Praise God for his jealousy?

“He is jealous for me
Loves like a hurricane, and I am a tree
Bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy”

– “How He Loves” by David Crowder Band

Have you been accused of jealousy? Or accused someone else of it?

Is jealousy a good or bad trait?

In humans, I think of it negatively. But we’re to praise it in God?

The Bible is full with statements about God’s jealousy (including Numbers 25:11, Joshua 24:19, Zephaniah 1:18, Psalm 78:58). J. I. Packer hits it hard in chapter 17, “The Jealous God,” of Knowing God.

“How can jealousy be a virtue in God when it is a vice in men? God’s perfections are matter for praise; but how can we praise God for being jealous?”

Here’s how we praise God for his jealousy, according to Packer.

1. Statements about God’s jealousy are anthropomorphisms.

It’s language in terms of men, for our own understanding. But these anthropomorphisms aren’t limited by men.

“The human qualities which show the corrupting effect of sin have no counterpart in God. . . . God’s jealousy is not a compound of frustration, envy, and spite, as human jealousy so often is, but appears instead as a (literally) praiseworthy zeal to preserve something supremely precious.”

2.  There are two kinds of jealousy among men, but only one is bad.

We’re familiar with the bad kind, hating someone for having something we want.

But Packer suggests there is a good jealousy—“zeal to protect a love-relationship, or to avenge it when broken.” He says that the jealousy we feel in a husband-wife relationship brings a “proper zeal to keep it intact.”

He says this is the kind of jealousy that God has for his people, a covenant love. It carries with it “a demand for unqualified love and loyalty.”

Spiritual adultery on our part provokes jealousy on God’s part.

Packer concludes that this jealousy drives us to be more zealous for God.

  • We respond to God’s love for us by loving him in return.
  • His concern for us leads to our concern for him.
  • His jealousy for us provokes us to keep him as our one thing, too.


* * *

What do you think about God being jealous? Please share in the comments.

This is Week 9 of reading Knowing God together with Tim Challies.


Previous chapters:

Next week:

  • Chapter 19 and 20, “Sons of God” and “Thou Our Guide”

16 thoughts on “Praise God for his jealousy?

  1. Trudy

    Oh Lisa. I really love this definition of God’s jealousy for us as being “praiseworthy zeal to preserve something supremely precious.” It’s so comforting. Thank you.

  2. Pingback: » Praise God for his jealousy?

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I know, Linda—that song moves me every single time I hear it and sing it. Every time. We sang it a couple Saturdays ago at Outdoor Church, and to see the homeless and poor listening, absorbing, was perhaps the most moved I’ve ever felt with the song yet.

  3. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

    I never really though about this one; but then, I’m not a big one for thinking too hard.

    Jealousy is such a charged word in today’s world, and I prefer to think of God’s feeling of ‘possessiveness’ toward us as something else – lolayty upward, and loyalty downward.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Oh, “loyalty.” Now that’s a word I can swallow easier than “jealousy.” I appreciate you sharing that, Andrew. I get stuck on our own meanings of jealousy and it trips me up, thinking of God like that. But I hear no double-meanings in my mind with loyalty.

  4. Wayne Davies

    Thanks for another good summary! I just read this chapter today, and I’m so thankful for J.I. Packer and what he’s done in this book to explain the biblical meaning of so many wonderful words. “Jealousy” is like “wrath” and “anger” and “fear” — these words have more than one usage, both righteous and unrighteous. Such is the wonder of words!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yes, it’s so much about the words. I do have to remember that even more time has passed since Packer wrote the book, but nonetheless these “biblical” words are often redefined as time goes by. Yet Packer takes us back to original meanings. I agree with you, Wayne–such is the wonder of words!

  5. floyd

    Well said! God’s jealously is in perfect love for a creation that He granted free will. The type of gift that makes lots of folks believe they are gods. That’s the same jealousy that sent His only Son in sacrifice and love for the precious souls He created. We could use more of that type of “jealousy” in this world!

  6. Barbara H.

    I wanted to wait until I was finished reading these chapters and commenting on them before I read here, lest I inadvertently incorporate some of your thoughts into my own. But it looks like we came out in the same place here. I like Anita’s comment about God’s jealousy being protective.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I do the same thing—try to get my own thoughts together before I read what others think. But after I finished, I was ready to read your thoughts to get your take, especially on chapter 18. Whew. That chapter was a little tougher to read, but rich indeed.

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