The Jealous God

For thou shalt worship no other god: for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God:

Exodus 34:14 (KJV)

Jealous – Isn’t this an odd character trait of YHVH? Jealousy is such a negative attribute isn’t it? The word qanna which means “jealous” is only used 5 times in the Old Testament and is only ever used when referring to God. So why is it necessary for God to state that He is jealous?

To understand why God asserts this we need to understand the environment of the Near East. For the surrounding cultures worshiping multiple gods was perfectly acceptable. For example, if one army overthrew the government of another land, they would pay homage to that land’s gods by offering sacrifices to them, etc. Even though they didn’t recognize those gods in their own land, they would still pay their respects to foreign gods, thanking them for their favor.

The gods would not be jealous of attention paid to other gods as long as their own needs were being met and their position was not in jeopardy. Again, in this way the God of Israel was very different from any other deity, and the Israelites had quite a bit of trouble adjusting their thinking to the idea that Yahweh would not tolerate the open-ended system and that there were false gods and unacceptable beliefs.

John H. Walton, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament (Baker Academic, 2006) p. 112

The God of Israel would not allow this. He was the only true living God and made it clear that He was jealous. There would be no other worshiping of other gods.

3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; (Exodus 20:3-5)

The verb qana which is a relation to the adjective qanna above expresses a “very strong emotion whereby some quality or possession of the object is desired by the subject.” (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, p. 802)

The adjective shows the parallel between adultery and idolatry. As a husband holds his wife to himself and is permitted to kill her and her paramour in the case of adultery, so God relates to His people. He is a jealous God and He will hold and protect His people so long as they are wholly His.

So the next question should be… how does God know I’m completely dedicated to Him? Yeshua, I believe, says it best, “If you love me, keep my commandments.”

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