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The Jealous Love of God in the Old Testament

From beginning to end, the Old Testament proclaims the great love of God for his people. Anyone who caricatures the God of the Old Testament as a God of wrath simply has not read the Old Testament carefully enough.

But at the same time, this is an understandable mistake. The Old Testament does speak much of the wrath of God; however, what many people don’t recognize is that the Old Testament tells us of a God who is a God of wrath because he is a God of love. Wrath and love are two sides of the same coin, not two polar opposites that cannot be reconciled.

The biblical word for this Love-Wrath is Jealousy, and the Old Testament speaks repeatedly about God’s jealous love for his people:

“…for I the LORD your God am a jealous God…” (Ex. 20:5)

“…for you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God…” (Ex. 34:14)

“For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” (Deut. 4:24)

“Thus says the LORD of hosts: I am exceedingly jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion.” (Zech. 1:14)

“Thus says the LORD of hosts: I am jealous for Zion with great jealousy, and I am jealous for her with great wrath.” (Zech. 8:2)

The God of the Old Testament loves his people as his bride, and because of his great love, he will move heaven and earth to defend, protect, and preserve her.

C. S. Lewis describes God’s jealous love vividly in The Problem of Pain:

You asked for a loving God: you have one. The great spirit you so lightly invoked, the “lord of terrible aspect,” is present: not a senile benevolence that drowsily wishes you to be happy in your own way, not the cold philanthropy of a conscientious magistrate, nor the care of a host who feels responsible for the comfort of his guests, but the consuming fire Himself, the Love that made the worlds, persistent as the artist’s love for his work and despotic as a man’s love for a dog, provident and venerable as a father’s love for a child, jealous, inexorable, exacting as love between the sexes. (The Problem of Pain, p. 39)

The Jealous Love of God in the New Testament

Now, when we come to the New Testament and begin to think of the love of God, we typically think primarily of God the Father, who so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.

Or, we think of God the Son, who loved his own to the end, dying in our place so that we might live through him.

In fact, the nature of the love of the Father and of the Son is very well developed in the New Testament. The Father loves us as his children. The Apostle John can scarcely contain his awe-filled wonder at the great love of God who made us his children:

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are!” (1 John 3:1)

While the love of the Son is portrayed in many ways, the most poignant image of the Son’s love is that he is our Bridegroom, and we are his Bride. Paul provides a particularly tender view of Christ’s love for his Bride:

25Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. (Eph. 5:25-27)

But we should not think that the New Testament portrays the love of God as any less jealous than the Old Testament, nor should we caricature the God of the New Testament as a God of love, contrasted against the God of wrath in the Old Testament.

In fact, the New Testament portrays the Jealous Wrath-Love of God infinitely more vividly than the Old Testament, for the New Testament tells us about the cross.

At the cross, the Father poured out his wrath upon his only, beloved Son because of his great, Jealous, Wrath-Love for us. At the cross, the Son loved us all the way to the end, giving up his life and enduring his Father’s furious anger for our sin because of his great, Jealous, Wrath-Love for us.

At the cross, the New Testament decisively proves God’s declaration in Exodus 34 that his very Name is Jealous. Only pure, raging, Wrath-Love Jealousy for his people could motivate the Father and the Son to go to such great extremes for us.

The Jealous Love of the Holy Spirit in James 4

James, however, reminds us of the deep, passionate, jealous love of the Holy Spirit in James 4:1-5:

1What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. 4You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us“? (James 4:1-5)

Although the quotation in verse 5 is a bit complicated in Greek, the essential message is clear: the Holy Spirit yearns jealously over his people, in whom he dwells.

Why does the jealous love of the Holy Spirit come into view in this passage? Because the people of God–those for whom the Father put his Son to death–were consumed with adulterous, self-centered worldliness.

The jealousy of God in the Old Testament was never more prominent than when God’s people pursued false gods. YHWH was provoked to jealousy by what he classified as nothing less than adultery, rebuking his Bride for going after other lovers.

Here in James 4, the other lover is worldliness, and the Holy Spirit is infuriated by this outright adultery. I have written before about how we might understand the Holy Spirit as the Treasurer of the Trinity, but James describes the Holy Spirit here as the Best Man of Christ.

The Holy Spirit knows that the Church is the Bride of Christ, and so the Holy Spirit is Jealous for Christ’s Bride. He hates the thought that the least impurity might come to the Bride of Christ, and so he yearns jealously over us when we pursue worldliness, with our passions waging war in our souls. More than anything the Holy Spirit desires to present a spotless Bride to Christ at the Wedding Supper of the Lamb.

This is the goal of the Holy Spirit:

6Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,

     For the Lord our God
        the Almighty reigns.
     7Let us rejoice and exult
        and give him the glory,
     for the marriage of the Lamb has come.
        and his Bride has made herself ready;
     8it was granted her to clothe herself
        with fine linen, bright and pure”–

for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. (Revelation 19:6-8)

By whom, we might ask, was it granted for the Bride to clothe herself with the bright and pure fine linen of righteous deeds?

By the Holy Spirit, who is jealous for the purity of Christ’s Bride.

Beloved of God, if the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit love us with a furious, exacting, jealous Wrath-Love, how can we continue in our worldliness? How can fight and quarrel and murder and greedily spend all of our money on our own passions?

Praise be to the God who loves us, and who despite all of our grievous spiritual adultery, nevertheless gives us more grace (James 4:6).

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