God is jealous?! and he takes it out on the children?!


God says, “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments” (Exodus 20:5-6).

Yes, God himself says that he is jealous. But jealousy is not always the same as envy and coveting. At root, the meaning of jealousy is wanting to keep that which is one’s own. A husband who is jealous does not want to share his wife with other men. His jealousy may tempt him into sinful behavior, but the desire that one’s wife or husband remain faithful is not sinful. In fact, a man who willingly shares his wife with others shows that he does not love her.

God loves his people. He does not want to share his people with false gods. God does not envy false gods, because he needs and wants nothing from them. But he is jealous, wanting his people not to have other gods or to worship graven images. Whether the false gods are those worshiped by ancient religions—Baal, Zeus, Thor, Osiris, and the rest—or whether they are the modern false gods of money, fame, pleasure, political causes, and the like—God does not want to share. He loves his people too much to let them be deceived and harmed by anything that looks like a god and sounds like a god but cannot accomplish what God alone can do.

For that reason, God allows us to see the price of evil, the damage that it causes. He intends that we see what is wrong with evil and prefer that which is good. Evil is unfair, but God is fair. He would not punish children for the sins of their parents. Through Moses, he forbade the government of Israel to follow that practice (Deuteronomy 24:16). Other ancient governments did that, reasoning that a man’s concern for his family might deter him from crime even more than his concern for self-protection. But God says, “The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself” (Ezekiel 18:20).

Unfortunately some translations do misinterpret Exodus 20:5-6, reporting that God punishes the children for the sins of the fathers. These translations miss the sense of “visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children.” That visit of iniquity is not a punishment from God; it is a consequence of sin and evil. God does not work this way, but the sinful world works this way.

Children who were abused by their parents often become parents who abuse their children. It’s not fair, but it happens. Children whose parents misuse alcohol or other drugs are more likely to misuse the same drugs. It’s not fair, but it happens. It’s not fair that some children are born with defects, and others are born already addicted to drugs, because of bad decisions their mothers made during pregnancy. It happens because evil is unfair, and God wants us to see evil for what it really is.

When iniquity visits, it stays for a while. The consequences of sin do not disappear, not even when the sin is already forgiven through the sacrifice of Christ. God measures the durability of evil as lasting “to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.” He contrasts that with his love. God’s love lasts for a thousand generations. (According to the Bibles account, nowhere near that number of generations has yet lived on the earth.) Rather than resenting God for the evil he permits—and he does so for good reasons—God’s people rejoice to know that the love of God and his mercy overwhelm the power of evil. All  victims are rescued because God himself became a victim, suffering unfairly on the cross so he could redeem those who trust in him. And that really isn’t fair either, but it is unfairness that is given for our benefit. J.

17 thoughts on “God is jealous?! and he takes it out on the children?!

  1. The true meanings of Jealousy is fear of abandonment, rage and humiliation. Jealousy and possessiveness are part of insecurity or fear of loss, not part of true love but indicative that a person feels they own and can control another person and your feelings have more to do with yourself in relationship with someone else.

    Jealousy masks other feelings and attitudes that are even more hurtful to us and those closest to us. Its intensity is often shielding deep-seated feelings of possessiveness, insecurity or shame.
    Jealousy can be felt it to a pathological degree. Being close to others can trigger shame, and subsequently the emotions of jealousy or envy.

    These examples are what Jealousy means. Do you think that his jealousy was at a pathological degree when he had humans killed?

    If God had been all knowing he would have known the other gods did not exist and money, fame, pleasure, and political causes are much the same today as they were then, and he could do nothing about it, so it appears he became jealous and hurtful enough to feel he should own and control everybody by making us see the price of evil and the damage it causes.

    Don’t you think it appears by definition that his decisions were based on jealousy?

    Liked by 1 person

    • You make some very good points, sklyjd. Like anger, jealousy can become so twisted and ugly that it would seem to be always wrong. Yet anger is appropriate when directed at what is harmful and hurtful. Such anger can lead one into sin, but it can also give energy to resist what is evil and defend what is good. The essence of jealousy is wanting to preserve a relationship; it is not always about rage or control. A man who does not want to share his wife with other men is not thinking only about himself; he is also concerned with what is safest and best for her. A God who wants his people to remain faithful wants to spare them the harm that comes from trusting gods that do not exist or gods they have themselves elevated to competition with the one true God. When God allows evil to be seen in its depravity, he also brings us to the ugliness of the cross, where evil is defeated. In the end, God’s love and mercy vastly overwhelm his righteous judgment. Thank you for reading and commenting. J.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. That is a helpful distinction to note between jealousy and envy. We jealously guard that which we love.

    Also interesting to note how, in His jealous love over our unfaithfulness, He uses *Unfairness* itself to restore us to Him. It’s a paradox…but that so often seems to be how God works.

    You don’t have to be Christian – or even that particularly religious – to know that this is a broken, sinful world and *hit happens. We may argue over what constitutes “good” and what constitutes “evil” but there’s no denying that we see the consequences of both in our lives, and by and large, most people prefer good. Personally, I like it myself :p

    It is comforting to know that our God is the God who returns grace for evil, ashes for beauty. He truly is The Redeemer God, who promises to redeem all things.

    Liked by 4 people

    • “You don’t have to be Christian – or even that particularly religious – to know that this is a broken, sinful world and *hit happens.” Very true; in fact, that is essentially the first of the Four Noble Truths in Buddhism. But the Buddhist answer is non-attachment–apathy–whereas the Christian answer is love–God’s love, because ours is never enough. J.

      Liked by 2 people

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