Jealousy is used in the Scriptures in both a positive and a negative sense. When jealousy is used as an attribute of God, it is obviously used in a positive sense. Probably the most striking example of the anthropomorphic portrayal of God is in those passages where he is said to be jealous. The language is based upon the relationship of husband and wife and is frequently associated with Israel's unfaithfulness to God.
The Hebrew word qana [a"n'q] and its cognates are the most extensively used words for jealousy in the Old Testament. In Exodus 34:14 we learn that "the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God." In Deuteronomy 4:24, God is described as "a consuming fire, a jealous God, " giving the idea that he will judge because of his jealousy. In Joshua 24:19, Joshua challenges the people to serve the Lord but reminds them that serving God will be difficult because "He is a holy God; he isa jealous God." In Zechariah 1:14, when the Lord is asked why he allows Jerusalem to be down-trodden by the nations, he replies, "I am very jealous for Jerusalem and Zion." In verse 15, he continues to explain that while he intended to punish Israel for her sin, the nations have "added to the calamity." Because of his jealousy, God will restore Jerusalem to its rightful people and will build his temple there (v. 16).This concept is also brought out in context of the last days in joe 2:18: "the Lord will be jealous for his land and take pity on his people." The Hebrew noun is also used to describe a man's jealousy for his wife ( Num 5:14-30 ) and God's passionate anger against sin ( 1 Kings 14:22 ; Psalm 78:58 ). It is used in a negative sense in Proverbs 6:34, where a man is in a rage because of his jealousy. In Song of Solomon 8:6 jealousy is described as being as "unyielding as the grave." Ezekiel 8:3 describes an idol that was set up in the temple mount "that provokes to jealousy." This image, along with other idols, caused God to remove his shekinah glory from the temple.
The Greek word zelos [zh'lo"] and its verb form zeloo [zhlovw] are only used five times in the New Testament. In Romans 10:19, Israel is said to be provoked to jealousy by Gentile nations that receive divine blessings. The same use of the word is recorded in Romans 11:11 because "salvation has come to the Gentiles." In 2Corinthians 11:2, Paul declares his deep concern for the Corinthians when he says, "I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy."
The Corinthian Christians are said to be provoking God to jealousy because of the worship of idols ( 1Cor 10:22 ). This is followed by the question, "Are we stronger than he?"meaning "Can we afford to defy his power?" Therefore, to arouse the jealousy of God is a very dangerous action on our part. On the other hand, God's jealousy is based on his love and concern for us.
Alan N. Winkler
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
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[N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible
[E] indicates this entry was also found in Easton's Bible Dictionary
Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Jealousy'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".