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I Am Jealous - Jehovah-qanna

Updated on May 17, 2013
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David lives in the mid-west USA. He enjoys a wide variety of interests and hobbies, and is a home business entrepreneur.

Exodus 34:1-14

The LORD said to Moses, “Chisel out two stone tablets like the first ones, and I will write on them the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke. Be ready in the morning, and then come up on Mount Sinai. Present yourself to me there on top of the mountain. No one is to come with you or be seen anywhere on the mountain; not even the flocks and herds may graze in front of the mountain.” So Moses chiseled out two stone tablets like the first ones and went up Mount Sinai early in the morning, as the Lord had commanded him; and he carried the two stone tablets in his hands. Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation. Moses bowed to the ground at once and worshiped.“Lord,” he said, “if I have found favor in your eyes, then let the Lord go with us. Although this is a stiff-necked people, forgive our wickedness and our sin, and take us as your inheritance.Then the LORD said: “I am making a covenant with you. Before all your people I will do wonders never before done in any nation in all the world. The people you live among will see how awesome is the work that I, the Lord, will do for you. Obey what I command you today. I will drive out before you the Amorites, Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land where you are going, or they will be a snare among you. Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and cut down their Asherah poles. Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.


A census taker came to the house full of rambunctious little children. When asked about her children, the mother began to list all of the names of her large brood. But the census taker interrupted her saying, “Excuse me ma’am, I don’t need to know their names, just a number. To this, the frazzled mother exclaimed: “I’ll have you know that I love each and every one of my children. They each have names and I have never, ever considered giving them numbers!”

Names are important, and a name is something worth defending. We have been looking at names over the last few Hubs, that is, some of the names of God. In ancient times, a name was given or declared as a way of communicating or proclaiming something significant about that person. In the various Old Testament stories we have examined in the last five Hubs (as well as others we will look at later), we see a name of God given as a way of emphasizing something important about God. (from: 1001 More Humorous Illustrations For Public Speaking, by Michael Hodgin, p. 226)

Also, when we learn another name of God, we learn something about ourselves, and how we are to act as God’s people. More specifically, we have been looking at the compound names of God. A compound name of God is when God’s proper name is linked with some descriptive term. Over the last few Hubs, we have learned that God is known as the mighty Creator, our Provider, our Healer, our Banner, and in the last Hub, we looked at how God is our Sanctifier (i.e., the One who makes us holy). In this Hub, we see the name of God as Jehovah-qanna, meaning: Jehovah (is) Jealous.

Jealousy - Positive Or Negative?

Perhaps you’re like me that when you hear about God being jealous, you find it rather shocking. Jealousy is a sinful emotion, right? How can God, who is holy and righteous and without sin, be jealous?

Jealousy, that’s what William Shakespeare described in his play Othello as “the green-eyed monster.” Jealousy has overtones of selfishness, suspicion and distrust, and it implies a hideous resentment or hostility toward other people because they enjoy some advantage that you do not have. Jealousy is possessive, demanding, and overbearing. Jealousy stifles freedom and individuality, it degrades and demeans, it breeds tension and discord, it destroys friendships and marriages. It’s no wonder that we view jealousy as a horrible, ugly trait and see it as part of the lower side of the human experience. How can jealousy have anything to do with God who is above all of those repulsive character traits?

To answer this important question, we need to explore the meaning of the word jealous so that we can understand how it is possible for God to be jealous and how we should live our lives. Before we do that, however, we need to take a look at the passage in Exodus 34 to see why God takes jealous as a name.

The Covenant Reaffirmed

Our Scripture reading in Exodus 34 comes after a little bit of narrative after God gave Moses the Law on Mt. Sinai. You might recall that in the Last Hub (“Who Are You?”) that we looked at the compound name of God as the One who makes us holy. This name was revealed at the conclusion of the recitation of the Law.

After Moses was given the Law, he went down from the mountain and found that the people had fallen into the sin of idolatry. The two chapters between Exodus 31 and 34 tell the sad tale of how the people became impatient for Moses to return and made a golden calf to represent God. As a result of their sin, God punished the people. The people then repented, and Moses was called again up to the mountain, the Law was re-established and the covenant between God and God’s people was reaffirmed. A brief outline of Exodus 34 can go like this:

-v. 10 – “I am making a covenant with you…”

-v. 11a – “Obey what I command you today.”

-vv. 11b-13 – avoid the worship practices of the people you come in contact with; don’t make treaties with them, break down their altars, etc.

This is when another one of God’s compound names is revealed:

-v. 14 – “Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.”

It’s not readily obvious with our English translation, but the compound name of God is revealed here. The Hebrew reads differently than how our translated version appears literally: ‘Do not worship any other god, for Jehovah qanna is His name, a jealous God is He.’ The name of God revealed in this passage is given within the sequence of God revealing the Law for God’s people. The sequence goes like this: God giving the Law -> God’s people rebelling from God’s way -> God reacting in anger at the people’s apostasy -> the people repenting -> God reaffirming the covenant between God and God’s people.

The emphasis here is strong in how the people should act as God’s people:

-Jehovah is the only real God.

-Do not worship other gods.

-Jehovah is jealous for the people’s attention that is rightfully Jehovah’s.

In fact God claims the attribute of being jealous as an actual name, saying in effect ‘I am Jealous.’

How Is God Jealous?

How God acts out God’s divine jealousy plays out primarily in two ways:

1) God is jealous for God’s Holy name. When God told Moses that His name was Jealous, it was an expression of the epitome and essence of who God is. When God spoke of God’s own self as jealous, this was not just a passing mood, it was the revelation that God’s name is holy and worthy of honor and praise. God is the greatest being there is, infinitely holy and glorious, therefore God is passionately committed to preserving God’s honor and supremacy. And in this way, God zealously desires exclusive devotion and worship. God is supreme over all, and were God to share glory with other so-called Gods, that would elevate them to a position inconsistent with their true nature, and would likewise diminish God as less than pre-eminent. God is faithful to God’s own self to maintain His high and holy position, and God wants God’s creatures to give to God that degree of honor. God says in effect, ‘I am jealous for my holy name.’

2) God is also jealous for our best interests. God has a passionate zeal for our best interests. God loves us and wants the best for us. God wants a genuine relationship with humanity, and will go to great lengths to make that relationship possible. God is jealous for whom God loves and is constantly taking positive steps to help people to grow more and more like Godself. God seeks the good of God’s people, and just like the mother who told off the census taker for the honor of her children, God actively seeks the honor and blessing of God’s people. God loves us and wants the best for us, and is constantly seeking that good for us.

Meaning Of Jealous

So, here we are back to this problematic word – jealous. It doesn’t see right that God would have an emotion that is sinful, right? The Hebrew word – q’nah - means: insistence on exclusive devotion, toleration of no rivalry, zeal, ardor, jealousy in both a righteous and sinful sense, and envying. It should be a relief to know that the kind of jealousy that is attributed to God is not the same kind of jealousy that we humans need to avoid. In fact, as we look into the definition of jealous and jealousy, we will discover that it is not necessarily a negative emotion depending on how and why it is applied. What does jealous and jealousy mean, then?

Let’s first look at the negative or sinful definition: In Galatians 5:20, jealousy is listed among the examples of the “works of the flesh”, and in this sense it means being envious of another person because that person has something you want for yourself. Someone might have a nice home or a really cool car, for instance, and we wish we could have it. Or someone may have an ability or skill that makes us envious toward that person. Or we might be jealous or envious of a person’s good looks or popularity. Other people have the best peer group, the best looks, the best possessions, and we say, ‘I’m jealous, I wish I had what they have.’ When we are jealous in the sense of being envious of another person, we end up obsessing about that person in unloving and destructive ways.

This is not the way that God is jealous. God’s name as being Jehovah-qanna – The LORD is Jealous is in the sense that God is jealous/desirous of what rightfully belongs to God. The name of God revealed in chapter 34 is an expansion of what God told Moses in chapter 20, v. 5 – “You shall not bow down to [any other god] to worship them; for I am a jealous God…” The jealousy that God exhibits in these verses is appropriate jealousy because it is the desire for what is God’s in the first place. It is what belongs to God – it is what God rightfully wants.

Do you see the difference?

Well, if you don’t, let me provide an example: If a married person sees another person flirting with their spouse, s/he is right to be jealous, for only s/he has the right to flirt with his or her spouse. This type of jealousy is not sinful; it is entirely appropriate. Being jealous for something that God declares to belong to you is good and appropriate. In a marriage contract, two people belong to each other, and nothing should be allowed to intervene within that relationship. I use this analogy because it is a biblical analogy: the entire book of Hosea is a metaphor of the relationship of God and God’s people. The relationship is compared to a marriage, in which God is the aggrieved husband, and humanity is the unfaithful wife. In the book of Hosea, God is shown as being jealous for His wayward spouse. Jealousy is a sin when it is a desire for something that does not belong to us. In this same way, worship, praise, honor, and adoration belong to God alone, for only God is truly worthy of it. Therefore, God is rightly jealous when worship, praise, honor, or adoration is given to idols.

It’s interesting too, that jealous is nearly synonymous with the word zealous. It’s no accident that the words are so similar because these two English words both come from the same Greek word. The Greek word that jealous and zealous come from is ζηλwς, (zaylows) and has a similar meaning of the Hebrew word q’nah. As a result, often times the word is translated in our English Bible as zeal and zealous. In this sense, God was zealous to work with humanity for the praise and worship that rightfully is God’s. It is the zeal or fervor over something that is dear to God. God is jealous for Gods people.

To expand on our understanding of how the Bible defines being jealous, we need to distinguish between being jealous and being envious. To be jealous involves the desire to have what someone else has. This can actually be both a bad thing and a good thing. It is a bad thing when we feel bitter, covetous or hateful toward someone because they have what we want and what they have is not rightfully ours to have. We could also call this emotion envy. But jealousy can be a good thing when, for instance, we see positive spiritual qualities in others and desire to develop them in our own lives, or when we seek to enjoy the spiritual riches that are ours in God’s grace in the same way that we see others enjoying them. We would call this emotion inspiration and responding to positive examples.

On the other hand, envy and being envious is nearly always a bad thing. Envy is the feeling of displeasure over the blessings others enjoy and it compels us to want to deprive them of that enjoyment. Where jealousy wants what another has, envy wants to deprive another from having it. When we are jealous in a sinful way, we usually want to hurt others. But when we are jealous in a righteous way – as God is jealous – our actions are pure and godly.


How should we respond to God who is Jehovah-qanna – the LORD who is Jealous? We need to be jealous for the things that God is jealous for! The truth of God’s jealousy challenges us, first of all, to give to God what is God’s due by putting God first in all things. God must never be supplanted by us giving our undue attention to other things that may take God’s primary place. Another way that we give God the proper due is by proclaiming God’s greatness

throughout the world. We do this by being zealously committed to live by God’s way and by being committed to God’s will. When we do this, we seek to show the world by our words and deeds that our God is the one true and living God, and that God alone makes life meaningful and worthwhile. What’s great about that is that since God is looking out for our best interests, we will be enabled by God to give God honor when we faithfully seek to be God’s people.

Secondly, if we share God’s jealousy for others, we would also be filling our minds with God’s truth and would be sharing it with all those whom we come in contact with. We, like God, would want the best for people. As we seek to be more like God, we are zealous to share God’s love and grace with all whom we come in contact with.

Our God is a jealous God! God is jealous for those whom God loves and takes positive steps to help them, just as we are jealous for those whom we love when they are threatened, wronged, or abused. God wants only the best for us, and at this very moment God is planning things that will bring benefit and blessing to our lives.


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