“I, the Lord Your God, Am a Jealous God”

(Exodus 20:1-6 – Lent 3 – March 4, 2018)

Exodus 20:1-6 – And God spoke all these words, saying: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor 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 fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments. 

Dear Redeemed in Christ Jesus:

To be jealous often carries negative connotations. In human relationships, jealousy often has to do with a selfish emotions. One person may be jealous of another’s money, possessions, status, success, or relationships. One person feels more deserving to have, and feels resentment toward the one who has. Such jealousy may lead one person to get what is coveted, by stealing another’s possessions, or by interfering with another’s relationship.

But there is a good meaning to jealousy, when it expresses zeal and passion for what is good and right. For example, a husband loves his wife as his own flesh. But someone else begins to interfere and steal away his wife’s heart. When a husband feels anger against such evil intrusion, and seeks to protect his marriage, it is righteous jealousy. For God has joined husband and wife for life; and what God has joined together, no one has the right to separate.

God says here: “I, the Lord Your God, Am a Jealous God.” He speaks as the Bridegroom of your soul. The one true God, who created and redeemed you for an eternal relationship with Himself, is righteously 1) Jealous for your heart and 2) Jealous for your salvation.

1) Jealous for your heart

God is jealous for your heart. This is clear in His first Commandment: “You shall have no other gods before Me.” There is no other god beside Him. Who else was there in the beginning, creating everything in the universe, giving life to every creature and person? Who else is there each day, richly providing us with food and clothing, home and family, property and goods, and all that we need to support this body and life; and protecting us from all danger, guarding and keeping us from all evil? God alone deserves our heart and worship, as our creator and life-giver. He wants us to look to Him for all things. As Luther explained in his Small Catechism concerning this first Commandment: “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.”

God knows there are many false gods, calling with seductive voices to steal our hearts from love and trust in Him alone. So He goes on to say: “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them.”

In Israel’s day, the nations all around them worshiped idols and images carved of clay, wood, stone, and metal to represent their false gods. God had just rescued the Israelites from bondage in Egypt, where they had seen such false gods. As He led them in the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land, He knew they would be tempted to turn back to those false gods when the going got tough. Already here at Mount Sinai, as He gave them His holy Law through Moses, they would produce an idol of a golden calf after the manner of an Egyptian god, declaring: “This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!” (Exodus 32:4). Later in the Promised Land, they would worship graven images of Canaanite gods. On every side, false gods called the people to fear, love and trust in them – from the seductive voices of fertility gods, to gods promising victory in battle, to gods promising good health and life. So often, God saw His people giving their hearts to such false deities and bringing them home like lovers. The jealous God declared: They have committed adultery with their idols” (Ezekiel 23:37).

Not many in our society have literal idols of clay, wood, stone, or metal to which they bow, calling them gods. Yet, all around there are images calling for us to fear, love, and trust them more than the one true living God. In our Catechism we ask: “Of what do people make false gods?” Answer: “People make idols of themselves, other persons, and other created things.”

At times, we are tempted to idolize created things. Many look to images of the stars and planets in heaven above, in hope of finding guidance and a future; or to images in nature on the earth beneath, in hope of finding peace and life – instead of looking to God in His Word. “In God we trust,” it says on our money; but we are tempted to trust the images of metal, paper, or plastic we can hold in our hand, and all the created things it can buy, more than the unseen God.

At times, we are tempted to idolize other people. We see images of fame in celebrity idols, showing us how to look and act. We see images of power in leaders, promising to provide and protect. We see images of wisdom in teachers, promising to tell us how we got here and how we can make the most of ourselves. Often we are more concerned about what people think than God; we seek love and security in human relationships more than in our relationship with God.

At times, we are tempted to idolize ourselves. The popular voices call out: “Follow your own heart to know what is right.” We are tempted to trust our understanding and strength to guide and provide. And when God gives us good gifts and success, we are tempted to look in the mirror and say: “You did it! Glory be to you!”

As with the Israelites, false gods all around call out with seductive voices – images of sex and pleasure, images of wealth and possessions, images of power and success. Like the golden calf in the wilderness, the idols of our day cry out for our worship and service: “This is your god… Here you will find deliverance. Here you will find fulfillment. Here you will find life.”

When God says, “You shall have no other gods before Me,” literally it is: “before My face.” When He sees us turning to false gods, embracing images of temptation, nothing escapes His attention. Like a jealous husband, He says: “Get these out of my face!”

It fills Him with righteous wrath to see our heart beginning to turn to other loves. And well it should; for He knows where it leads: He knows who is behind those images. 1 Corinthians 10:20 says those who sacrifice to idols sacrifice to demons and not to God.” God knows Satan’s goal is not just to cut in on a little dance with His Bride. The evil one wants to win our heart and soul, to lead us to join him in the dance of death and doom.

Sin is spiritual adultery. It separates us from the only true life and love of God. It brings judgment. Therefore He warns. “I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me.”

We see this coming true in the temporal judgments God sent on Israel. When one generation rebelled against God in the wilderness, the result of their sin was felt for a few generations, as children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren had to wander in the wilderness before entering the Promised Land. Later, after many generations had again fallen for Canaanite gods, the results of the fathers’ sins would be felt by three and four generations captivated by enemies.

When parents sin, often children feel temporal consequences. It is true when parents turn to substance abuse, adultery, love of money, anger and revenge, and other false gods and hopes. Sin breaks up love and family, it brings shame, pain, and hopelessness. And too often, children repeat the sins of their parents and then suffer the consequences. Each generation shares the same problem; for sinful flesh gives birth to sinful flesh, and sinful flesh is drawn to false gods.

Finally, every person stands before God in judgment based on his own relationship to God, not another’s. As God said in Deuteronomy 24:16: Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall the children be put to death for their fathers; a person shall be put to death for his own sin.” Isn’t this why God warns about “visiting the iniquity… of those who hate Me”? This describes all who turn away from God in unbelief, and turn to other gods as their first love. There is no life apart from God. Unbelief divorces us from our only life-giver; unbelief damns. God does not want this for anyone.

2) Jealous for your salvation

What is the solution? Repentance. Break the cycle. Make no excuses. The only true lover of our soul already knows where we have strayed as sinners. He says in 1 Corinthians 10:14: “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.” But where shall we flee? Not from Him, but to Him. For not only is the Lord your God jealous for your heart; He is jealous for your salvation.

Here, God expresses His love and zeal to save sinners. Not only is He a just God, punishing sin and unfaithfulness; He is above all a merciful God, far more ready to show forgiveness, as He says: “showing mercy to thousands.”

Just how jealous is God for our salvation? Consider His passionate zeal, as He reminds the Israelites of all He had done to redeem them: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” God had seen them in bondage to Pharaoh. He had seen their suffering, hopelessly enslaved to harsh slave masters. The Lord, who had made His covenant with Israel’s forefathers, was faithful to His loving promises. As a jealous husband, seeing another mistreat His bride, He could not stand by and watch. He came to save His people and set them free. On the Passover, under the sign of the blood of the lamb painted on their doorposts, the Lord delivered them. He brought them through the waters of the Red Sea, as a kind of baptism. He separated them from their enemies, calling them “My people.”

But the Old Covenant was a shadow of God’s passion and zeal in saving a world of sinners. We see the jealous love of God for our salvation fulfilled in Christ. He saw us in bondage to Satan. He saw us enslaved to sin and the hopelessness it brings. He did not stand by and let us be taken. He kept His New Covenant. The heavenly Bridegroom came to redeem the unfaithful. In His zeal for our salvation, He kept the First Commandment and every Commandment for us; He faced the evil intruder and conquered all temptation for us, saying: “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.'” In His passion for our salvation, He went to the cross bearing all our sin and unfaithfulness. The Lamb of God shed His precious blood to deliver us from bondage to Satan, sin, and death. The heavenly Bridegroom gave His life for His Bride; that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word” (Ephesians 5:26-27). He brought us through the waters of baptism, cleansing us, separating us from our enemies, calling us “My people.”

God spoke the words of our text three months after He brought His people out of Egypt. In light of having redeemed them as His people, He gave His Commandments. At the same time, He repeated His Covenant of love to them. In it, He describes His people as: “those who love Me and keep My commandments.” This is the love and obedience that comes from faith. We do not love and obey in slavish fear, to become redeemed. We love and obey in the freedom of Christ, because we are redeemed. We love Him because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).

Dear Redeemed in Christ: We can be thankful for the jealous love of the Lord our God. The Bridegroom of our soul has held nothing back. He laid down His life to make us His own. He has called us to join Him in the dance of life and joy forever. How does the Bride of Christ respond, seeing all He has done to win her heart and salvation? She sings: “What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!”

Now by faith, we can rightly fear, love, and trust in Him above all things. His love moves us to godly fear – that reverent worship and respect that does not want to sin against Him, but to honor Him. His love moves us to godly trust – that blessed assurance that He who gave His life for us will continue to provide and protect us for our good. His wondrous love moves us to say: “the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.