God’s Jealous Love Letter
Today, approximately one month from Valentine’s Day, I want to kick off a series that our church went through nearly two years ago.
This series examines a passage in the Bible that might sound off-putting and disturbing at some points. I’m going to argue that it’s God’s love letter to us.
Here’s how God’s love letter begins:
And God spoke all these words: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” –Exodus 20:1-6, NIV
When Jealousy Helps
I want to start with the most controversial line: “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God…”
This is a tough idea for most audiences. Our picture of jealousy isn’t a good one.
Even in the Bible, jealousy is almost always discussed as a negative thing. Normal jealousy leads to anger that destroys love.
The Bible also talks about another kind of jealousy.
The Biblical book of 2nd Corinthians was a letter Paul wrote to one of the early churches. The people surrounding the young church had been distorting the message of Jesus, and pulling people away from the church.
In the letter, Paul writes, “I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy” (2 Corinthians 11:2).
Paul’s jealousy is not about his ego. He is angry because these people he cares about are being pulled down a bad path. Paul doesn’t turn on his people. He cries out to them through his letter.
Normal jealousy kills love. Godly jealousy is love fighting extinction.
God’s Invitation to Trust
Exodus 20 says, “No other gods. No other idols.” It’s easy to read this as God saying “Me, me, me, me, me.” If that’s the conclusion we come to, I think we miss what God is really doing here.
Let’s rewind a bit to the time when this was written. Religious practice in those days was a political maneuvering game between different gods. You might get certain things from this god, and other things from that god over there, and a few things from a third God.
You couldn’t keep them all super happy, but as long as you kept the plates spinning in the air, you hoped that things would work out okay.
The problem is that there’s no trust there. There’s no real relationship. I think God is trying to teach the Israelites that they don’t have to do that anymore. They can trust him fully.
I don’t know too many people who have multiple idols in their homes, but I think that if we look at our lives we can see that we cobble things together to make a life that will make us happy.
We get some things from our work, others from our families, others from romantic relationships, and still others from God. We look to God for things, but only certain things.
God is saying, “Look. That won’t work. You’re trying to keep all of the plates spinning, but you need to just trust me to meet your needs. Come to me for all of it.”
That’s a hard command to answer. We doubt whether God is really loving and trustworthy. Even if we’ve experienced good things in our relationship with him, we don’t want to let go of other things that have kept our lives going.
We might think, “This what I’ve been doing, and it’s gotten me this far. Even if this far is a little empty or a little painful, it’s gotten me here.”
The problem is that trying to please all of these different “gods” is exhausting. It’s a kind of bondage, and God wants more for us.
Commandments as Love Letters
In the passage that we started with, God prefaces the 10 commandments with a reminder.
“I’m on your side. I brought you out of Egypt. I’m not trying to enslave you-I’m trying to set you free. I’m about to give you some commandments, but they aren’t meant to control you. They’re meant to give you life. All you’ve ever known is slavery. You don’t know what will really make you happy. These commandments are meant to get you there.”
A godly love won’t let you stay stuck. Godly jealous love pushes us beyond that.
But God’s love also isn’t controlling. Over and over again, the Israelites choose to walk away, and God lets them. He’s not going to stalk them if they don’t want the relationship.
They walk away, and they lose that special relationship with him for a time. The passage says God lets them stay out of relationship for three or four generations.
But God won’t forget them. The goal is still restoration and rescue. This happens again and again and again in the scriptures. God fights for a relationship with his people, even to the point of sending Jesus and making a bridge so we don’t have to be separated from God ever again.
The encouragement in this passage is to stop hedging our bets. One of the messages of the cross is that Jesus is trustworthy. The politics can end.
Follow the commands, not as an obligation, but as an opportunity to build trust.
Questions for Reflection:
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