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JEALOUSY (קִנְאָה, H7863, ardour, zeal, jealousy; ζη̂λος, G2419, zeal, jealousy; ἔρις, G2251, strife, wrangling, contention; ἐριθία, ambition, self-seeking, rivalry). The concept is plainly present in several places where the precise term is not used. Both the Heb. and Gr. words refer to the intensity of emotion involved, with the Heb. esp. stressing the rising of color in the face. In each case it seems to indicate an ardor or zeal for something believed to belong properly to one.

Proper, or Godly jealousy.

Jealousy is used of both a favorable or appropriate variety of this ardor, and of an improper form of it. When it is concern for God’s honor and glory, whether by God or by man, it is proper and good. Thus, God is several times described as jealous for His honor, His holy name. He desires fervently that His due status and honor be preserved, that the worship that belongs to Him should be given to Him. The analogy frequently used is a husband’s concern for the love of his wife. This is an expression of the holiness of God, which cannot endure any unfaithfulness. Just as a husband cannot be indulgent of adultery on the part of his wife, so no infidelity is endured by God.

It was this exclusiveness of concern that underlay the strong emphasis upon monotheistic worship among the Jews. Because Yahweh is the only true God, He alone is deserving of man’s worship and devotion. It motivated the prohibition of intermarriage with the heathen nations around Israel, lest they should depart from the exclusive worship of the one true God. An OT example of God’s jealousy is found in Exodus 32, where God was angered by the Israelites’ worshiping the golden calf. Herod was struck dead because he did not disavow the attribution of deity to himself (Acts 12:21-23).

Similarly, this exclusiveness is reflected in the teachings of Jesus: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no man comes to the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). “He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me” (Matt 10:37). To determine that a potential follower really was giving to Him his supremacy, Jesus would put such a person to a test, as when He asked the rich young man to sell all that he had, and come and follow Him. Because Jesus, like the Father, is the only true God, and because He is the only mediator, He could rightfully exercise this jealousy.

God also is jealous for His people. He identifies with them and watches over them (Zech 2:8; Matt 6:28-33).

The concern for God’s due is also found in man. Elijah spoke of his jealousy for the Lord of Hosts in connection with the contest with Baal, on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 19:14). He had arranged a demonstration to prove that Yahweh alone was God. A similar motivation, but under different circumstances, was shown by Paul and Barnabas when the men of Lystra tried to worship them as gods (Acts 14:8-18).

Improper jealousy.

Another meaning or application of the word and concept of jealousy is negative in its effect and is strongly condemned by God. It is excessive concern for one’s own self, and what one fancies or desires should be his. It may also involve resentment of the good fortune of another. It is an inordinate self-centeredness or possessiveness. It may mean an unreasonable demanding of another person, such as a mate, more than is one’s rightful due—requiring total and sole attention, for example.

Biblical examples of this type of jealousy abound, although they are not always labeled as such. The brothers of Joseph resented the special favor shown by Jacob, symbolized by a conspicuous coat (Gen 37:34). King Saul, hearing the people chant “Saul has slain his thousands and David his ten thousands” (1 Sam 18:6-9), burned with jealousy. In the NT, the older brother complained of the injustice of the prodigal son being given a celebration, when he had never been extended a similar privilege (Luke 15:25-30).

Jealousy, involving an improper inward feeling toward another person, is sin in itself, because Jesus said that thoughts and attitudes constitute sin, even without overt acts (Matt 5:21-31). Jealousy is often the motive for sinful actions. Joseph’s brothers planned to murder him, and ultimately sold him into slavery. Saul tried to kill David by hurling his spear at him. The older son refused to participate in the celebration over the return of the younger.

It is not surprising that jealousy is so prevalent in man. Natural man is self-centered, and resists anything that subtracts from his own pleasure or aggrandizement. Because of his finiteness he is also insecure, and is therefore threatened by anything competitive with him. The antidote to jealousy is perfect love. Because love is not self-seeking (1 Cor 13:5), it does not go beyond its rightful claims. This love, the Scripture teaches, is of divine origin and consequently must come from above. It is only the progressive remaking of the nature of man that can overcome man’s tendency toward jealousy.

Distinction between the two.

A problem arises when these two varieties of jealousy are compared. If jealousy of the second type is wrong for man, then is not jealousy of the first type also wrong for God? Is not God guilty of the very thing that He condemns in man, namely self-centered concern for His own rights?

Part of the solution lies in recognizing that the description of God as jealous is an anthropomorphism, and, consequently, jealousy in God is not identical with jealousy in man. God ought not to be pictured as seething with anger over injustices done to him. His jealousy does not originate in insecurity or anxiety.

However, one distinction between the proper and improper varieties of this ardor also lies in the object of that zeal. Because the latter kind is concern for the welfare and status of a finite object of value, man, it is unjustified. Because God is the highest object, however, everything is rightfully His, and zeal that this be carried out is in order. Indeed, it would be wrong for God not to enforce His rights. Man’s concern for his own possessions and honor would be right only if he were God, for then they would be rightfully his.


G. F. Oehler, Theology of the Old Testament (n.d.), 114, 115; S. Charnocke, Discourses upon the Existence and Attributes of God (1860), 713, 714; J. S. Banks, “Jealousy,” HDB (1899), II, 553, 554; J. Denney, “Jealousy,” HDCG (1906), I, 847, 848; E. J. Forrester, “Jealousy,” ISBE (1952), II, 1572; R. V. G. Tasker, “Jealousy,” NBD (1962), 601.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

Doubtless, the root idea of both the Greek and the Hob translated "jealousy" is "warmth," "heat." Both are used in a good and a bad sense--to represent right and wrong passion.

The "law of jealousy" is given in Nu 5:11-31. It provided that, when a man suspected his wife of conjugal infidelity, an offering should be brought to the priest, and the question of her guilt or innocence should be subjected to a test there carefully prescribed. The test was intended to be an appeal to God to decide the question at issue.

See Adultery; SACRIFICE.