Greg Laurie is the author of 12 inspirational books, which are available online.
Is God jealous?
We usually equate jealousy as a negative, and it usually is.
But there are times when jealousy can be good, especially when it comes to the Lord having it for us. Allow me to explain.
In a previous article, I listed God’s Top 10 list of all time, the Ten Commandments. Now let’s consider the second commandment on God’s list:
You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor 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 fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments. (Exodus 20:4-6)
According to God, making a carved image and bowing down to it is the No. 2 offense on His Top 10 List. Today most of us don’t carve images of God and bow down and serve them, do we? So why would God include this commandment so high on His list? The Israelites didn’t worship such images, did they?
Indeed they did. Remember the story of Moses and the golden calf? When he ascended Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments (Exodus 19:20), Moses left the Israelites for 40 days and 40 nights (Exodus 24:18). The people became fearful that he would not return to them and asked his brother Aaron to make gods for them (Exodus 32:1). Aaron yielded to the Israelites, gathered up their golden earrings and melted them down into the image of a golden calf. He then built an altar before the idol and the next day the Israelites made offerings and celebrated a “festival to the Lord.”
There were really two phases to their idolatry. The first phase was more subtle and less obvious, and the second was more blatant and radical. And as we’ll see, the second phase always grows out of the first.
The root of their open idolatry was the previous departure of their hearts from the Lord by leaning too much on the one who was God’s instrument: Moses! Moses himself was their first idol, and the golden calf was their second. The Israelites were essentially saying, “This faith of Moses is too high. We still want spirituality, but let’s just lower the standards a bit to something we can ‘see and touch,’ something that appeals to the senses. We don’t want to feel ‘guilty’ if we don’t do what God says, so we will just make up our own version of God.”
So, what’s wrong with that? Well, what if an airline pilot said, “I’m sick of all these charts and buttons and lights and worrying if we have enough fuel. Let’s just ‘go with the flow, man!” Or what if a surgeon said, “Who cares about this artery or that brain cell? Just give me a scalpel and I’ll figure it out as I go!” That’s ridiculous. But is it any more ridiculous when people try to give God “a 21st century makeover”?
You can say “My God would never do thus and so,” or “I don’t believe Jesus is the only way to God,” or “I don’t believe in judgment.” But by redefining God as “your God” you are really having another god before the only true God (John 17:3).
Notice also how the Israelites rationalized their idolatry by calling it a “festival to the Lord.” You may be out all night breaking the commandments of God but then you’ll say “grace” before a meal as if that will somehow “satisfy God” or make what you are doing acceptable to Him. What they were doing would be like saying, “Lord, bless this night as we get drunk and commit fornication.” God doesn’t like us bowing before images. Period.
Of course, it’s not easy to worship an invisible God. But Jesus said, “God is a spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24) You have people bowing before statues of saints, or of Jesus on a cross and saying it helps them to “relate to God” because it’s something they can see. Listen! A person who really knows God, who’s experienced the new birth and is living in fellowship with Him, does not need an image or representation to help him pray. If someone needs such a thing, they are showing that they lack in true spirituality.
This is not to say a painting or picture of Jesus is always wrong. It’s most likely inaccurate, but it’s not in and of itself wrong. But bit by bit, the image ceases to represent God and begins to take the place of God and becomes a violation of the second commandment.
The same is true of a statue or icon. You bow before it saying it “represents” God. But that looks a whole lot like “having a graven image.” We cannot create anything that will ever be a true representation of the living God, for it will give us a false idea of what God is really like. And if the image is false, the thought of God will likewise be false, and that produces a character that is false. Psalm 115:6 (speaking of idols) says, “They have ears, but they cannot hear; they have noses, but they cannot smell. … Those who make them become like them.”
A man becomes like the thing he worships. If he puts anything in the place of God, he ultimately becomes like it. After all, what is it to be a Christian? It is to be an imitator of Christ. Are you imitating Him today, trying to make Him No. 1 in your life, or are you allowing “other gods” to crowd Him out?
So, what does it mean when God says He is a “jealous God”? We think immediately of a jealous lover who is controlling and demanding, and flies into a rage without the slightest reason. But what God is revealing is far different than this. He was showing the Israelites that within His heart burns the jealousy of the loving parent who sees the possibilities and potential of His children, but is brokenhearted when those things are not realized or, worse, wasted.
This very word “jealousy” speaks of a mark of ownership. God is personal. He cares. He loves and He alone saves. This means that He is in charge of your life and not you. The Bible says, “You are not your own; you have been bought with a price.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) But we often forget that and carry on as though we can do whatever we please, justifying our behavior by appealing to our “gods.” This offends the true God because He loves you so much that He sent His Son to die in your place so that you can truly come alive and worship Him. He sees that you are allowing yourself to be robbed of life’s best – namely His love!
“Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” (1 John 5:21)