Jealousy in marriage – What does the Bible say?


I would like to ask you to analyze the problem of jealousy among married couples from a Biblical perspective. For example, some spouses let their minds run free with all kinds of scenarios where their spouses will be unfaithful to them. These scenarios and fears have no foundation in reality, just an overactive imagination. Then there are others who should be worried about adultery yet seem to be blind to the obvious. How should we “attack” the subject of jealousy, from the perspective of the one who is jealous and from the perspective of the one who is being accused because of jealousy? Thank you very much for your help and may the Lord help you.

It is true that jealousy has caused lots of major problems within many families, even destroyed a good many. There is good reason for jealousy in some cases but in many to most cases, there is no good reason at all for this attitude of jealousy.

The Law and Jealousy

In the Old Testament, God gave the following law in order to prevent the problems that come as a result of unjustified jealousy. This law is a double edged sword because it also served to punish those who had committed adultery while being married. This is how this law is written:

“Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘If any man’s wife goes astray and is unfaithful to him, and a man has intercourse with her and it is hidden from the eyes of her husband and she is undetected, although she has defiled herself, and there is no witness against her and she has not been caught in the act, if a spirit of jealousy comes over him and he is jealous of his wife when she has defiled herself, or if a spirit of jealousy comes over him and he is jealous of his wife when she has not defiled herself, the man shall then bring his wife to the priest, and shall bring as an offering for her one-tenth of an ephah of barley meal ; he shall not pour oil on it nor put frankincense on it, for it is a grain offering of jealousy, a grain offering of memorial, a reminder of iniquity. ‘Then the priest shall bring her near and have her stand before the LORD, and the priest shall take holy water in an earthenware vessel ; and he shall take some of the dust that is on the floor of the tabernacle and put it into the water. ‘The priest shall then have the woman stand before the LORD and let the hair of the woman’s head go loose, and place the grain offering of memorial in her hands, which is the grain offering of jealousy, and in the hand of the priest is to be the water of bitterness that brings a curse. ‘The priest shall have her take an oath and shall say to the woman, “If no man has lain with you and if you have not gone astray into uncleanness, being under the authority of your husband, be immune to this water of bitterness that brings a curse ; if you, however, have gone astray, being under the authority of your husband, and if you have defiled yourself and a man other than your husband has had intercourse with you” (then the priest shall have the woman swear with the oath of the curse, and the priest shall say to the woman ), “the LORD make you a curse and an oath among your people by the LORD’S making your thigh waste away and your abdomen swell ; and this water that brings a curse shall go into your stomach, and make your abdomen swell and your thigh waste away.” And the woman shall say, “Amen. Amen.” ‘The priest shall then write these curses on a scroll, and he shall wash them off into the water of bitterness. ‘Then he shall make the woman drink the water of bitterness that brings a curse, so that the water which brings a curse will go into her and cause bitterness. ‘The priest shall take the grain offering of jealousy from the woman’s hand, and he shall wave the grain offering before the LORD and bring it to the altar ; and the priest shall take a handful of the grain offering as its memorial offering and offer it up in smoke on the altar, and afterward he shall make the woman drink the water. ‘When he has made her drink the water, then it shall come about, if she has defiled herself and has been unfaithful to her husband, that the water which brings a curse will go into her and cause bitterness, and her abdomen will swell and her thigh will waste away, and the woman will become a curse among her people. ‘But if the woman has not defiled herself and is clean, she will then be free and conceive children. ‘This is the law of jealousy : when a wife, being under the authority of her husband, goes astray and defiles herself, or when a spirit of jealousy comes over a man and he is jealous of his wife, he shall then make the woman stand before the LORD, and the priest shall apply all this law to her. ‘Moreover, the man will be free from guilt, but that woman shall bear her guilt.’ ” (Numbers 5:12-31)

This Law as not written with evil intent or to make life miserable for women, instead, it was given to protect the wife from unjustified accusations of infidelity. On the other hand, if she were guilty of adultery and tried to cover it up, her unfaithfulness would be made public for all to know that God sees what happens even if all the loose ends are “tied” and punishes sin. Another interesting truth that we find in this text is the fact that the husband is free from guilt because at the time of the accusation he had good reasons to accuse her of possible infidelity. Something caught his attention and motivated him enough to take his wife to the priest and begin this procedure. In order to keep constant arguments and accusations from the husband, the wife is cleared of these accusations by this procedure and the husband’s imagination is calmed. God gave this law for the wife’s protection and the good of the marriage.

Keep in mind, this law was given during the Old Testament, to the nation of Israel and is not longer applicable to us today. Naturally, we then ask ourselves . . .

What should we do today when overcome by jealousy?

If a man is provoked and overcome with jealousy toward his wife, or, if a wife is overcome with jealousy toward her husband, then they are to communicate these feelings with each other but they must remember to do it in a wise way with lots of respect. The accused must be wise and respectful and understand the need to avoid actions that cause jealousy. Frankly speaking, in a marriage where both husband and wife openly worship the Lord and walk before Him on a daily basis, there is no need for jealousy to appear because both live righteous lifestyles and are sincere with one another as well as with all the people around them. Since they both have the love of God in their hearts, they do not have bad thoughts about each other because the Bible says that love “is not jealous” and “is not provoked”. If it happens that one of the spouses is overcome with a spirit of jealousy then they need to communicate with each other, sharing what it is exactly that causes jealousy to appear.

What should you do when you are the victim of jealous accusations?

The person who is the object of a jealous spirit needs to guard himself and be wise in all of his actions and words so that he will not give the jealous partner reasons to be jealous. If you have a practice of not coming home on time or not coming home when you say that you will then you give good reasons for jealous accusations so be careful in every aspect of your behavior. There is another kind of jealousy that we must address . . .

People who are obsessed with jealous thoughts

Usually they are the ones with thoughts of infidelity and immorality so they think that all people are like this, including their spouses so naturally they accuse their spouses of these actions and thoughts, even to the point of hysteria. How many virtuous women have been unjustly accused all of their lives of infidelity or immoral thoughts by their spouses just because he has a “dirty” mind?

It happened once that there was a man who was evil, controlled by lust, an alcoholic who came home so drunk one night that he fell asleep on the steps leading to the door. He never made it in the house. His wife, being used to such behavior from him (which should not be the case), slept all night without him, woke up, made breakfast, and started to take the kids to school. She tried to open the door but could not because it was blocked by her husband sleeping off the alcohol from the night before. In order not to upset him even more she politely said . . .

– Please dear husband, allow me to open the door so that I can take the kids to school.
– Her husband’s reply “go away you old prostitute, where were you, all night, last night?”

Unfortunately, this happens all to frequently in many families where one of the spouses is unfaithful. The unfaithful one is the jealous one who creates crisis after crisis because of unjustified jealousy. In other words, “the pot calling the kettle black”.

What do you do when you live with a person who is obsessed with jealous thoughts?

My advice is the same. Do not give him or her reason to be jealous of you so that you will not be unjustly accused. You must confront him, in a respectful manner, and if he does not listen to you then you need to go and speak with your pastor. After that discussion, you need to bring your husband and all of you are to discuss the situation and put an end to all of jealous accusations once and for all.

Translation by: Erik Brewer