Scripture Reading: Joel 1:1-2:17 / Hebrews 3:1-19 / Psalm 119:137-144
The Hebrew culture displayed repentance, regret, anger, grief or sorrow by rending or tearing their garments. When Jacob was told of Joseph’s death, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and mourned many days for Joseph. David commanded Joab and the Israelites to mourn Abner’s death with sackcloth and rending their clothes.
Israel had walked away from God and was on the verge of facing the consequence of their rebellion. God was about to unleash judgment but graciously calls them to repentance. “Even now, declares the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning. 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 2:12,13)
Israel’s outward displays meant nothing to God because there was no internal repentance. They were simply going through the motions – religiously and hypocritically. God isn’t looking for an outward display of “religion” but He is looking for a “heart change”. He is looking for people who are broken over their sin and desperate to change. God will restore those who are truly sorrowful as they fast, weep and mourn.
God will take nothing less than our total heart. God wants all of our heart…all of our emotions, intentions, affections, thoughts and will. This is the only way that a true relationship can ever exist. When a spouse does not give their entire heart of emotions, affections and commitment to their mate, their relationship is sure to fail. God knows that a divided heart is not enough to sustain commitment and loyalty. Israel forsook God because their heart was not fully surrendered.
The key to a total heart is for it first to be broken and torn. God calls Israel to rend their hearts and not their garments. Genuine sorrow flows out of a torn heart. David writes these words after his sinful confession, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart, these O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17) Contrition is deeper than regret; it is sensing our guilt, weeping within and spiritually mourning over our sin.
God calls Israel to return to Him. Their heart needed to be first broken and then turned to God totally. Repentance is turning from one direction to the opposite direction…turning from sin to God. It is easy to repent when we are broken. It is easy to return when we recognize God is gracious and compassionate to forgive. His desire is not to destroy us but to restore us. It’s amazing what God can do with a life, it all begins and ends…with our heart.