As we continue looking at Asaph’s Psalm of Lament, Psalm 79, we notice a challenging phrase in verse 5. He asks God:
5 How long, Lord? Will you be angry forever?
How long will your jealousy burn like fire?
The word “jealous” is used of God a number of times in the Bible. Here are a few examples:
“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God. (Exodus 20:5)
Be careful not to forget the covenant of the Lord your God that he made with you; do not make for yourselves an idol in the form of anything the Lord your God has forbidden. 24 For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God. (Deuteronomy 4:23-24)
They made him jealous with their foreign gods and angered him with their detestable idols. (Deuteronomy 32:16)
Timothy Keller says:
“Modern people are often uncomfortable when the Bible speaks of God’s jealousy.”
The reason people are uncomfortable is because the word “jealous” has two meanings.
Firstly, and the most common use of the word today, it can mean “feeling or showing an envious resentment of someone or their achievements, possessions, or perceived advantages”. This is obviously a very negative and even destructive emotion.
But, secondly, concerning God, Keller explains:
“Yet, God’s jealousy is intimately related to God’s love toward us. The relationship that God calls us to is not merely one of subjects obeying a king. Rather, God calls us into a marriage relationship with Him, and His jealousy is spousal. God seeks a relationship with us that is characterized by priority, fidelity, and intimacy.” https://faithplay.com/episode/the-jealousy-of-god-5941a1f6a85c8bf33aea8cc1
When we consider the verses above where God is referred to as being “jealous”, they all mention idolatry as the cause. Basically, the people of God were committing spiritual adultery, despite being in a covenant relationship with Yahweh, despite having been delivered from slavery, despite having the laws of God and despite having promised that they would walk in all his ways. That, to me, is enough to make anyone deservedly angry and jealous!
(For further information on the issue of idolatry see my earlier Post: # 243 A journey through the Psalms. Psalm 78. Checklist of idolatry!)
An important point is that all that God did for the people, all the laws he gave them, were for their own good.
To Moses, at the time of giving the Ten Commandments, God said these words which declared his good intentions for his people:
“Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever.” (Deuteronomy 5:29)
Later Moses says to the people:
“Walk in all the way that the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land…” (Deuteronomy 5:33)
Sadly, they just never seemed to ever appreciate that truth and often turned away from the Lord inflicting upon themselves the judgement they deserved.
So, the psalmist understands why the jealousy of God is “burn[ing] like fire”. He just wonders how much longer it will burn.
In the New testament we also read of “godly jealousy”. The context is the Apostle Paul writing to the Corinthian Church who are being lead astray and deceived. Paul, like the spiritual father that he was, was very aware what was good for them and was concerned they were going to miss out on all God’s blessings. He says to them:
2 I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. 3 But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. (2 Corinthians 11:2-3)
God loves us, his people, with an even greater “godly jealousy” and His desire for each one of us is, as Paul says, to live in “sincere and pure devotion to Christ”. Considering all that Jesus has done for us in dying on the cross for our sin, may it also be our desire. From experience, mine and many before me, the alternatives are just not worth it and will never satisfy. Amen.