God is referred to in Scripture as jealous, and jealousy is referred to in Scripture as sin. The second commandment explicitly says that God is a jealous God (Exodus 20:4–5; cf. 34:14); yet, in Galatians Paul condemns jealousy in the same breath as idolatry (Galatians 5:19–20). How can this be?
First, there is such a thing as sanctified jealousy. As such, jealousy is the proper response of a husband or wife whose trust has been violated through infidelity. Indeed, when an exclusive covenant relationship is dishonored, sanctified jealousy is the passionate zeal that fights to restore that holy union. The jealousy of God for his holy name and for the exclusive worship of his people as such is sanctified.
Furthermore, as there is sanctified jealousy, so too there is sinful jealousy. In this sense jealousy is painfully coveting another’s advantages. Accordingly, the apostle Paul lists jealousy as an act of the sinful nature. Says Paul, “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissentions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like” (Galatians 5:19–21, emphasis added).
Finally, as God personifies sanctified jealousy, so those who reflect his character must be zealous for the things of God. The Bible is replete with heroes such as Elijah (1 Kings 19:10, 14), David (Psalm 69:9), and Paul (2 Corinthians 11:2) whose jealousy for God’s glory motivated self–sacrifice and radical reform. The quintessential example, however, is found in the incarnate Christ who exercised the epitome of sanctified jealousy by overturning the tables of the moneychangers in the temple––a symbolic gesture condemning the Jewish leaders of his day for dishonoring God through their contemptible religiosity (Matthew 21:12–13; John 2:17; cf. Jeremiah 7:9–15).
For further study, see J. I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1982): 151–58.
“I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy.
I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I
might present you as a pure virgin to him.”
2 Corinthians 11:2