Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. Joel 2:13
“Rending” one’s clothes is an old custom. In our world, to be honest, it’s odd. When something traumatic happens, you tear your clothes. Rip your shirt; tear your outer garment; kind of strange. But it happens all throughout the Bible, with (perhaps) the most famous example being how the chief priest tore his clothes when, on the day He was crucified, Jesus confirmed to him that He was God. Can you imagine going to a store, and when you find you’ve been overcharged, you rip your shirt? Or, when the doctor tells you that your loved one is gravely ill, the first thing you do is to tear your jacket in half? Odd.
But also symbolic. Joel says for us to do this to our hearts, not as some outward show of pride, but as an inward demonstration of repentance. Tear apart our divided hearts. Rip out the sins that plague us. In other words, turn from the things that have already broken our hearts and turn back to God. Assume the posture of sorrow and repentance for the evil things we’ve done and said. The old custom was simply a way of showing this sorrow (and hopefully repentance).
Show repentance because we’ll find that God is full of mercy and forgiveness. The phrase about God being “gracious, compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love” is also used repeatedly throughout the Bible, especially in the Old Testament. Moses says it (or something very much like it) numerous times in the Torah; several of the prophetic books do the same. It’s said over and over because it’s true. Jesus is Immanuel, who is with us. His Spirit lives in us. He who is merciful and kind, slow to anger, abounding in grace and love, is with us at all times. He is with us in our victories and He is with us in our most terrible defeats.
Perhaps a different way of looking at Joel 2:13 would be to say, “live like you believe Jesus is who He says He is.” That has some pretty wonderful connotations for us, don’t you think, especially in our social media-driven world of tawdry shallowness? I can’t guarantee that I’ll tear my clothes the next time trauma affects me; in fact, I probably won’t. But I do promise to turn my grief in that trauma over to God as soon as possible because I know He’s always with us and is merciful and loving beyond compare.
For more reading: Genesis 37:29, Exodus 34:6, Numbers 14:6, Deuteronomy 4:31, Job 1:20, Psalm 51:17, Psalm 86:5, Isaiah 19:22, Isaiah 57:15, Jeremiah 18:8, Jonah 4:2, Matthew 26:65, Joel 2:14
Lord, You are merciful, all loving, and all forgiving. Thank You.
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