For I was envious of the arrogant as I saw the prosperity of the wicked. Psalm 73:3 NASB
Envious – All of the major English translations use the word “envious” for the Hebrew qanah. But this is strange. The word qanah can mean envious but it is most often translated “jealous.” Even the LXX uses the Greek equivalent of “jealous” (zelos). Clearly the translators believe that the context calls for envy rather than jealousy. What’s the difference and why does it matter?
Envy is the desire for the property of another. Jealousy is the desire for one’s own property. Envy is the emotion I experience when I want what belongs to you. Jealousy occurs when I want what is rightfully mine even though it is in your possession. Asaph is not jealous for that would imply that the prosperity of the wicked is rightfully his. He is envious. The prosperity of the wicked belongs to them, but he desires it to be his. This distinction helps us to see a crucial difference between Asaph’s struggle over the success of the wicked and our typical approach to prosperity.
It is common among the proponents of the prosperity gospel to claim that the wicked have no right to the rewards of this world. We often hear proof texts claiming the treasures of the wicked are stored up for the righteous. We assume that God intends the righteous to have wealth, health and good living and that somehow the wicked have usurped this divine plan. Prosperity Christians claim that they are the rightful heirs of God’s blessings. They are jealous of the success of the wicked.
Asaph recognizes the fallacy in this argument. Followers of the King realize that He distributes as He wishes. The wicked do not circumvent God’s purposes, stealing treasures from the heavenly Kingdom for their own use. They also fit within the will of the Father. Exactly how they fit isn’t clear to us, but there is no suggestion in Scripture that the wicked come by their rewards independently of God’s will. Since Asaph realizes that God is in control of distribution in this life, he correctly evaluates his emotion as envy, not jealousy. What the wicked have is also the will of the Lord. Asaph’s temptation to take what is theirs is not motivated by desiring what really belongs to him. It is motivated by wanting what belongs to them. Therefore, in this context, qanahis translated “envious,” not “jealous.” Asaph needed to hear Yeshua’s parable of the land owner who paid all of the laborers the same amount.
Asaph’s use of qanah clarifies our reaction. Are we envious of the fame or fortune of others? Do we believe that God should have given us those gifts? The Bible tells us that the wicked will pay a very high price for rewards in this life. When we find ourselves secretly asking why God seems to have favored them, we need to consider the cost of such accumulation. In the Bible, there is a place for jealousy, but there is no place for envy. Envy is a cancer on the God’s sovereignty.
Topical Index: envious, qanah, jealous, Psalm 73:3