As a kid I was a real super hero addict. Boxes and boxes of comics filled my room. I was really partial to the Avengers. I’m not really sure why. As a superhero group they really weren’t much: A jerk with a heart condition who lived in a metal suit (Iron Man), a weirdo who named his hammer and hit things with it (Thor), a husband and wife duo whose super power was to shrink and sting people (the Wasp and Yellow Jacket), a guy in red, white and blue who carried a shield (Captain America), oh yeah and another guy who turned green when he got mad, ripped off his clothes and for the most part just broke things (The Hulk).
Joel, I think, would have taken exception with the Hulk. We know he took an exception with the Jews’ habit of ripping their garments to show anguish. You see the Jews of the day had a ritual to show their humiliation over sin. It was to rip the garment they wore. No fuss no muss just rip a robe. There must have been a lot of robe ripping going on in Jerusalem over the heavy-duty life of sin the people were living. The only problem was it wasn’t working. The Jews were managing to keep the clothing stores in business, but they weren’t winning the war on sin.
So Joel wrote, “Therefore also now, saith the LORD, turn ye [even] to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning: And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the LORD your God: for he [is] gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil.” Joel 2:12,13 KJV
The word “rend is the Hebrew word “qara'” and it means to tear in pieces.
You see it wasn’t enough for the Israelites to rip their clothes when they faltered. God wanted them to be genuinely torn up. It wasn’t enough just to outwardly weep and wail they had to change their hearts.
I think there is something symbolic about tearing the clothes, though, that can help us to understand what it means to rend our hearts. When you rip open your shirt what’s underneath is exposed for all the world to see. Symbolically that is what has to happen when our hearts are rent. What is hiding underneath has to be exposed for God to get at.
For so long the church has understood true repentance as just feeling sorry for your sin. Some have gone so far as to say repentance means to turn away from sin and towards God (the word repent does mean to turn around). Even Joel says in these verses that it is necessary to turn away from sin and towards God. It’s true. It’s solid. Are you sinning? Just stop it!… But somehow that definition doesn’t go quite far enough to cover “rending” your heart.
Let’s face it there are often underlying reasons we sin. Sometimes “just stopping” isn’t an option. We stop drinking. We start swearing. We stop compulsively eating. We take up internet porn. We quit smoking. We start emotionally abusing our spouse and kids. Does any of this sound familiar?
Now I believe in the power of Jesus to deliver instantaneously. I have watched Him do it. But I have also seen times when people just kept trading one sin for another or kept living the cycle of addiction over and over and over again. Such circumstances require us to rend our hearts. We have to rip off the surface of our emotional beings so God can look at that which is underneath and heal us. It is that healing deep inside which must come in order for us to be free from sin.
So many of us would rather just settle for a “light” repentance.
We say ” O.K. God I’ll quit smoking just don’t get too close to the real reason I started in the first place.”
The problem is until we rend our heart and let God get down to the nitty-gritty we will never really be free. We’ll just be saints caught in the misery of works righteousness. When we trade good works for not having to let God into the painful areas of our lives we end up religious not righteous.
You see that’s why so many Christians look more like the Incredible Hulk than Jesus. So “Rend your hearts not your garments.” Joel 2:13