What’s fascinating about studying the names and titles of God is the window it gives us into the depth and breadth of His emotions. And the Old Testament gives us the emotions of God in spades. Spades. It’s all there: anger, joy, compassion, love, irritation, patience, impatience, sorrow…
And jealousy. Jealousy is an emotion that is little understood, even less so when applied to God. We tend to use the term synonymously with envy, but really the two are not the same. To be envious is to want for myself something someone else has. To be jealous is to feel that someone I love and am committed to does not love me in return with the same intensity or commitment. The English poet Joseph Addison put it this way:
“Jealousy is that pain which a man feels from the apprehension that he is not equally beloved by the person whom he loves entirely.”
When God announced to His people Israel, “I am a jealous God,” it was in this context, the context of an all-consuming jealous love. He was communicating to them that He loved them fiercely, had given a blood oath of faithfulness to them, and would never forsake or betray them. He wanted that same love, to the degree that they could give it, from them. It was the first and greatest of the commandments: “Love the LORD your God with all your heart, soul, and strength.” It was to be deep, genuine, and steadfast. It was to be their North Star, guiding everything they did. And it was to be His alone, given to no others in the same way. He wanted their worship, yes. He wanted their obedience, certainly. But He wanted their hearts first and foremost and forever. Perhaps it was because they had His.
It’s no different today. He is the same as He ever was…as are we, ever struggling to give Him in return the love and commitment He pours out on us. We are easily distracted, allowing our precious attention and affection to go elsewhere. We wander from Him and so He pursues us all the more whispering in our ear:
Love Me first. Love Me more. Love Me most.
That’s all He’s ever wanted. And that’s all any one of us, His most beloved of all creation, truly wants.