Biblical Mental and Emotional Health
Sybil Hart and Heather Carrington, from the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at Texas Tech University, wanted to find out whether six-month-old babies experienced jealousy. Thirty-two first-time mothers agreed to participate in the study with their babies.
The researches made two two-minute-long video recording of each pair, using two cameras; one focused on the mother and the other on the baby. The baby would watch his or her mother hold a baby doll, talk to it pleasantly, and stroke its belly, and then the baby would see his or her mother read a book aloud, again using pleasant tones. The researchers recorded and rated the emotions the babies displayed. While the babies spent most of the time gazing at their mothers, they displayed significantly more negative responses when they saw their mothers interact with the doll than when she read the book. This indicates that jealousy is a genetic trait that appears at a very early stage of development.
Not only does jealousy appear very early in life, but it also stretches back to the most remote past of our collective history. It is considered the first sin, having come into existence even before humankind was created. It has existed ever since, and it will continue to exist until Jesus comes and transforms the redeemed.
Jealousy is a great enemy of positive interpersonal interactions. It may become so acute that is distorts perception. It’s the opposite of love and altruism – the jealous person considers the person who is the focus of their jealousy as an object that stands in the way of their happiness. They reason “This person’s presence (or Possessions, etc.) are keeping me from being happy, and I will do whatever it takes to replace or become like him/her (or to have his/her possessions, etc.). Jealousy is a very disturbing emotion that bring extreme discomfort to those suffering from it, and it may eventually motivate psychological manipulation (false accusations and/or back-biting) or aggression (verbal abuse, physical battery, or even attempts to kill).
In this post we’ll look at a series of bible characters who were jealous of what someone else was or had. We’ll see that this emotion brings awful complications. We’ll witness the victory of the envied person in one form or another and note that the result was always disastrous for the jealous individual, who had to witness the success and triumph of the object of his or her jealousy. The Lord has preserved these scriptural accounts and advice to warn us to avoid the path of envy and jealousy. He invites us instead to love our neighbors and to rejoice with them in their gifts, achievements, and possessions.
Although written as oracles against Babylon, Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 use language that better fits the rebellious angel Lucifer rather than it does human beings. Isaiah describes the cause of Lucifer’s expulsion from heaven. In his heart, Satan said, “I will make myself like the Most High” (Isaiah 14:14). But instead of raising his throne to the level of God’s throne, he was “cast down to the earth,” “brought down to the grave, to the depths of the pit” (verses 12, 15). In this passage and Ezekiel 28, Lucifer is described as the “morning star,” the “son of the dawn,” the “model of perfection,” “full of wisdom,” “perfect in beauty,” “anointed as a guardian cherub,” and “blameless.” All these qualities began to change when he allowed jealousy to grow within him.
When the Father said to Jesus, “Let us make man in our image,” the plan to create humankind made Satan jealous of Jesus because he wanted to be a member of the Deity. He chose to contemplate what Christ had rather than being satisfied with the gifts that were his. His desire to be like God and not to submit to the authority of Jesus led him to rebel. Then he campaigned among the angels to get as many as he could to support his cause. “All the heavenly host were summoned to appear before the Father to have each case decided. It was there determined that Satan should be expelled from heaven, with all the angels who had joined him in the rebellion. Then there was war in heaven. Angels were engaged in the battle; Satan wished to conquer the Son of God and those who were submissive to His will. But the good and true angels prevailed, and Satan, with his followers, was driven from heaven.
Satan’s next step was to infect the beings created in God’s image with this toxic element. It was Satan himself who tempted the first human being with the jealous ambition that had motived his rebellion. When you eat of this tree, he promised, “You will be like god” (Genesis 3:5). Eve fell to the temptation, Adam followed, and ever since then, sin has spread like an epidemic, causing the terrible consequences that are visible through all of our world’s history, including today.
Jealous ambition is one of the favorite modes of temptation that Satan and his demons use. A fable says that when the devil was traveling across the desert of Libya, he noticed a group of demons who were trying to temp a hermit. They presented seduction of the flesh, doubts about God’s Word, and fear about the future, but they couldn’t get the hermit to sin in deed or in thought. The devil stepped forward and said, “Your methods are too crude. Permit me one moment.” Then, going to the hermit, he said, “Have you heard the news? Your brother has been made the bishop of Alexandria.” According to the fable, a scowl of malignant jealousy immediately clouded the face of the holy man.
James put it in this way: “Where you have envy (jealousy) and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heave is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere” (James 3:16, 17; emphasis added). This is excellent news! In the same way that jealousy and selfish ambition cause disorder and all kinds of evil practices. The knowledge of God through Jesus Christ causes all kinds of love-based deeds.
In the speech Stephen made just before he was stoned to death, he identified the motivation behind the cruel behavior of Joseph’s brothers: “Because the patriarchs were jealous of Joseph, they sold him as a slave into Egypt” (Acts 7:9). It’s hard to believe that the sons of Jacob could sell their brother as a slave to foreign traders, even considering his dreams and their father’s favoritism. But jealousy is viciously powerful. “Jealousy is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame” (song of Solomon 8:6).
Jealousy follows a crazy spiral path. It starts with the desire to build ourselves up by degrading out neighbor. If that works, we’re not left with a sense of accomplishment, but rather with bitter remorse. If it doesn’t work, we feel insecure, inadequate, and humiliated. These feelings bring about greater jealousy, which creates within us an even stronger desire to build ourselves up by degrading our neighbor, returning us to step one but with greater intensity.
When spun often and deeply enough, this process means death. It’s why Cain killed Abel, Haman wanted to kill Mordecai, the princes of Babylon attempted to kill Daniel, Herod killed scores of innocent infants and so on.
Joseph welcomed his brothers to Egypt, forgave them, and blessed them, but the fear sown by their deed of jealousy stayed alive for at least seventeen years beyond their reconciliation. When Jacob died, the brothers reasoned, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him? (Genesis 50:15). But Joseph knew that the right thing for him to do was to forgive his brothers and leave the consequences with God. So he tried to reassure them. “Don’t be afraid,” he said, “Am I in the place of God?” (verse 19).
David first entered the service of King Saul when some of the king’s attendants recommended him, reporting that he had suitable qualifications: he played the harp, was a brave warrior, was well spoken and handsome, and the Lord was with him. Saul sent for David, and Scriptures says that he “liked him very much, and David became one of his armor-bearers” (I Samuel 16:21). Saul was also very supportive when David offered to fight Goliath. He even offered David the use of his armor and sent him off with a blessing. After the victory, Saul realized the benefit that came to him from having David permanently in his house, and he didn’t let him go home. After David carried out a number of missions successfully, Saul gave him a high rank in the army, which met with everyone’s approval.
But things took a 180-degree turn when Saul and his men were returning home from a battle against the philistines. They heard a group of women playing musical instruments and dancing to this song: “Saul had slain his thousands and David his tens of thousands’ “ (I Samuel 18:7). The refrain angered Saul, “and from that time on Saul kept a jealous eye on David” (verse 9). The epigram fits, (the envious) praise only that which they can surpass but that which surpasses them – they censure.
When Saul began to keep a jealous eye on David his mental health and moral behavior deteriorated. The following sequence of events reveals his unfortunate path.
- On the day after Saul heard the women sing, he hurled his spear at David twice while David was playing the harp for him (I Samuel 18:10, 11).
- Saul became afraid of David, perhaps he feared losing his kingly position or that David would become the hero of the nation. Above all, he was afraid “because the Lord was with David but had left Saul” (18:12)
- Saul offered his daughter Michal in marriage to David hoping that she would become a snare to him and the Philistines would kill him (18:21).
- Saul order his son Jonathan and all the attendants to kill David (19:1), but they, being aware of Saul’s blind obsession didn’t follow his orders.
- Although Saul seemed convinced by Jonathan of how preposterous his intentions were, he soon tried again to pin David to the wall with his spear, (19:4-6, 10).
- He sent his men to David’s home to kill him, but Michal succeeded in alerting David and helping him flee (19:11-16).
- Saul then sent his men to Naioth at Ramah, where David had found refuse with Samuel, to capture him. They didn’t succeed because the Spirit of God took possession of them (19:19-21).
- Saul himself with to Naioth, and the Spirit of God prevented him from taking any action (19:23, 24)
- Saul insulted his own son Jonathan for remaining loyal to David and ordered him to bring David to him, “For he must die!” (20:30, 31).
- He had ahitub and ahitub’s son Agimelech, priests of the Lord in Nob, killed because they had shown kindness to David. He also killed the remaining priests of Nob, a total of eighty-five and the entire population of that won, including “men and women, its children and infants, and its cattle, donkeys, and sheep.
- Day after day Saul searched for David, who kept coming from place to place, “But God did not give David into his hands” (23:14).
- Saul made an alliance with his enemies, the Ziphites, to help him track David down (23:19-23).
- Saul and David has an emotionally moving encounter after David spared the king’s life, but soon Saul was on his way to the Desert of Ziph with three thousand men, searching for David again (24:8-22: 26:2).
- Saul and David had a second positive encounter after David again refused to take Saul’s life when he could easily have done so. This time Saul admitted his sin, promised not to try to harm David again, and blessed him (26:17-25). He did not stop persecuting David, but then he headed down the road that ended in destruction.
- Terrified by the Philistines’ attack, Saul chose to consult a witch. She invoked an evil spirit that appeared in the form of Samuel, who was dead. Saul prostrated himself before this evil spirit, which then predicted that Israel would be defeated and Saul and his sons killed all on the same day. (verse 28)
- When the philistines attacked and were defeating the Israelite, Saul killed himself, and his three sons and his armor-bearer and all his men died together that same day” (31:6)
What a sad ending! As in many other cases, in this story jealousy was the first step that led downhill into many other forms of evil and even death! It is true that God intended David to have the throne regardless of the circumstances. But, like any other situation involving good and evil, the people could choose on which side they would stand. Saul had many opportunities to change the course of events, but he persistently made the wrong choices. Jonathan’s course contrasted strongly with that of his father. Jonathan positioned himself on the side of righteousness, avoiding jealousy and disregarding the claim of the throne that he could have made. Because he understood how absorb his father’s behavior was, he protected David’s life at the risk, of his own. Yet he stood firm “at his father’s side through the dark days of his declining power, and at his side falling at the last – the name of Jonathan is treated in heaven, and it stands on earth a witness to the existence and power of unselfish love.
The Chief Priests
The men who ruled Judaism in the first century were also touch by jealousy of Jesus and the fist Christian leaders. The consequences were painful to all. Even Pilate, who wasn’t a member of the religious community, realized that the rulers had handed Jesus to him because of envy (Matthew 27:18; Mark 15:10). Their jealousy had grown throughout the Saviors’ ministry to the point where they would do anything to kill Him. They also became jealous of Jesus’ followers-specifically, of Peter, Paul and Barnabas and they sought their death. Their emotions demonstrated the truth of the proverb that say, “those who are green with envy often became red with anger.”
Peter and the other apostles were causing a great commotion in Jerusalem, Crowds from the city and from surrounding towns were coming to hear about salvation through Jesus. They brought their sick and demon possessed to the apostles, and they were healed. The Jewish people were beginning to recognize that God was working powerfully through the apostles. “Then the high priest and . . . Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail” (Acts 5:17, 18).
Paul and Barnabas were in Antioch of Pisidia. Paul preached in the synagogue on several Sabbaths, and some of the Jews and their Gentile converts became very interested in what he and Barnabas were saying. One Sabbath, almost the whole city congregated to hear them speak. Luke reports, however, that “when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul and was saying (Acts 13:45). Later on, they collaborated with prominent women and men in the city to stir up persecution, and they managed to expel the apostles from the region.
It appears that when crowds of the common people became interested enough in the apostles to follow them around, the chief priests became jealous. As we saw earlier, that was true also of Saul when he heard a group of women acclaiming David’s victories. Crowds have an amazing power upon people’s emotions and behaviors. They can transform people.
One of the assignments consider most desirable was that of working at the soccer games that took place every Sunday during the nine-month-long premier league season. I love soccer so I loved going to these events, which each attracted thousands of spectators. Often my attention would become focused on the behavior of the people around me. In the stands, you can witness all kinds of emotions and behaviors among the spectators: groups of hooligans screaming at the top of their voices verbal and physical fights between fans and rival teams, people jumping and throwing objects and profoundly sad faces when the local team lost. I wonder how a fan would have behaved if he or she watched a match alone without the presence of the crowd.
One day, while those of us that had been assigned to serve at particular game waited for the stadium to empty – a process that took between thirty and forty-five minutes – we noticed one spectator asleep at the end of his row up in the highest tier of seats. The Red Cross men nearby went to wake him up and tell him the match was over. When they reached him, they found he was dead. He had died of a heart attack. We wanted to find out whether he had died of sorrow or elation, but we never learned with team he was cheering for. We thought it very shocking that hundreds of people had walked by this man without noticing that he was dead.
Why were the chief priests, elder, Pharisees, and others jealous of Jesus and, later on, of His disciples?
- They had a lot of authority, but the common people had little respect for them. Jesus, however, had the people’s respect because of His example. His love for people, and how He spoke.
- The Jewish leaders’ love of approbation repelled the multitudes, while the humble sincerity of Jesus and the apostles drew large crowds.
- The religious leaders couldn’t perform miracles in the name of God, but Jesus and the apostles gave constant evidence that the Omnipotent’s supernatural power worked through them.
- Although the chief priests knew the law perfectly, they used their knowledge of it to benefit themselves, whereas Jesus offered a loving interpretation of the law.
- Jesus often asked them questions they couldn’t – or didn’t want to answer.
- They sought the praise of the common people by making sure that the people saw them praying in the synagogue and in other public places. Jesus didn’t “Put on” religiosity.
- They saw Jesus’ superiority and feared that He would become the king od the Jews, holding power they craved.
- Even though they often managed to deceive the people with their pious pretentions, they couldn’t deceive Jesus.
Jealousy and envy increase proportionally as other experience success. That’s a diabolic tendency of human nature. Depending on one’s culture, personal characteristics, and principles, it may be more or less pronounced but the seed is universal.
Paul has set before us the highly desirable goal of rejoicing at the strength and growth of our neighbors. This is how wee defeat envy and jealousy. In his final remarks to the Corinthian church. Paul exemplified this attitude, writing, “we are glad whenever we are weak but you are strong; and our prayer is for your perfection.” He reminded his readers that God had given him authority “for building you up, not for tearing you down” (II Corinthians 13:9, 10).
The Bible shows jealousy to be one of the worst possible emotions human being can experience. “Anger is cruel and fury overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy? (Proverbs 27:4). This emotion is found at the very root of evil. It causes all sorts of disasters. If you are tempted by jealousy, envy, or covetousness, the only solution is the love of Jesus. It enables us to love one another as Jesus loves us.