Jealous for the Pure Worship of Jehovah
“Jehovah, whose name is Jealous, he is a jealous God.”—EXODUS 34:14.
1. What is God’s dominant quality, and how does it relate to his jealousy?
JEHOVAH describes himself as “a jealous God.” You may wonder why, since the word “jealousy” has negative connotations. Of course, God’s dominant quality is love. (1 John 4:8) Any feelings of jealousy on his part must therefore be for mankind’s good. In fact, we shall see that God’s jealousy is vital to the peace and harmony of the universe.
2. What are some ways of rendering the Hebrew words for “jealousy”?
2 The related Hebrew words for “jealousy” occur over 80 times in the Hebrew Scriptures. Almost half of these references are to Jehovah God. “When applied to God,” explains G. H. Livingston, “the concept of jealousy does not carry the connotation of a warped emotion, but, rather, of an insistence on the singleness of worship of Jehovah.” (The Pentateuch in Its Cultural Environment) Thus, the New World Translation sometimes renders the Hebrew noun “insistence on exclusive devotion.” (Ezekiel 5:13) Other appropriate renderings are “ardor” or “zeal.”—Psalm 79:5; Isaiah 9:7.
3. In what ways can jealousy sometimes serve a good purpose?
3 Man was created with the capacity to feel jealous, but mankind’s fall into sin has resulted in a distortion of jealousy. Nevertheless, human jealousy can be a force for good. It can move a person to protect a loved one from bad influences. Moreover, humans can properly show jealousy for Jehovah and his worship. (1 Kings 19:10) To convey the correct understanding of such jealousy for Jehovah, the Hebrew noun may be translated “toleration of no rivalry” toward him.—2 Kings 10:16.
The Golden Calf
4. What command involving righteous jealousy was prominent in God’s Law to Israel?
4 An example of righteous jealousy is what occurred after the Israelites received the Law at Mount Sinai. Repeatedly, they had been warned not to worship man-made gods. Jehovah told them: “I Jehovah your God am a God exacting exclusive devotion [or, “a God who is jealous (zealous); a God not tolerating rivalry”].” (Exodus 20:5, footnote; compare Exodus 20:22, 23; 22:20; 23:13, 24, 32, 33.) Jehovah entered into a covenant with the Israelites, promising to bless them and to bring them into the Promised Land. (Exodus 23:22, 31) And the people said: “All that Jehovah has spoken we are willing to do and be obedient.”—Exodus 24:7.
5, 6. (a) How did the Israelites sin gravely while encamped at Mount Sinai? (b) How did Jehovah and his loyal worshipers show righteous jealousy at Sinai?
5 Nevertheless, the Israelites soon sinned against God. They were still encamped at the foot of Mount Sinai. Moses had been on the mountain many days, receiving further instruction from God, and the people pressured Moses’ brother, Aaron, to make a god for them. Aaron complied and made a calf out of gold that the people provided. It was claimed that this idol represented Jehovah. (Psalm 106:20) The next day they offered sacrifices and kept “bowing down to it.” Then they had “a good time.”—Exodus 32:1, 4, 6, 8, 17-19.
6 Moses descended from the mountain while the Israelites were celebrating. On viewing their disgraceful conduct, he called out: “Who is on Jehovah’s side?” (Exodus 32:25, 26) The sons of Levi gathered to Moses, and he instructed them to take swords and execute the idolatrous revelers. Demonstrating their jealousy for God’s pure worship, the Levites killed about 3,000 of their guilty brothers. Jehovah reinforced this action by sending a plague upon the survivors. (Exodus 32:28, 35) Then God repeated the command: “You must not prostrate yourself to another god, because Jehovah, whose name is Jealous, he is a jealous God.”—Exodus 34:14.
Baal of Peor
7, 8. (a) How did many Israelites fall into gross idolatry in connection with Baal of Peor? (b) How did the scourge from Jehovah come to an end?
7 Forty years later, when the nation of Israel was about to enter the Promised Land, attractive Moabite and Midianite women lured many Israelites to come and enjoy their hospitality. These men should have rejected intimate association with worshipers of false gods. (Exodus 34:12, 15) Instead, they ran like ‘bulls to the slaughter,’ committing fornication with the women and joining them in bowing down to Baal of Peor.—Proverbs 7:21, 22; Numbers 25:1-3.
8 Jehovah sent a scourge to kill those who got involved in this shameful sex worship. God also commanded the innocent Israelites to kill their guilty brothers. In brazen defiance, a chieftain of Israel named Zimri brought a Midianite princess into his tent to have relations with her. On seeing this, the God-fearing priest Phinehas executed the immoral couple. The scourge then stopped, and God declared: “Phinehas . . . has turned my wrath away from the Israelites; he displayed among them the same jealous anger that moved me, and therefore in my jealousy I did not exterminate the Israelites.” (Numbers 25:11, The New English Bible) Although the nation was saved from destruction, at least 23,000 Israelites died. (1 Corinthians 10:8) They lost out on their long-cherished hope of entering the Promised Land.
A Warning Lesson
9. What befell the people of Israel and Judah because they were not jealous for the pure worship of Jehovah?
9 Sadly, the Israelites soon forgot these lessons. They did not prove jealous for the pure worship of Jehovah. “With their graven images they kept inciting [God] to jealousy.” (Psalm 78:58) As a result, Jehovah allowed ten tribes of Israel to be taken captive by the Assyrians in 740 B.C.E. The remaining two-tribe kingdom of Judah suffered a similar punishment when their capital city of Jerusalem was destroyed in the year 607 B.C.E. Many were killed, and the survivors were taken captive to Babylon. What a warning example for all Christians today!—1 Corinthians 10:6, 11.
10. What will happen to unrepentant idolaters?
10 One third of earth’s population—some 1,900 million—now profess to be Christian. (1994 Britannica Book of the Year) Most of these belong to churches that use icons, images, and crosses in their worship. Jehovah did not spare his own people who incited him to jealousy through their idolatry. Neither will he spare professed Christians who worship with the aid of material objects. “God is a Spirit, and those worshiping him must worship with spirit and truth,” said Jesus Christ. (John 4:24) Furthermore, the Bible warns Christians to guard against idolatry. (1 John 5:21) Unrepentant idolaters are among those who will not inherit God’s Kingdom.—Galatians 5:20, 21.
11. How might a Christian become guilty of idolatry without bowing down to an idol, and what will help one to avoid such idolatry? (Ephesians 5:5)
11 Though a true Christian would never bow down to an idol, he must avoid anything God views as idolatrous, unclean, and sinful. For example, the Bible warns: “Deaden . . . your body members that are upon the earth as respects fornication, uncleanness, sexual appetite, hurtful desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of those things the wrath of God is coming.” (Colossians 3:5, 6) Obedience to these words requires the rejection of immoral behavior. This calls for the avoidance of entertainment that is designed to arouse unclean sexual appetite. Instead of satisfying such an appetite, true Christians are jealous for God’s pure worship.
Later Examples of Godly Jealousy
12, 13. How did Jesus set an outstanding example in displaying jealousy for God’s pure worship?
12 The most outstanding example of a man who showed jealousy for God’s pure worship was Jesus Christ. In the first year of his ministry, he saw greedy merchants operating in the courtyards of the temple. Visiting Jews may have needed the services of money changers to exchange their foreign currency for money that would be acceptable as temple tax. They also needed to buy animals and birds in order to offer the sacrifices required by God’s Law. Such business transactions should have been carried on outside the temple courtyards. Worse, the merchants were evidently taking undue advantage of the religious needs of their brothers by charging exorbitant prices. Consumed with jealousy for God’s pure worship, Jesus used a whip to drive out the sheep and the cattle. He also overturned the tables of the money changers, saying: “Stop making the house of my Father a house of merchandise!” (John 2:14-16) Thus Jesus fulfilled the words of Psalm 69:9: “Sheer zeal [or, “jealousy,” Byington] for your house has eaten me up.”
13 Three years later Jesus again observed greedy merchants operating in Jehovah’s temple. Would he cleanse it a second time? His jealousy for God’s pure worship was just as strong then as it was when he started his ministry. He drove out both the sellers and the buyers. And he gave an even stronger reason for his actions, saying: “Is it not written, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a cave of robbers.” (Mark 11:17) What a marvelous example of persistence in showing godly jealousy!
14. How should Jesus’ jealousy for pure worship affect us?
14 The personality of the now glorified Lord Jesus Christ has not changed. (Hebrews 13:8) In this 20th century, he is just as jealous for the pure worship of his Father as he was when he was on earth. This can be seen in Jesus’ messages to the seven congregations recorded in the book of Revelation. These have their major application now, in “the Lord’s day.” (Revelation 1:10; 2:1–3:22) In vision the apostle John saw the glorified Jesus Christ with “eyes as a fiery flame.” (Revelation 1:14) This indicates that nothing escapes Christ’s notice as he inspects the congregations to ensure that they remain clean and fit for Jehovah’s service. Present-day Christians need to keep in mind Jesus’ warning against trying to serve two masters—God and riches. (Matthew 6:24) Jesus told materialistic members of the Laodicean congregation: “Because you are lukewarm and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of my mouth. . . . Be zealous and repent.” (Revelation 3:14-19) By word and example, appointed congregation elders should help their fellow believers to avoid the trap of materialism. The elders must also protect the flock from the moral corruption of this sex-oriented world. Moreover, God’s people dare not tolerate any Jezebel influence in the congregation.—Hebrews 12:14, 15; Revelation 2:20.
15. How did the apostle Paul imitate Jesus in showing jealousy for Jehovah’s worship?
15 The apostle Paul was an imitator of Christ. To protect newly baptized Christians from spiritually unwholesome influences, he said: “I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy.” (2 Corinthians 11:2) Prior to this, Paul’s jealousy for pure worship had moved him to instruct this same congregation to disfellowship an unrepentant fornicator who was a contaminating influence. The inspired instructions given on that occasion have been of great help to elders today as they strive to keep the more than 75,500 congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses clean.—1 Corinthians 5:1, 9-13.
God’s Jealousy Benefits His People
16, 17. (a) When God punished ancient Judah, what attitude did the nations show? (b) After Judah’s 70 years of captivity, how did Jehovah display his jealousy for Jerusalem?
16 When God punished the people of Judah by allowing them to be taken captive to Babylon, they were mocked. (Psalm 137:3) In jealous hatred, the Edomites even helped the Babylonians bring calamity upon God’s people, and Jehovah took note of this. (Ezekiel 35:11; 36:15) In captivity the survivors repented, and after 70 years Jehovah restored them to their land.
17 At first, the people of Judah were in a desperate plight. The city of Jerusalem and its temple lay in ruins. But the surrounding nations opposed all efforts to rebuild the temple. (Ezra 4:4, 23, 24) How did Jehovah feel about this? The inspired record states: “This is what Jehovah of armies has said: ‘I have been jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion with great jealousy. With great indignation I am feeling indignant against the nations that are at ease; because I, for my part, felt indignant to only a little extent, but they, for their part, helped toward calamity.’ Therefore this is what Jehovah has said, ‘I shall certainly return to Jerusalem with mercies. My own house will be built in her,’ is the utterance of Jehovah of armies.” (Zechariah 1:14-16) True to this promise, the temple and the city of Jerusalem were successfully rebuilt.
18. What did true Christians experience during the first world war?
18 The true Christian congregation had a similar experience in the 20th century. During the first world war, Jehovah disciplined his people because they had not been strictly neutral in that worldly conflict. (John 17:16) God allowed the political powers to oppress them, and the clergy of Christendom rejoiced over this calamity. In fact, clergymen were in the forefront in getting the political element to ban the work of the Bible Students, as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then called.—Revelation 11:7, 10.
19. How has Jehovah shown jealousy for his worship since 1919?
19 However, Jehovah showed jealousy for his worship and restored his repentant people to his favor in the postwar year of 1919. (Revelation 11:11, 12) As a result, the number of Jehovah’s praisers has increased from fewer than 4,000 in 1918 to some 5 million today. (Isaiah 60:22) Soon, Jehovah’s jealousy for his pure worship will be manifested in more dramatic ways.
Future Acts of Divine Jealousy
20. What will God soon do to show his jealousy for pure worship?
20 For centuries the churches of Christendom have followed the course of the apostate Jews who incited Jehovah to jealousy. (Ezekiel 8:3, 17, 18) Soon Jehovah God will act by putting a drastic thought into the hearts of members of the United Nations. This will move these political powers to desolate Christendom and the rest of false religion. (Revelation 17:16, 17) True worshipers will survive that frightful execution of divine judgment. They will respond to the words of heavenly creatures who say: “Praise Jah, you people! . . . For he has executed judgment upon the great harlot [false religion] who corrupted the earth with her fornication [her false teachings and support of corrupt politics], and he has avenged the blood of his slaves at her hand.”—Revelation 19:1, 2.
21. (a) What will Satan and his system do after false religion has been destroyed? (b) How will God respond?
21 What will happen after the destruction of the world empire of false religion? Satan will incite the political powers to mount a global attack upon Jehovah’s people. How will the true God react to this attempt by Satan to wipe true worship off the face of the earth? Ezekiel 38:19-23 tells us: “In my ardor [or, jealousy], in the fire of my fury, I [Jehovah] shall have to speak. . . . And I will bring myself into judgment with him [Satan], with pestilence and with blood; and a flooding downpour and hailstones, fire and sulphur I shall rain down upon him and upon his bands and upon the many peoples that will be with him. And I shall certainly magnify myself and sanctify myself and make myself known before the eyes of many nations; and they will have to know that I am Jehovah.”—See also Zephaniah 1:18; 3:8.
22. How can we show that we are jealous for the pure worship of Jehovah?
22 How comforting it is to know that the Sovereign of the universe jealously cares for his true worshipers! Out of deep appreciation for his undeserved kindness, let us be jealous for the pure worship of Jehovah God. With zeal, may we continue to preach the good news and confidently await the grand day when Jehovah magnifies and sanctifies his great name.—Matthew 24:14.
Points for Meditation
◻ What does it mean to be jealous for Jehovah?
◻ What can we learn from the example set by the ancient Israelites?
◻ How can we avoid inciting Jehovah to jealousy?
◻ How have God and Christ shown jealousy for pure worship?
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Love Is Not Jealous
REGARDING envy, the 19th-century Bible scholar Albert Barnes wrote: “It is one of the most common manifestations of wickedness, and shows clearly the deep depravity of man.” He further said: “He who could trace all wars and contentions and worldly plans to their source—all the schemes and purposes of even professed Christians, that do so much to mar their religion and to make them worldly-minded, to their real origin—would be surprised to find how much is to be attributed to envy. We are pained that others are more prosperous than we are; we desire to possess what others have, though we have no right to it; and this leads to the various guilty methods which are pursued to lessen their enjoyment of it, or to obtain it ourselves, or to show that they do not possess as much as they are commonly supposed to. . . . for thus the spirit of envy in our bosoms will be gratified.”—Romans 1:29; James 4:5.
In contrast, Barnes made an interesting statement regarding love, which “envieth not.” (1 Corinthians 13:4, King James Version) He wrote: “Love does not envy others the happiness which they enjoy; it delights in their welfare; and as their happiness is increased . . . , those who are influenced by love . . . would not diminish it; they would not embarrass them in the possession; they would not detract from that happiness; they would not murmur or repine that they themselves are not so highly favoured. . . . If we loved others—if we rejoiced in their happiness, we should not envy them.”
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Phinehas was jealous for the pure worship of Jehovah