There is a difference between jealousy and envy, but we use the words as if they mean the same thing. One is sinful and the other describes God.
Envy is coveting – wanting something that you do not have, and in this Facebook age, it’s all the rage. People pour over each other’s pages, over sculpted images, often designed to make others envious of the super life that they have. Instead of being thankful for what they have, people ignore the wise adage that “comparison is the thief of joy” and envy eats them up. Joy is deflated like a balloon.
But sometimes jealousy, which is quite different than envy, can result in boundless joy! Let me explain what I mean.
When giving the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20, God warns that he is a jealous God, who does not tolerate rivals. He wants a committed love relationship with us, and he is not prepared to share our affections with any other. He will not tolerate what might be called an “open relationship” in today’s terms – he is strictly monogamous. When the people of Israel (or any of his beloved, including you and I) spend too much time and attention with another, allow our hearts to go astray, or prioritise something or someone else ahead of him, there is a righteous response of jealous anger. He has given everything for us and to us, and our hearts should belong to him. Praise God that this sin of idolatry is also paid for by the blood of Yeshua, and we only need to confess our sin and repent and he promises that he will always forgive us and welcome us back into his embrace.
Envy is the wrong response when we are tempted to want something that rightfully belongs to another. It is about discontent and greed.
But jealousy is the right response when someone who is rightly yours is intimate with another. It is primarily about relationship.
And here’s another time in Scripture where jealousy is a right response, with great results. In Deuteronomy 32:21, God says;
“They [the people of Israel] have made me jealous with what is no god; they have provoked me to anger with their idols. So I will make them jealous with those who are no people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation.”
Right from the get-go, God knows full well that his people will go astray. But he has a plan to win them back. He’s going to make them jealous! Paul reiterates this promise from the Torah in Romans 10:19 and continues by asking in 11:11,
“Did they [the people of Israel] stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!”
Yes, it was God’s plan that his new covenant would extend the possibility of relationship with God to all the peoples of the earth… and that this would also cause the Jewish people to see what they were missing out on!
As Jewish believers, many of us found ourselves jealous of the relationship our Christian friends had with God, and of their knowledge of our own Hebrew Scriptures, which led to wanting to know God like that for ourselves. This is the right of all God’s children, Jew and gentile, but only through the blood of the Messiah to remove the blockage of sin that stands in the way. Sometimes unbelieving Jewish people can only look on and long for such a relationship, wondering how it is that these gentiles have such a special connection with their God.
Because He is precisely that – our God! But now, the good news has gone out from Zion to the ends of the earth! Today, our God is the God of all nations. So there is a twang of jealousy – wait a minute – isn’t he the God of Israel? These Psalms are from the Jewish King David to his God – they are Jewish! Song of Songs is a love story between God and Israel, isn’t it? What is this? How are these gentiles able to enjoy such closeness and love with our God? How come they have it and I don’t?
Some people think that Jewish people will be consumed by fits of jealousy by gentiles who follow the rules of the Torah extremely well, but biblical jealousy has never been about toeing the line and following rules. No. It is a deeply relational phenomenon. It is driven only by love, and the knowledge that your beloved is intimately enjoying another. It is seeing the living relationship with the Father that gentiles enjoy – the peace in his love, the rich connection and two-way communication that Yeshua has bought for us all that provokes the jealousy; seeing gentiles with a close connection with the God of Israel.
This is the jealousy that provokes many Jewish people into finding out more about Yeshua, the One through whom this connection is possible.
This is the jealousy that has led many Jewish people back into the arms of their Father God.
This is the jealousy that results in boundless joy… and in turn, as Jewish people are won back to their God, unimaginable riches for the whole world.