The first of the Ten Commandments says, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). In the ancient world, this idea of other gods was confined to images made of wood or stone, or imagined mythical gods of nature, sun, moon and so on.
These gods were considered envious and “filled with a grudge against too great prosperity” in humans. This sort of envy was a malevolent spite that filled idol worshipers with fear that their gods would react to whatever they did with wrath. Such gods were not bowed to in reverential awe but with terror, and much was done to appease them. Considering such idols, God said,
You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me…. (Exodus 20:5)
When the true God revealed Himself, first to the Jews through the prophets and then to the world through His Son, this concept of divine envy changed. The Scriptures and the testimony of those who read and believe in God’s Word, discovered that God is love. His love goes to such depth that He sacrificed His Son for our sakes, proving the wonder of it. It is in this revelation that we see the jealousy of God.
This divine jealousy means that God will tolerate no rival. Jesus Christ makes a claim on the human heart of absolute and unconditional surrender. He tolerated abuse and everything else raised against Him, but would not concede that there is any other way to God. He alone is our Savior.
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
Only Jesus, no other way, no other gods. The idea of God being jealous gives me a sense of awe that is almost fear, but not quite. I realize that He is passionately jealous, but also that His desire for my loyalty is not about Himself. Instead, He is jealous for my sake, for my good. He wants the best for me and all rivals will take me away from that desire.
I think of the things people rely on instead of God. Pills for pain, booze for joy, the good life for a sense of purpose, our own wits instead of His wisdom, money and might for power, and so on. These are not idols made of silver and gold, yet they are bowed to daily as the gods of this age. Every time that I put these or anything else from the world around me in place of God, I am spurning His intense love and provoking His divine jealousy. No wonder that the mere thought of idolatry gives me a knot in my gut. God have mercy.