Paul points out, in Ephesians 6, that the command to honor your parents is the first command with a promise. It’s a promise of long life in the land of promise. In a way, the second commandment sounds like it comes with a threat. But buried in the threat is a promise:
“You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.Exodus 20:4-6 NASB
The worship of Yahweh is unique in its absence of animal and human imagery. While the world around them had images worshiped in the form of mixed animals and human images, the Hebrews were to have none. This proved a difficult command for them. They couldn’t even follow it for the time Moses was on the mountain speaking with God. Even as a belief in some sort of spiritual deity is pervasive throughout human history and nearly every human culture, so is the imagery.
Knowing this, knowing how difficult it will be for them, God provides something about Himself to compel His people to obey. He is a jealous God. This word is an unfortunate choice of English words for this concept. It really is the best option, but only because we have so few. This word is only used in the Pentateuch, the first five books of Scripture (the Torah), and only six times total. It only ever is used of God, so using a common word referring to how people relate to one another has to be lacking.
Human jealousy is often selfish, self-seeking, perhaps by its very nature it can’t be defined any other way. This “jealousy” of God is different. It is a quality of those who are controlling, and, in the end, actually think very little of themselves. Some jealousy is based on violation of proper boundaries, and the priority of certain relationships. At its best, it’s still derived from self. The jealousy of God is a bit different.
Think of it this way, if you had a choice between a house overlooking mountains and the ocean, with amazing vista’s in every direction, or a house in a desert valley with the only constant being high winds, tumbleweeds, and the color brown, which would you choose? We tend to choose that which favors us, regardless of color or wind or vista. If the desert offers better work options, or we’re rock hounds, the it’s the desert for us, and we’re happy as clams. If we’re people who love views of mountains and the ocean, we would choose that. It’s whatever suits us.
God is the Creator of everything. All these other nations worship gods which He created. These gods are in rebellion against Him, they no longer honor Him, nor point to Him. And, I’m pretty sure they’re alive and well today, in our own culture. To choose them, even them along with God, is to choose His enemies. When our loved ones choose to befriend our enemies, we don’t like it. On the national level, we call it “treason”. On the religious level it’s called syncretism, and Paul spends much paper and ink writing against it.
The point is this, when we choose against God, we’re not choosing what is best for us. We may think we are, but we’ve chosen the enemies of our Creator, and have joined the rebellion against Him. The Creator of the universe wants to spend time with us, and we rebel against Him? He offers us Himself, and we rebel against Him? Are you getting the picture? Is it ludicrous enough yet? It’s jealousy, and it is focused on God, but not like “one among equals” as it is with people. It’s the Creator of all things refusing to suffer the ignominy of fools.
And so He considers those following idols as “those hating Me.” And to be considered thus by the Creator is a poor place to put ourselves. And the consequence of such a choice falls on three generations. It is supposed to frighten, to shake us up, and cause us to consider whether we have any such imagery in our own lives? Do we? Is there something which captures our attention which we should give to our Savior? Do we even ask such questions?
But this jealousy isn’t the only characteristic which God describes of Himself. He does punish down to three generations of those He considers hating Him. But rewards thousands of those loving Him. It may be 3 generations of those hating Him, but that’s small compared to the love of God. This Creator may be offended by people choosing His rebellious creatures instead of Him, but He still loves those who choose Him. We can focus on this “jealousy” and miss the real point, His love. Even the jealousy is a loving response, forming a boundary to protect the people He has created, and, for some reason loves dearly.
The choice, and a choice to pursue with vigor, is to choose to put no thing in a competing priority with our Savior. No car, no house, no spouse, no child, no parent, no game, no TV, nothing on TV, nothing is as important as our Savior. Perhaps now is a good time to take inventory. Maybe you should look back at this entry for some “help”.
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation