Rend Your Heart and Not Your Garments

“Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “Return to Me with all your heart, and with fasting, weeping and mourning; and rend your heart and not your garments.” Now return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness and relenting of evil.
(Joel 2:12-13)

The book of Joel begins with the discussion of a devastating locust plague sent by God as a destroying army to punish His people and to bring them to repentance. Those were dark days, literally (Joel 2:2).

God’s wrath comes slowly, but when it comes it is an overwhelming flood of devastation. When God brings His punishment it is thorough, but it is also done it the right way and at the right time. You know when God brings down the hammer of judgment He has exhausted all other avenues and given all opportunities for someone to come to repentance.

But after all this devastation which was left in the wake of God’s wrath, He calls them in love and grace to fast, call an assembly, and to return to Him.

But what kind of return does God want? Does He want them merely to feel sorry that they ended up in such a bad situation? Is He looking for them to have guilt just because things turned out so poorly?

It was clear throughout Scripture and certainly in our lives today that we do not always have “godly sorrow” which “leads to repentance” (2 Corinthians 7:10). We may be sorry we lost something important. It may be we are sorry we got caught. It may be we are sad because of the consequences, but that is not the sorrow God is looking for, is it?

The people of God could have torn their garments, fasted (it was not like they had much food at that point anyway), thrown ashes and dust on their heads and wailed and mourned. Was this what God was looking for? Not if their hearts weren’t in it.

“Rend your heart and not your garments…” Don’t tear your clothes, tear your hearts. God wants us to be heartbroken because of the broken relationship we have with Him, not merely sad because we are being punished for our sins.

Men, does God have our hearts? Are we on the surface trying to fix / avoid the consequences of our sins or are we truly getting down to the “heart” of the matter?

Rend your heart and not your garments.

With All Who Had Separated Themselves

Then the children of Israel who had returned from the captivity ate together (the Passover) with all who had separated themselves from the filth of the nations of the land in order to seek the LORD God of Israel (Ezra 6:21).

Imagine how awesome and exciting it must have been for the Jewish exiles to come home to Jerusalem from captivity! Even more so, now the temple has been rebuilt, and they are keeping the Passover feast. What a joyous time of celebration. The Passover feast was a memorial feast that served as a reminder of how God delivered them from Egyptian bondage.

Please take note in the above passage, it was not just the Jews who ate the Passover. There were apparently Gentiles who became proselytes to the Jewish faith and sought the God of Israel. They “separated themselves from the filth of the nations of the land in order to seek the Lord God of Israel.” If you think about it, that is such an encouraging and powerful statement. These Gentiles left their pagan ways, they saw their ways as “filth” and wanted to get as far away from it as possible. They repented. God became first in their lives. If you go back to Moses’ law, it also required that the Gentile males had to be circumcised before keeping the Passover (Exodus 12:47-49). Now they are eating “together” with the Jews in this feast.

This is like the book of Ephesians. Jews and Gentiles both are united under one Lord. Together (Ephesians 1:10; 2:5,6,21,22; 4:16 – New King James Version).

In order to be together, both Jews and Gentiles had to separate themselves from the filth of the world. Here is a point about influence, men. The Gentiles were led to God because the Jews were living for God. The Jews had first left behind the ways of the world and the filth of the nations, and it became an example and a light for the Gentiles to follow.

We see other examples in Ezra and Nehemiah of God’s people doing the exact opposite. Instead of separating from the filth of the nations, they married into that filth and raised kids in it. Their kids became pagan instead of godly (Nehemiah 13). So here in Ezra 6 is a positive and powerful witness of what your influence can do for God. But you must first separate from the dirty-ness of the world.

Your friends and co-workers will see that change. Pray that they like these Gentiles will also want to come and seek the Lord God. May they be united and together with us at Christ’s table as we celebrate Jesus as our Passover (1 Corinthians 5:7).

“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:13-16).