A Jealous and Intimate God
Rev. Kurt Lantz 3 Lent B Exodus 20:1-17
March 07, 2021 Resurrection Lutheran Church St. Catharines, ON
Dear people of the LORD,
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jealousy can be a frightening thing. You know how your own jealousy can burn as an uncontrolled fire within you, boiling over with poison filling your thoughts, spewing hateful words out of your mouth, and sometimes even giving over to unrestrained, violent acts. You might also know how it feels to have that kind of jealousy unleashed upon you in a fearful rage, inflicting serious harm upon both mind and body.
God put in a special appearance on Mount Sinai to His beloved people, and spoke for Himself the words of today’s Old Testament Reading: “I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love Me and keep My commandments” (Exodus 20:5-6).
He had brought them out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. He rescued them. He freed them. He defeated their captors. He promised them a life of blessing under His care. He had a land picked out for them to live in. He would bring them there. He would dwell with them there. He would continue to shower them with His grace and blessing. He spoke to them plainly and said, “I the LORD your God am a jealous God.”
Our Catechism puts this Bible passage as the Conclusion of the Ten Commandments. Although in the Bible it comes after the first commandment, it sums up what God thinks of them all. He is a jealous God and so He “threatens to punish all those who break these commandments. Therefore, we should fear His wrath and not do anything against them. But He promises grace and every blessing to all who keep these commandments. Therefore, we should also love and trust in Him and gladly do what He commands” (Luther’s Small Catechism).
We tend to think that to be jealous is a bad character trait. It is, when the jealous person is focused on themselves. I get jealous because I want something for myself. I am jealous of you when you have it and I don’t. I only care about myself. I don’t care about you and I don’t really care about whatever I’m jealous over. I’m willing to see it destroyed if it can’t be mine.
But God’s jealousy is not for Himself. He doesn’t want something just in order to possess it. He already possesses everything. He didn’t need the children of Israel. He could have left them in bondage in Egypt and not lost out on anything. God was jealous for the Israelites because He knew they would be much better off with Him than in slavery to the Egyptians. He is not jealous for His own sake, but for ours.
In classic depictions of human jealousy, a man may say that he is jealous for the sake of the woman and that she would be better off with him than with anyone else. But he is really more concerned about himself. He wants his own life to feel more complete, whether she would truly be better off with him or not is not his first concern.
God’s divine jealousy is not tainted with sinful human self-centredness. He is jealous for His people entirely for their sake. It is absolutely true that they would be better off with Him than with anyone else. No one has the perfect love that God has for His people. No one has the perfect care that God has for His people. No one can give them the perfect life that God can give to His people.
He is a jealous God who says “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3) because any other god will hurt you; any other god will enslave you; any other god will abuse you; any other god will devour you; any other god will drag you down to hell with them.
All of the commandments are based on God’s loving jealousy for His people. He forbids the misuse of His name because He wants them to use it to pray, praise and give thanks to Him alone who will answer their prayers. He wants them to remember the Sabbath Day so that they will have the rest that He ordained for them in a world where their sin has made life so toilsome. He commands parents to be honoured because He has given parents to care and nurture their children. He forbids murder because He has given them life. He forbids adultery because He has blessed the union of man and wife. He forbids stealing because possessions are His gifts to His people. He forbids false testimony because He wants His people’s honour to be upheld. He forbids coveting because He has truly given us all we need for a contented life under His loving care. None of these commandments do anything for Him. They are all selflessly given so that the life of His people might blessed.
This helps us somewhat to understand what seems to be the uncharacteristic actions of Jesus in today’s Gospel Reading. “making a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with sheep and oxen. And He poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And He told those who sold the pigeons, ‘Take these things away; do not make My Father’s house a house of trade.’ His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’” (John 2:15-17). We remember it too, because we sang it in the Introit from Psalm 69:9.
Jesus was zealous for His Father’s house. The LORD your God is a jealous god. “Zealous” and “jealous” are the same word in Hebrew. So it wasn’t uncharacteristic of Jesus at all. It was completely in line with who He is. He is the LORD God who brought the Israelites out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage, who spoke to them the Ten Commandments and all of the instructions about the tabernacle and temple that are also recorded in the Book of Exodus. When Solomon built the first temple He prayed that from there God would answer the prayers of all people (1 Kings 8), and they had made it a house of trade instead.
Jesus was zealous for His father’s house, because He is the LORD God, who is a jealous god, who is jealous for the sake of His people. His concern was again for His people, who should have access to God’s presence and grace freely for their salvation. Not only was the access of the children of Israel impeded by the constant trade going on, it was all happening in the court of the Gentiles, and so the temple was no longer a house of prayer for all people (Isaiah 56:7).
This divine jealousy of Jesus Christ the LORD is clearly explained in His desire for all people to be recipients of His love and grace. He threatens to punish all who break these commandments to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Him. That severe punishment for any who would disrupt the grace and blessing that He wants to give to His people, is only overshadowed (and vastly overshadowed) by the fact that He shows steadfast love to thousands of those who love Him and keep His commandments (those who receive His forgiving love and let that love flow through them to others).
We can confidently pray to the Lord whose glory it is always to have mercy, that He would be gracious to all who have gone astray from His ways and broken His commandments; that He would bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and ever hold fast the unchangeable truth of His Word, and so love Him and keep His commandments. That is the steadfast love of a jealous god shown to you and to all.
Jesus Christ the LORD was not concerned about the temple building. He was concerned about His people who needed access to the forgiving grace of God, who needed His holiness so that they would be holy; the people over whom He wanted His benediction spoken to bless them and keep them, to make His face shine upon them and be gracious unto them, to look upon them with favour and give them peace. The temple was the place where God initiated this intimate communion with His people, sharing His divine life with them in the proclaimed Word, in pronounced blessings, and in sacrificial communion.
Jesus was not going to let their defiling of His Father’s house disrupt the steadfast love that He has to give to thousands. Their own actions might destroy the temple building that took 46 years to build, but there was another temple where the love of God for His people would flow inviolate. He might as well have been pointing to His side, where the soldier’s spear would pierce deep, when He said, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19).
Jesus’ crucified and risen body is the temple where we have intimate communion with our jealous God. It is the indestructible place where God shows steadfast love to thousands. It is where His love is shown to you, to forgive you your fits of jealous rage and to cleanse you from the hurt and harm that has come upon you because of the sinful jealousy of self-centred people who have sought to possess you and what is yours.
In the destruction and resurrection of Jesus’ body, God shows His steadfast love to thousands of those who love Him and keep His commandments. Jesus’ Body given and received in the Church is where God is intimate with you. He will always be a jealous god, not jealous of you but jealous for you in the face of anyone who would seek to take His love and blessing from your life.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.