The Lord is a Jealous God

Text: Nahum 1:2-8


  • Jealousy
  • Envy
  • Zeal

There is a beautiful description of passionate of love in Song of Solomon 8:6-7. “Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is as strong as death, jealousy as cruel as the grave; its flames are flames of fire, a most vehement flame. Many waters cannot quench love, nor can the floods drown it. If a man would give for love all the wealth of his house, it would be utterly despised.

We usually think of jealousy in a negative sense. You might have heard stories of a woman killed by a jealous husband, or something similar. But jealousy is not always bad. It means to “vigilantly guard your possessions.” In other words, jealousy is the desire to hold on to what is yours for your own personal use. In Greek, “jealousy” comes from the word zelos, which means jealousy, envy, or zeal. The word literally means “heat.” In Hebrew, the word for “jealousy” is qin’ah, and it carries the same meaning as it does in Greek. The Hebrew word is based on a word that means “to become red,” as in when a person's face becomes red when they are angry. Jealous is the passion that makes you feel hot under the collar.

Envy is closely related to jealousy. It is the same emotion, but it is misdirected. A jealous person wants to hold on to what is his; an envious person wants to have what belongs to someone else. A problem arises when someone incorrectly believes that something is his own exclusive possession. For example, a girl might become envious of another because she is going out with a boy she likes. Dating doesn’t create an exclusive relationship, though many young people would like to imagine that it does. Therefore the girl, trying to hold on to her boyfriend wrongly becomes jealous.

In contrast, a marriage does create an exclusive relationship. “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning 'made them male and female,’ and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:4-6). A wife would have the right to expect her husband to be hers alone. She should not expect to share her husband with another woman. She would be a jealous wife in a proper sense if she demanded that her husband not commit adultery with another woman. She is trying to hold on to something that belongs exclusively to her: her husband’s body. “The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does” (I Corinthians 7:4).

Yet, even here a person can take matters too far. A husband might demand all of his wife’s attention. He becomes angry if she talks to anyone else, especially another man. Such would not be right. We all interact with a variety of people in our day-to-day lives. Just because a person is married, it does not mean that all interactions are ended. A husband demanding exclusive possession of all his wife’s attention would be a jealous husband in a bad sense because he is trying to hold on to something that is not his.

This is why Paul says in I Corinthians 13:4 that “love does not envy” or “love is not jealous,” depending on your translation. At first, it seems to be a contradiction to Song of Solomon 8:6-7, but it is just the other side of the same coin. It is right to have a burning desire to hold on to what is yours, but too many, in the name of love, claim the right to more than what belongs to them.

We talked about this at length because God bluntly declares that He is a jealous God. “God is jealous, and the LORD avenges; the LORD avenges and is furious. The LORD will take vengeance on His adversaries, and He reserves wrath for His enemies” (Nahum 1:2). God does no wrong, so, therefore, His jealousy must be a proper type of jealousy.

Think about it:

  • What belongs to God (Psalm 24:1)?
  • So what can God properly lay claim to as belonging exclusively to Him?

Even though God has the right to claim people as His exclusive possession, not everyone will acknowledge that claim. Far too many people think that they belong only to themselves and will do as they please. Using marriage as an example again, there are some who marry but ignore the vows that they took. They argue that their bodies are their own and they can do what they please. A spouse married to such a person would be right to be upset.

When God gave Israel the land of Canaan, the people were eager to enter into a covenant with God. But Joshua warned the people that the covenant was more than what they would be able to handle. “But Joshua said to the people, "You cannot serve the LORD, for He is a holy God. He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins. If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then He will turn and do you harm and consume you, after He has done you good." And the people said to Joshua, "No, but we will serve the LORD!"” (Joshua 24:19-21).

Discover for yourself:

  • Did the covenant between God and Israel acknowledge an exclusive relationship? If so, what was demanded of Israel? (Exodus 20:4-6; 34:14; Deuteronomy 4:23-24)
  • Even though the people willingly entered into a covenant with God, what did they do?
    • Psalm 78:58-59
    • Deuteronomy 32:16, 21
    • Isaiah 42:8

Returning to our marriage example, God feels like a woman who sees her husband breaking their marriage covenant by seeing another woman. But worse, the “other woman” is not a woman at all, but a store mannequin in a display down the street. How do you think she would feel? Now how do you think God felt when His people shared His worship with things that were not divine and were not even alive?

This is not a problem that belonged exclusively to people in the Old Testament. Paul warns Christians not to do the same thing. “Rather, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord's table and of the table of demons. Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than He?” (I Corinthians 10:20-22).

The bride in Song of Solomon said that love’s jealousy is as strong as the grave. How strong is that? Have you known many people who have come back from the grave? We can all say quite firmly, “No.” The grave doesn’t willingly let go of its possessions.

Discover for yourself:

  • How strong is the anger of a husband who finds out his wife has been cheating on him? (Proverbs 6:29-35)
  • Is that anger easily stopped?
  • Is it possible to pay back the husband so he would no longer be angry with you?
  • Why?
  • Is God’s jealousy any different? (Zephaniah 1:17-18)

Recall that when Joshua warned the people that they would not remain faithful, he told them that God would not forgive (Joshua 24:19-21). While God is willing to forgive sins, this doesn’t mean that God is willing to accept partial service or enter into a compromise. “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24). People are amazed at the anger of Jesus when he drove the moneychangers out of the temple. “Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And He found in the temple those who sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the moneychangers doing business. When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers' money and overturned the tables. And He said to those who sold doves, "Take these things away! Do not make My Father's house a house of merchandise!" Then His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up"” (John 2:13-17). The word translated as “zeal” is the same word that also means “jealousy.” Jesus was jealous for God. The Jews were two-timing it with another (money) right in God’s own house!

Imagine an unfaithful husband asking his wife to forgive him of adultery while saying that he plans to continue to spend time with the other woman. Won’t the wife be absolutely furious?

How angry can God get?

  • Zephaniah 3:8
  • Exodus 34:7
  • Deuteronomy 28:20
  • Isaiah 27:11
  • Ezekiel 8:18

When we become Christians, we willingly enter into a covenant to become a people for God’s own possession (I Peter 2:9-10). Therefore, we cannot keep visiting sin and expect God to be happy with it. “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” (Romans 6:1-2).

Digging deeper:

  • What are Christians warned not to do? (Luke 9:62; Hebrews 10:38)
  • Worse, what happens to those who willfully abandon their covenant with God? (Hebrews 6:4-6)
  • Just how serious is a Christian’s covenant with the Lord God? (Hebrews 10:26-31)

The Hebrew writer mentions that a primary cause for people leaving God is a lack of fear over the consequences. People don’t believe that their misdeeds will be met with that great of punishment if it is punished at all. In part, it is because they fool themselves into thinking that they got away with sin because they were not immediately punished. “Though a sinner does evil a hundred times, and his days are prolonged, yet I surely know that it will be well with those who fear God, who fear before Him. But it will not be well with the wicked; nor will he prolong his days, which are as a shadow, because he does not fear before God” (Ecclesiastes 8:12-13). But God’s anger is very real. “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).

Digging deeper:

  • While we should long for God’s love, how terrified should we be of facing God’s wrath? (Isaiah 8:13; Psalm 119:120)
  • Who will face the wrath of God?
    • II Thessalonians 1:6-10
    • Psalm 50:22

God should be feared. “You, Yourself, are to be feared; And who may stand in Your presence When once You are angry?” (Psalm 76:7). It is just the point that Jesus was trying to get across to each one of us. “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched– where 'Their worm does not die, And the fire is not quenched.' And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame, rather than having two feet, to be cast into hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched– where 'Their worm does not die, And the fire is not quenched.' And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire– where 'Their worm does not die, And the fire is not quenched'” (Mark 9:43-48). Jesus is not advocating self-mutilation, but he is trying to demonstrate the seriousness of the matter. Any sane person wouldn’t cut off their leg, arm or eye because they would live in misery for the rest of their lives. So why would any sane person risk a permanent place in hell where the misery will never end?

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28-29).

Class Discussion:

  • Give a situation that would illustrate envy. Why would envy be an improper response?
  • Give a situation that would illustrate jealousy. Is jealous an appropriate response in this case?
  • Give a situation that would illustrate zeal. Why would zeal be a proper response?
  • When would it be appropriate or not appropriate for a person to be jealous of his spouse?
  • Why do some passages tell us not to fear God and others do? What is the difference?
  • When we choose to do something other than worship God on Sunday, what are we saying is more important in our life? What do you expect would be God’s response? Why?

Class Activities:

  • Find a psalm dealing with the anger of God. Give a dramatic reading of the psalm.
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