Day 5: God is Jealous

Read: John 3:35–36 (cf. Exodus 34:13–15)

I remember my days in middle school with a shudder. I found consolation during those socially awkward and insecure days in my brother’s friendship. But one summer even that was taken away. When a mutual friend became a love interest for us both things turned into a real messy daytime TV drama. She liked my brother the most and whenever they were together you could just feel the weirdness in the air. Looking back, their relationship was fairly innocent, but at the time I was furious! At first, I was jealous out of envy for my brother, but then the more I learned about this girl, the more I realized she was serious trouble. I tried to warn my brother, but he wouldn’t listen. It was then I learned a new definition of the word “jealous”, as I became jealous for my brother—a jealousy born out of a love and protective concern for him. When they finally broke up, it really devastated my brother, but by then I was ready to console him, and he was ready to admit he was wrong for not listening.   

In Exodus 34:13–15 we hear the famous saying from the mouth of God, “you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God”. This is clearly the language of a lover scorned, but I don’t think it’s always as simple as that. Many people recoil from calling God “jealous” because jealousy is another word for envy or covetousness, and God cannot have sinful qualities. But in Exodus, it goes so far as to refer to God’s name as Jealous! What’s going on here? 

While the quality of a scorned lover is incredibly important as a biblical motif, we cannot then follow the metaphor to the point of calling God envious. God does not envy the pride, fear, and lust you put in His place—He sees them as worthless and, like we explored in our last devotional, He sees you as being of infinite worth.

Jesus is jealous for mankind, the same way I was jealous for my brother. I saw the road he was going down and knew it would lead to a ruined and dead relationship with this girl that would wound him. So, I did what I could to convince him to believe me and turn away from her. For several months our relationship as brothers felt dead. I felt like my brother had become a completely different person, and it got lonely at times. It’s not a perfect metaphor, but God also longs to have us at His side, far from the road leading to death. 

In this linchpin phrase in John 3:36, we see a zoomed-out picture of the whole human situation. “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” The situation is desperate, and Jesus is offering mankind the last lifeboat. The dark and corrupted world we’ve fallen in love with is doomed for wrath, like a luxurious ocean liner bound for the bottom of the sea. We’re sick and dying and in need of a heart-transplant, and Jesus is our donor. Eternal life isn’t a ticket to heaven, it’s a way of life that begins now and will never end—adopting us into the ancient family line of the children of God. This is what God is jealous for, to have His people be whole again, gathered together with Himself in a family that will never drift apart. 

It’s one thing to read about God’s great love, it’s another thing to know it for yourself. My prettiest and cleverest metaphors cannot suffice to teach you God’s great love—it’s something that must be experienced. Do you want to see and feel the love of God? Then take some time to think of things which you value over God. These are the things you are scared to death of losing. They can even be good things—gifts from God—but if they take His place they will harm your relationship with Him. Take some time to pray in a private place. Acknowledge to God the good things He has given you and, with open hands, commit them back to Him. Spiritual exercises like these train our hearts to value God first, to trust Him with our lives, and consequently to love Him completely.

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