On July 14th 2010 Katy Piper's by then ex-boyfriend arranged for someone to throw sulphuric acid at her face, she was left with third degree burns and lost the use of her left eye. The motivation behind this attack? Her boyfriend's intense jealousy and rage at her having abandoned her. The incident has been the subject of several newspaper and tv stories and shows us the very worst side of a human being gripped by jealousy.
So how do we react when we read tonight in Exodus 34 that God himself is jealous, more than that his very name is Jealous; part of his intrinsic nature is to be jealous. How do we reconcile that statement with our experience of jealousy as enslaving and destructive?
I hope as we look at the latter half of Exodus 34 tonight that we'll see not only that God's jealousy is very different to human jealousy but that it's effect is also the very opposite. I want us to see that far from God's jealousy being a problematic emotion in need of a neat resolution it is the very thing which will lead us to freedom and life.
God's Jealously Brings him Glory and us Freedom
1. God's Jealousy for his Glory (v10,11)
10Then theLord said: "I am making a covenant with you. Before all your people I will do wonders never before done in any nation in all the world. The people you live among will see how awesome is the work that I, the Lord, will do for you.
11Obey what I command you today. I will drive out before you the Amorites, Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.
God is making a covenant with his people a covenant that if the Israelites keep faithful to will result in the God driving out before them the Amorites, Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites so that they can take possession of the land promised to Abraham. But notice that here the motivation given isn't to provide the Israelites with a land of their own or even to make good on God's promises. No the reason for this covenant is that the nations would see God's awesome nature. So v10 says:
...Before all your people I will do wonders never before done in any nation in all the world. The people you live among will see how awesome is the work that I, the Lord, will do for you.
God desires that he be recognised as the awesome one, he is to be known as the one whose works are incomparable to anything else. God we could say is jealous for his glory. God is jealous for his reputation as the creating, sustaining, redeemer of the universe. That is who God is and the nations must recognise it. Last week Rod talked about the whole of salvation history being about God reestablishing his true identity. That is what is happening here: God is demanding to be known as God.
At first glance it might seem that God is mightily concerned with his own ego. Isn't this precisely the sort of self-interest that we find so unpleasant in ourselves and others. Is God like the person at a dinner party who only listens to others talk so that he can spot an opportunity to launch off into something about them?
No, we come unstuck when we apply human values to God. God is not like us, his desire to be known as God isn't the product of an over abundance of ego but of a lack of justice. For God not to be recognised as God, for his name not to be lifted up and praised but rather denigrated is the most unjust thing in the universe.
Now that is a shocking thing to say because there are many unjust things happening in our world right now, unjust things which rightly anger and concern us. But for God to be treated as less than God is an injustice of a greater magnitude than all those things. God deserves to be praised, his very essence is worthy of praise. Whereas we desperately seek to garner praise from wherever we can get whether we deserve it or not, and usually we don't, God has been denied praise which is owed to him.
It's a little like those who came second in the Tour de France between 1999 and 2005. Those races were won by Lance Armstrong who later admitted to having used performance-enhancing drugs to do so. Those riders have been denied the victories, the celebrations, the glory they should have received as Tour de France champions but they will never get it, it has been taken from them.
God is worthy of all praise and honour and glory. When he does not receive it is justice not God's 'ego' that is offended. Here justice has been offended by God's people spectacularly failing to recognise God as God and instead bowing down to a golden calf, offering a lump of metal the praise God deserved.
But God is jealous for his glory the nations will know his awesome works and so instead of wiping the Israelites out he answers Moses' plea for mercy and agrees to renew his covenant with Israel. God, for the sake of his name, for the sake of the glory he is due, shows mercy to his people Israel.
Now it's vital for us that we don't just accept God's righteous jealousy as an arbitrary piece of theological information. Theology is never arbitrary it is not enough simply to accept that God's jealousy is somehow different than ours and therefore acceptable. No, we must agree in our hearts that God is due the glory that our rebellion denies him for that is the call of heaven itself, Revelation 5.13 says:
"To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be praise and honour and glory and power,
for ever and ever!"
God's glory is the engine that powers the universe's existence, the unfolding of salvation and it must also be the desire that stirs us before all else. The praise of God's glorious name should be our aim but it is also our resource, it is like a power station we can tap into. Earlier in Exodus 33 Moses petitioned God to forgive Israel for the sake of his reputation among the nations, we can do the same. We may ask God to be merciful for the sake of his name. We can petition God for the sake of his glory to show mercy to Gateshead to save people here who will worship him forever.
God is jealous for his glory, jealous that his name be lifted up among the nations. But there is another aspect to God's jealousy seen here in Exodus 34 that is his jealousy for his redeemed people.
2. God's Jealousy for his People (v12-17)
12Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land where you are going, or they will be a snare among you. 13Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and cut down their Asherah poles. 14 Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.
We've already seen that God is jealous for his glory, that he desires his true identity to be recognised by the nations. But here in verse 14 we are told of God's jealousy for his people:
14 Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.
God's very name is 'Jealous'. In other words part of God's intrinsic nature is his jealousy and God applies that jealousy to his people. Again there's a problem for us because the idea of jealousy is a negative one for us. So for example if you look up a definition of jealous you get something like:
'feeling resentment against someone because of that person's rivalry, success, or advantages (often followed by of )e.g. 'He was jealous of his rich brother'.'
However, there's a problem when we apply that definition of jealousy towards God. For who is God jealous 'of'? God cannot be envious of others abilities or success for 'The earth is the Lord's and everything in it' (Psalm 24.1). Indeed we've already said that God is only jealous for the glory that already rightly belongs to him.
So what does v14 mean by saying God is a jealous God? Well there is another definition of jealousy which matches more closely with how God is described here. Jealous can also mean:
'vigilant in maintaining or guarding something'
Jealousy can refer to the passionate protection of something or someone thought to be valuable. Another way to put it might be that God is not jealous OF anything but he is jealous FOR certain things. God is jealous FOR his people. God thinks them valuable enough to be passionately concerned about them. 1 Peter 2.9 puts it like this:
9But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God...
God's people are precious to him, they are chosen by God, they are a people belonging to him. All of which could sound like the dangerously possessive jealousy we reject in people until we remember how it is that people have come to belong to God.
Firstly we have been made by God; we are his creatures without him we are not. Each breath is there on condition of his will. We all, therefore, in a very physical sense, belong to God. But for God's people there is an even deeper sense of being God's possession for we are people who have been bought at a price a people who have been saved out of darkness.
The Israelites were a people rescued from physical slavery, their God is the God who brought them out of Egypt a God who gained glory for himself by judging the sin of the Egyptians and who by the passover provided atonement for the sins of Israel. This is the same God who will buy back his people with the very blood of his son, shed on the cross.
God has bought his people at incredible cost to himself so that they might choose to have life in him. God is no jealous ex-lover but he is a lover of the souls of men. It is these people - God's people who God's jealousy is poured out on here. He wants these people whom he has saved, to be his people, to cling to their rescuer and have life not abandon him and choose death. It's in this context that we get the warnings of v13-17 to tear down the Asherah poles of the surrounding nations, to avoid inter-marriage and to be careful not to enter into a treaty (perhaps better translated covenant) with the nations around them. At the time enter into a treaty with another nation meant recognising and worshipping their gods - not a problem for the polytheistic nations around Israel but definitely a problem from those who belonged to a jealous God.
God's jealousy for us is a sign of his love for us. The same love that heard the Israelites plea for help and rescued them from Egypt, the same love that allowed Jesus to go willingly to the cross now desires that God's people live as and enjoy the benefits of being, God's people. So that's point two God is jealous FOR his people. But how are those people to respond, how are we to live as God's covenant people? That's what I want to look at in our final point.
3. Living as God's people (v18-35)
After God's self-definition of himself as a jealous God in v10-14 we come to a block of verses that seem rather familiar. Verses 17-26 are almost entirely unoriginal that is they are restatements of things previously said by God in Exodus including but not limited to a restatement of the decalogue; the ten commandments but including other material as well. So what is God doing here? Well I think at least two things.
First, God is re-inviting the Israelites into covenant relationship with him. Remember v10 'Behold I am making a covenant.' God is re-making the covenant the Israelites have broken by worshipping the golden calf. Verses 17-26 are a gracious offer to re-make that same covenant that the Israelites have broken. This isn't a lesser offer, a lesser covenant it is the same one with the same conditions.
Secondly, God is showing the Israelites how to live in covenant relationship with him. We've already seen God call for exclusive worship of him in v13-17 as he instructs the people to have nothing to do with the paganism of the surrounding nations. Now God applies five instructions from the wider covenant to help the Israelites live as God's people.
1. Remember that the covenant proceeds from not precedes God's grace. Verse 18 tells the Israelites to remember the feast of unleavened bread to remember that God saved them and then gave them the law not the other way round. Likewise for us God rescued us whilst we were still sinners he set his love upon us. Living as God's covenant people is always a response to his grace.
2. Verse 19 give God the firstfruits. We give to those whom we love - not to win their favour but because we want to honour them. People who understand that they have been bought at incredible price will desire to give in worship their very best to the one who has redeemed them.
3. Rest in God's presence verse 21. God reminds the Israelites of the creation's pattern of six days work followed by a day of rest. Within that is the promise of God's rest for his people, not just physical rest but the rest in a restored covenant relationship with him, rest in his presence.
4. Meet together regularly to worship. Verse 22-24 reminds the Israelites of the three times a year they will all corporately gather in festivals to worship God. Regular corporate worship is the privilege of God's people and so we are told in Hebrews not to give up meeting together but rather to regular meet to encourage one another.
5. Obey God's word. In v27 Moses is told to write down the words that God has previously said he would write. There is no distinction made between the words Moses will write and what is considered the words of God - an important rebuttal to those who would say that words written down by men could not be perfectly inspired by God. These words are to be written down because v27: 'in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel'. God's covenant love for his people is made known by his word, therefore his word is to be honoured, believed and obeyed.
So this God who is jealous for his glory and jealous for the singular worship of his people now gently restores them back to the blessing of being his people, of enjoying his presence. Surely this is not the jealousy that we so quickly reject. No this is the jealousy of a loving husband who desires the love of and the very best for his bride. We see this blessing of being loved by a fiercely jealous God made manifest in v29-35.
Moses shining face foreshadows a coming time when God's people will enter God's presence and they will be like him. Here Moses spends another forty days in God's presence and somehow that presence seems to attach itself to him so that his face shines such that he has to veil himself before others. Verse 30 says that they were even afraid to go near him. Moses looks like we will look when we go to be with God. Our reading from Ephesians put it like this:
27and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.
That is where God's people are headed to be with God unencumbered by our sin we will be presented as the bride of Christ free from any imperfection, from any shame. Now we await that day as God's covenant people confident that God's jealousy of his glory and for his people will lead us into joyful and free worship of him.