Names of God: El Kanna (Jealous God)

Exodus 20:5 NIV in white text against a tan textured background with book 100 names of god advertised in corner.
“You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God.”

Who wants to be thought of as jealous? This unflattering description brings to mind the petty schoolgirl who bitterly resents the spotlight that a peer is enjoying, or the fact that her rival’s boyfriend is cuter than hers. To be jealous is to be vain, selfish, suspicious. It is to move through life greedily desiring all the good things that others have, never fully acknowledging or appreciating the good things in one’s own life.

And yet, there is another kind of jealousy—a holy version. It’s this noble form of jealousy that God has for His people, according to the Bible. But why is this a fitting jealousy? Why is God right to want us exclusively for Himself? Because He made us, and in Christ He purchased us (1 Corinthians 6:20; 7:23). 

Divine jealousy isn’t motivated by greed or selfishness. God’s holy jealousy is rooted in a desire to protect, provide, and bless. He always and only wants what is best for His chosen ones. And what can be better than His perfect love? 

Instead of imagining the negative and hurtful jealousy displayed by a petty schoolgirl, we need to imagine the protecting and providing jealousy of God. Picture God more as an adoring husband who catches his once-faithful wife turning to other lovers (who have evil motives), and who jealously seeks to rescue her—not to punish her for her betrayal, but to win back her heart.

When God freed the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt, He took them to Mount Sinai and, in essence, married them there, taking them as His bride. In that ceremony, they gladly pledged their loyalty and devotion to God alone. However, God told them they would soon be surrounded by neighbors who were devoted to other gods. He warned them they would be tempted to turn away and be unfaithful. Lastly, He assured them He would not stand idly by and allow that to happen. As a jealous God, He would fight fervently for their attention and affection. 

When God calls Himself jealous, it is a reminder to us that our worship cannot be divided. The Great Commandment is to love God with “all” (not part of) our hearts. He alone is worthy of our devotion. He alone is deserving of our hearts. 

Still, God’s demand for worship raises questions in the minds of many believers and nonbelievers. Is He needy? Is He being egotistical? No. Actually He’s being righteous and good. He knows that the ones He loves will find life, ultimate meaning, purpose, and joy nowhere else. He knows that He alone always seeks what’s best for us. He also knows that He alone is the one place where our hearts will find their true home. 

This is why when Jesus came, He reminded us that we cannot serve two masters (Matthew 6:24). He told us that whoever is not for God is against Him (Luke 11:23). We cannot be “sort of,” “sometimes,” or “mostly” devoted to God. We either give ourselves to Him or we give ourselves to other lovers. 

God is jealous for our love because He is zealous for us to know His.


God, drive from my heart anything that captures my attention and affection more than You. May I not make You jealous today by being unfaithful. Amen.

This blog post is adapted from my book 100 Names of God Daily Devotional, which is now available.

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