Why can God be jealous but we cannot?
Only in the Old Testament do we find God described as a jealous God. In fact, it only occurs seven times. Here is one of those passages.
. . . for you shall not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God . . . (NASB) Ex 34:14
Meaning of Jealousy
The other six passages are Exodus 20:5; Deuteronomy 4:24; 5:9; 6:15; Joshua 24:19, and Nahum 1:2. The Hebrew word for “jealousy” used in all of these passages, except for Joshua and Nahum is GANNA. The Hebrew word in Joshua and Nahum is GANNO. What do these words mean? A clue that GANNA and GANNO do not mean simply “jealousy” comes from the Jewish Bible, the Tanakah. Here GANNA and GANNO are usually translated as “impassioned” instead of “jealous” for both words. The Torah Commentary published by the Jewish Publication Society also uses “impassioned.” One should ask, “Why?” The reason for the change in meaning is that GANNA and GANNO have the idea of “fire” plus “heat” or a “fiery passion” such as love. Both GANNA and GANNO are used ONLY to describe God’s emotions. The Hebrew word used for human jealousy is different. The New Testament never describes God as a jealous God. This means that God’s jealousy is different from our jealousy. It is a pure jealousy without sin.
In the Old Testament God pictures His love relationship with the nation of Israel as a husband who loves his wife (Jeremiah 3:1; Hosea 3:1). God loves Israel just as a husband loves his wife. If a man becomes jealous because another man is pursuing his wife, few people would say the husband is sinning. In fact, God never calls that emotion sin in scripture. That is the meaning of God’s jealousy over us. When we go after other gods, He is jealous like a husband. In fact, GANNA or GANNO come from the same word for a husband’s jealousy but this unique word is ONLY used for God. His jealousy is someway different. This is a warning to not worship other gods.
To say that God is jealous over us, is to say that God greatly loves us. He wants us!