“I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God.” So says Yahweh in Exodus 20:5. The true and living God brooks no rivals, and he will not allow his people to wallow in any false god. We see these themes found throughout the Bible, with many dozens of passages speaking to such truths.
As K. Erik Thoennes says in Godly Jealousy (Mentor, 2005), God’s jealousy is “one of his most foundational divine attributes. . . . Repeatedly throughout the Bible God reminds his people that he is a jealous God. His jealousy is for his own honor, and for the faithfulness of those with whom he has established a covenant relationship.”
Instead of happily allowing a plethora of gods and religions, Yahweh demands that he alone – the one true God – be the object of our sole worship and exclusive devotion. While many misguided believers today think we can all just get along as one big religious community, with plenty of interfaith dialogue and ecumenical shindigs, God does not agree.
These false gods and false religions will lead people astray, thus they should not be held up as any sort of equals or equivalents. This comes out very clearly in a portion of Scripture I just now happen to be reading. I have just finished reading about the exodus of Israel from Egypt (see Exodus 1-15 for the entire account).
One verse especially stood out as I was reading about the ten plagues inflicted on Pharaoh and the Egyptians. In Ex. 12:12 we read: “On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD.”
In this, the final plague, Yahweh makes it clear that the gods of Egypt are being targeted. Indeed, a case can be made that all the plagues were in fact attacks on the false gods of Egypt. Back in 1971 Old Testament professor John J Davis wrote a book of studies on Exodus, and he entitled it, Moses and the Gods of Egypt.
In it he said, “The Egyptians were just about the most polytheistic people known from the ancient world. . . . Almost all living creatures, whatever their habitat, and even inanimate objects, became the embodiment of some deity.” The plagues were thus direct assaults on these false gods, and on Pharaoh himself:
“The plagues served to demonstrate the impotency of Pharaoh, both as a ruler and as a god. He was subject to the same frustrations and anxieties as the average man in Egypt during the period of the plagues.” Others have of course spoken about this aspect of the exodus event.
In his excellent commentary on Exodus, Douglas Stuart has a three-page excursus on “Judgment on the ‘Gods of Egypt’.” He too highlights Ex. 12:12 and says, “By the plagues God demonstrated his superiority to all the supposed other gods, and by demonstrating that superiority in connection with the supposed gods of the greatest economic-political-military power of the day, God showed his sovereignty, mutatis mutandis, over all the nations of the earth and their ‘gods’.”
He reminds us that since “the gods were seen, above all, as the grantors of life and protectors of the living,” the “plagues, appropriately, were largely focused on death. Nearly all of them actually resulted in death. . . . The tenth and final plague was the ultimate one – and fittingly, it was the plague of death, showing that the gods, both severally and totally, of any sort and any status, could not save anyone or anything from death.”
He did this not only for his own name’s sake, but for the good of mankind as well: “A good God therefore made sure that the belief system of the Egyptians, and for that matter all pagan cultures by logical extension, was exposed as fraudulent and foolish.
“Since trust in a variety of gods was at the heart of that belief system, exposing a variety of gods as nothings, unable to save, unable to grant life, and unable to defend Egypt and the Egyptians against the God of the Hebrews was a convincing method of forcing people to look elsewhere than their discredited gods for salvation.”
So the exodus in general and the plagues in particular were a real slap in the face to the false gods and religious systems in Egypt. Yahweh was not impressed with these pagan religions and objects of worship, and made an open display of his power and glory in trouncing them and humiliating them.
We see this clearly stated in passages just after the Israelites leave Egypt. In Ex. 14:4 we read this as Israel hits the Red Sea: “I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD.”
And in Ex. 15:11 (part of the Song of Moses and Miriam about the crossing of the Red Sea after the defeat of Pharaoh) we read: “Who among the gods is like you, LORD? Who is like you – majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?”
Clearly the majesty and glory of the one true God is on display here for all the world to see. The other “gods” are nothing, and those who put their trust in them will be let down big time, as Pharaoh and his armies learned only too well.
We can all learn some lessons here. Far too many Christians today have been sucked into a dangerous and deceptive push for interfaith dialogue, in which they think they can just sit around, have a chat, and sing Kumbaya together, and that will somehow lead to world peace.
While there is a place to dialogue and debate with those of other faith traditions, Christians should never play the game of dumbing down their own faith and conceding ground, in vain efforts to just get along and be seen as accepting and tolerant.
There was nothing tolerant about the way Yahweh dealt with the false gods of Egypt, and there is no reason why we should be tolerant of the false gods of our day, whether they be of the atheist variety, or those of other religions. Respect, yes. Discussion, yes. Capitulation and compromise, no.
Another very powerful passage about divine jealousy which we all should take to heart can be found in Isaiah 42:8:
“I am the LORD; that is my name!
I will not yield my glory to another
or my praise to idols.”
God will not share his glory with another, and neither should we. In an age of craven and compromised Christianity, we need to stand strong in our faith and unashamedly proclaim it far and wide. Now is not the time to cave in and allow other false gods and religions to be seen as equals. They are not.
We must strive to maintain and proclaim the glory of God in an idolatrous, syncretistic and relativistic age. Moses did this back in his day, and we need to do it in ours. Charles Spurgeon, speaking to another biblical episode (found in 1 Samuel 5), puts it this way:
“Christ’s gospel has not come into the world to be co-equal with other faiths and share a divided kingdom with differing creeds. False gods may stand face to face to each other in one Pantheon, and be at peace, for they are all false together, but when Christ comes, Dagon must go down, not even the stump of him must stand. Truth is of necessity intolerant of falsehood, love wars with hate, and justice battles with wrong.”