Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud. [1 Corinthians 13:4 (NLT)]
So get rid of all evil behavior. Be done with all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and all unkind speech. [1 Peter 2:1 (NLT)]
Jealousy – that green-eyed monster – certainly caused a lot of problems throughout the Bible. The first case of sibling rivalry occurred when Cain, jealous that God approved his brother’s sacrifice but not his, killed Abel. Saul was jealous of David’s popularity and battles were fought, the Jews slandered Paul and Silas because they were jealous of the large crowds that gathered to hear them preach, Jacob was jealous of Esau’s relationship with Isaac, Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery out of jealousy and the prodigal’s brother became jealous when his father threw a party for the black sheep of the family.
“Don’t be jealous,” was often the response when any of us kids complained to our parents about what seemed preferential treatment for a sibling or when we expressed a desire for someone else’s possessions. Knowing jealousy was clearly wrong, I was confused during church services when I read, “For I the Lord thy God am a jealous God,” in my prayer book. Was jealously a privilege denied me but given to God? If it was OK for Him to be jealous why couldn’t I be a bit jealous of Becky’s new baby doll or that my sister got all the new clothes while I got the hand-me-downs? Granted, that was a child’s reasoning, but it can be difficult to reconcile God’s jealousy with the Bible’s many commands not to be jealous.
When they were given the Ten Commandments, the Israelites had just spent over 400 years in Egypt, a land of many gods. They had no problem when Yahweh told them to worship Him. Their problem arose because the God of the Israelites didn’t want to be one of many gods; He was to be their only God! He didn’t want to share their affections with anything or anyone else. Unlike the Israelites, we’re not tempted to worship Baal, Osiris, Asherah, or the sun god Ra. Nevertheless, we have a jealous God who continues to insist upon our exclusive loyalty to him. He won’t tolerate our fickle affections to cause us to worship at the altars of money, power, fame, technology, success, materialism, youth, sex, or self.
God has everything and needs nothing but He is jealous of the only things we have that He doesn’t—our affection, worship, honor and service—things that must be freely given by us to Him. As in a marriage, God wants an exclusive relationship with us—nothing and no one is to take priority over Him. Although some translations use the word “zealous” instead of “jealous”, there is no word in our limited human vocabulary that can fully describe God’s amazing, all-encompassing and intense love and desire for us. We are His and He is ours and God simply wants what is due to Him—our all.