According to Biblical usage, “jealousy” may be a positive or a negative quality or emotion. (Pr 14:30; Zec 1:14) The Hebrew noun qin·ʼahʹ variously means “insistence on exclusive devotion; toleration of no rivalry; zeal; ardor; jealousy [righteous or sinful]; envying.” The Greek zeʹlos has a similar meaning.
Jehovah’s Jealousy. Jehovah describes himself as “a God exacting exclusive devotion.” (Ex 20:5, ftn; De 4:24; 5:9; 6:15) He also says: “Jehovah, whose name is Jealous, he is a jealous God.” (Ex 34:14) Over what and with what kind of jealousy? Not with the envious, selfish jealousy of humans. It is a jealousy, a zeal or ardor for his holy name, concerning which he himself says: “I will show exclusive devotion for my holy name.”
For his name. When one considers what God’s name stands for, the reason for his “insistence on exclusive devotion” becomes clear. (Eze 5:13) His name represents all that is right and righteous. He is holy, clean, upright, loyal in the superlative degree. (Isa 6:3; Re 4:8; 16:5) His sovereignty is necessary to the existence of the universe, and allegiance to his sovereignty and laws is essential to the order and peace of all creation. (Pr 29:2; 1Co 14:33) His jealousy is therefore a pure, clean jealousy and is altogether for the benefit of his creatures, as their devotion brings him
Those serving God can rely on him to establish righteousness, being confident in his zeal for his name. He illustrated his zeal in his dealings with ancient Israel, and he tells us of the destruction of earthly governments and the establishment of the government of the Prince of Peace with justice and righteousness, saying: “The very zeal of Jehovah of armies will do this.”
For righteousness. In his love of righteousness and his insistence on exclusive devotion, Jehovah is impartial. Moses warned God’s covenant people Israel that if anyone forsook the covenant, “Jehovah’s anger and his ardor [would] smoke against that man, . . . and Jehovah [would] indeed wipe out his name from under the heavens.” (De 29:19-21) God told the apostate, idol-worshiping, immoral city of Jerusalem that he would judge her and give her “the blood of rage and jealousy.” (Eze 16:38; 23:25) This occurred when the Babylonians destroyed the city and the temple upon which Jehovah’s name had been placed, but which name they had grossly defamed. Nevertheless, his jealousy did not overshadow or flood out his purposes and his mercy, for Jehovah spared a remnant to return and rebuild the temple.
For his people. Because of his love for his people and because they bear his holy name, Jehovah is jealous for them with a fiery zeal. Just as a husband jealously protects his wife as precious to him, so Jehovah says: “He that is touching you is touching my eyeball.” (Zec 2:8) Accordingly, because of the malicious acts of the nations toward his people, God foretold: “I will be jealous for Zion with great jealousy, and with great rage I will be jealous for her,” also, that he would be zealous for his land and would show compassion upon his people.
Inciting Jehovah to jealousy. In his insistence on exclusive devotion, Jehovah is not one to be mocked. (Ga 6:7) Any one of his servants who refuses to give him wholehearted devotion, failing to love him with his whole heart, mind, soul, and strength, is trying to serve two masters. Jesus explained that the result of this course would be disastrous, for such a man would love one master and despise the other. (Mt 6:24) Such a person is “inciting [Jehovah] to jealousy.” (De 32:16; 1Ki 14:22) In a vision given to Ezekiel, Jehovah showed him a “symbol of jealousy,” evidently idolatrous, in the gateway to the temple. (Eze 8:3, 5) For Judah’s turning away from exclusive devotion to him, Jehovah’s jealousy burned against them.
The apostle Paul says to Christians: “You cannot be partaking of ‘the table of Jehovah’ and the table of demons. Or ‘are we inciting Jehovah to jealousy’? We are not stronger than he is, are we?” (1Co 10:21, 22; De 32:21) He points out that if a Christian practices sin willfully after having received the accurate knowledge of the truth, he can look forward only to judgment and “a fiery jealousy that is going to consume those in opposition.”
Jesus Christ. The Son of God, being more intimate with his Father than any other of his creatures, and better able to emulate him and reveal him to others, could say: “He that has seen me has seen the Father also.” (Joh 14:9; Mt 11:27; Joh 1:18) Consequently his zeal and jealousy for righteousness and his Father’s name exceeded that of all others. (Heb 1:9; Ps 45:7) He at all times rendered exclusive devotion to Jehovah. (Mt 4:10; Joh 8:29) When on earth, his heart burned with heated zeal, with jealousy because of the defamation of Jehovah’s name that was being brought by money-loving merchants in the temple. (Joh 2:13-17) Just as he there fulfilled the prophecy at Psalm 69:9, “Sheer zeal for your house has eaten me up,” so his followers can be sure of his zeal for completely establishing everlasting righteousness, justice, and respect for Jehovah’s name and sovereignty in fulfillment of the prophecy at Psalm 45:3-6.
Worshipers of God With Exclusive Devotion. All who have been true worshipers of God have exercised zeal for his service and jealousy for his name. The prophet Elijah, who did powerful works in turning many in Israel back from false worship to the worship of Jehovah, said: “I have been absolutely jealous for Jehovah the God of armies.” (1Ki 19:10, 14) Phinehas demonstrated devotion that pleased God and saved Israel from extermination by his zeal in killing a chieftain of Israel who had contaminated the camp by bringing in filthy phallic Baal worship. This was because, as an Israelite and a priest, Phinehas was “tolerating no rivalry at all” toward Jehovah.
The Christian congregation must exercise the same jealous watch, that no unclean thing should spring up as a “poisonous root” to cause trouble and defile many. (Heb 12:15) If anyone corrupt should slip in and try to defile others, the congregation must ‘exercise earnestness, clearing itself before Jehovah with indignation and zeal.’ They must ‘remove the wicked man from among them.’
It is good, therefore, for Christians to exercise “a godly jealousy” in behalf of fellow Christians. That is, they should be burning with the desire to do all they can to assist one another to maintain exclusive devotion to God and obedience to Christ. The apostle Paul likened those who were his spiritual brothers to a virgin engaged to Christ as his prospective bride. He was jealously protecting them so that they could be preserved unblemished for Christ. (2Co 11:2; compare Re 19:7, 8.) His zeal for them is demonstrated in many expressions in his letters to the Corinthian congregation and to others. And the jealousy that Christ himself has for his “bride” (Re 21:9) is shown in his strong statements to the congregations as recorded in Revelation, chapters 1 through 3.
Inciting to jealousy in a proper way. Jehovah showed mercy to the nation of Israel after all except a remnant had rejected the Messiah. The remnant of believing Jews was the beginning of the Christian congregation; Jehovah’s favor was now upon it rather than the rejected Jewish nation. Jehovah demonstrated this change of dealing by signs and portents and powerful works. (Heb 2:3, 4) He opened the way for Gentiles to come into his favor. But he did not ‘close the door’ on Israel altogether. As the Scriptures point out: “Did they [all Israelites] stumble so that they fell completely? Never may that happen! But by their false step there is salvation to people of the nations, to incite them to jealousy.” (Ro 11:11) This was what Jehovah, centuries beforehand, had said he was going to do, which resulted in the saving of some. (De 32:21; Ro 10:19) The apostle Paul, who earnestly sought the good of fellow Israelites, followed this principle, saying: “Forasmuch as I am, in reality, an apostle to the nations, I glorify my ministry, if I may by any means incite those who are my own flesh to jealousy and save some from among them.”
Misdirected Zeal. One may be sincerely zealous, or jealous, for a certain cause and yet be wrong and displeasing to God. That was true of many of the Jews of the first century. They looked for righteousness to come to them through their own works under the Mosaic Law. But Paul showed that their zeal was misdirected because of lack of accurate knowledge. Therefore they did not receive the real righteousness that comes from God. They would have to see their error and turn to God through Christ to receive righteousness and freedom from the condemnation of the Law. (Ro 10:1-10) Saul of Tarsus was one of such, being extremely zealous for Judaism to the point of excess, “persecuting the congregation of God and devastating it.” He was scrupulously keeping the Law as “one who proved himself blameless.” (Ga 1:13, 14; Php 3:6) Yet his jealousy for Judaism was a misdirected one. He was sincere of heart, for which reason Jehovah exercised undeserved kindness through Christ in turning him to the way of true worship.
Jealousy and Envy. A person who shows improper jealousy suspects others without adequate cause or resents the diversion to another of what he unjustifiably claims as his own. An envious person discontentedly desires or covets the good fortune and attainments of others. The context often determines the sense in which the Hebrew words usually translated “jealous” or “jealousy,” but sometimes “envy,” are used in the Bible. The same is true of the Greek word for “jealousy,” but the Greek language also has a separate word, phthoʹnos, for “envy.”
In the Corinthian congregation of the first century, ambitious men had come in, calling attention to themselves, boasting in men, and they were bringing about strife in the congregation. The congregation was split into factions jealously looking to, exalting, and following men. Paul pointed out that such jealousy was fleshly, not spiritual. (1Co 3:3; 2Co 12:20) He explained that godly love is not jealous in an improper way but, rather, is trusting and hopeful, always acting in the interests of others.
Jealousy of the kind that Paul spoke against in the Corinthian congregation is not righteous. It is not in behalf of exclusive devotion to Jehovah. Rather, it is a form of idolatry, demonic in origin, and it breeds envy and strife. The Bible repeatedly warns against it, showing that it affects the heart itself. Jesus’ half brother James wrote: “If you have bitter jealousy and contentiousness in your hearts, do not be bragging and lying against the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is the earthly, animal, demonic. For where jealousy and contentiousness are, there disorder and every vile thing are.”
Jealousy of the wrong kind has a detrimental effect on one’s physical health, for “a calm heart is the life of the fleshly organism, but jealousy is rottenness to the bones.” (Pr 14:30) Jealousy results from harboring suspicion or resentment within oneself. It can be more destructive than rage or anger because it may be more deep-rooted, more lasting and persistent, and less easily assuaged. Usually reason is thrown to the winds. (Pr 27:4) And the jealousy of a man who is righteously enraged toward another who commits adultery with his wife will not accept any sort of excuse or ransom!
The wrong kind of jealousy can bring a person to a point where he sins against God, as did the ten half brothers of Joseph. (Ge 37:11; Ac 7:9) It can lead to loss of life for an individual and others involved, as it did in the case of Dathan and Abiram and members of their households. (Ps 106:16, 17) Worse yet, jealousy prompted unbelieving Jews to commit serious crimes toward the apostles and, in addition, blasphemy and attempted murder.
Marital Jealousy. Jealousy of one toward his (or her) mate is good if it is a proper jealousy, a zeal for the mate’s benefit and well-being. But improper jealousy, or mistrust without foundation, is wrong and lacking love, and it can result in ruin to the marriage.
Under the Mosaic Law, provision was made for cases of jealousy where the husband suspected his wife of secret adultery. If there were not the required two witnesses to prove the accusation so that the human judges could act to apply the death sentence, the procedure prescribed by the Law was that the couple should present themselves before Jehovah’s representative, the priest. This action constituted an appeal to Jehovah, who was aware of all the facts, for his judgment. If adulterous, the woman received, as a direct punishment from Jehovah, the loss of her procreative powers. If the husband’s jealousy was unfounded, then he had to acknowledge her innocence by having sex relations with her so that she could bear a child.
God’s Servants Are Warned Against Rivalry. Rivalry or competition, so common in the present system of things, is not fitting. The writer of the book of Ecclesiastes says: “I myself have seen all the hard work and all the proficiency in work, that it means the rivalry [Heb., qin·ʼathʹ] of one toward another; this also is vanity and a striving after the wind.”
By being jealous of others’ successes, possessions, or accomplishments, the servant of God may develop envy and covetousness, even going so far as being envious of those who are bad but who prosper. The Scriptures warn that this should not be; though the time may seem long that they prosper, they will receive quick judgment at God’s time, as it is written: “Do not show yourself heated up because of the evildoers. Do not be envious of those doing unrighteousness. For like grass they will speedily wither.” (Ps 37:1, 2) Envy of such ones can lead a person into copying their violent ways, detestable to Jehovah.