Exodus 20:5a—Does God get jealous?
Problem: The Bible not only says here that God is a “jealous God,” but it also declares His very “name is Jealous” (Ex. 34:14). On the other hand, jealousy is a sin. But, if God is absolutely holy, then how can He be jealous?
Solution: God is jealous in the good sense of the word, namely, He is jealous for the love and devotion of His people (cf. Ex. 20:5). Paul spoke of a “godly jealousy” (2 Cor. 11:2). The verses on God’s jealousy are all in the context of idolatry. Like any true lover, God is jealous when anyone or anything else steals the devotion of His beloved.
Human jealousy is often coveting what does not belong to us. However, God’s jealousy is protecting what does belong to Him, namely His own supremacy. It is not a sin for God to claim allegiance of His creatures because He is the Creator. And He knows that it is best for them not to make an ultimate commitment to what is less than ultimate (idols). Only an ultimate commitment to what is really Ultimate will ultimately satisfy the human heart. God is jealous to protect this.
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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.