Part Three - "Sunnyhill" Herne Bay Evangelical Free Church

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Ex 34:14
"you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God"

The Names of God – Part Three

Reading: Nahum 1:1-15.

We’re looking at some of the names by which the LORD God reveals his character and makes himself known to his people. This evening I want us to consider one further name and it is perhaps a somewhat surprising name. It is a name that you might prefer to pass over rather quickly.

Here it is: "Jealous" and it is found in Ex.34:14:

"the LORD whose name is Jealous"

This name might appear just the once in the Bible but we are told several times that the LORD is a jealous God. We are also told that jealousy is part of his very nature and his jealousy is a motivating force for certain of his actions.

If we are perhaps uncomfortable with thinking of the LORD as being in some way jealous we need to know that he is not at all uncomfortable with such a description. Indeed he glories in it. We have then no need to apologise for this truth for, rightly understood, it is one we too can glory in.

Now, of course, we need to be careful because most of the jealousy which we encounter is human jealousy and that is all tainted and corrupted, to a greater or lesser degree, by human sinfulness. When the Bible declares that God is a jealous God it is not at all saying that God abandons his uprightness for a time and acts in an unwholesome passionate rage.

However, we must be careful that we do not over-react and so sanitise this name, by which our God is happy to make himself known, that it no longer signifies anything at all.

So our task this evening in considering this name is to seek to understand what the Bible means when it describes the LORD as a jealous God.

If we turn to the dictionary for help then we must do so with discernment. The first online dictionary I referred to described what it means to be jealous in the following way:

"feeling or showing a resentful suspicion that one's partner is attracted to or involved with someone else."

Now this is hardly very helpful or positive and certainly not applicable to Almighty God.

Another dictionary gave me this meaning:

"upset and angry because someone that you love seems interested in another person:"

Both of these suggestions describe how people generally think of jealousy as something negative and selfish. A jealous person is usually thought of as being overly possessive or envious.

Because the word "jealous" is so commonly is a negative way some Bible translations try to avoid as much as possible using it when referring to God. So the Good News Bible translates our text as follows:

Ex.34:14 "Do not worship any other god, because I, the LORD, tolerate no rivals."

But this is not the only definition the dictionaries have to offer and the following alternative is much more helpful for understanding how the word may be used in a positive manner:

"extremely careful in protecting someone or something"

And with such a definition we are moving in the direction of another word that is closely related to it and that word is "zealous". In common parlance "zealous" has a much more positive ring. And yet the word "jealous" is really worth maintaining when we understand it positively because jealousy also speaks of love: we are jealous only of those we love.

The Importance of the LORD’s Jealousy Revealed in Context
One of the Hebrew words that means Jealous is used uniquely of the LORD God and it appears 6 times in 5 different verses. The context of these verses could hardly be more significant. Twice they appear in the Ten Commandments and the rest are closely associated to the Law that the LORD has given.

Indeed these references indicate that when we think about the LORD as a Jealous God we are in First and Second commandment territory – it could hardly be more important than that!

The Second Commandment refers explicitly to the jealousy of the LORD. This commandment is all about how abhorrent idol worship is the LORD. He is not prepared to receive worship if it is offered to idols which supposedly represent him:

Ex.20:5 (Deut.5:9 ) "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,"

Cf. Deut.4:23-24 "Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the LORD your God, which he made with you, and make a carved image, the form of anything that the LORD your God has forbidden you. For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God."

Other references have a clear link to the First Commandment which requires worship of the one true God and only him:

Ex.34:14 "for you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God"

Deut.6:14-15 "You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are around you, for the LORD your God in your midst is a jealous God, lest the anger of the LORD your God be kindled against you, and he destroy you from off the face of the earth."

In previous weeks we have noted that a name in the Bible is no mere label but corresponds to and represents some reality in the person so named. Here we find another example of this – he who is called "Jealous" is described as being jealous and acting according to his jealousy. His name and his nature are in harmony with each other.

The LORD’s Jealousy is expressed in different ways
1. The LORD is concerned for his own honour and glory

Ezek.39:25 "I will be jealous for my holy name."

When it comes to matters of worship the Lord is sensitive. God is called jealous, because he permits no rivalry which may detract from his own glory; he refuses to tolerate any rival or competitor and announces that he simply will not give his glory to any other so-called god.

Further, he carefully oversees the worship that is proffered and he will not allow the praise and the service that is due to him alone to be offered to graven images.

In short if you want to worship God aright you must worship God alone. And more than that, you must worship him according to the manner that God himself has determined.

Satan will try to get you to set God’s instructions aside and misdirect your worship – you should expect that, after all he tried to tempt Jesus at this point but failed when Jesus responded:

Mt.4:10 "Be gone, Satan! For it is written, "You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.""

Jesus would later teach:

Mt.6:24 "No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money."

In revealing himself in this way to be a jealous God the LORD sets him well apart from all the other nominal and fictitious gods. Those weak and puny gods of the heathen are content to coexist with many rivals or partners because they are insensible (just think about those pagan prophets whom Elijah opposed at the time of King Ahab; they served Asherah and various Baal(s) without any hint of tension between them 1Kings18:18-19).

When other gods are served and worshipped dishonour is done to the One True Living God. He resents it and is as jealous of worship being given to another, as a husband is of the honour of his marriage bed. The comparison is apt because Idolatry in any form is spiritual adultery."

Jealousy in men frequently involves a violent and excessive passion (cf. Prov.6:34), but in God it most often refers to his holy anger and to the just displeasure he experiences when the homage which is due to him alone is wrongly given to another. We must recognise that he has declared that he will not give his glory to another (Is.48:11) and that he will deal appropriately with all offenders.

Warnings and instructions are directed to his own people – they will be disciplined for failure. Look again at the stern warning contained in Deut.6:14-15,

"You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are around you, for the LORD your God in your midst is a jealous God, lest the anger of the LORD your God be kindled against you, and he destroy you from off the face of the earth."

It is one of the great blessings of the Bible for the people of God to know the presence of God in their lives but it is a privilege which carries an immense responsibility. Failure to keep themselves for this God alone will excite his anger – he warns them of the dangers of apostasy which a jealous God simply will not condone.

Failure on the part of his people to give him the thanks and praise that he so richly deserves is no small thing however much we might like to try to downplay it all. While we may blow hot and cold over our concern for God’s name he never changes, he is always unchangingly jealous for the honour and glory of his name.

So severe discipline is a serious possibility for God’s own people. It is not because he does not love them but precisely because he does!

Heb.12:6 "For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives." (Quoting from Prov.3.)

And this leads us on to consider the second major way in which the LORD expresses his jealousy. If he is jealous for the honour and glory of his own name he is also jealous for the people he has chosen, the people who are called by his name.

2. The LORD is concerned for the people he loves
The LORD’s jealousy for his people is a burning love for them that refuses to settle for anything other than the best for them.

At a certain moment of Israel’s history when they had yet to take possession of the Promised Land the people were greatly attracted to the Baal worship which was being practised by their neighbours. Such behaviour kindled the fierce anger of the LORD against Israel and a plague broke out causing the death of 24,000 of them. Phinehas intervened and it was an intervention that brought the plague to an end. The LORD commended Phinehas in a highly significant manner:

Nu.25:11 "Phinehas ... has turned back my wrath from the people of Israel, in that he was jealous with my jealousy among them, so that I did not consume the people of Israel in my jealousy."

Concerned for the honour of the LORD and the well-being of his people Phinehas acted and the people were saved – but we must notice that he was "jealous with the LORD’s jealousy", he was zealous with the LORD’s own zeal.

God wants the best for his people. Not only is he concerned about the honour of his name but he is described as being jealous for Jerusalem, Zion, his land and his people. Calvin put it like this:

"the jealousy of God is nothing else but the vehemence and ardour of his paternal love."

In his jealousy for the land the LORD has pity upon his people. He loves them so much that he cannot bear for them to be led astray by another exercising rivals claims upon them. Such is his jealous, his strong love, for his people that the LORD will not accept the oppression of his friends while their enemies flourish.

Listen to the way in which the prophet Nahum expressed all this:

Nah.1:2 "The LORD is a jealous and avenging God; the LORD is avenging and wrathful; the LORD takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies."

Did you notice the threefold repetition of the name YHWH, the LORD? This is the God who is, the Unchangeable One and the repetition of this name serves to underline his utter determination to intervene to punish his adversaries. God’s displeasure is hot against his enemies, who are also the enemies of his people. But his love is fervent for his people and he is jealous for their good:

Zech.1:14 "So the angel who talked with me said to me, ‘Cry out, Thus says the LORD of hosts: I am exceedingly jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion."

And again:

Zech.8:2  "Thus says the LORD of hosts: I am jealous for Zion with great jealousy, and I am jealous for her with great wrath."

And so the enemies of God’s people who desire and maybe even for a time succeed in leading them astray are warned and the warning is that of a faithful lover or husband. Our God is not indifferent – he does not look on in some disinterested fashion, he is passionately committed to his people, he is jealous for them.

What does the NT have to say?
While the NT does not have much to say explicitly about the jealousy of God we are nevertheless told of the zealous passion of our Lord Jesus Christ. Do you remember how he reacted at the temple when he saw the way in which his contemporaries had turned it from a house of prayer into a common market place? He chased the sellers and vendors out along with their merchandise. When his disciples reflected on what he had done this was what they came up up with:

Jn.2:17 "His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for your house will consume me."

Elsewhere in the NT the word that is translated here as zeal is translated "divine jealousy".

Jesus carries on the same passionate concern for the honour and glory of God – indeed in all he said and did he was quick to attribute what he said and did to what heard from his Father or saw his Father do.

In his letter to the Christians in Corinth the apostle Paul warned them about the dangers of idolatry and the dangers of trying to hedge their bets as it were and to divide their allegiance between God and demons. It is of interest to us because of the terms in which he couched his warning:

1Cor.10:22 "Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?"

Well, let us too heed that warning knowing that our Lord is indeed a jealous God and should we provoke him there will be consequences.

But at the same time let us rejoice that God is Jealous – he is a strong loving God who loves his own honour and glory and who so strongly loves his people that rather than abandon them to a usurping rival he sent his own son to redeem us!

Praise his name!


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