I think many people assume that being jealous is always a bad thing, though there is some truth to that assumption. For example, jealously might be associated with someone wanting something (perhaps a material object; a car, house etc.) that another person has. This jealously could, depending on an individual, negatively impact a relationship through subtle or overt ways. Jealousy is certainly something that can make one person nasty to another person. This is, however, what we’d call bad jealously. Yet, is this the jealousy we find associated with God in Exodus 20:5? Here we read God giving a command:
“You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God…”
What should one make of this? Firstly, we must remember that the Christian God is a being that is self-sufficient and who is the creator of the universe. Everything in it belongs to him and owes its existence to him. In this way there are no rivals to God since nothing else has created anything that he needs. But we, as his unique creation, belong to him, and God becomes jealous when other created things steal us away from him. This, as in the context of Exodus 20, may be through the worship of idols. In fact, we find idols even existing today through money, pride, fame, material possessions, and other things that all divert our attention away from God. The best work I’ve read on this is Tim Keller’s Counterfeit Gods of which I highly recommend
However, God’s jealousy in Exodus is what we’d call a righteous jealously; it is a result of God’s love for us. Consider a husband who finds out that his wife is having an affair with his friend; what would it tell us if he was indifferent to this? It would probably show that he doesn’t care enough, or that he never really loved his wife etc. The proper response here is for the husband to become jealous, upset & depressed because he really loves his wife for he desires her. It is in this was that God sees us. God desires that we come into relationship with him; this means we must center our lives, entire being & existence on him. For then only will we live life in a way that is pleasing to God “for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children’” (Acts 17:28).
So, no. God’s jealousy is not the jealousy we’d associate with one person wanting something that another person has. Instead, God’s jealousy is a product of his love for us.