Loving the Jealous God

Do you cover your mouth to muffle the words as you use God’s name, “Jealous God”?1 It is probably the name that we are most uncomfortable with. What about explaining to people why following other gods is such a poor choice? In his final speech predicting spiritual decline, Moses faced the nation of Israel with both ideas. I bet they shuffled their feet as Moses spoke these words:

They made Him jealous with strange gods;
With abominations they provoked Him to anger.
They sacrificed to demons who were not God,
To gods whom they have not known,
New gods who came lately,
Whom your fathers did not dread.
(Deuteronomy 32:16-17)

Understanding who the gods are and what that awkward name, “Jealous God,” really means can help us avoid Israel’s mistakes.

  • The Bible implies that the word “god” is nothing more than a palatable name that people have been duped into giving to a demonic being. Paul exposed the underlying demonic forces that wait to pounce on those who dabble in idolatry.2 Canaanite idols were referred to as demons.3 So, the gang that we call gods and associate with idols is really a gang of demonic spirits that is under Satan’s leadership. There is only one true God with supreme power.

But the definition is broad. Paul wrote of certain “enemies of the cross,” whose “god is their appetite.4 Food or anything of which we say, “I must have more,” can be an idol. Now, a craving for chocolate seems harmless enough, and in normal proportions it is, but urges that control us have strayed beyond healthy boundaries. Crossing those boundaries is what it means to succumb to temptation. Excessive desires behave like the worst idols; they hinder our relationships with God. They distract us or slime us with guilt and shame.

Jesus pointed out, “No one can serve two masters . . . You cannot serve God and mammon.” To make His point, Jesus personified riches as Mammon. No one can serve God and riches. Under Satan’s influence, wealth craves power and fights to be lord and master of our hearts.

Paul also said that “elemental things . . . which by nature are no gods” can enslave us.5 He was referring to legalism and to false religions.

Making God the object of our passion, so that no space remains for other gods, is the best safeguard against spiritual decline.

  • What are we to make of His jealousy? Surely, the name, “Jealous God,” doesn’t suggest that God has a temper tantrum whenever anyone nods at a false god. That might frighten us from idolatry, but it certainly wouldn’t inspire genuine adoration of Him. Some people wince at this name of God, yet it is one of a few specifically stated names of God:

“You shall not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.”6

God’s jealousy has to do with His affection for His people and His pursuit of the very best for them. Our best lies in intimate relationship with our Creator. Friendship with the world is spiritual adultery. God jealously longs for our spirits to abide in undivided relationship with Him.7

Parents who watch their children drift away to a wasted life of pain get a taste of God’s jealousy. When God breathed His spirit into flesh, He created children. He loves us more than the best father imaginable does. Whenever God sees us lured into damaging behavior, a jealous rage fills His heart. Our loving Father says, “I hate watching my children stray. They are only happy and fulfilled when they have a relationship with Me.” His jealousy is a mixture of disappointment and grief. Knowing that the Jealous God has our very best in mind will actually increase our love for Him.

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  1. Much of the material in this devotional was adapted from The Name Quest, by John Avery (Morgan James Publishing, 2014). []
  2. 1 Cor. 8:4–6; 10:14–22. []
  3. Ps. 106:34–39. []
  4. Phil. 3:18–19. The word translated “appetite” is literally “belly.” []
  5. Gal. 4:3, 8–11; Col. 2:8, 20–23. []
  6. Ex. 34:14. See also Ex. 20:4–6; Deut. 4:24, 39; 5:7–11; 6:14–15; Nah. 1:2. []
  7. James 4:4–5. []

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