Does the jealousy of God, as recorded in Exodus 20:5, contradict Paul’s view of love in 1 Corinthians 13:4?
In 1 Corinthians 13:4, the widely known chapter of love, Paul makes this statement regarding the nature of love,
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant….”
In light of this, how are we to perceive Exodus 20:5 which tells us that God is a jealous God?
“You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God….”
If love never envies, how can God be jealous if His very nature is love? To answer this we must make the distinction between the “good” form of jealousy and the “bad” one. The Hebrew word used in Exodus is always used to describe God and it never associated jealousy with sin. It’s also interesting to note that a related word is used in Numbers 5, where it recounts a “spirit of jealousy” in regards to a man who is worried that his wife may be an adulteress.
According to Strong’s concordance, the Hebrew word (qinah) used in Exodus 20:5 can refer to ardor, zeal, and jealousy. Paul also speaks of a “godly jealousy” in 2 Cor 11:2. What is this jealousy exactly?
In the context of an honor-based culture, jealousy was a form of protectiveness over someone or something that is under covenant care. This kind of jealousy fought to keep those from the envious who tried to harm them. It is seen as a virtue any honorable ruler should have towards those under their protection. God, being the supreme ruler and the giver of life, was expected to display this form of jealousy towards those under His care (in this case Isreal). In fact, God’s very nature demanded it as the only one worthy of honor and devotion (a related objection to this is found in link 1 below).
In contrast, the word Paul uses in 1 Cor 13 has both a good and bad connotation, depending on the context. Paul would have meant the “bad” form of jealousy here, the one that longs for something another possesses rather than one that protects what we already have. Since we’re differentiating between a vice and a virtue, these two verses do not contradict each other.
More information on this form of jealousy can be found in the beginning of Glenn Millar’s article here.