Problem: The Bible condemns jealousy (Jas. 3:14; 1 Cor. 3:3; Gal. 5:19-21), but it states that God is a jealous God. How can God condemn us for something he does himself? Is this just rank hypocrisy?
Solution: Not all jealousy is bad. Paul writes, “For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy” (2 Cor. 11:2). Since God is the greatest conceivable good, it is wrong for us to love other things above him. It would be similar to a house fire, where a homeowner saved his pet goldfish over his newborn baby! We need to keep our loves in their proper order. Moreover, since God knows that our love of other things over him could be ultimately damaging, it is good for him to desire our love. Paul Copan writes,
A wife who doesn’t get jealous and angry when another woman is flirting with her husband isn’t really all that committed to the marriage relationship. A marriage without the potential for jealousy when an intruder threatens isn’t much of a marriage. Outrage, pain, anguish –these are the appropriate responses to such a deep violation.
Moreover, the jealousy here is not for God’s benefit—but for our benefit. If we don’t follow him, this same passage states, “I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me” (Ex. 20:5 NLT). Of course, this doesn’t refer to active wrath, but passive wrath (see comments Ex. 20:5). Therefore, God doesn’t want us to worship false gods, because this will affect us and our offspring in the long run.
“Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; (Ex 20:5)”