Friday 10 September 2021

Bible Book:

But Joshua said to the people, ‘You cannot serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God.' (v. 19)

Joshua 24:19-24 Friday 10 September 2021

Psalm 66:1-12


How do you react to the idea of God as a ‘jealous’ God? In today’s reading, it seems that Joshua is almost testing the people of Israel – asking if they have really thought about the choice they have just made. He has asked them if they will serve God, they have responded that they will; but instead of accepting their pledge, he issues a warning. We need to face the fact that Joshua’s words directly contradict other biblical images of God – see for example Deuteronomy 4:31, which describes God as ‘merciful’ and specifically promises that he will neither abandon nor destroy the Israelites. So, why, just at the point where he is asking the Israelites for a commitment, would Joshua say the opposite?

The Hebrew word for 'jealousy' comes from the same root as the word for 'ardour' or 'zeal'. In English, of course, jealous can mean envy, having a resentful suspicion about a partner, for example, but it can also mean a fierce protectiveness of someone or something. It is always difficult when we use human words to talk about God. It may be that our context will help us, notice that the concern is not simply that the Israelites will fail to serve God, the concern is that they will go after other gods. This passage comes from a time when people believed in lots of different gods – so the image of God is that of a passionate, fiercely protective lover.

The passage seems to imply that Joshua’s aim was to put the worst possible scenario before the people, so that in effect they could not say that they were not warned. Perhaps we again need to remember that these stories reached their final form when the Israelites were reflecting on the fact that they had been invaded and they had not kept the promises made here.

To Ponder:

  • How do you interpret the idea of God as a ‘jealous’ God?
  • Why do you think that Joshua here speaks of God punishing those who transgress, when in other places the Bible stresses God’s mercy?
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