A Jealous God

Correctly understanding these terms leads to a better
understanding of the character of God and the Gospel.

A jealous God (as we understand jealousy) implies a need or desire in God that He cannot fulfill. In many verses that emotion in God is connected to idolatry:

“For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God:” (Exo 34:14)

Traditional Legal Model:  God wants to be worshipped as the supreme being and therefore commands us to worship Him only. Worship of anything or anyone else makes Him jealous of that competition for worship.

Biblical Healing Model: When someone is bowing before an idol, God is not jealous of the idol in the sense that He feels the loss of something the idol is receiving instead of Him getting it. His jealousy, His concern is for the one bowing and looking to another source for what he needs when only God can provide it.

Can you imagine God being jealous of a rock? That doesn’t make sense.

“For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills. I know all the fowls of the mountains: and the wild beasts of the field are mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell thee: for the world is mine, and the fulness thereof.” (Psa 50:10-12)

This comment reflects the common but totally wrong understanding of God’s jealousy:

“… that the one Only God … should claim and exact under severe penalties an undivided allegiance is natural, reasonable, and in harmony with the most exalted conceptions of the Divine essence.” (Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers, comment on Exo 34:14)

If God cannot fulfill His desire for us to follow Him and His ways of our own free will without using some kind of force or threats of force then He cannot be a God of love.


Jealous (adjective)
1. feeling resentment against someone because of that person’s rivalry, success, or advantages (often followed by of): (dictionary.com)
6. Bible. intolerant of unfaithfulness or rivalry: The Lord is a jealous God.

What do “unfaithfulness” and “rivalry” suggest? What does “intolerant” suggest?

Webster (1828)

Jealous (adjective)
1. Suspicious; apprehensive of rivalship; uneasy through fear that another has withdrawn or may withdraw from one the affections of a person he loves, or enjoy some good which he desires to obtain; followed by of, and applied both to the object of love and to the rival. We say, a young man is jealous of the woman he loves, or jealous of his rival.
4. Solicitous to defend the honor of; concerned for the character of.
I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts. 1 Kings 19:10.
5. Suspiciously vigilant; anxiously careful and concerned for.
I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy. 2 Corinthians 11:2.

Webster’s definitions are much closer to the Biblical meaning of the word when applied to God. This is an example of how word meanings have changed from the early 19th century and the reason that this glossary examines Webster’s 1828 dictionary.

This verse suggests that the form of jealousy God feels is different than what man experiences:

“For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.” (2 Cor 11:2)

The context shows that Paul’s concern was for the Corinthians rather than for himself as in Webster’s fifth point above.

A Jealous God According to the Bible

What does the Bible say? Is He a jealous God? Here are verses showing that God’s jealousy is (commonly in Scripture) connected to men falling into idolatry.

“For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God:” (Exo 34:14)

“Take heed unto yourselves, lest ye forget the covenant of the LORD your God, which he made with you, and make you a graven image, or the likeness of any thing, which the LORD thy God hath forbidden thee. For the LORD thy God is a consuming fire, even a jealous God.” (Deut 4:23-24)

“Thou shalt have no other gods before me. 4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: 5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;” (Exo 20:3-5)

The word “am” in verse five is supplied. The verse could actually have the meaning that God becomes a jealous God. “Become” in the sense of appearing to be or to act in a certain way in the perception of others because, of course, God does not change.

People tend to perceive God according to their own understanding of His character (which is often colored by their own character).

“And the sight of the glory of the LORD was like devouring fire on the top of the mount in the eyes of the children of Israel.” (Exo 24:17)

Their reaction was fear yet Moses was not at all afraid. Read the next verse:

“And Moses went into the midst of the cloud, and gat him up into the mount: and Moses was in the mount forty days and forty nights.” (Exo 24:18)

Why did the children of Israel have that perception? It had everything to do with their understanding of the true God in particular and gods in general – that they were to be feared and appeased.

Here is a verse speaking of perception:

“But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.” (Gen 6:8)

The grace was always there. Noah found or experienced what was already freely offered. God always offers grace and mercy:

“O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever.” (1 Chron 16:34)

This verse speaks of people perceiving God according to their own characters:

“With the merciful thou wilt shew thyself merciful; with an upright man thou wilt shew thyself upright; With the pure thou wilt shew thyself pure; and with the froward thou wilt shew thyself froward.” (Psa 18:25-26)

A Jealous God Reacts to Idolatry

What does God do in reaction to idolatry which is the free-will choice to follow another god? Exodus 20:5 says that He visits the iniquity (allows the consequences) or honors the free will choice.

idolatry jealousy visiting the iniquity
people going   after other gods God’s concern for the welfare of His people who are not following Him, the only source of life God honoring the free will choices of His people allowing them to receive the results they have chosen

See the definition of visit for more on this meaning.

God’s jealous reaction is also described as involving anger:

“Thou shalt fear the LORD thy God, and serve him, and shalt swear by his name. Ye shall not go after other gods, of the gods of the people which are round about you; (For the LORD thy God is a jealous God among you) lest the anger of the LORD thy God be kindled against thee, and destroy thee from off the face of the earth.” (Deut 6:13-15)

There are often multiple words that need to be correctly understood to get the right meaning. God, in anger (see definition),  accommodates man’s decisions or allows the natural consequences (the law of sowing and reaping) to play out.

“Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” (Gal 6:7)

But in doing that, He is often allowing mankind to suffer negative consequences and His jealousy is for our condition.

Here is another passage linking God’s jealousy to idolatry:

“Take heed unto yourselves, lest ye forget the covenant of the LORD your God, which he made with you, and make you a graven image, or the likeness of any thing, which the LORD thy God hath forbidden thee. For the LORD thy God is a consuming fire, even a jealous God.” (Deut 4:23-24)

This page has a good explanation of the Biblical meaning of “consuming fire.”  It is not what you think.

The Jealous God Hides His Face

Another reaction of God connected to His jealousy in cases of idolatry is to hide His face:

“They provoked him to jealousy with strange gods, with abominations provoked they him to anger. They sacrificed unto devils, not to God; to gods whom they knew not, to new gods that came newly up, whom your fathers feared not. Of the Rock that begat thee thou art unmindful, and hast forgotten God that formed thee. And when the LORD saw it, he abhorred them, because of the provoking of his sons, and of his daughters. And he said, I will hide my face from them, I will see what their end shall be: for they are a very froward generation, children in whom is no faith.” (Deut 32:16-20)

See more on the meaning of hiding the face.

God’s jealousy does not include any resentment, bad feelings towards others or concern for self. His jealousy is more an expression of sorrow that the object of His love is hurting self by turning away from God which can only result in hurt or loss as God is the only source of life.

See a video of a group study on the Biblical meaning of jealousy.

Return to the Character of God and the Gospel Glossary Index

Share this with your friends!