Is there any difference between envy and jealousy in the Bible? If so, what are the differences between the two?
Jealously have been described as a “green-eyed monster of envy” but is jealousy really envy? When a friend of mine noticed that another man was giving too much attention to his wife he became a little jealous. His jealously came to the surface when he saw that this man appeared to be flirting with his wife. When he talked to his wife about it, she said that she had repeatedly told him that she was happily married but he didn’t refrain from his overly attentive behavior toward her. When she finally told him that her husband had noticed, only then did he back away. Was this man flirting with her? Was her husband justified in becoming jealous? Was it sin for this man to become jealous of his wife? Was this jealously really a lack of trust in his wife? I cannot answer those questions because I cannot see into the human heart but I don’t really blame the man and I can see why he was jealous. He loved his wife dearly and didn’t like the idea of someone else trying to flirt with her and compete for her affection. I don’t think it was a lack of trust in his wife; rather it was anger over someone flirting with his wife. He wisely chose to not confront the man and his wife handled it wisely and that was the end of that. That is a human description of jealously.
God is Jealous
God is also jealous but it’s not exactly the same as human jealousy because God’s jealous for the right reasons as we read about in Deuteronomy 4:23-24 “Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the Lord your God, which he made with you, and make a carved image, the form of anything that the Lord your God has forbidden you. For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” The Hebrew word for jealous in this verse is “qanna’” which means “jealous only for God” so God’s jealous is for our own good. He is jealous when we make an idol that competes or takes the place of where God should be in our lives…that is first and foremost. Money, family, work, friends, sports, and even Facebook can become an idol in our lives. The saying that our hearts are idol factories have been attributed to John Calvin, although I was unable to document this, it’s still true. The human heart is bent to perpetually forge idols of numerous things and people. Many idolize their favorite sports star, others do this with a movie star but any idol that takes supremacy over God is an idol and God is jealous over this. As I wrote before, this jealousy is not the same as human jealous because it is a holy, righteous jealously that is in our best interests. God wants us to put Him first and when we do, God promises to provide for all of our needs (Matt 6:33).
Jealousy has been defined as resentment against a rival or a person who has been more successful. It could be an uneasiness born from a fear or suspicion of unfaithfulness or a rivalry of another person or thing. A workaholic may be jealous of someone else’s success and so is driven to a compulsion to work as hard as humanly possible to gain an advantage over a co-worker. If we put something or someone above our desire or love for God, God will be jealous over that thing or person because we value that over Who we should value most and that is God. Jesus said that we should “love the Lord [our] God with all [our] heart, mind, soul and strength” (Mark 12:30) but He was only repeating what was found in the Old Testament (Duet 6:5). If we value things or people over God, then that is idolatry and we are breaking the first two commandments when we do. It actually breaks the 10th Commandment too where we are commanded not to covet.
The secular definition of envy is a human emotion where a person lacks someone’s achievement, their wealth, their status, their possessions, their family and spouse, or any other thing or person that someone else has. The Jews delivered Jesus up to be crucified from envy as Matthew records that He “knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up” (Matt 27:18. The Jews were envious of Jesus and His status, His miracles, and the crowds which followed Him. This envy of the Jews continued even after Jesus died as we read that the “Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began contradicting the things spoken by Paul, and were blaspheming” (Acts 13:45).
What are the Differences?
Envy is anger turned inward for something that someone has like status, possessions, power, or wealth that they don’t have but wished that they did while jealousy is resentment of a rival or a person who has been more successful than they and is competing with their own affections for that thing or person. Jealousy is also form of fear or suspicion of someone or something that is competing with what they love or desire so both envy and jealously are very closely associated even though they are not exactly the same thing. A person who is envious of someone or something can be jealous of what they have and conversely, a person who is jealous can be envious of the same thing or that person’s affection. Either way, jealously and envy are issues of the heart. Envy is ingratitude for what someone already has but jealousy is anger or mistrust over someone or something that is competing with something or someone in their lives. That is why God is a jealous God. When we idolize things or people over God, we show that we love those things or people more than we do God. God is not envious of our affections, He is jealous over our affections and our idolatry but even this jealously is in our best interests because when we come close to worshiping things or people over God, we are settling for so much less because things or people will never truly satisfy because they are temporary and finite while God is infinite and eternal.
I can sympathize with someone who is jealous over their mate or their friend when someone or something is competing for their affections just God does, however envy is not exactly like jealousy because when we envy what someone else has or their power, money, or position, we are telling God that we are not satisfied with what we have. If you have the predisposition of jealousy or envy, you are not alone. The human heart is bent toward material things and lusts of the heart. God is the only one Who can change the human heart (Prov 21:1). When a person is born again, their desires change and they begin to long for the things of God, they eagerly look for Jesus’ return, and they earnestly look for the end of this sinful, wicked world. That time is coming. Where will you stand on the Day of Judgment? If you are not saved by the time Jesus returns, I do not envy you at all (Rev 20:11-15).
Another Reading on Patheos to Check Out: What Did Jesus Really Look Like: A Look at the Bible Facts
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Blind Chance or Intelligent Design available on Amazon