God’s Jealousy for His Own Glory

Throughout the Bible, God is rightfully jealous when he is dishonored, as we can see in the reason God gives for the second commandment:

You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or 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 or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me. (Exodus 20:3–5)

God demands the fidelity of his people because he loves them, but ultimately because he is most glorified when they ascribe to him the honor that belongs to him alone. God achieves this goal of making himself known so that people will acknowledge, fear, worship, and obey him as the one and only Lord. Every key stage of salvation history points to this supreme aim. God’s covenant love and compassion are no less operational than his jealousy; he is jealous for the devotion of his people because he has the loving heart of a father, but ultimately because he desires to protect the honor of his name.1

God has a unique right to seek his own glory, a right none of us should seek to take for ourselves. Only God deserves absolute honor, worship, and glory, and he reacts with jealousy and anger when those he has created do not ascribe it to him, or when they desire it for themselves. God is righteous and therefore values above all else what is of ultimate value. He loves most what is most worthy of being loved, which is his own character, being, and perfections. Therefore, God’s jealousy for his glory does not conflict with his love. Indeed, his perfect justice and love necessitate his own self-exaltation.

We see the same jealousy for God’s glory in the ministry of Jesus. The portraits we often get of Jesus tend to be limited to his attributes that we find comforting, like his compassion and mercy. Jesus certainly is compassionate and merciful, and tells his followers to turn the other cheek and love their enemies (Matthew 5:39). But what do we make of Jesus flipping over tables in the temple (John 2:14–15)? That doesn’t seem to be the Jesus most hear about on Sunday morning! The godly jealousy of Jesus stands behind his righteous indignation as he drove out the money-changers with a whip. His disciples recognized this attitude as the same one that drove David. They recalled his words from Psalm 69 after Jesus cleansed the temple: “His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘zeal [zelos] for your house will consume me’” (John 2:17).

Jesus is often thought of as very different from the God of the Old Testament. But he spoke often of hell, and one of the last images we have of Jesus in the Bible is so terrifying that unrepentant people are crying out for rocks to fall on them rather than face “the wrath of the Lamb” (Revelation 6:16). Jesus is indeed gracious and loving, but his grace and love are ultimately driven by God’s glory. His jealous love caused him to hate sin and all that dishonors God so much that he gave his life to vanquish evil and idolatry once and for all.