Noah J. Greer Pastor Matt Round

Noah Greer & Pastor Matt Round

October 6th, 2022

Episode 2

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If jealousy is a sin, how can God be a jealous God?


Hello everyone, and welcome back to Grounded with Pastor Matt Round. This is episode two, and I am your host, Noah Greer. Today we are going to be answering the question if jealousy is a sin. How can God be a jealous God? In Exodus, Deuteronomy, and Joshua, God declares to his people that he is a jealous God. Here to shed some light on that question, is Pastor Matt Round.

Defining Jealousy

Thanks for asking. And thanks for setting this up and making sure that it does go on. Really appreciate all your work on that. Before I answer the question, let me ask you a question. What is jealousy? If we're going to talk about something like jealousy, we've got to define our terms and make sure we know at least that we're on the same page with what we're talking about. So if I were to say jealousy or being jealous, what does that mean?

"feeling or showing envy of someone or their achievements and advantages."
Oxford Dictionary

So would it be fair to say that in a really simple definition, that jealousy is wanting what someone else has? The coveting of something else. That's another good word for it. So jealousy is wanting what someone else has. And if God says that it is a sin to be jealous or envious in particular of what someone else has, and how can God be doing something that he deemed wrong?

God is Infallible

And I think at the core of the question, the first thing we have to settle is whether God can sin. If God can prohibit something, but then do something, then we say that would God be sinful in that? And if we're in the Old Testament, particularly in the law, Deuteronomy actually gives a really great description of God's character.

"The Rock! His work is perfect, For all His ways are just; A God of faithfulness and without injustice, Righteous and upright is He."
Deuteronomy 32:4; NASB

And by the way, I'm reading out of the New American Standard Bible, but across the translation it says very similar, very understandable words that God is perfect, that his character is not lacking in anything, that all his ways are just are right.

He is faithful, he is perfect. So we have this picture of God that He is without sin, that everything that He does is right. So if God is without sin, then how can he do something that wouldn't be sinful for us to do? And it's a great question, but really we have to look back at not only the context of a lot of those verses, and the context of why jealousy is and is a sin in the first place.

Envy and the Lack of Trust

Why is envy a sin? And if you have your Bibles, you can open it to Exodus 19: And in Exodus 19, God says some pretty remarkable things. He talks about choosing Israel out of all the nations. He talks about making them his special and set apart people, setting them up as a kingdom of priests. They were going to be in a particular covenant relationship with God that would set them apart as distinct from all the other nations.

And in the context of that, they're at the foot of Mount Sinai. God gives his people a set of laws, and it's in the context of those Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 that we get that at first. But before we read through the actual command there and where God says, I am a jealous God, let's go toward the end of the commands in Exodus 20.

"You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife or his male servant, or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor."
Exodus 20:17; NASB

So there God is clearly telling his people, don't be jealous, don't want what other people have. Why would that be a problem for God's people? Why would that be something that sinful in the first place? I mean, one might say it's a natural human response to want something better, to want better for ourselves. And if my neighbor has something better than isn't it natural to want what my neighbor has? How is it that God can say that something like that that's come so natural to us is wrong in the first place?

Well, in the first place, our flesh often wants what is wrong. The natural movement of our heart is not toward God, it's towards sin. It's just how the fall has impacted us. And that's probably another podcast in and of itself. But when we're talking about jealousy and envy, when we're talking about wanting someone else, what someone else has, what that reveals at its heart is a lack of faith, a lack of trust in who God is.

Let's think about it in the original context here. God is talking to his particular people, Israel, a people that he's brought out of slavery in Egypt, the people that he is going to set in their own land, in their own place, to be this light to the nations, this kingdom of priests. And he is in the process of giving them these unthinkable, unimaginable privileges as a nation for them to want something more, either as a nation or as individuals, essentially, he says that God has not done enough or God has not done what is right.

And envy and jealousy in our own lives are really a reflection of that same hard attitude for me to want what someone else has means one of two things either God has not given me enough. He hasn't given me what I need, and I need what someone else has in order to do whatever it is I think is necessary or God got it wrong when God was up there distributing resources.

And since we know that God owns all things that when God determined who got what, he simply got it wrong. And it doesn't take much advance thought to see that that's an attack on the character of God. So why is envy a problem? Why is envy sinful in the first place? Because it's an attack really on the character of God.

It's not so much: "Well, if I just had a nicer car". And so my problem isn't that I want nicer cars. The problem is, in my heart of hearts, I think that God got it wrong or that God is not giving me what I need, that if I was God, I would have done it better. That if I was God, I would have done something more favorable to me.

And so that's really the heart of it. So if we understand that, then we can see that envy and jealousy are definitely a problem wanting what someone else has that violates the character of God is clearly sinful. But then, how can God be a jealous God? Why would God want something that someone else has? And if you look through these references that you've provided here, it's consistently in the context of worship.

God Deserves Worship

God is a jealous God when it comes to the worship of his people. And you can see that right there in Exodus 20, that first reference that you mentioned:

"You shall not worship them or serve them. This is in the context of not making for yourself an idol in verse four says You should not worship them or serve them for I the Lord your God, I am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children on the third and fourth generations of those who hate me."
Exodus 20:5; NASB

God tells His people not to imitate the nations around them specifically when it comes to idolatry. Don't set up this foreign object of your worship because worship belongs to God. But across all of humanity we are made in the image of God and we are created to be worshipers of God and anything that we put in God's place as an idol, whether that's the carved image out of stone or wood or gold or whatever it may be that we think of an idol as or any attitude or affection or priority that I put on my heart, that takes God's place, that can be money, that can be advancement at work.

It can be a place on the sports team. It can be a particular guy or girl that you're interested in. It might be the marriage relationship that God has placed you in. For me to want anything more than I want. God places that thing in first place in my life and makes it an idol. And so God condemns idolatry.

But in that same context, he says, not only does he condemn idolatry, but that he is a jealous God, that he wants what is being given to that idol, and that particularly is worship. God demands, deserves and desires the worship of His people. In fact, He demands and deserves and requires the worship of all people. And we know that that will happen when he reigns again over the whole world.

But now again, and particularly in these contexts, when it comes to his people, God calls for their worship. It is improper and sinful for them to want anything more than they want God. It would actually be improper for God to tolerate their worship of anything else. It would be to their detriment for God to tolerate their worship of anything else.

God is the only one in all of creation because He stands outside of creation and above creation and is the one who brought all things into existence: God is the only one who actually deserves worship, who actually deserves our heart response to Him. He is the only one who could rightly be jealous or desire worship for himself in any other thing, in any other created thing.

This would be absolutely inappropriate. But for God to desire and demand worship is entirely appropriate because He's worthy of it. But back to this again. How can God say that he is a jealous God? And if you look at it again in the context of all of these places, God being jealous for his own worship is actually a blessing for His people as they respond obediently to this call to worship God, they are going to be tremendously blessed.

The next kind of reference to this is in Exodus 34, and if you flip over to Exodus 34, if you do again have your Bibles with us in Exodus 34:14, we read this in just the snippet:

"For you shall not worship any other God for the Lord whose name is jealous is a jealous God."
Exodus 34:14; NASB

If you were to open up the verses around that, what you would see is that God is renewing this covenant with His people. See, as Moses is up on the mountain receiving the law of the Lord. We know the incident of the Golden Calf that's happening down the mountain. Even as God is giving his law to his people, they are in the process of breaking that law, even as he is calling them not to pursue idols.

They actually form their own idols and they worship that. They say This is the God that brought us out of Egypt and they party whammo is this is up the hill and in this context, even with God saying that he is a jealous God, he is in the process of renewing His covenant with a faithless people. He desires their worship.

He calls for and demands their worship. And even when they fail to give it to them, give it to him. He stays faithful to what he promised to do to them. It's a remarkable picture of God's grace. God had every right under the covenant that He had made with them to wipe them out and to start over. But for his namesake, because of his perfect faithfulness, he's maintaining and renewing that covenant with them.

And if you look forward to these other references that we've mentioned, or if anyone, you know, takes the time to Google these references to a jealous God in the Bible, you find the same thing in Deuteronomy.

"For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God."
Deuteronomy 4:24; NASB

Well, who are we talking to when we come to the Book of Deuteronomy? We're not talking to that generation that was led out of Egypt. We're talking to their children, their sons and their daughters. That generation that God brought out of Egypt, we know, got right up to the border of the land and then refused to go in. They said it was too hard, that the people there were too big, the cities were too fortified.

They doubted God's faithfulness, they doubted God's provision. They trusted in themselves rather than God and the wonder in the wilderness for 40 years until they die. And you would think once again that God has every reason to turn his back on them and to start over with somebody else. But what we see is God renewing that covenant and maintaining faithfulness and bringing their children into the land.

They need to be reminded of these things. They need to be reminded that God is jealous for His worship, that God has the right to desire and demand the worship of his people. And that is an entirely appropriate response.

"You shall not worship them nor serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, inflicting the punishment of the fathers on the children, even on the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me"
Deuteronomy 5:9; NASB

It's this restatement of the Ten Commandments. And again, we read that and we see what God is really hard on these rules. And that is true. But this is in the context of him graciously renewing that covenant with another generation, with another group of people, that he is continuing that work to, a group of people that he promised to bring into the land that he is in the process of bringing into the land. And he is reminding them that they are going to be set in the midst of nations who have no desire or understanding of what right worship looks like.

And they are going to be constantly tempted to go and follow after the gods of these other nations. And it will be to their detriment, which we'll talk about in just a minute. But the idea that God would continue to remind them that with him as the center of their worship, things will go well for them as a nation is a gracious thing.

God renewing the covenant in the first place is a gracious thing. God calling for a right response and really the only logical response. If He created all things, how could anything else in creation deserve praise the way that he does? It's so much of this is centered on the goodness of God's character. You come to Deuteronomy 6 and we have another reference:

"for the Lord your God who is in the midst of you is a jealous God; so follow Him, or else the anger of the Lord your God will be kindled against you, and He will wipe you off the face of the earth."
Deuteronomy 6:15; NASB

This idea that to fail to give God the worship that He is due will result in a punishment for these people. And if we look again at the broader context here, this is that famous Shaimaa Passage, the hero Israel, the Lord, our God, the Lord is one. And the idea of these commandments being central to all that they are, whether they rise up or whether they sit down, whether they're home or away, that these commandments should be a part of everything that they do.

They're called to teach these things to their children rather than to pass off the sinful traits, the idolatrous responses, the sinful heart habits. Rather than pass those down to the next generation, they're to pass down a response of worship and obedience and a desire to serve and follow after God. And as that fails, there's consequences as a nation.

We know that this is a people that struggled deeply with their response to God. And if we were to go to Joshua 24 And of following this through now, the people are in the process of conquering the land. And this is a rather famous passage in Joshua 24. He stands before the people and asks who they will serve:

"Now, therefore, fear the Lord and serve Him in sincerity and truth; and do away with the gods which your fathers served beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. [...] The people answered and said, “Far be it from us that we would abandon the Lord to serve other gods;"
Joshua 24:14,16; NASB

That's where Joshua says, Choose this day whom you will serve. But as for me, in my house, we will serve the Lord, and the people respond. "We would never do that. We would never forsake the Lord. We would never serve other Gods." And in response to that, Joshua says something fascinating.

"Then Joshua said to the people, “You will not be able to serve the Lord, for He is a holy God. He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your wrongdoing or your sins."
Joshua 24:19, NASB

If you forsake the Lord and serve other gods, then He will turn and do harm to you and consume you. After he has done good to you. The idea that the people stand ready to possess the land and Joshua gives them the stern and severe warning that idolatry is not something God trifles with that because God is holy and because he deserves worship that he will expect that His people will respond rightly. And when they don't, that there will be consequences. And the people say, of course, will serve God like most of us do. And the moment, of course, I'll do what's right. Of course I would only do what God asks me to do. And we know that that doesn't last, that the people prove to be faithless that as time goes on, there are good kings, there are wicked kings.

The Outflow of God's Jealousy

But by and large, the response of the people is to turn away from God. They pursue the gods of the nations around them. They are at times faithful, but they are often faithless. And we know historically that there comes a time when God brings judgment on them. He brings the Assyrians in and they carry away the Northern Kingdom.

He brings the Babylonians in and they carry off the southern kingdom of Judah, and eventually God's people are removed from the land. And if you were to read through Leviticus 26, God gives the people before they even enter into the land, the series of blessings and curses, blessings for their obedience and curses for their disobedience. And in that chapter, he says that's exactly what would happen, that if you are faithless, if you turn from me, I will pour out my wrath against you.

And part of what this will include is being removed from the land like a remove the people before you. They were a pollution to the land. And if they if they, meaning Israel, are no different than they're no better than they too are a pollution to the land and God will remove them. And you see this happened to them through history.

And Psalm 79 is a lament over the destruction of Jerusalem. It's a prayer for help, but it's this song of sorrow. So as God is judging his people and in Psalm 79:5, the psalmist says:

"How long, Lord? Will You be angry forever?
Will Your jealousy burn like fire?"

Psalm 79:5, NASB


What led God to ultimately judge his people to the point that He removed them from the land? It was his jealousy, his desire for their worship. So how is it that God can say that it is okay for Him to be jealous? How can God desire what someone else has? Well, because when it comes to worship, he deserves it all. It it's not just the demands at all in some prideful sense. It's that to worship anything else makes no sense.

It's improper, and particularly for the people of God to worship something other than Yahweh, God who had called them into existence, the God who had brought them together as a people, the God who had put them in their land for them to pursue other gods was actually a disastrous thing for them, for God to remind them that He is a jealous God who demands their worship was a means of preserving them.

And when they forgot that when they pursued the gods of the nations, then they experienced his judgment. But even in that, and I want you to do this at some point this week, go back and you read Leviticus 26, and it lists all those blessings again for obedience, all those curses for disobedience. And at the end of that, it sounds very hopeless as God has judged His people and removes them from the land so that the land can have its Sabbaths rest with which they neglected, but even in that context of judgment, God says, if they turn, I'll hear them, he says.

Even when I drive them into the lands of these foreign countries, even when I oppress them under the yoke of foreign powers, I won't abandon them. And it's not because they deserve it. It's because he's faithful. So this jealous God that we serve isn't some petty get testicle. Being this jealous God that we serve is the right object of our devotion and worship.

And when He calls for the worship of his people, not only is it right and good, but it is for their benefit and for their blessing. So that's hopefully at least a start of an answer that leads you down some paths that you can do your own research on. But another great question that reminds us that God's character is good and perfect and that his will for his people is good.