“You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God...” —Exodus 20:4-5 (emphasis added)
"Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God." —Galatians 5:19-21 (emphasis added)
Looking at these verses, we may ask ourselves, "If jealousy is such a bad thing, why is it OK for God to be jealous? Why are WE not allowed to be jealous, but God apparently is?" Well, the way the word "jealous" is used in Exodus 20:5 is actually quite different than the way it's used in Galatians 5:20—one is righteous and the other is sinful.
Our go-to understanding of jealousy is being envious or covetous of someone who possesses something we don't have ourselves. Maybe they have the latest iPhone while we're still pocketing a first-generation Android. Maybe they get perfect grades while we struggle to attain a C-average. Maybe they have parents who give them total freedom and no boundaries while our own parents are strict about everything. We find ourselves wanting what they have.
To be jealous in those situations is a sin because we want or desire something that isn't ours. Those things belong to that other person and their life. We are to be content with our own possessions, our own giftedness, our own family (Hebrews 13:5). If we wish to improve upon our possessions, giftedness, or family situation, then we can work towards that, but we are not to envy or be jealous of the life or situation of another person.
Also see: What does the Bible say about jealousy?
Examining that verse from Exodus again, we find that God is jealous when we give to someone else something that rightly belongs to HIM—that is, our worship and reverence. To bow down and worship anything or anyone other than God is called idolatry, and God is right to be jealous of His sons and daughters giving worship to an idol god when they should worship Him alone.
To use a human example of righteous jealousy, let's say a wife sees another woman flirting with her husband. The wife may get jealous, and that would be perfectly appropriate. Why? Because the right to flirt with her husband is hers alone; it's something God has given to her as a right in marriage to her husband.
God is righteously jealous when worship, praise, and honor are given to idols—idols that have no rights to our adoration.
"Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength!
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
bring an offering and come before him!
Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness;
tremble before him, all the earth;
yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved.
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice,
and let them say among the nations, 'The Lord reigns!'" —1 Chronicles 16:28-31
Our worship, reverence, and service—they all belong to God. And when we give those things to something or someone else, then God is rightly jealous because those things belong to Him and no one else (Luke 4:8; Psalm 29:2; John 4:23).
Sinful jealousy is being envious of someone who possesses something we don't have ourselves. This kind of jealousy is a sin because we want or desire something that isn't ours. God is righteously jealous when we give worship, praise, and honor to idols—idols that have no rights to our adoration. Our worship, reverence, and service all belong to God alone, and He is right to be jealous if we give it away to someone or something other than Him.
Cat is the web producer and editor of 412teens.org. She loves audiobooks, feeding the people she cares about, and using Christmas lights to illuminate a room. When Catiana is not writing, cooking, or drawing, she enjoys spending time with her two teenage kids, five socially-awkward cats, and her amazing friend-amily.