The fact that God calls himself a jealous God in the Bible is one angle from which some unbelievers like to attack the Bible, thinking this somehow justifies their rejection of the one true God. However, this argument is really disingenuous, when considering the context of scripture where he says he is jealous, or that jealousy can be justified or unjustified depending on the situation, and that those who pretend to have disdain over God being jealous turn around to justify the jealousy of colleagues, friends, family, and themselves in certain situations.
Context of God’s jealousy
12 Take heed to thyself, lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land whither thou goest, lest it be for a snare in the midst of thee: 13 But ye shall destroy their altars, break their images, and cut down their groves: 14 For thou shalt worship no other god: for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God: 15 Lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and they go a whoring after their gods, and do sacrifice unto their gods, and one call thee, and thou eat of his sacrifice; 16 And thou take of their daughters unto thy sons, and their daughters go a whoring after their gods, and make thy sons go a whoring after their gods. Exodus 34
20 But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils. 21 Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils. 22 Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? are we stronger than he? 23 All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not. 1 Corinthians 10
When God is jealous in scripture, it is always in the context of his being jealous against false religion, false doctrines, and false gods. The overall context is that God created the earth for man. He blessed mankind with the ability to live, work, and acquire things to survive as well as to enjoy life, including luxuries. He also blessed mankind with the way out of having to pay eternally for their evil. He does all kinds of good things for mankind’s benefit. So all he expects in return is the praise he deserves for all he does, has done, and will do.
Therefore, when someone goes and gives praise and worship to a god, a concept, a philosophy, or some other thing that can’t even come close to doing all that Jehovah has done, then his jealousy is justified.
Contexts in which we justify human jealousy
Unbelievers really aren’t in a position to disdain God’s jealousy. In fact, we justify human jealousy on a regular basis. For instance, let’s say that on your job you are known for your punctuality, honesty, and helpful contributions to the company you work for. You have a co-worker in your department who hasn’t been there as long as you, has a tendency to goof off, and barely makes any kind of contribution to the company.
When the annual bonus comes, you discover that your co-worker gets a bigger bonus than you and they did half the work you did. So you become jealous and angry. If anyone knows the context of your situation, they would not look down on your jealousy and would probably tell you that you should be jealous because you were treated unfairly. You didn’t receive the praise you deserved for all your accomplishments.
Let’s use another example. Let’s say you are wealthy parents who provided all kinds of good things for your child throughout her childhood years, but didn’t spoil her. You taught her how to manage her generous allowance, gave her responsibilities around the house to teach her good etiquette and independence, helped her land her first job, taught her how to be a good employee, how to save her money for college, how to be a good student and stay on the honor roll, and how to respect authority.
Then during her college and young adult years, she gets a boyfriend and treats her boyfriend’s parents better than you and your spouse. She spends all family holidays with her boyfriend’s parents and praises them while she complains about all the stuff you and your spouse didn’t do for her. How would you feel? Wouldn’t you be hurt and jealous about it? If you told your close friends about your jealousy, they would excuse it because they know the context of all you did for your child. They would see your jealousy as justified.
If we can excuse faulty, imperfect humans for such jealousies, then there is no excuse for anyone to complain about God being jealous when he is without fault and is perfect in all his ways.
Yes, jealousy is wrong when we allow it to churn up hatred for people, when we hate to see others receive the good they deserve, or we let jealousy lead us into doing unjustifiable, self-serving harm to others, but this is not the jealousy God has. When God gets jealous, he deserves to be. So unbelievers should get over it.