Here’s what I hope to accomplish through studying this passage with you: I want to show you that the Bible teaches that God is jealous for Himself, and then convince you that this is a great truth which ensures our greatest desire is met.
Easy enough, right? God is jealous for Himself, and that is gloriously great news.
Well, let’s jump in and read it for ourselves. Exodus 20:1-6 teaches us this,
And God spoke all these words, saying,
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.”Exodus 20:1-6, ESV.
God demands your affections.
The Lord begins by probing the memory of the Hebrew people. Certainly, their recent plight in Egypt has not been forgotten.
He reminds them of their gross slavery and their harsh afflictions, which they had endured for four and a half centuries, at the hands of ruthless Pharaoh’s. He then reminds them that it was He, The LORD, who had secured their freedom. They are standing at the foothills of Mount Sinai as free men and women with a bright future because of one glorious reason: God stretched out His Sovereign Saving Hand and brought them out of the land of Egypt.
Take note of what is occurring. God didn’t show up randomly and demand exclusive devotion and worship. He worked mightily on their behalf, He demonstrated His unconditional great love for them, and then He gave them the commandment for exclusive loyalty. God demands their exclusive worship after displaying His exclusive worthiness.
Let’s check out these well-known commands.
You shall have no other gods before me. Don’t read that wrongly. It doesn’t mean that you are allowed to have gods behind Him or beside Him. The phrase before me is translated from a Hebrew phrase which literally means before my face. So what the first commandment is teaching is that God commands for His people to have no other gods in His presence. The point is clear: The Lord is to reign exclusively in your heart.
The second commandment essentially adds detail to the first commandment in that it instructs the people of God in how they are to worship and serve Him. You are to worship Him truthfully, according to who He is; therefore you are not to try and construct some physical representation of God. You can’t build a golden cow and say that this is The Lord who has brought you up out of Egypt! That’s worshipping God in a false way, because that golden cow is a false representation of God. I should also mention that I don’t think the commandment stops at hand carved images. If my understanding is correct, there is a point here that worshipping God in a way that is contrary to how He has revealed Himself makes you an offender of the second commandment. For example, if you don’t like the complete and free sovereignty of God and so to protect your self autonomy you construct this idea of God in your mind where He has no sovereign influence in or over anything in your life—including your salvation—well you have constructed a false image, not with your hands but with your mind.
The commandment is clear: You don’t worship God according to how you think He ought to be, but according to how His Word has revealed Him to be.
That’s the meaning of the first two commandments: God commands His people to only worship Him, and to worship Him according to the specific way that he has revealed Himself.
The Commandment reflects God’s Concern for Himself.
Here’s the question that I think we need to work out now theologically: Why does God command absolute exclusive loyalty and devotion in the specific way that He has revealed Himself?
Take note of the little word, “for” in the Scripture we are studying. It provides the reason for the command that God gives to Moses. God commands the unrivaled loyalty of His people’s affections and their exclusive worship for (or because) He says, I the Lord your God am a jealous God.
Well, what does that mean? What does it mean when the Bible says that God is jealous? Let me answer by making three brief observations.
- God’s Jealousy is NOT compatible with your envy.
Envy. That’s how our culture typically defines jealousy. For clarity, let me share with you a couple of common examples of what this envious jealousy looks like.
Example A: Your co-worker just received a promotion. You smile and nod your head, and even give them a fake congratulations—but in the secrecy of your heart you’re ticked. It is your damaged pride that burns with envy here—you feel the way you do because you’re not the one getting the promotion. If you had to describe that you would say, I was jealous of them. But, you could also describe that as being envious of them. To our culture, those two terms are almost identical.
Another, probably more common example, is the storyline that undergirds practically every best selling romance movie on the market. Boy meets girl and falls in love with girl, but girl falls in love with someone else, and boy gets jealous. This jealousy leads the boy to do really dumb things which he undoubtedly will come to regret. The boy driven by a romanticized form of envy goes to all lengths to win her affections. However,in the end the boy has only made a fool of himself. That emotion that is driving the silly boy, that’s what we think of when we hear the word jealous.
So, let me say this very plainly: The Lord is not like your envious Ex or co-worker. The Lord’s jealousy is in no way compatible with your envy.
So, what is His jealousy like then?
- God’s Jealousy is like a protective passion.
I love how J.I. Packer explains this so I will quote him here,
There is another sort of jealousy: zeal to protect a love relationship or to avenge it when broken. This jealousy also operates in the sphere of sex; there, however, it appears not as the blind reaction of wounded pride but as the fruit of marital affection. As Professor Tasker has written, married persons “who felt no jealousy at the intrusion of a lover or an adulterer into their home would surely be lacking in moral perception; for the exclusiveness of marriage is the essence of marriage.”—Knowing God, J. I. Packer, 170.
Here’s what I think Packer is getting at: God’s Jealousy is to be understood in relation to His covenant claim on His people. And, this covenant claim moves Him to act in ways which protect His honor in this relationship. Sometimes those actions appear on the pages of Scripture as wrathful judgement towards an unfaithful people, and sometimes the actions appear as a redemptive rescue of His people. In essence, I think that is the crux of what verses 5 and 6 in the Scripture reveal. These are the actions which flow from God’s jealousy.
For, I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.Exodus 20:5c-6, ESV.
So, God’s jealousy is not like human envy; it is a passion to protect—but, a passion to protect what?
- Ultimately, God’s jealousy is a passion for His own glory.
I know this probably sounds strange at first, but, whether you like it or not this is how the Bible reveals the Jealousy of God. I’m going to argue that it is a great truth. But, let’s see it in the Word first.
In the Old Testament the biblical authors often describe The Lord as working amazing acts of salvation or judgement because of His jealousy for His Glorious Name. One example is in the book of Ezekiel the prophet, who wrote his book while living in Babylon a couple of years after the Jews were exiled from the Promised Land. If you know anything of Old Testament history, you will remember that the people of Israel were rarely faithful to The Lord. Over and over again they were like an unfaithful spouse forsaking The Lord to worship other gods. Eventually, God sends them into a much deserved exile for their sin by using Babylon to conquer Jerusalem.
That’s the context. So, Ezekiel, who was living among these exiles, prophesied something that tasted like the sweet honey of Canaan to the people. He taught that in the future God would redeem them from this exile. He would bring them back! Listen to Ezekiel 39:25,
Therefore this says The Lord GOD: Now I will restore the fortunes of Jacob and have mercy on the whole house of Israel, and I will be jealous for my holy name.Ezekiel 39:25, ESV.
It is very clear here. God saved Israel out of exile, not because He was jealous for them and missed them. The Bible clearly does not say that, or even insinuate it. Israel was in exile because they deserved it for turning their back on the One True God who had been faithful to them. Israel is brought out of exile for one single grand purpose: I will be jealous for my holy name.
God was jealous, passionately protective, over His own glorious Name; therefore, he saved sinful Israel from exile. I think this principle of God’s jealousy helps us to understand what is being revealed in Exodus 20. God is jealous for His own glory, therefore His redeemed children are not to give their affections to other gods—including a false representation of God that we might contrive in our sinful minds. God is jealous for Himself and so His children are to worship Him exclusively according to how He has revealed Himself.
There is no other way to say it—Ultimately, God is all about God. And, that’s a good thing.
Why is God’s Jealousy for Himself a good thing?
I know what you’re thinking—How in the world is that a good thing? How do I see the goodness of God in God being jealous for Himself?
Here comes the great theological truth flowing from these commandments. And, to be honest it’s not just flowing from here—it’s like one of many streams all flowing into a great ocean. It’s like one of many pulsating arteries all flowing from the same heart! It’s the great overarching theme that fills every page and every word of Scripture! It’s the chief end of man, and of all creation, and of all history, and of all the future: The Glory of God.
The Lord is the chief end of man! The Lord is your greatest desire! That’s why He demands your exclusive loyalty and the devotion of your utmost affections!
Do you see it?
The undergirding of this commandment is the Divine Jealousy of God to passionately protect His glorious Name, and flowing from this is the truth that God is the deepest satisfaction of our souls. So, if the glory of God is the greatest desire of your heart and the deepest satisfaction that you could ever experience; then the The Lord’s jealousy to passionately protect His own name is a great, awesome thing for every living creature! His jealousy ensures our greatest satisfaction is met.
Here is what I am trying to say: the goodness of God revealed in Him demanding exclusive worship is that God Himself is the exclusive satisfaction that every person is seeking.
Oh brother and sister! How awesome is our God who stops at nothing to pursue His glory? How comforting is His complete and free sovereignty when viewed through this lens! How majestic is His jealousy which ensures my joy! How awesome to your heart is this truth that our God’s pursuit of His own Glory leads to our infinite and eternal happiness?
I’ll leave you with a quote from the church father from North Africa, Augustine, who in His spiritual autobiography titled Confessions writes,
You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in you.Augustine of Hippo, Confessions
Therefore, I am confident to say that God is jealous for Himself, and that is gloriously good news.