A Jealous God
I have not been able to shake a recent phrase the Holy Spirit has brought to mind, “I am a jealous God.”
I had to check my Bible – God does say that of Himself, right? Sure does.
I tried to ignore it. This week I still couldn’t shake it. I searched and found meaning thanks to this sermon by the great preacher Charles Spurgeon 156 years ago.
Now, don’t be jolted! Yes 156 years is a long time ago, yes you might not be sure of his theology – who cares? The Holy Spirit was already taking me to many conclusions emphasised in that sermon.
Come back with me to that phrase, “I am a jealous God,” and you could be spared getting lost in an old sermon.
Again, I’m not writing today due to Spurgeon’s sermon, but it guided my response to that gnawing phrase: “I am a jealous God”
We don’t hear much preached or taught about our Father God being a jealous God. Yet it is there in scripture, albeit more common in the Old Testament.
Rest assured, our Father is jealous for us. In some interpretations, the Hebrew word is closer to saying that he is zealous for us. That’s helpful. Our experience of words like ‘jealous’ can distract us with unhelpful thoughts.
God is not petty or fickle. His jealousy is inflamed because we turn our love and devotion to other passions, pursuits or quests.
As Spurgeon preached, when the Bible ascribes the word jealous or zealous to God, it is the closest (yet still an ill-fitting) way to describe how God feels when He:
“beholds his throne occupied by false gods, his dignity insulted, and his glory usurped by others”.
Exodus 34:14 says one of God’s names is Jealous (or Zealous). There God instructs His people not to make a covenant – not to agree – with the inhabitants of the land that He was giving to them, lest their covenants become a ‘snare’ in their midst. God’s chosen people were not to be half-hearted. They were to tear down the altars, smash the sacred pillars and cut down the Asherim poles. “For you shall not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous / Zealous, is a jealous/zealous God.” (v14)
The temptation was too strong. Even the wisest – king Solomon – fell victim to the snares of distraction and self-medication for the woes of the world. Solomon isn’t alone. You can probably think of other examples.
God’s passion for us is virtuous, holy jealousy. If that scares you, fear not! We have hope!
We’re not in the same boat as our forebears in faith in the Old Testament, thanks to Jesus.
Thanks indeed, because God did something about His jealousy inflamed by the past acts of His beloved people. He sent someone upon whom all that jealousy could fall. He sent someone He loved so much – His own son – to make the point clearly. He sent someone through whom we can say sorry, and be immediately forgiven, for losing our way – our first love.
When we look at it like that, yet again we are reminded how heartbreaking, loving and significant an act of God were Jesus’ birth and life, torture, death and resurrection on the cross. For all of us. For every person.
Ahh, yes, we nod along to a reminder of salvation. Don’t drift off – yes Jesus loves me – let’s shuffle in our seat and reflect: Am I inflaming God’s jealousy?
I am grateful for Spurgeon’s sermon because he – with greater fire and brimstone – stirred me and you too if you wish to read it, to some sobering realisations.
We risk inflaming God’s jealousy by letting anything other than Him become the object of our devotion, worship or passion. The thing, cause, person – yes even loved one – that we are devoted to, passionate or worship might stumble, fall or be taken from us. That hurts, and we’d be angry with God about it. I know I have been.
A holy, jealous God allows the flames to consume things that seemed virtuous, good and important. Even a ‘Godly calling’ – and no doubt it was, for a time. There’s nothing healthy in dwelling on how it happened, or why. The healthy thing is to wander or creep back to sit at God’s feet. Sure, if you’re like me sometimes, sulk your way there. In the end, nobody has better answers for what we do, where we go from here. As Peter said to Jesus:
“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life!” (John 6:68)
Loving, passionate Father God calls us back to Him time and again. Brother Yun expressed this well in the book The Heavenly Man. Brother Yun – our brother in Christ – believed that God allowed him to be imprisoned, away from his beloved wife and family, for becoming too full of himself, his ministry and family.
Though I struggle to come to Yun’s own conclusion, this is what it was: passionate, loving – even jealous – God wanted time with him. He writes on page 69 of The Heavenly Man:
The Lord saw that I needed a rest, and He arranged it in a way that only He could. I was arrested in the nation of Myanmar, beaten and sentenced to seven years in prison because of my disobedience to the Holy Spirit. In prison, the Lord showed me that my life was getting out of control and I needed to slow down. This was the second time He allowed me to have a holiday in prison while I learned to renew my relationship with the Lord Jesus.
Upon realising God’s loving gaze is upon us, his arms outstretched, it’s little wonder that the enemy slithers in, snatching God’s lover away just like he did at the very beginning. Satan made eating the apple sound virtuous. God was not present, but the apple was: juicy, full of wonderful knowledge and in plain sight.
Satan offered tempting relief and glory to Jesus in the wilderness. Being the thief that he is, he snatched God’s simple, loving provision – like the supernatural ability he gave Jesus to withstand hunger – to tempt us with something else.
Why do we postpone the joy we can have in simple living, fun and life in what Father God has put before us to do or experience today? Satan’s sugary lie is dangled in front of our mind’s eye, that there’s something wonderful for us if we just sacrifice a bit more (hear that word – sacrifice?). If we just work a bit harder, believe a bit better, we’ll be blessed with what we hope for.
No! Our hope is in Jesus!
Paul writes to the Corinthians on this very topic:
“I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. For I promised you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. I am afraid, however, that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may be led astray from your simple and pure devotion to Christ.…” (2 Corinthians 11:1-3)
I don’t share this word today intending a rebuke or to scare anyone, but because I’m hearing that phrase “I am a jealous God” and wonder – what is He saying to me? What is he saying to us?
God forbid that I should quench what the Holy Spirit says to you today as you spend time with Him.
Let me finish by reminding you of the hope we have in Jesus.
Worldly jealousy or zealotry is always directed at a future goal. At getting even, at gaining what the other person (or others) have. At creating ‘a better world’, at stopping misery or some other bad thing happening, at seizing power to make things ‘’right’.
By contrast, God has forced his holy jealousy backwards in history. It is concluded in the past. The heat of God’s jealous flames can not penetrate that old, rugged cross. Not the cross, of course, but the transaction that occurred through it. The death and resurrection of Christ is the only place where God’s reaction to His jealousy can be extinguished. Through Christ, we can be reconciled with God, and thankfully it is instant. For lost and saved alike, we have immediate access – you don’t even need to look at your smartphone! There’s no App! As Father God’s sons and daughters, princes and princesses, we can have an immediate conversation with Father God, an “I’m sorry”, a prayerful request for his Spirit to show where we have enthroned idols, embraced passions or justified desires that are not of Him.
Even in the midst of pain, grief, loneliness or brokenness, His gentle Spirit will give us relief from our burdens – if not a way to bear them.
Let go of everything – try it even for a moment. Let go of the anxiety, the desire to control, the frustration, the agony … you name it, drop it! Be squeezed in the strongest, longest hug from a passionate, loving God that you’ve felt in a long time. If you realise you haven’t got the strength to do it on your own any more, ask Him to carry you. Oh, Daddy God loves carrying you!
Fix your eyes on Jesus. Cast your cares on him. As you ride those big shoulders, leave that other stuff back there. Don’t even think about whether those things were good things or bad things. Oh – that snake still be there when you go down again? It’s still a swamp down there? You’ve got a big God right there ready to pick you up the next time it gets too hard. Jesus will instruct you in the Way. The Spirit will illuminate your next step. For now, just enjoy the ride. Whisper your questions in His ear or, better still, tell him how much your pain hurts. Be still and feel His love.
When you’re ready to try your legs again, I’m sure you’ll walk forward a lot lighter.