. . .for you shall worship no other god, because the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God. Exodus 34:14
God is jealous. So much so, in fact, that according to the verse above He even has the name “Jealous.” Isn’t that a problem? Isn’t jealousy a bad thing, a sinful thing? While preparing for a sermon on Ezekiel chapter 16 it struck me how this passage helps us understand the jealous love of God. It compresses the history of the people of Jerusalem into a story, an allegory. Let me compress that even further and give you the “Coles notes” version of the story which we can divide into the following chapters:
Chapter One: Rescued (verses 3-6)
In ancient times there was a form of birth control called “exposure.” Basically an unwanted baby, all too often a girl, was left out in an open field to die. This story begins with such a baby being rescued having been found covered in blood and still attached to the placenta given the details. Remembering that this is an allegory, God’s people in Ezekiel’s day were to understand that they were in a relationship with God, not because there was anything special about them, but because of God’s love. The same can be said of the Christian today. To sum up chapter one: Rescued instead of dead.
Chapter Two: Married (verses 7-9)
Once the child in the story grows, the rescuer marries the child. At first glance we might think this is gross, but when we remember the context of ancient times and how marriage was different then than now, we learn that this was a very loving move on the part of the rescuer. This child, once old enough, could have been forced into slavery instead, or worse. Marriage was a promise of continuing nurture and care. Remembering that this is allegory, God’s people in Ezekiel’s day were to remember that being in a covenant relationship with God was a sign of God’s amazing love and grace. The Christian today enjoys the covenant love of God. To sum up chapter two: Married instead of enslaved, sold, or worse.
Chapter Three: Blessed (verses 10-14)
Here we learn about how blessed this woman really is. She is not married and then provided with the mere essentials. She is, in fact, the queen, and treated as such. God’s people in Ezekiel’s day were to realize just how blessed they were to be in relationship with God. As Christians do we realize just how blessed we are? To sum up chapter three: A queen, instead of a mere dependant.
Chapter Four: Betrayed (verses 15-34)
Here there is a shift in the story:
But you trusted in your beauty, and played the whore because of your fame, and lavished your whorings on any passer-by. Ezekiel 16:15 (emphasis mine)
There is a lengthy and quite graphic description of the betrayal. Though rescued instead of dead, though married instead of enslaved or sold, though a queen instead of a mere dependant, though all of this was because of the love and grace of the rescuer, the groom, the king, she betrays him with her unfaithfulness. She is described as acting like a prostitute, only worse, for a prostitute has enough sense to get paid. Remembering that this is allegory, God’s people in Ezekiel’s day were to get the point that they have been unfaithful to the Lord. As Christians are we faithful? To sum up chapter four: Promiscuous and stupid, instead of grateful and faithful.
Chapter Five: Consequences (verses 35-59)
Following the betrayal come the consequences of a living a promiscuous and unfaithful life.
You must bear the penalty of your lewdness and your abominations, says the Lord. Yes, thus says the Lord God: I will deal with you as you have done, you who have despised the oath, breaking the covenant; Ezekiel 16:58-59
There is a lot to read and digest here, but let’s just say it does not go well. Remembering this is allegory, God’s people in Ezekiel’s day were to understand that the exile and the coming fall of Jerusalem to Babylon is a consequence of their unfaithfulness. As Christians today we are not automatically saved from the consequences of our decisions. “You reap what you sow” is a Biblical affirmation, taught in both the Old and New Testaments.To sum up chapter five: Suffering the consequences instead of getting away with murder.
Chapter Six: Forgiven (verses 60-63)
Next in this story comes a pleasant surprise.
. . . yet I will remember my covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish with you an everlasting covenant. . . I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall know that I am the Lord, in order that you may remember and be confounded, and never open your mouth again because of your shame, when I forgive you all that you have done, says the Lord God. Ezekiel 16:60,62,63
God remains faithful to His people! He will forgive! He still does. To sum up chapter six: Forgiven instead of cast away.
Do you get a sense of the jealous love of God from this story? The jealousy we tend to think of arises out of insecurity. It doesn’t just arise from a man thinking his wife is looking at another man, it arises from a man thinking there is a better man. God knows better and knows there is no better. The Lord is not insecure. God is jealous, meaning God is passionate. If God were not jealous for us He would be apathetic. God is jealous, meaning God is caring. If God were not jealous, He would be uncaring. God is jealous, meaning God is faithful. His love does not cease at the first sign of betrayal. He is faithful in His love, in His keeping of covenant promises. He knows what is best for the people He loves, and He is the best for the people He loves!
Spiritually speaking, we may be more like the woman in the story than we care to admit. We do not deserve the rescue, the marriage, the blessing. We betray. We experience the consequences of our decisions. But God remains faithful. Got sin in your life? You can depend upon God to forgive it. He is jealous for you. Storm clouds are brewing? You can depend on God to walk you through the storm. He is jealous for you. Got a sense that you do not deserve heaven? Me too. Though in this age we will still often experience the consequence of our sin, in the age to come we experience the consequence of His goodness and grace in Jesus Christ. Rescued, married, and blessed; not because we are good people, but because God is a jealous God.
(All scripture references are taken from the NRSV)