"I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from slavery .... do not worship any other gods besides me! Do not make idols of any kind ...you must never worship or bow down to them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God and I will not share your affections with any other god!" Ex. 20:2-4
This seems like ancient - out dated, perhaps - text. And yet - is it?
Perhaps it would speak more clearly to our day if we pictured other things. Things we work long and tiring hours to acquire, which become more dearly desired than a desire to know a loving God. Perhaps it would speak more clearly if we pictured places or people or activities that take a higher priority in our lives. Perhaps we ourselves - our own ambitions and whims and wisdom and decisions - ought to be pictured. There are many gods besides our Creator who loves us!
And what about God describing himself as a "jealous God"? That doesn't sound good, does it?
There are many attachments and understandings we of the 21st century associate with the word jealous. Most of us have grown up with the understanding that jealousy is always a negative trait. But, perhaps, there are times when it is the exactly right thing. In this case, God is reminding these people - who didn't know him very well yet - that he loves them. He has rescued them out of an impossible situation ... they had been reduced to absolute slavery and oppression. He had led them away from that in the face of incredible odds. They (a large crowd of people including women, children, babies, elderly) had been literally backed into a corner with the most advanced army of the world descending upon them and a sea behind them - and miraculously, God opened the sea, sent a wind to dry up the bed of it, and they crossed it safely as the enemy watched. He led them to water in the desert, he fed them, and cared for them..... as a parent tenderly cares for a young child. God already knew that their hearts would wander to other desires, and yet he still loved them and longed for a relationship with them.
None of this makes any sense of course, unless it is understood that God -the creator of the universe- is a relational God who desires true relationship with people.
And today - in our fast paced, technological world of so many demands on our time and energy, this God of ancient times - still desires that same connection and deep relationship with people. With us! He is not willing to share us with other "gods", who are no gods at all. He wants our hearts. He wants to be in the center of our lives - and he already has each of us individually in the center of his desires. Another passage in the bible (one of my favorites) speaks of the tenderness of God's heart for us. "Can a mother forget her nursing child? Can she feel no love for a child she has borne? Even if that were possible, I would not forget you! See, I have written your name on my hand." (Isaiah 49:15-16)
Pretty amazing, really! God makes himself very vulnerable when he tells us that he loves us, longs for us, and is jealous for us. It is the heart of a Lover who expresses himself in this way.
(The above painting was done about 10 years ago. I did it at the Field Museum in Chicago in front of an exhibit of the masks of the Northwestern Native American tribes. The masks are sculptural and painted in rich colors! It was a pleasure to work with the composition to make them all interlock. The media is a variety of water media, including watercolor and acrylic on paper. The size measures approx 25 x 30")