You shall not make for yourself a carved image … you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God. (Ex. 20:4-5)
Because God wants us to know Him, the Scriptures describe Him in ways we can understand. Yet many have found it hard to accept Him as a jealous God. Some have even used this as an excuse for leaving their Christian upbringing, believing it represents a flaw in God’s character.
The difficulty lies partly in the fact that we often use the words “jealousy” and “envy” in similar ways. In some aspects they are indeed alike. The Hebrew and Greek words are often translated interchangeably; and both terms are listed among the works of the flesh in Galatians 5:20–21, where the King James word “emulations” is the same word as jealousy. One distinction in meaning, explained by Greek scholar W. E. Vine, is that jealousy wants the advantages of others for itself, while envy doesn’t want others to have advantages at all.
But there is another important distinction about jealousy: It is always wicked when it has a selfish motive, but it is honorable when it desires something righteous. We should never be jealous of others, but it is good to be jealous for others. A husband should not be jealous of his wife, but he should be jealous for her so that others don’t taint her honor. Paul was jealous over the Corinthians with godly jealousy because he wanted them to be devoted to Christ rather than deceived by the tempter (2 Cor. 11:2-3).
God is never described as being jealous of His people, but He surely is jealous for us. He does not want us to be claimed by another, for He has espoused us unto Himself and zealously desires our spiritual purity. The truth is that we can be very thankful that God is jealous! It means He will never stop caring about us.