The Bible’s God Is a Jealous God—That’s a Good Thing

God demonstrated His unfathomable love for mankind at Calvary. So how can God, who is love (1 John 4:8) be described as a jealous God?

God demonstrated His unfathomable love for mankind at Calvary. So how can God, who is love (1 John 4:8), be described as a jealous God?

“For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” – Deuteronomy 4:24

“You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are all around you (for the LORD your God is a jealous God among you), lest the anger of the LORD your God be aroused against you and destroy you from the face of the earth.” – Deuteronomy 6:14–15

We usually think of jealousy as a shortcoming, an imperfection, or a sin. So it can be confusing for people when they come across Bible verses that speak of God being a jealous God, such as Exodus 20:5 and Joshua 24:19. I have had several people ask me why God is described as jealous since that would seem to imply that He is petty and sinful.

The main problem with this issue is that we have confused two terms: jealousy and envy. Let’s look at the definitions of these two terms and then go back to address the question. Merriam-Websters Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed. defines the terms as follows:

Jealous – 1a: intolerant of rivalry or unfaithfulness. 1b: disposed to suspect rivalry or unfaithfulness. 2: hostile toward a rival or one believed to enjoy an advantage. 3: vigilant in guarding a possession.

Envy – 1: painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another joined with a desire to possess the same advantage.

Unfortunately, we have not always used these terms properly, and it has led to confusion on this issue. I know I’ve done it countless times, and it wasn’t until the past few years that I have made an effort to refrain from conflating the terms. How many times have you said that you were jealous of someone (or said that someone was jealous of you or someone else), but what you really meant is that you were envious of them (or they of you)?

What’s the difference? If someone else had something that you desired, or they accomplished something that made them look better than you and you wanted that prestige or standing, then you are not really jealous, you are envious of them. Desire for what they have or resentment for them because of their position is envy.

Jealousy comes from the Latin word for zealous. This word refers to someone who is “marked by fervent partisanship for a person, a cause, or an ideal.” Someone with zeal has “an eagerness and ardent pursuit of something.” (Definitions from Merriam-Websters Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed.)

When the Bible states that God is jealous, too often we think of envy. God is often described as jealous when speaking about His intense concern for Israel. He refused to tolerate their repeated idolatries. He was vigilant in guarding her, Israel, as a possession. God knew what was best for her and He wanted the people to follow Him instead of pagan gods that cannot save. For a wonderful testimony of God’s care and faithfulness of Israel even after they were repeatedly unfaithful, read the book of Hosea.

As Hosea reveals, a good picture of this can be seen in marriage. I am very jealous for my wife. This means that I would not tolerate any rival or unfaithfulness (not that I have to worry about that). And I’m glad that she is very jealous for me. But I do not envy my wife. How could I? She has to put up with me.

We have developed a nuance in modern English when speaking of jealousy, although maybe we aren’t very consistent. If someone said they were “jealous of” someone else then envy is what they usually meant. If they said that they were “jealous for” someone else then it seems to imply the proper definition.

The Apostle Paul told the Corinthians: “For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:2). Paul’s jealousy for them was not wrong. He wanted what was best for the Corinthians—to be blameless and pure for Christ.

I am thankful that God is jealous for His people, that He is “vigilant in guarding a possession” as the definition states. He cares deeply about us and wants what is best for us. Like a good father disciplines an erring child, God, the infinitely better Father, chastens those He loves (Hebrews 12:6) because He knows what is best for us. We must recognize His gentle correction and trust Him rather than become aggravated and irritated as if He is trying to spoil our fun. He has something so much greater in store for us. We need to trust our loving and jealous God.

About Tim Chaffey

I am the founder of Midwest Apologetics and work as the Content Manager with the Attractions Division of Answers in Genesis. I have written (or co-authored) several books, including In Defense of Easter, God and Cancer, The Sons of God and the Nephilim, and The Truth Chronicles Series (see the publications page for more details). Please note: the opinions expressed on this site are my own and do not necessarily represent the views of Answers in Genesis.


The Bible’s God Is a Jealous God—That’s a Good Thing — 5 Comments

  1. Than you so much for your complete and helpful answer.
    The point that I am still struggling the most with is the psychological side of it all. Have you ever seen a person of another faith worship with tears in their eyes and with all of their might? They believe in their god just as strongly as any Christian. Anyone with any empathy can see the powerful belief across many different religions. The point is that Christianity was not even close to the “first” religion. It is just “another” religion ( even though I understand that as you’ve mentioned before, christianity was the only one to accurately accomplish the prophecies but does that mean that all other people before that time just went to hell because they never believed in the true God?). People have believed in gods to explain the world around them when they could not understand the science behind why the sun rises or why the tides work or why the seasons change or why bad things happened. And people in power have always used religion to control its people though the fear of punishment in the afterlife for not obeying laws. Religion seems to be a byproduct of civilization. Even people not exposed to middle eastern born religions like the native Americans, Eskimo, Aztec, island nations, etc… They all had religions and gods to explain the way the work worked and many believed in the afterlife…
    Thank you for your time and help,

    • Hi David,
      There is no question that people from various religions can be equally sincere and devout. But ultimately it comes down to whether a person’s belief is right. Truth, by definition, is narrow. There is only one correct answer to 2+2=___. It doesn’t matter how sincere the 3s or the 5s are, they are wrong because the answer is 4.
      It’s also true that Christianity is not the oldest religion since it began nearly 2000 years ago and several religions date back much further. There were genuine believers in the true God before Christianity came on the scene. For nearly 1500 years before Christ, devout Jews worshiped the true God under the Mosaic Covenant, and according to the Old and New Testaments, there were a handful of other followers of the true God during that time. Before the Mosaic Law was given, there were those who held to the faith of Abraham. And well before Abraham there were people like Enoch and Noah who followed the Lord.
      So it isn’t necessarily about following the right religion, but believing in the true God. As for how sincere people throughout history will be judged, I think it is best for us to let God decide what will happen to them. I believe He will judge them in accordance with how they have responded to the light they have been shown. Romans 1 tells us that everyone knows that God exists, and they can know certain things about Him, but many people suppress that truth in unrighteousness. Is it possible for some people who haven’t been exposed to the gospel to respond appropriately to what they can know of the true God? Christians disagree on this point, but I think Romans 2 explains that some people have (at least up until the time Romans was written). God is just, and He will judge properly. We have all sinned against Him and deserve His judgment. He is also loving and forgiving, and not willing that any should perish, so He provided the only means by which we can be saved when Christ died for our sins and rose from the dead. Christianity isn’t just another religion that was made up by people. God really did step into history. He fulfilled prophecy and He really did die on a Cross and rise from the dead. Christianity is rooted in actual historical events.
      I would agree that religion is a part of civilization and it has been from the beginning, because God has set eternity in our hearts. We know there is more to this life. Some people have abused this to control others and some have found the truth and humbly sought to share this with others. It certainly isn’t fair to lump all religious believers of all stripes into the same boat. Islamic terrorists and Westboro creeps shouldn’t be lumped in with the missionary who spends his or her life among the poorest of the poor to bring them food, medicine, and most importantly, the gospel message. To summarize, God knows each person’s heart and I believe He will judge rightly on how they have responded to the light He has shown them.
      I hope this helps.

  2. Tim,

    I was not sure where to ask a specific question so I am just going to leave it as a comment. I read this somewhere and I was wondering what you would have to say about it as it reflects my doubts on christianity and religion in general.
    “The Bible, both the Old Testament or the New Testament contains religious beliefs – if not legends – that prevailed in the first great civilizations of religions, such as Mesopotamia, Egypt or Iran . For example, the Creation, the Garden of Eden and the Flood of Genesis are an almost exact copy of the Epic of Gilgamesh, a legendary tale of ancient Mesopotamia and whose first stories (the Supersede) date back to the mid third millennium BC, nearly 2000 years before the beginning of the writing of the Hebrew Bible, which took place over several centuries; the ancient Egyptians, over the centuries of its evolution, have come to believe that Osiris died to save humanity, for them, Egypt represents humanity; Antiquity has had many men-gods “saviors” that have the same characteristics as Jesus, including Horus / Osiris, Krishna, Mithra, Buddha, Hercules / Heracles, Attis, Quetzalcoatl, and Serapis Prometheus; at the time of its creation, Christianity incorporated many religious beliefs of hundreds of cults and mystery religions that prevailed in the Roman Empire, as Mithra who was born of a stone and becomes in the Bible the first of Twelve Apostles, also there were twelve son of Jacob, the twelve tribute of Israel, the twelve disciples of Osiris, the twelve constellations.
    Apart from the Bible itself and its additions from the Church, history knows no direct witnesses to the existence of Jesus and its manifestations, whether it is within the Romans, Greeks or the Jews who normally would have been the first ones interested in the Torah which promises them the coming of a Messiah, a savior; they are still waiting. Yet there is a great man who lived throughout the first century, a contemporary of Jesus, who traveled extensively, was received by emperors and kings, in whose honor they built temples, monuments, a man whose the biography was commissioned to Philostratus, a brilliant historian, Julie Domna, Caracalla’s mother, Empress of Rome during the reign of Septimius Severus in the year 216, a little over a century after his death. This is Apollonius of Tyana, néopythagoricien philosopher Greek miracle worker and preacher, born in the year -4 and died in the year 98. He was a descendent from a famous family that had supplied the city of Tyana with some of its founders. He had a prodigious childhood, was educated at Tarsus, Paul’s birthplace, and studied Pythagorean philosophy Aegean. He and his companion Damis traveled to cities visited by Paul as well. He was compared to Jesus for his itinerant preaching and miracles. Popular belief attributed him a divine filiation. In his writings, he never mentions the biblical events, nor Jesus nor Paul. Yet he was in Rome the year he was beheaded.
    Why do we believe in God in all parts of the world and in all times? A key characteristic of life is to adapt to its immediate environment in order to survive: whatever the dimensions of the species, whether they live in arid or humid places, at altitude or on the seabed at hot or cold. When our ancestors began to gain self-consciousness, all the phenomenas that we know are natural today (illness, death, drought, rain, storms, thunder, lightning, lunar eclipses and solar) would seem absolutely incomprehensible. When, for example, we would see a dying father that knew everything (i.e how to face danger or any other skills) and could do everything, we had to think that he had a spirit that, when death would come, would separate from the body. That’s when they probably started practicing the cult of the dead asking the deceased to intercede with the spirits causing all these phenomenas. Believing in God, and surviving in the after life, has become a matter of survival, a psychological need.
    CONCLUSION: Christology, the man-god savior, the messiah, can be justified if the first two human creations, Adam and Eve really existed and committed sin, original sin, which earned them to being cast out of Eden and their descendants to be born in sin. And we know that, the Garden of Eden story, the Garden of Eden, was drawn from a Sumerian legend, the Epic of Gilgamesh, much older than the Genesis account. Faced with the fear of dying, humans’ developed the tendency to believe in any “story” that meets the natural need to survive in the afterlife, therefore a simple act of faith may continuously trick us to believe in the existence of Jesus.

    • Hi David,
      Thanks for your comments. There is so much to respond to in your post and it would require a lot of time to go through every point. Let me just make a couple of points and I’ll include some links that will point you to articles or videos that address these points. There is very little, if anything, that is accurate in these claims.
      First, Genesis is not even remotely close to “an exact copy” of Gilgamesh. Both speak of a flood, as do more than two hundred legends from around the world, many of them include strong similarities to the biblical account. In fact, some of these cultures have legends that sound similar to many events described in Genesis 1–11, but then nothing after that. This is what we would expect to find if the biblical account were true since the people scattered from Babel in Genesis 11, carrying their beliefs and traditions with them, which over time would become distorted yet still contain kernels of the shared history. Gilgamesh is about a hero living after the great flood, who along with another hero and friend, Enkidu, accomplishes many feats. At one point he seeks out Utnapishtim to learn how he can attain eternal life (Utnapishtim is the man who survived the great flood, hence the connection to Genesis). Beyond that, there is not much that sounds like Genesis, so to assume that Moses copied from Gilgamesh is so far from the mark.
      The notion that Jesus was copied from other pagan gods is patently false and was a myth created in the late 19th century. In fact, not a single one of these so-called gods have any source material dated before the time of Christ that mention any of the ideas Christians supposedly copied. For a humorous rebuttal of these claims, see this outstanding video (I think you’ll enjoy it):
      These claims are part of the Christ Myth, which is easily debunked and is dismissed by virtually every historian. Yes, non-Christians in the first century did write about Jesus. Here’s an article I wrote a couple of years ago in response to someone promoting the Christ Myth.
      Here’s an article written to dispel the false claims about Apollonius of Tyana, whose “biography” was not penned until long after Christianity had spread through the empire:
      There are two main points I would like you to consider about the Christ Myth. First, how does one account for the dozens of specific OT prophecies written at least 400 years prior to the time of Christ that explain specific details about His life (where He would be born, virginal conception, how He would die, how He would teach, that He would rise again, etc.)? Second, and perhaps most importantly, the Christian faith from its start in the early AD 30s was based squarely on the idea that Jesus died on the Cross, but then He rose bodily from the grave. The early Christians went around the empire telling people about their faith in the Resurrection of Jesus and their own future bodily resurrection. This was not borrowed from Judaism, since Jews held to a single resurrection of all people at the end of time. This was not borrowed from the Greeks who abhorred the concept of a bodily resurrection. In fact, it didn’t match a single existing belief system out there. When Paul preached in Athens, no one said, “Oh, this sounds just like Apollonius.” To think that the annual rising (in the spring) and dying (in the fall/winter) of various gods in any way corresponds to the physical Resurrection of Jesus is absurd.
      The point is Christianity did not borrow from these ideas. There is much more that could be said. If I have the time, I may add some more in a later comment, or perhaps I’ll use these ideas as the basis for a future blog post to address this in more detail. Let me know if you need me to clarify anything. I hope this helps.

      • Jesus is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Fact… Truth.
        Every true seeker finds. You shall know the Truth and the Truth shall set you free.

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