You saw no form of any kind the day the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire. Therefore watch yourselves very carefully, so that you do not become corrupt and make for yourselves an idol, an image of any shape, whether formed like a man or a woman, or like any animal on earth or any bird that flies in the air, or like any creature that moves along the ground or any fish in the waters below. And when you look up to the sky and see the sun, the moon and the stars—all the heavenly array—do not be enticed into bowing down to them and worshiping things the Lord your God has apportioned to all the nations under heaven. But as for you, the Lord took you and brought you out of the iron-smelting furnace, out of Egypt, to be the people of his inheritance, as you now are. The Lord was angry with me because of you, and he solemnly swore that I would not cross the Jordan and enter the good land the Lord your God is giving you as your inheritance. I will die in this land; I will not cross the Jordan; but you are about to cross over and take possession of that good land. Be careful not to forget the covenant of the Lord your God that he made with you; do not make for yourselves an idol in the form of anything the Lord your God has forbidden. For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God. – Deuteronomy 4: 15-24
We don’t need no stinking idols…perhaps this is a bit flippant..but it pretty much summarizes the sentiment that Moses is sharing with the Israelites. God led them through the desert in fire and cloud, they should not need anything more tangible after they cross over the Jordan River. Yet God knows their hearts and how they yearn for a more tangible God. Moses is telling them that they have everything they need in the commandments God gave Moses and their “jealous God” — a consuming fire.
Fire has always intrigued me…not in pyromaniac kind of way but just in a scientifically curious way. Fire is not really a thing as much as a reaction — the oxidation of easily “burnable” substances like wood or paper. Once something has caught fire the heat generated by the reaction actually makes the reaction proceed more easily and quickly. God wants the Israelites and us to be consumed by Him. He is the firestarter and we are the fuel. We are meant to become engulfed in the flame of the Holy Spirit and become part of the blazing Kingdom of God.
This idea of a “jealous God” is a bit difficult to understand. My brother and I actually had a long discussion about it not long ago. My brother could not understand how God could be jealous. What could God possibly be jealous about? He is omnipotent right — how could there be something that he could not have? Perhaps it will help to think about what it means for humans to be jealous of something or someone.
Typically we as humans feel jealous when we 1) want something that we cannot get or achieve; or 2) we want someone that seems to belong to someone else either mentally or physically. In what sense could God be jealous about the Israelites or us? Certainly God could simply force his hand and make the Israelites follow Him, but I do not think that is the freedom God has granted the Israelites or us. God has granted us the freedom to be free of God if we choose. This is an amazing mystery. In essence God wants us, but he has given us the freedom not to want Him.
The second reason for jealousy is when someone belongs to someone else spiritually or physically. I think this is where we as Christians often invoke God’s jealousy. Even when we have chosen to follow Christ we still have the freedom to give ourselves to things and people other than God. We give him only part of ourselves and retain those parts that we are either afraid, or unwilling, to give up. God wants all of us, even those parts we might want to hide away and pretend do not exist. He believes in us even when we do not believe in Him.
Prayer: Thank you God that you want all of us and that you have given us the freedom to choose You. May we choose wisely.