You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God (Exodus 20:4-5a, NIV).
Confession. I’ve never quite understood the concept of a jealous God. Attributing jealousy to the Almighty, Omnipotent, Creator of the universe, seemed at the least odd and even demeaning.
Thinking of God as jealous conjured up memories of spurned girlfriends and boyfriends on the school playground, or the yucky feeling I got when my brother got the attention and accolades from our parents that I was craving.
Surely, God is bigger than that, isn’t he?
Yes. And perhaps the problem comes because we don’t read the complete definition of jealous. We miss the part of the definition that says: fiercely protective or vigilant of one’s rights or possessions.
If we look to the intro of this passage, Exodus 20:2, we see that God identifies himself as the Lord God who rescued the people from slavery in Egypt. Paul describes God’s action as having bought us (1 Corinthians 6:20). The story of Hosea and how he bought back his wife is the metaphor for what God has done, and continues to do for his people.
And he is fiercely protective of his possessions. There is some incredibly good news in this. It’s why we can read the 23rd Psalm and feel good, or think of the warm welcome of the Prodigal and feel hope.
But every choice will bring consequences—good or bad. So, choosing to worship anything other than God will incur his wrath and discipline.
We get into trouble by “worshiping anything that ought to be used or using anything that ought to be worshiped (St. Augustine).” For example material possessions, knowledge, sex, science, or political parties. These things grab our devotion, our time, our attention.
Jesus spoke to our twisted tendency in his sermon on the mount: your heart will be where your treasure is (Matthew 6:21). What we passionately pursue becomes our treasure, it supersedes our relationship with God and is an idol.
And God says, “Don’t do it.”
As we work our way through these ten commands, we will see that God wants us to basically get two relationships in proper perspective: our relationship with him, and our relationship with others. No other God except him—God the Creator, not anything we would try to put in his place.