The Destructive Power of Jealousy
JEALOUSY can mean a proper zeal for what is right. Jehovah God, for example, is jealous for his good name, and so are his devoted servants. (Ex. 34:14; 1 Ki. 19:10, 14; Ezek. 39:25) However, all too often jealousy is wrongly motivated or misdirected. The jealous person may suspect others without cause or resent the attention that others receive, feeling that he alone is entitled to it.
Improper jealousy has destructive power. It can rob a person of contentment and breed anger and hatred. Doctors have found that jealousy can be a very harmful emotion. The jealous person may even reach the point where he suffers from sleepless nights, from vomiting, from stomach trouble or one of a host of other ills. It is just as the Bible proverb says: “Jealousy is rottenness to the bones.”—Prov. 14:30.
Such jealousy can also ruin the best of relationships. This is well illustrated in the case of King Saul of Israel and his loyal subject David.
David’s courage in going up against the Philistine giant Goliath and vanquishing him with a shepherd’s sling impressed Saul. Therefore he placed David in command of the warriors. In this capacity, David loyally supported Saul’s kingship and gained numerous victories over the Philistines. Eventually David came to be praised in song even more than King Saul. When greeting the returning victorious warriors, Israelite women would dance and sing: “Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.” Saul greatly resented this, believing that the honor that should have been given to him as king was going to David. This led to Saul’s viewing David with suspicion—as a rival for the throne.—1 Sam. 17:57, 58; 18:5-9.
The good relationship that had once existed between Saul and David came to an end. Though there was no reason for suspicion, Saul no longer trusted David. He became obsessed with the idea that David was a threat to his kingship. It became Saul’s determination to kill him. Hence, David was forced to live as a fugitive, running from Saul for his life.—1 Sam. 18:10-25; 19:9-12.
The kind of jealousy displayed by King Saul for David can be avoided. How? A person has to be careful not to be oversensitive about his position, abilities or reputation. When people commend others in a person’s presence, he should not conclude that they are deliberately trying to minimize his own accomplishments. Even if the comments seem to attribute to others greater attainments, as was true with what the women said of David, a person should not lose sight of the fact that many things are spoken in innocence without any thought of drawing comparisons. Especially those expressions that are prompted by the emotional impact of the moment have to be understood in the light of the circumstances and cannot be taken as a critical evaluation of individuals. It is indeed sad, therefore, when such statements become the basis for a person’s resenting someone else.
The Bible shows that love is essential for gaining the mastery over jealousy. In the Scriptures, we read: “Love is not jealous.” (1 Cor. 13:4) If inclined to suspect others or to resent them because of the recognition granted them, a person would do well to get to know those of whom he is jealous. He should endeavor to see their fine qualities and strive to appreciate what they are doing. Rather than take the view that others are eclipsing his accomplishments, he should be willing to see credit being given where credit is due. Obviously no one person can do everything. Both modesty and sound reason should tell us that it is a blessing when there are many qualified people to shoulder responsibility.
The man Moses certainly had the right attitude in this regard. When Eldad and Medad received God’s spirit apart from Moses’ presence and began prophesying in the camp of Israel, Joshua, Moses’ attendant, became jealous for his “lord.” Joshua felt that their prophesying detracted from Moses’ authority and that they should therefore be restrained. But Moses was not jealous over the fact that he was no longer alone in having God’s spirit operate toward him in a special way. He corrected Joshua with the words: “I wish that all of Jehovah’s people were prophets, because Jehovah would put his spirit upon them!”—Num. 11:10-29.
But what if the person being highly praised is not really deserving of it? What if he has been overrated? That, of course, can happen. The discerning writer of Ecclesiastes noted: “There exists something calamitous that I have seen under the sun, as when there is a mistake going forth on account of the one in power: Foolishness has been put in many high positions, but the rich ones themselves keep dwelling merely in a low condition. I have seen servants on horses but princes walking on the earth just like servants.”—Eccl. 10:5-7.
Due to human imperfection, officials, employers and others in authority may make serious mistakes in judgment. They may accord little respect to those who have worked hard and are ‘princely’ or noble in their attitude and ways, treating them as mere servants. At the same time, they may favor men who are far less qualified. This may be very disturbing.
Nevertheless, little would be gained by becoming unduly upset about such matters. This would only rob one of peace of mind and heart. It might also have a bad effect on one’s physical health. Far better it is to wait patiently. The inspired psalmist admonished: “Wait longingly for [Jehovah]. Do not show yourself heated up at anyone making his way successful.” (Ps. 37:7) In due time even those making the mistake may be obliged to recognize the folly.
We should also work hard to avoid arousing jealousy in others. The Israelite women who lauded David’s exploits in song evidently had no idea that this would arouse feelings of intense jealousy in King Saul. Yet if they had given careful thought to the matter, they might have been more cautious in giving the appearance of attributing greater honor to a subject of the king than to the king himself. Recognizing that people are imperfect, we do well to exercise care when praising a person or his accomplishments before someone else. We should make sure that what we say will not likely be taken by the listener to mean that he is being unfavorably compared with the one being highly commended.
Considering how injurious improper jealousy can be, we should want to resist yielding to it ourselves and avoid stirring it up in others. To this end, we should strive to cultivate ever greater love for all kinds of people, appreciating their fine qualities and accomplishments. We should also consider the effect our words and actions can have on others. This will do much to make us happy and contribute toward preserving good relationships with our fellowmen.