinct persons. There is no other eternal salvation aside from this God, because there is no other eternal source like Him.
2) There can be no other gods before Him
Our nature as humans is prone to worship, and throughout the Bible we can see the tendency of humanity to create idols. And while God is the source of all goodness, that does not take away from His perfect nature of being just--rather, it reinforces it. Creating an idol in our life can range from worshipping a made-up god, or simply valuing something more than we ought to. In today’s society, idols are made daily from social statuses, follower counts, likes on pictures, number of friends on Facebook, or the amount of Snapchats we receive. When we place the core of our confidence on the influences of this world, we set ourselves up to be disappointed. And, in reality--whether we want to use the language or not--we have made these idols our gods when we place them on the throne of our heart. Even in how we use our time, God is jealous of the moments that we do not spend with Him (though He is also patient with us...). In any and every instance of idolatry, God is telling us, “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3). Whether it be a relationship, or a construction of man, God demands that there must be nothing that comes before Him. Yes, He wants your whole heart; your entire life (a flame, if given the proper fuel, doesn't simply remain a little flicker...).
The difficult reality of life, however, is that it’s not always so easy. Let us not deceive ourselves--the path that Christ calls us to walk is narrow (Matthew 7:13-14). There is no hiding the truth of the matter: following God and serving Him only is a treacherous path in this world. But the difficulty does not lie with God, for He freely gives good gifts to those who ask Him (Matthew 7:11). The problem lies within us. We are naturally prone to sin, and one among many of our tendencies is making idols. There is a reason as to why the first command from the Ten Commandments is to have no gods before Yahweh--it’s because we are so prone to do so, and because it infuriates God so deeply. When we place our worship (our heart, mind, and soul) into things that should be reserved for the LORD alone, it angers Him. It kindles His fire against us. But this fire is not an anger that simply seeks to destroy us with our sin; God is merciful, and His desire is to save. With this divine anger toward our sins also comes God’s jealousy for our hearts. God demonstrates time and time again throughout the Bible that He hates sin and wickedness, but simultaneously, loves us so much that He would take it upon Himself that we might be saved.
What other god is jealous of a creation that disobeys him or her and serves other gods? What other god would go to such great lengths to win back the hearts of such stubborn and stiff-necked people? Is it in our vocabulary to imagine such a god, that if we were to construct such a being, we would define him as being jealous of us? Such a love does not make sense--why would a Being with all power seek to win my individual heart? Yet this is the Truth: that God came down from His throne on high and entered into our mess--yes, your mess and my mess--and took the sins of our idolatry upon Himself. All of the lifeless idols we make for ourselves and worship, He has violently snatched them all into His hands and walked into the fires of His own fury; the passion and power of His love melting away every false god, and incinerating every idolatrous shout of praise. “For our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29). We could not forsake our wood totems and stone carvings, so God had to come down and burn them Himself. And He did this on the mighty Cross.
3) The Lamb is worthy
Jesus Christ came for one purpose: to be the Lamb of God that would take away the sin of the world. God has not left us to wallow in our own filth, nor to allow our souls to be forever parched and without hope; He has provided us a way into eternal life. Christ is that mediator between God and men, and He has bridged the gap between us and the eternal. Eternal life is here and now; God is in our midst in this very moment. With this knowledge, what choice will you make? We can choose to follow and serve this Being, and walk a path that is difficult--yet, at the same time, a purpose that is ultimately fulfilling. Or, we can consider His gospel to be foolishness and walk away from our free gift. If the latter is your choice, then walk the path you have chosen to the fullest, and believe in your choice to the fullest degree. Walk the way of your choosing and see what kind of fruit it bears.
But be warned, no day is guaranteed in this life, and all of our paths will converge eventually. God has demonstrated His great, jealous love, through the power of the blood of Jesus, and came to this world to set the captives free. Christ has already overcome for us, and He offers us living water freely. But there is coming a time when He will return--no longer to set the captives free, but to judge the ones who stepped over His broken body. It is not in our place as mortals to determine who will be saved and who won’t be--but what is written is this: “‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord,” “And if anyone was found whose name was not written in the Book of Life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Deuteronomy 32:35; Revelation 20:15).
If God hates wickedness in the way we know He does, then His jealous fire will surely not be put out if we deny the salvation He has provided--and if it is not put out, and our sin is still on our head, what protection will we have against such holy fire? With such a weighty price and risk for our eternity, let us just consider Pascal’s Wager. If God exists and we believe in the Son: infinite gain. If God exists and we don’t believe: infinite loss. If God doesn’t exist in either scenario: status quo/no gain or losses. Simply put, it’s probably worth your time to think about such things as Christ’s sacrifice. Worst case scenario, you are slightly more versed in theology, and/or feel slightly foolish for “wasting” your time.
But the thing is, it’s not even about weighing the gains and losses of following Christ. There is so much more to a personal relationship with the Living God, and when we walk with and abide in Christ, our soul no longer thirsts. There is no life outside the Vine--we can produce nothing without Jesus (John 15:5). However--praise be to God--the Lord loves us with a fiery, jealous love, and has stopped at nothing to win our hearts back to Him. Truly, this God is the only Being that is worthy enough to be jealous--and He is jealous for you and me, nonetheless… that is Someone worth wholeheartedly believing in. That is a God worth following.