El Qanna, the Jealous God

It’s Thursday, time for some theology.

Jealousy is typically considered a bad thing. If you call someone jealous, you are probably referring to the fact that they can’t handle you having something they don’t have. Or maybe you would use it to refer to a “jealous boyfriend” or “jealous girlfriend,” whose actions usually end up bordering on obsessiveness or abuse.

But God at times refers to himself as a “jealous” God. The Hebrew term is “El Qanna.” He uses it when he says, “Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Exodus 34:14). For those who think of the word “jealous” only in the negative sense, it may be somewhat startling to hear God say that his very name is “Jealous,” but there is in that name something very wonderful about God, if we can understand it the way he means us to.

While a jealous boyfriend or jealous girlfriend is usually an unhealthy thing, there is a form of jealousy that is completely healthy when it occurs in the right kind of relationship. The Merriam-Webster dictionary lists as the first definition of “jealous”:

“intolerant of rivalry or unfaithfulness.”

Certainly, a husband has every right to be intolerant of a rival for his wife’s affections, and the wife for her husband’s. God uses the picture of marriage often to describe his relationship with his people. Just as it is completely loving for a husband to desire to be the sole object of his wife’s romantic affection, so it is completely loving for God to desire to be the sole object of our worship and adoration.

God wants to be everything to us. That is what it means to be El Qanna.

Another definition is this:

“vigilant in guarding a possession”

We don’t like to think of people as possessions, but going back to that picture of marriage, isn’t it completely loving for a husband to be vigilant in protecting his wife? If she is in physical danger, or if she is coming under social attack from someone, don’t we all like to see a husband who passionately stands up in his wife’s defense and guards her against all harm?

God does the same for us, especially when it comes to our sin. He sees the sin in our lives, the temptations that surround us, the attacks of the devil, and rather than waiting passively by, he stands up and fights on our behalf. He tells us that he will always provide a way out of temptation. He tells us that he will pull us through the hardest trial. He tells us that he took the devil on toe-to-toe at the cross and won the victory.

God wants to guard and protect us, his most treasured people. That is what it means to be El Qanna.

Jealous God. Divine passion burning for his people. That is El Qanna.

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