If Jealousy Is A Sin, How Can God Be Jealous?
One recurring objection that non-Christians keep bringing up is the issue of God's jealousy. The Bible clearly teaches that jealousy is a sin. Galatians 5:26 says, “Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.”. The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, "For you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?" (1 Corinthians 3:3). In fact, the tenth of The Ten Commandments is "You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor." (Exodus 20:17). So, The Bible is clear that coveting or being jealous of someone is a sin.
However, The Bible also tells us that God is jealous. When God was giving The Ten Commandments to Moses, He said to him "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image—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," (Exodus 20:2-5).
Yet we are also told that God is sinless. For example, Deuteronomy 32:4 says "He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he." We're told that "God is love" (1 John 4:8, 1 John 4:16) and that love "does not envy" (1 Corinthians 13:4).
This appears to lead us to conclude that either The Bible contradicts itself and is therefore not inerrant, or else that God is a sinner. What are we to make of this? Does The Bible contradict itself? Is God a sinner?
Those who make this argument are committing the fallacy of equivocation. The skeptic is equivocating on the word "jealousy".
There are 2 different kinds of jealousy:
(1) jealousy for something that doesn't belong to you,
(2) jealousy for something that is rightfully yours.
Number 1 is a sin. Number 2 isn't. The first kind of jealousy occurs in instances like, for example, if your neighbor obtained a brand new sports car. You look at your old jalopy of an automobile and then glance back at your neighbor's shiny new car. You begin to resent your neighbor because he has something that you want, but can't have. This is sinful. This is the kind of jealousy that the tenth commandment says not to have (Exodus 20:17), and that love does not display (1 Corinthians 13:4).
The second kind of jealousy occurs when a man sees another man moving in on his wife, or if he sees his wife making love to another man. He's jealous. He wants something the other man has, but what the other man has rightly belongs to him. Likewise, God got jealous when the Israelites would worship idols. Worship is something that is rightfully His. God is the greatest conceivable being, and as such, only He is rightfully deserving of worship.
Speaking of which, The Bible actually characterizes God’s relationship with people as like that of a husband and wife. The Christian church is called the bride of Christ (see passages like Ephesians 5:25-27, Revelation 19:7-9). Given this, it’s understandable why God was so angry with the Israelites whenever they would go to worship statues. Imagine if you came home and found your wife making love to another man. Or imagine this; that not only is she making love to another man, but this man isn’t even real! She’s making love to a mannequin instead! And instead of spending time with you, she spends all her time with this mannequin and never pays you any attention at all! That’s analogous to God’s situation with the Israelites’ idolatry. God's jealousy makes as much sense as a man's jealousy when his wife is having an affair.
Moreover, The Bible says “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” (Revelation 4:11). Not only is God worthy of worship because He is the greatest conceivable being, but this verse in Revelation seems to suggest that another reason why God is a worthy object of worship is because it is only because of Him that everything and everyone exists. The reason you're alive is because God chose to create you. He created you, and He created you for the purpose of a relationship with Him (Colossians 1:16), which The Bible says is an "everlasting joy beyond all comparison" (2 Corinthians 4:16), in a place that is better to spend one day than one thousand anywhere else (Psalm 84:10). This should lead you to a sense of gratitude. This should lead you to fall on your knees and praise Him!
No other being is responsible for creation (Nehemiah 9:6, Isaiah 44:24), therefore, no other being is worthy of worship. Therefore, worship is something that rightly belongs to God alone, and when we give worship to any other, we deprive God of something that is rightfully His. Therefore, He has every right to be jealous. For "The Earth is The Lord's and everything in it." (Psalm 24:1).