In God’s second “Love Letter” to His people as recorded in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:3-17), He says, “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments” (Exodus 20:4-6).
When we read this directive, we may be tempted to presume we don’t have to be immersed in its application. After all, how many people actually bow down to a graven image in our contemporary society? Yet, beyond our worship posture, God is admonishing us that if we’re going to love Him, we are not to worship or deify anything or anybody other than Him. Hence, a graven image is not limited to a figure, likeness, or illustrative icon—it could be money, a house, car, or desired possession.
This love letter also contains God’s clear statement that He’s a “jealous God.” When reading this, however, it is important to understand that the divine application of jealousy is far different than human comprehension of the same. Remember, God says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways” (Isaiah 55:8).
When we think of jealousy, we often think of it in a negative sense as an individual who cannot tolerate the thought of someone else having something they don’t have. Such jealousy is rooted in envy, a self-absorbed loathing of someone because you want what he or she has. Nevertheless, there’s a distinction between jealousy and envy. Jealousy can be good or bad depending on the object of the jealousy, and the reason for the jealousy. Envy, which is nearly always bad, is a feeling of displeasure over the blessings someone else is enjoying. Jealousy makes us want what others are enjoying, while envy makes us want to deprive them of that enjoyment.
God, however, is not envious of us. He wants us to experience the joys of life! (See Psalm 16:11). So when the Bible says, “God is a jealous God,” the correct interpretation of this is that God is “fiercely protective” of us. There’s a big difference between being jealous of someone, and being jealous for someone. God is not jealous of us, but rather He’s jealous for us. True love is never jealous of someone you love, but it’s always jealous for the person you love!
In this “Love Letter,” God is saying, “I’m jealous for you! I don’t want you worshipping, or bowing down to anything or anyone else. I’m a jealous God!” In other words, God is not jealous or envious of us, but God has a holy zeal for us.
What a blessed assurance to know that God loves us so much that He’s intensely protective of us! Why? He’s our Creator! We are His creation! (See Genesis 1:1, 26.) He’s our Shepherd! (See Psalm 23:1.) We are His people! The sheep of His pasture! (See Psalm 100:3) And one day soon, God will redeem His creation, His people, from this earth! (See John 14:1-3; 1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17.)