Written by Lauren McDermott


The Lord your God is jealous for you

With my dirty sandaled feet braced against the dashboard, I hugged my sides and wept. “Wept” is a strange word. It feels ancient; I think there’ve been few moments in my life that deserve the weight of it. But this was one.

In the driver’s seat sat a young man: black hair, sharp jaw, and a habit of pushing up the bridge of his glasses with a middle finger. He was tearing my life apart. Or rather, his broken human ‘love’ was.

Over many months, he had slowly isolated me. Turning my family and friends into people who were unfairly set against him. Subtly undermining my sense of normalcy, and trust in my ability to understand reality. So here I was, trying to break up with him. Again.

“Don’t do this to me,” he repeated in the empty air of the car, as though the only pain that mattered was his.

When we talk about Jealousy, these are the memories that come to mind. I think of my long year and a half at the end of college, and the echoing emotional and relational repercussions ever since.

In Exodus 20, we arrive on something special: God is gifting knowledge to his people. His identity, and the path of flourishing! The Creator of the universe is touching Earth, connecting relationally with his people with words that will echo through generations. And in this moment he chooses to define himself. How?

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. …for I the Lord your God am a jealous God…” (Exodus 20:2-3,5a)


But if God were like that young man, I could not also call him Just. Loving. Merciful. Compassionate. Holy. Sacrificial.

In fact, although we will use this word ‘jealous’ to describe both, the realities could not be more different. (Isn’t English funny?) As Creator, he is also the owner of all. He has a right to us. But what’s more, our God is jealous because he is relational – a God in covenant with a people he loves. What kind of love gives no care at all to its subject?

Glory to God and lucky for us: his love is not like our poor human examples of love. 1 Corinthians 13:5-7 makes this pretty clear when Paul declares:

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

Who else but our incredible God has ever fully embodied all these things? When it is founded in love such as this, jealousy becomes radically different from our petty self-interest. God’s jealousy is a catalyst for reconciliation, healing, and assurance that our Savior will never tire or give up on us.

The truth is beautiful. And it demands a response.

In the structure of our Exodus passage, God’s jealousy is intimately tied to our propensity for idolatry. We participate in idolatry whenever a created thing takes the priority (or lordship) in our lives above God himself. It’s the original human sin, and we’ve been running back to it ever since.

Adam and Eve idolized knowledge and power via fruit. Our idolatry may be harder to recognize, but it’s still alive and well: consider how many times a day you open that social media app. Check to make sure your phone is with you? Sacrifice time with God and his people to work late, at your job or on your homework? We can look into the rearview mirrors of our lives and identify it. But seeing its sneaking hold in the present can take work.

Idols falsely promise us ease and power, without sacrifice. That’s why we so easily give ourselves over to them. And when we do this, breaking our covenant relationship with our God, it arouses his jealousy. Rightly so. He made us, and he is the ultimate good. The only appropriate response is to let him be Lord.

Do this with me: draw a wheel out on paper. An old fashioned one, with a hub and spokes going from the center to the rim. This wheel is your life. Imagine the details of it. Now fill it out. What are the main pieces of your life? Write them on the spokes. Maybe hobbies, passions. What is at your center? What ties it all together? For a lot of us, it may be family, or work. That project, or dream. Observe the wheel of your life as it is. Be honest.

Now know this. The Lord your God is jealous for you. His place isn’t in a ‘religious box’ that you can take down from the shelf at your leisure, or one among many small spokes. He is the lover of your soul, your foundation, your hope.

What have you put in his place at the center? What would it cost you to remove it from the place of your God?

That young man wanted to have the center of my life, by gift or force. But it wasn’t his place or right to have. Unfortunately in his wake, there are many other things that will vie for that place. Personally, it’s often about pride in self, or the temporal things that make me feel safe. Those things don’t deserve the center either.

The only one who deserves the center is our glorious, crucified and risen Savior, Jesus Christ, God of the universe. God of you. Stay faithful. Give him all of you. And in his mercy, when we fail, his holy, sacrificial, jealous love will restore you back.

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Lauren is a campus missionary on staff with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. As a part of Reality Church Stockton for the past five years, she has served with the Music Ministry and in connecting college students to the local church. In her spare time, she enjoys challenging theological conversation, cats, and psychologically intense movies.