“Jealous for God”

But rather, you are to tear down their altars and smash their sacred pillars and cut down their Asherim — for you shall not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.

(Exodus 34:13-14)


When we think of jealousy, we generally think of it in a negative light. However there is a positive usage as well as seen here in Exodus 34. The Hebrew word for jealousy is akin to being zealous. Whether the term jealousy is applied negatively or positively depends on what one is zealous about. In Exodus 34, God is said to be so zealous for His people’s worship that He calls Himself “Jealous.”

James rebuked a group of Christians who were jealous for the wrong things, the things of this world, and asked them, “…do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God?” (4:4) He went on to summarize a teaching from the Old Testament in verse 5, “Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: “He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us?”” There is debate as to what “spirit” James is referencing. The NET translation understands “spirit” to be “the lustful capacity within people that produces a divided mind (1:8, 14) and inward conflicts regarding God (4:1-4). God has allowed it to be in man since the fall, and he provides his grace (v. 6) and the new birth through the gospel message (1:18-25) to counteract its evil effects.”

Other translators take the word “spirit” positively as the Holy Spirit. The sense then would be, “God yearns jealously for the Spirit he caused to live within us.” God has generously made His Spirit to dwell within us (1 Cor. 6:19; 2 Cor. 6:16) but He yearns for continued purity of the vessel housing His Spirit.


Either way the Bible consistently teaches that God is jealous for our sacrifice, our service, our love and our worship. The question is, are we as jealous for God as He is jealous for us?


Recall the story of Phinehas in Numbers 25. After the story of Balaam and Balak, when the Israelites were dwelling in Shittim, they became influenced by the Moabites and their idolatry. The Moabites invited God’s people to worship their gods and the Israelites agreed! They ate the food offered to their gods and bowed their heads in worship to them and the Scripture says, “So Israel joined themselves to Baal of Peor, and the LORD was angry against Israel” (Num. 25:3).


This was precisely the kind of thing God was trying to prevent in His people. Now His jealousy was stirred up and He instructed Moses to take drastic measures. All those who turned their back on God and went along with the Moabites to worship Baal of Peor were to be destroyed. As a consequence to this blatant idolatry God sent a plague among His people. Then, as God’s people were weeping at the doorway of the tent of meeting over this grievous sin and resultant plague, an Israelite named Zimri, boldly and in broad daylight, brought a Midianite woman into the camp of the Israelites for everyone to see.


This woman was of high rank (25:15) and her meeting with Zimri probably wasn’t coincidental. We get the impression that the women, the daughters of Moab and Midian, were used by their kings to entice the Israelites to serve their gods (Num. 31:16) and join them. This idolatry and the thousands of deaths by plague were all brought on by the foolish council and treacherous heart of Balaam (Num. 22).

So what were the Israelites to do when they saw Zimri bringing this idolatrous woman into their camp in the midst of all this turmoil?

Phinehas, jealous for His God, ran them both through with a spear, thus ending the plague! Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, has turned away My wrath from the sons of Israel in that he was jealous with My jealousy among them, so that I did not destroy the sons of Israel in My jealousy. Therefore say, ‘Behold, I give him My covenant of peace; and it shall be for him and his descendants after him, a covenant of perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the sins of Israel.’” (Num. 25:10-13)


God doesn’t call upon us today to chuck spears at anyone who brings sin into God’s camp. However He does call for us to be zealous in His service and jealous for Him. What can we take away from such a dramatic story?


The words of Jude 3-4 come to mind: “Beloved, while I was making every effort to write to you about our common salvation, I felt it necessary to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith once for all delivered to the saints. For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.”


Like Zimri, there are those today who would bring evil practices into God’s encampment, the Church. We are called to contend for the faith and notice when God’s grace is being perverted. Like Phinehas, we need to be jealous for God and see those who, like Zimri, “for pay have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam” (Jd. 11), who care only for themselves (Jd. 12) and would overturn the faith of others. Of course we do not contend with spears but with the only weapon approved and powerful enough to destroy error and slay wickedness in the hearts of men, “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph. 6:17). This sword must be handled rightly (2 Tim. 2:15) with gentleness, patience and respect (2 Tim. 4:2; 1 Pet. 3:15).


Are you jealous for God? Are you zealous for your own spiritual purity and the purity of Christ’s church? Then keep yourself in the love of God and snatch others from the fire (Jd. 21, 23).