A Jealous God
It is good to remember, from the outset, that attributes applied to men are fundamentally transformed when they are applied to God.
You may call a man “holy,” and get a picture of a radiant presence, even a halo. You might imagine him self-possessed, patient and long-suffering, with a peaceful magnetism.
When we call God “holy,” we mean a furnace of holiness, a star going supernova, a light so bright it puts out your eyes. It is a blast unrelenting, rendering all else to dust and incinerating even the dust, so all that remains is the perfect purity of His Spirit.
One is the vessel, the other is the source. One is derived, the other is the original.
Holiness is a fitting introduction to jealousy. The holiness of God dictates that nothing else could exist, unless He permitted it to be so. And His holiness requires that there be very good reasons for anything else to exist.
What could those reasons be?
We advance: The Christian faith teaches that these reasons are rooted in God’s great love. The creation of the Universe, the creation of man, the endurance of sin, the suffering and redeeming work of the Savior – these are all effects of the cause, that God is a loving God.
Now when is it that a man becomes jealous? It is when he desires something very much, to the extent of claiming possession.
This should not be reduced to contractual ownership, the way I might own a car (which I might also desire very much). That is an economic relationship. We are discussing covenantal relationships, which include a spiritual dimension, something real but non-material.
You could not pay me enough to possess me as a husband, there is no material consideration great enough to earn you – from any man – the limitless gift-of-self required.
Likewise for he who is the bridegroom of the Church. Could you have paid Jesus Christ any consideration for his passion and death which would have adequately compensated him? What sum would represent an equal exchange?
It is absurd to ask. Likewise for the husband and wife. (This is truly why prostitution is regarded as sinful – it infinitely devalues a person’s worth, manifest in her body).
Now, that which is possessed – what if it is threatened, stolen, or seduced away?
We see this in Hosea, where the prophet is compelled to marry a prostitute, who subsequently commits adultery. Predictable, but no less painful.
God selects this as the metaphor for His relationship to Israel, and there is no compulsion except for His own will. He is compelled, in fact, by His love.
What does love have to do with it?
He made them. He conceived and created them from nothing. They were something much less and much more than a flight of fancy, so little did He require their existence and so much did He desire it.
And He saw His image in them, and said it was very good.
Then, over and over, Israel His bride was unfaithful to Him, worshipping other gods and disobeying his laws. Their desire to be fulfilled – which would find ultimate satisfaction in God alone – was gorged with vapid, vulgar imitations. They were seduced, deceived, and led astray.
There is a touching sequence in certain stories of a husband who goes astray, and finds himself in ruin until his wife comes to rescue him. She will often be forced to defy his “friends,” those who have participated in his downfall and desire for the party to continue. She rightly sees that what he wanted was not good for him, and she quite literally fights to protect him from it. There is sometimes a parental thread within the fabric of a marriage.
Likewise, Hosea loves Gomer for what she is, and it is not good for her to be a prostitute. When she reverts to that darker life, he goes after her. It is a cause for shame, it is humiliating and painful – but it is virtuous and true. Here in Hosea 3:3, we begin to see how love and jealousy lose their distinction:
“You must dwell as mine for many days. You shall not play the whore, or belong to another man; so will I also be to you.”
Which is this? Love? Jealousy? Love expressed as Jealousy?
Far from competing, this jealousy – jealous for the good of the other, jealous in protecting from evil – is the manifestation of love. If Hosea wasn’t jealous, we would have to wonder if he loved Gomer at all.
It is much harder, deeper, and sheerer with God. To be unfaithful to Him is to invite destruction into your life. To love Him in return is to embrace everlasting life.
If those are the stakes, no wonder God would be jealous for us. If He did not thunder from Heaven and flood the Earth and punish sins, we would have to wonder if He loved us at all.