Can God Be Jealous? But the God of the Bible Is!

Posted: January 5, 2013 in Bible, Dictionary meaning, Envy, Jealous God, Jealousy, Reading in Context., Semantics, The Bible

Proverbs 6:34 (KJV) proclaims, “For jealousy is the rage of a man: therefore he will not spare in the day of vengeance”, and in the same book (27:4: KJV), it has been said, Wrath is cruel, and anger is outrageous; but who is able to stand before envy?” Yet, in seven places in the Bible, in flagrant and singular contradistinction to what it has been put down as an heinous evil tendency, viz., jealousy, God has been described as a “jealous God”:

  1. Exodus 20:5 (KJV): …I, the Lord thy God am a jealous God.”
  2. Deuteronomy 6:15 (KJV): For the Lord thy God is a jealous God among you.”
  3. Exodus 34:14 (KJV): for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God
  4. Deuteronomy 4:24 (KJV): For the Lord thy God is a consuming fire, even a jealous God…”
  5. Deuteronomy 5:9 (KJV): “…for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God…” 
  6. Zephaniah 3:8 (KJV): “Therefore wait ye upon me, saith the LORD, until the day that I rise up to the prey: for my determination [is] to gather the nations, that I may assemble the kingdoms, to pour upon them mine indignation, [even] all my fierce anger: for all the earth shall be devoured with the fire of my jealousy.” 
  7. Ezekiel 36:6 (KJV): “…Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I have spoken in my jealousy and in my fury, because ye have borne the shame of the heathen”   

If you, on the other hand, were to compare the above with what Galatians 5:19-21 (KJV) says (“Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness… Envyings… and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God”), you would be left to wonder how come one of the cardinal sins that disqualify one from acquiring a place in heaven is but a characteristic of God.

To add to this, in Song of Solomon 8:6 (KJV), “jealousy” has been condemned (“jealousy [is] cruel as the grave”). James 3:16-18 (KJV) warns, “For where envying and strife [is], there [is] confusion and every evil work.” Even the Bhagavad Gita, for that matter, pronounces that only one “who is freed from joy, envy, fear and anxiety…is dear to (Him).”[Gita 12:15]: A jealous person is not only unqualified but is also disqualified from procuring His grace.

“Jealousy” is relegated to the lower rungs of baser human feelings; yet, the Almighty of the bible is a “jealous God“.

There is no double standard. There is no divine hypocrisy. And, there is, of course, no implication of divine impunity.

Actually, it is only an issue of semantics. If you were to look up “jealous” in any standard English dictionary, you will notice that among the many meanings of the word, one of them would be “vigilant in guarding something” (= vigilant in guarding a possession, for instance) or “intolerant of disloyalty or infidelity”. When it is said in 1 Kings 19:10, “…I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts…”, the meaning is not that the person is disposed to suspect rivalry, or that the protagonist is distrustful.Rather, the import of “jealous” in the verse is “being solicitous or anxiously watchful”.

When “jealous” is used as an epithet to describe (the Bible) God’s character or reaction, it means but either of the two: that He was “being vigilant” or “intolerant of disloyalty”. It is in those constructions that the seven quotations that I have cited here can be seen. (See Exodus 34:14, for instance). This is very much unlike the meaning of “jealousy” in the following biblical verses:

Numbers 5:14 (KJV): “And the spirit of jealousy come upon him, and he be jealous of his wife, and she be defiled: or if the spirit of jealousy come upon him, and he be jealous of his wife, and she be not defiled”.

Genesis 26:14 (KJV): “For he had possession of flocks, and possession of herds, and great store of servants: and the Philistines envied him.”

When the noted literati, Shakespeare and Francis Bacon, used the same word in one of their works, they used it in the way that it has been carefully utlised in “Numbers 5:14” and “Genesis 26:14”:

“To both these sisters have I sworn my love: Each jealous of the other, as the stung Are of the adder.” [King Lear, Act 4, Sc. 1]

“It is one of the best bonds, both of chastity and obedience, in the wife, if she think her husband wise; which she will never do if she find him jealous.” [Chap. 8, Marriage and Single Life]

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