The marvel of the gospel is that God receives us as his people despite our wilful rebellion to him. Moses highlighted the reality of this when he prayed perhaps one of the most outlandish prayers in all of Scripture: “If now I have found favour in your sight, O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance” (Exodus 34:9). Notice his prayer: It is precisely because Israel is “a stiff-necked people” that he prayed for the Lord to go in the midst of them and take them as his inheritance.
Even more astonishingly, the Lord agreed: “Behold, I am making a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels, such as have not been created in all the earth or in any nation. And all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the LORD, for it is an awesome thing that I will do” (v. 10). What was that “awesome thing” that God would do? “I will drive out before you the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites” (v. 11). In light of this “awesome thing,” the Lord commanded, “Observe what I command you this day” (v. 11).
The specific command was that his people should make no covenant with the people of the land. Flowing from this, the Lord reiterated the terms of his original covenant with the people. If Israel formed an alliance with the Canaanites, they would be tempted to worship Canaanite gods and follow their pagan laws, rather than his laws (vv. 17–28), which was unacceptable because “the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” The phrase “the LORD, whose name is Jealous” translates the Hebrew name Yahweh Kanna Shemo, which is the name of God before us this week.
The particular word translated “jealous” in v. 14 is used exclusively of God in the Old Testament. It illustrates the parallel between idolatry and marital infidelity. God’s jealousy is not petty and unreasonable. Spouses have every right to expect exclusivity in their relationship. Nobody considers a person insecure who works hard to preserve the exclusivity of their relationship with their spouse. Jealousy is wrong when there is no just cause for it but, in the right context, jealousy is not only acceptable but good and necessary. In the divine context, there are several ways in which Yahweh Kanna Shemo’s jealousy is good and necessary. Let me mention just four.
First, Yahweh Kanna Shemo is jealous for his deity. He commanded his people to destroy pagan altars because those altars were constructed to those who were not, in fact, gods. In the Old Testament world, it was assumed that there was a pantheon of gods. The Old Testament sometimes picks up on this imagery and portrays God has the chief among the counsel of gods. In reality, however, the Bible clearly teaches that there is one God. All other claims to divinity are empty. That is why God demanded the exclusive devotion of his people: “You shall worship no other god” (v. 14) and, “You shall not make for yourself any gods of cast metal” (v. 17).
The gods of the nations patiently tolerated other competing gods. Baal and Molech could peacefully coexist, but when the ark of the covenant was placed in the same room as the statue of Dagon, Dagon must bow (1 Samuel 5:1–5).
Spurgeon wrote that “the whole history of the human race is a record of the wars of the Lord against idolatry.” Everybody has something of ultimate importance—whether self, or spouse, or children, or education, or employment, or wealth—and that which is of ultimate importance is our god. Yahweh Kanna Shemo demands that place of first importance, for he alone deserves it.
Second, Yahweh Kanna Shemo is jealous of his authority. Psalm 2 speaks of Yahweh’s scornful laughter at those who try to cast off the shackles of his authority. He warns that he will be angry with those who do not kiss him in submission and that, in his anger, they will perish when his wrath is quickly kindled. It is no mistake that God’s call to his people to worship him exclusively is accompanied by a repetition of some of his commands. If they worship him exclusively, they will obey his commands. As Jesus said, it is useless to call him Lord if we are unwilling to do what he commands (Luke 6:46).
We cast off God’s authority every time we sin. Sin is disobedience—actively or passively—to God’s commands. Spurgeon called sin “deliberate treason against the majesty of God, an assault upon his crown, an insult offered to his throne.” When we sin, we, in that moment, dethrone Christ and put ourselves in his place. It is another manifestation of idolatry, with which God is not pleased.
Third, Yahweh Kanna Shemo is jealous of his glory. For Israel to worship other gods was to consider them more glorious and beautiful than Yahweh. For them to disregard his commands was an attack on his character, for his commands are an outworking of his character. Yahweh’s actions for his people flow from his character and therefore highlight his glory. To worship other gods is to give glory to them that belongs to him alone.
We are far too prone to yearn after the glory that belongs to God alone. We want praise for what we do and accomplish as if we have done it apart from God’s enabling. One of the hardest prayers for us to sincerely pray is that recorded in Psalm 115:1: “Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory.” It is a simple prayer to verbalise but far more difficult to internalise.
We rob God of his glory when we walk proudly instead of humbly. We rob God of his glory when we misrepresent him to others—or when we misrepresent him to ourselves. We rob God of his glory when our worship becomes man-centred rather than God-centred. We must be careful of taking that for ourselves which belongs to God alone.
Finally, Yahweh Kanna Shemo is jealous of his people. As noted above, the term translated “jealous” in Exodus 34:14 is used in the Old Testament only of God, and it highlights that idolatry is akin to marital infidelity. He has entered into particular relationship with his people, secured by his own “awesome thing” on the cross of Calvary. Yahweh Kanna Shemo is profoundly jealous of the people he purchased with his own blood.
What does God jealously require of his people?
First, his jealousy requires their love. He gave his life for his people, purchasing them with his own blood. He did this out of love and calls his people to love him as he loved them. I recently saw a video in which a ten-year-old girl asked John MacArthur how she could know she is saved. He smiled and asked, “Do you believe that you’re a sinner and that Jesus died for your sin?” She did. “Do you believe that he rose from the dead?” She did. “Have you repented of your sins and asked for forgiveness?” She had. “Do you love Jesus?” She did. “Then it sounds like you’re a Christian,” he concluded. God’s people love him because he first loved them.
Second, his jealously requires their trust. He does not want us to trust in our strength, ingenuity, wealth, or relationship. He wants us to trust in him alone. He is jealous for our exclusive trust.
Third, his jealousy requires their company. God desires a relationship with his people. He wants to talk to us through his word and wants us to talk to him in prayer. He wants us to acknowledge him in our lives and decisions. He wants to meet with us around the Table. His work has made that possible and he now calls us to enter into such relationship with him alone.