For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, even a jealous God.
The assertion that such a quality as this belongs to God as one of the attributes of His moral character involves a number of deep and awful considerations; they seem to include the love as well as the holiness and justice of the Deity in one complex idea; and to form, from the union of these qualities in one attribute of jealousy, a touching, as well as a tremendous, picture of His feelings towards us. For let us remark, first, that the existence of jealousy in God implies the previous existence of love. If He had not loved us Himself He would have been indifferent to our dispositions towards Him. If He had not felt that love was due from us to Him, as a return for love already exercised towards us, He would not have resented its being withheld, nor made use of this phrase as declaratory of the state of His affections. In agreement with this idea we find that jealousy in God is never spoken of except with a reference to those whom, in one sense or other, He has called and chosen as His own; whose love therefore He has a right to claim as due to Himself, in virtue of some covenant relation; and whose love He has excited by some previous exercise of favour and benevolence. Any wandering of affections, any deviation from the truth of allegiance, however slight it may seem to the eye of indifference, carries wounds and provocation to that of jealousy, and we may therefore say that such behaviour as this, when existing in the people of God, is calculated to excite in Him a feeling of resentment analogous to that which unrequited love and infidelity excite in the heart of man. Let us also remark that this attribute is peculiar to the true God, to the Jehovah of our worship. The idols of heathenism were imagined to be ready to share their honours with another, and were never supposed to object to the devotions which were paid to deities of other names or of other lands. They felt that they had no exclusive prerogative to power. They felt, or rather their worshippers felt, that even while they were the objects of adoration, they had no absolute dominion. And what was then true with regard to them is equally true with regard to the idols and idolaters of the world at present. They have no jealousy of one another. They are only jealous of God, and exhibit no feelings of the sort except when He is the object of attraction. Again, let us remark that the natural objects of jealousy are the affections of the heart. Justice may, in some respects, be thought to fulfil the object of jealousy, but justice is a gross and inactive feeling in comparison with jealousy. The slights and wanderings which inflict anguish unspeakable on the heart cannot be put into a balance and have the extent of their criminality noted by weight. How, then, can we imagine that justice is the only attribute with which those are concerned whose duty it is to love God with all their heart, and who are directed to worship Him in spirit and in truth, if they would worship Him acceptably at all? Under faith in this attribute of God it is not merely actual sin that we are told to deprecate in ourselves, or in others, but it is the love of other things than God. Have we gone, for instance, to seek pleasure in the company of His enemies? Have we sought our bread in ways which are not His? Have we looked for comfort and peace and enjoyment in other objects than in His favour? Have we been betrayed into forgetfulness of His love in the hour of trial? Have we felt coldly in His service? Whatever our own opinions may have been on such subjects, and whatever may be the system of the world, we cannot deny, and we cannot doubt, that these, and all such wanderings of the heart, must be provocations to a jealous God. It is perhaps from considering in this manner the attribute of jealousy in God that we are best able to appreciate the danger of what is commonly called the world. The world sees the justice of God, and the world fears it, and therefore it is cautious of advising anything which may seem to provoke it. But if the words of our text be true — "If the Lord our God be a consuming fire, even a jealous God, what are the terrors of His justice compared with those of His jealousy? Compared with jealousy, justice seems a cold, deliberating principle. It comes, but its very name implies that it comes slowly and maturely. It comes, but it may be pleaded with; it may be reasoned against; it may be retarded or mollified by our reasonings. But jealousy is like fire. It comes to act, to consume; and little has the world gained for its votaries by teaching them to try not to offend the justice of God, while it encourages them daily to provoke His jealousy. For, lastly, let us remark on this subject the violence of those feelings which jealousy brings into action. Do we not see that among, ourselves it bursts at once the tenderest ties of which the heart of man is conscious? Founded on justice as its principle, but quickened by resentment in its action, it seems the most tremendous quality which we are capable of provoking against ourselves; and indeed, as it is peculiarly directed against that which is thought to be of all sins the most offensive — the sin of ingratitude — and of ingratitude, not for favours, but for love — it may well excite terror in those against whom it may be directed from our Maker. Let us close this subject with considering the degree in which we ourselves may be in danger of experiencing its exercise. If jealousy, which arises from love and proceeds only from love, is to be in proportion to that love which it proceeds from, what jealousy can be compared to that with which God is jealous now towards His people?
(H. Raikes, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For the LORD thy God is a consuming fire, even a jealous God.