We tend to neglect the subject of God’s emotions, because our emotions are untrustworthy. However, His emotions are not like ours. The Bible tells us God’s emotions are trustworthy and they are what drive His activity in the earth. The truth is that most of us long to encounter the emotions of God because we are made to encounter His emotions. Logic and reason have their place, but emotions uniquely touch us and this is by design because we are emotional beings. When we neglect the study of God’s emotions we neglect a key part of His personality and who He is.
God’s emotions are part of who He is and when we do not study and encounter His emotions, something is lacking in our knowledge of God. The only emotion we tend to associate with God is love and we think of His love mostly in a gentle and sentimental way. Occasionally we think of His wrath mostly towards evil, but we virtually never explore the intensity of all His emotions. The Bible presents God as an intensely emotional being and yet we tend to think of Him as emotionally detached.
This is because the scar of the fall is still on us, so we tend to default to thinking about God in terms of distance and separation. This is because our relationship was broken at the fall and our soul lost its intimate communion with and knowledge of God. Sin created a context for separation and this separation has done tremendous damage to the human soul. We need the Holy Spirit to reveal the emotions of God to our heart so that we can begin to know Him as we were always intended to do (Romans 5:5). The reality is that God is filled with emotions. His emotions are full of life and fire. His emotions are not safe and they are not restrained. They are a deep part of who He is. Neglecting the study of His emotions is neglecting the knowledge of God. The more we know His emotions the more we know Him.
In Deuteronomy 4, God makes a staggering declaration of His nature and His character by describing Himself as a “jealous God” who is a consuming fire.
24For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God. (Deuteronomy 4:24 ESV)
In Exodus 34, God declares that “Jealous” is one of His names.
14for you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God (Exodus 34:14 ESV)
In the ancient world a name was a statement of character and by making this statement God is making a declaration of His character and His nature. He is bold stating that He can be described and defined by the word “jealous.” If we want to know God as He is, we need to know Him as the jealous God. What is so interesting about this declaration is that we do not usually think of God as “jealous.” We tend to think of jealousy as a negative emotion, but God plainly and boldly declares that this emotion describes who He is and how He relates to His people. God’s jealousy is perhaps one of the most neglected emotions of God. However, if God describes Himself as jealous we want to know what He means by that and why He describes Himself that way.
When we look at Exodus and Deuteronomy, we find that God’s jealousy is one of His primary emotions in terms of how He relates to His people. God’s jealousy is mentioned multiple times using strong language (Exodus 20:5; 34:14; Deuteronomy 4:24; 5:9; 6:15; 32:21). God is bold about His jealousy and the fact that it drives His relationship with His people. The statements about God’s jealous that we find in these two books are incredibly important for two reasons:
First, in these books we find the story of how God began to form a people for Himself. God set a plan into motion with Abraham in Genesis, but in a sense this is the beginning of His plan to gather a corporate people who will be His people in the earth. By declaring His emotions as He gathers His people, God is revealing to us how He is going to relate to His people. He will relate to them not just as a loving God but as a jealous God. There is something God wants us to understand about who He is and how He relates to us that is encapsulated in the word “jealous.” This did not only apply to Israel during the Exodus – it applies to God’s people throughout history.
Second, we do not typically think of God this way. The fact that God is so bold about His jealousy and that this emotion does not directly influence the way most of think about God tells us that we are disconnected from this part of who God is. This means there is something in our understanding both of who God is and what He will do that is lacking because we have not understood the nature of His jealousy and all that is implied in it.
To understand why God refers to Himself as jealous, it is important to understand the word jealousy. We tend to think of jealousy as a negative emotion because we frequently confuse it with envy. Jealousy is intensive desire for something that belongs to you, but is being threatened. Envy is desire for something that does not belong to you.
If someone tries to seduce a husband’s wife jealousy is the proper response for the husband because the wife belongs to her husband. His jealousy comes from the fact that she belongs to him. However, if a man has desire for someone else’s wife, that is envy. It is wrong because that woman does not belong to him. Jealousy is the fitting response when love is threatened. If someone tries to take a man’s wife away from him and he does not respond in jealousy then something is desperately wrong.
The intensity of love is what sets the context for jealousy because the two are directly connected. This is why when a man deeply loves his wife, he will explode with jealousy any time that relationship is threatened. Because God is love (1 John 4:8), He is jealous (Exodus 34:14). This is why Song of Songs describes the intensity of jealousy as the very flame of God.
6Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for love is strong as death, jealousy is fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the Lord. (Song of Solomon 8:6 ESV)
Solomon is clear – love and jealousy are as strong as death. Death is the strongest force we know because it is inescapable and true love and true jealousy have the same strength. These emotions are described as the very flame of God. Why? Because God is a burning demonstration of love and jealousy. Love and jealousy are intimately joined in His being. Because His love is true, His heart is filled with the fire of jealousy. We tend to only think of God’s love, but the strength of God’s love is demonstrated in His jealousy.
We are familiar with human expressions of jealousy, but we have not experienced or felt the full strength of God’s jealousy. It is far stronger than we can imagine. It is stronger than death. It is an expression of the intensity of His love. It is right. It is intensively positive.
The Emotions of a Jealous God
The deliverance of Israel from Egypt began a significant new chapter in the story of redemption. In the Exodus God began to gather a corporate people to Himself and begins to deal with them as a corporate people.
As God began to deal with His people, we find the story of redemption is the story of a jealous God in dramatic pursuit of what belongs to Him. To plainly state His claim, God begins to refer to Himself as the husband of His people and compare His relationship with His people to the relationship of a husband and wife.
In the book of Exodus we discover something happened in the heart of God when men fell in the garden. When the enemy came into the garden and deceived man it did something deep in God’s heart and emotions. Genesis 3:15 contains the first hint of God’s jealousy.
15I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15 ESV)
God warns the enemy that he is going to bring a man through the woman who will crush the enemy. This is the first hint of the jealousy of God. Man will experience discipline as a result of his sin, but God is going to take man back. The enemy however who lured man away from God is going to be crushed and destroyed. The jealous God is beginning to set His plan into motion. By the time the events of the Exodus unfold, God openly declares His jealousy.
Understanding that the story of redemption is the story of a jealous God helps us to understand a number of things about the story of redemption. God’s declaration of His jealousy is a statement of a number of things that are a priority to Him.
It is a statement of God’s ownership. Jealousy only exists when you a claim to someone. God plainly states His claim to man. Man belongs to Him and God refuses to share man with anyone else.
It is a statement of commitment. Not only does man belong to God, God is unwilling to let man go. The enemy deceived man, but that is not the end of the story. God is unwilling to let man walk away from Him. God is fully committed to forcing His ownership. God takes His covenant with man very seriously.
It is a statement of certainty. God’s jealousy is as strong as death. Man will not escape it. In some shape or form all humanity will experience the strength of divine jealousy. We have not yet felt the full force of His jealousy, but we will.
It is a prediction of how dramatic the plan of redemption will be. A jealousy husband is not driven by logic, he is driven by passion and emotion. When God describes His jealousy He is predicting that the plan of redemption will be dramatic. Jealousy husbands are not concerned about collateral damage; they are not “safe.” God will not hesitate to take any action necessary to recover what is His.
The Redemptive Story is Driven by God’s jealousy
We have to understand that the entire creation – the earth, the angels, and mankind are going to ultimately feel the intensity of God’s jealousy. The Bible tells us that the lake of fire was created of the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41). A lake of fire is one of the most incredible things that we can imagine. A place filled with fire the way lakes are filled water with fire flowing back and forth like water.
Such a place could only be the result of a divine husband with passionate emotions. Why would such a place be created for the devil and his angels? There is a dimension in which God has to express his passion against sin but there is also a dimension of God’s rage coming against the devil and his angels because they tried to take God’s creation from Him.
The Bible opens with the story of the devil moving among God’s creation trying to lure man away from God. The natural response of a jealous God to this kind of subversion is to throw such a being, and all his accomplices, into a lake of fire. It is shocking, but it is also completely reasonable in the context of jealousy. It is God’s passionate response to the enemies attempt to take God’s prize possession away from Him. Not only will the devil and his angels face the intensity of God’s jealousy, man will also ultimately face the full intensity of God’s jealousy. That jealousy takes on two distinct expressions.
The first is in the intensity of God’s pursuit of man. God refuses to let man go. He will save Israel. He will have His remnant out of every tribe and tongue. The second expression of God’s jealousy is ultimately found in the lake of fire. God will ultimately cast all the humans who resist Him into the lake of fire created for the devil and his angels. We tend to focus on the punitive aspect of the lake of fire, but again it is more than that. It is the passion of God fully expressed against human beings who ultimately resist Him.
This seems shocking to us, but it is perfectly logical.
Only when we realize that the plan of redemption is a plan to recover man’s calling can we fully understand hell.
They key to understanding hell is to understand that it was designed for the devil and his angels. This means it was designed for the creatures who tried to take man from God and destroy His perfect purpose for man. Yes, hell is a payment for sin, but it is far more than that. The lake of fire is the unrestrained display of God’s emotions against anything and anyone who hinders His purpose for man.
The wicked are cast into hell not just because they have sinned, but because they represent a threat to God’s recovery of man’s calling. In other words, humans that embrace wickedness are a constant threat to God’s purpose for man. They are aligned with the devil and the way they live represents a threat to God’s purposes for man. Because God’s passion is directed towards human beings, He is incredibly passionate against anyone, even a human being, that represents a threat to his plan for human beings.
In the lake of fire, the jealousy of God for His creation is fully expressed against anyone who threatens His creation by embracing darkness. God is very merciful as it relates to the forgiveness of sin. He stands ready to forgive sin. He has made atonement for sin with His own blood. However, He is driven by jealousy for what belongs to Him. Those who embrace sin – which ultimately means embracing that which takes man from God – will face the strength of His jealousy.
Again, punishment for sin is a component of God’s judgment, but we must see that hell is more than God’s emotions against individual sins – it is God’s passion for man which requires an intensity against everything that threatens man’s calling. God is very merciful as it relates to sin, but He responds passionately to everything and everyone who threatens His plan for creation.
Jealousy is what explains God’s activity with His people. God will take things away from you because He is jealousy. This is what Hosea predicts.
6Therefore I will hedge up her way with thorns, and I will build a wall against her, so that she cannot find her paths. 7She shall pursue her lovers but not overtake them, and she shall seek them but shall not find them. Then she shall say, ‘I will go and return to my first husband, for it was better for me then than now.’ (Hosea 2:6–7 ESV)
God does not hesitate to put walls of thorns around our path to that we cannot go in any direction other than towards Him. God will remove things we enjoy in order to move us towards Him. This is why believers who return to sin find that sin is no longer enjoyable in the way that it was before they were saved. Because God is jealous when you belong to Him He will make you miserable when you try to find fulfillment in anything other than Him.
God’s jealousy is what explains His long history with Israel. Though Israel has resisted Him throughout history, the Bible predicts that a day is coming when Israel is saved and returns to God as a nation (Jeremiah 31:34; Zechariah 12:10-14; Romans 11:26; Revelation 1:6). God refuses to let Israel go and He will not let the age end until Israel loves Him.
To understand the redemptive story, we have to understand that the expression of God’s jealousy grows in intensity over time. This is why the books in the Bible that describe the end of the age like Daniel and Revelation are so dramatic. The Exodus is a foreshadowing of how far God will go to secure what He wants. In the Exodus, God tells Pharaoh what He wants, but then challenges Pharaoh as Pharaoh resists. As God releases the plagues on Egypt they grow in intensity until they destroy the national economy and result in the mass death of the nation’s sons. God did not hesitate to destroy Egypt when Egypt refuses to give Him His people. This is picture and a warning both for the nations and for the devil himself.
The plan of redemption has taken thousands of years, but a point will come when God will decide to take what belongs to Him. Just as in the Exodus, He will not hesitate to destroy anything or anyone that seeks to keep what is His from Him. This is ultimately why the book of Revelation is so dramatic. Yes, there is the element of God’s judgments in the earth as a response to sin, but the underlying story is the jealous God destroying everything that seeks to prevent Him from having His people.
This jealousy is why Jesus expressed His desire to set fire to the earth. Yes, God has zeal for His righteous judgments and to respond to wickedness, but His longing for the day of judgment is also the longing of a jealous God destroying everything that has tried to take what belongs to Him.
49“I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! (Luke 12:49 ESV)
The neglect of the subject of Gods’ emotions is a bigger issue than we think. We tend to minimize the subject of emotions because our emotions are weak and frail and frequently untrustworthy. However, the same is not true of God’s emotions. His emotions are perfect and true. They are trustworthy. In fact, when you read the Bible you begin to see that God bases His decisions on His emotions.
When we neglect the study of God’s emotions we lose something significant because we are uniquely designed to respond to emotion in a way that we do not respond to logic. We respond to emotion because He is emotional and we are made in His image. This means that neglecting the study of His emotions actually robs us of the full knowledge of God.
Understanding God’s emotions gives us incredible strength. How many accusations and lies of the enemy do we listen to simply because we lack confidence in God’s emotions towards us? Knowing God’s emotions gives us incredible confidence before Him – confidence that does not come from mere understanding alone. We desperately need to know the fiery emotions of God.
God’s jealousy is one of His most significant emotions related to His redemptive plan. His jealousy is glorious news for His people and terrible news for His enemy. The Bible tells us about His jealousy and history records His jealous activity, but we have yet to see the full expression of God’s jealousy in the nations. The Bible tells us that the expression of God’s jealousy will intensify as history draws closer to the end of the age.
God will have what He wants. This may sound extreme, but God has already decreed it. He will not be denied. He is a jealous God. Everyone in creation will experience the strength of God’s jealousy in some measure as God’s plan advances in the earth. We are called to gives strength to God’s people and to warn God’s enemies with a simple warning – He is jealous; and He is coming.