The Character of God:  Jealousy

Old Testament, Hebrew qanna

Exodus 20:1-6; Exodus 34:10-16
Deuteronomy 4:15-24
Deuteronomy 6:12-19
Joshua 24:1-25
Psalms 78:55-72

Other Aspects of God's Character

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Exodus 20:1-6; Exodus 34:10-16 (4/11/2011)

We don’t normally think of jealously as an admirable characteristic, but then, we don’t normally think of idolatry as an admirable characteristic, either.

In the early history of the Jews, they didn’t believe that there was only one God.  They looked around and saw that there were lots of gods – Egyptian gods, Canaanite gods, Moabite gods, Amorite gods, whatever.  The Jews weren’t even necessarily convinced that they should only worship one God, and this got them into a lot of trouble over a long period of time.

So in their early history, God didn’t say, “I am the only God,” probably because he knew they wouldn’t believe that.  Instead, he said, “I am a jealous God, and you are mine.  You are not to worship any other gods.  Worship me and I will bless you; worship other gods to whom you do not belong, and I will punish you.  Your call.”

Pay particular attention to the image of harlotry that is connected with the worship of other gods.
Deuteronomy 4:15-24 (4/12/2011)

Moses solemnly warns the children of Israel, who are about to enter the promised land, against any form of idolatry.  They are to worship neither images they have made nor objects in the natural world.  Moses repeatedly refers to “the LORD your God.”  The refrain is an important one:  if you didn’t already have a God, you could worship whomever you wanted to.  Joshua actually gives them this choice some time later.  But you have a God, a jealous God, and therefore you must watch yourselves very carefully.
Deuteronomy 6:12-19 (4/13/2011)

We wring our hands and warn our children against peer pressure.  We worry that they might hang out with the wrong crowd and fall into evil ways.  We fear that they will learn bad habits from their companions and that they won’t do what we tell them to do.  We threaten to ground them for the rest of their lives.

God has the same concerns for his own children.  At the time of Moses, “everybody knew” that there were lots of gods.  Everybody knew that gods were most powerful in their own territories, and that it was safer to hedge your bets by worshipping several gods.  And God knew that his children were just gullible enough to succumb to peer pressure and believe all these untruths!  Be wary of whom you serve and whose name you invoke, because your God is a jealous God.
Joshua 24:1-25 (4/14/2011)

Today I want to talk a little bit about Internet Bible-study websites.  Fellow-reader Gene S. asked for my opinion of one of these sites a week or two ago, and in the process of developing an opinion I looked at another Christian website that took a very un-Christian approach to its criticism of the first site.  Later I was looking for some information on Pentecost, and I stumbled on another site that was a little … off-beat.  There are thousands – maybe millions – of Christian and Jewish websites, and some of them have some weird teachings.  I guess you have to call them teachings, if they are out there for anyone to read.  Some are unorthodox; some say outright that the orthodox position is wrong; some deny the right of the Church to define orthodoxy; and some engage in flaming other Christian websites, which in my opinion is a sure sign of bad theology.  And you wouldn’t believe some of the “Bible-related” emails I’ve received – mostly because you are too smart to believe them, and you read the scripture for yourself. 

So, dear reader, be very wary of believing any so-called Bible teaching you receive by email or see on an Internet site (including this one).  Check the credentials of the authors.  No author?  Warning!  Proud of having no credentials at all?  Warning!  Author says that a couple billion Christians for the past 2000 years have been wrong, and he or she is right?  Warning!  Author engages in ridicule or condemnation of other Christians?  Warning!  Finally, read the Bible for yourself.  Does the website contradict the Bible?  Warning!

Joshua had a similar warning for the children of Israel after they had conquered the promised land.  Be careful about whom you believe, because you belong to a God who does not tolerate rivals.  Our God is a jealous God.
Psalms 78:55-72 (4/15/2011)

So far in our study of the character of God, we’ve spent one week in the Old Testament and one week in the New Testament for each characteristic.  We have seen that the characteristics we’ve looked at are the same in both the OT and NT – that is, whatever word the Greek OT uses to translate the Hebrew OT, we see the same Greek word used in the same way in the New Testament.  The only partial exception has been that the Hebrew “steadfast love” or “kindness” comes into Greek as eleos, which the New Testament is translated as “mercy” or “pity.”

So it’s interesting to me that the Greek word zelotes used for our Hebrew word qanna jealous is apparently never used to refer to God in the New Testament!  I didn’t count, but it looks like maybe half the uses of zelotes in the NT are positive and half are negative.  [By the way, the Greek word zelos has given rise to both zealous (usually positive) and jealous (usually negative) in English.  Don’t say you never learn anything useful in this Bible study.]

We can only speculate why God is no longer seen as jealous by the time of the New Testament.  But here’s a thought:  After the Exile, the Jews no longer worshipped other gods, so maybe it just didn’t come up.  I suspect it would come up quickly enough if we took to worshipping other gods today, so don’t do it.
Other Aspects of God's Character
Glory, Old Testament, New Testament
Holiness, Old Testament, New Testament
Longsuffering, Old Testament, New Testament
Steadfast Love, Old Testament, which is Mercy in the New Testament
Graciousness, Old Testament, which is Grace in the New Testament
Jealousy, Old Testament
Intolerance of Sin, Old Testament, New Testament

Copyright 2011 by Regina L. Hunter. All rights reserved.

Opinions expressed on this page are solely those of the author, Regina Hunter, and may or may not be shared by the sponsors or the Bible-study participants.  Thanks to the Holy Spirit for any useful ideas presented here, and thanks to all the readers for their support and enthusiasm.  All errors are, of course, the sole responsibility of the author.

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