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.
This weekend we read through the short book of Joel. Some books of the Bible are like towns off the beaten path that you only go to if you really want to. One of the benefits of a whole-Bible reading plan is not skipping over these uncommon destinations. Thank you for being a part of walking through God’s Word with our community.
Reflection: Rend Your Hearts
By John Tillman
Joel may be one of the least read books of the Bible, but other biblical authors certainly knew it well. In fact, Joel’s most famous passages are familiar because other biblical authors quote them or allude to them.
Joel is thought to be one of the early books of prophecy chronologically, and many other prophets pick up on Joel’s language, repeating the themes he introduces…
He speaks of The Day of the Lord as a dark day of judgement…
He speaks of the pouring out of God’s Spirit on men and women…
He foretells drought, a consuming fire, and a swarming, undefeatable army pictured as locusts, with God riding at the head of their columns…
He speaks of beating plowshares into swords and pruning hooks into spears. (A phrase which 100 years later Isaiah and his contemporary, Micah will reverse.)
Historians debate whether Joel’s locusts were allegorical or literal, but there is no doubt that the destruction comes from God in response to sin, and that this same God “relents from sending calamity.”
Joel tells people throughout Jerusalem to mourn and repent in traditional ways, which included to weep and to wail, to rend their garments and wear sackcloth. Then in chapter two he pivots, saying, “Rend your heart and not your garments.”
In ancient times, rending one’s clothing was a public sign of mourning or repentance. This formalized mourning might be due to the death of a family member, a personal crisis, or in response to more widespread events such as a national emergency or natural disaster.
Our modern world has nearly eliminated traditional social norms of mourning. Yet, we still use social media to engage in an approximate modern equivalent of rending one’s clothing. On many platforms our “cover” photos and profile photos are the outer garments that cover us and show the face we choose to the world. Like garments, they conceal and reveal. We can use them to feign happiness or signal our virtuous struggles and suffering.
Joel’s admonition is to go beyond public signals of mourning or confession. It is our heart that we must rend in mourning and confession, because God looks at the heart, not our outward appearance. When we rend our heart in community with others, we invite God’s power to work in us for redemption and restoration. As God speaks through Joel, “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten…”
God will replace what is lost—including replacing our hearts of stone with the pierced-heart of Jesus.
Prayer: The Request for Presence
I call with my whole heart; answer me, O Lord, that I may keep your statutes. — Psalm 119.145
– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.
Read More about The Radical Procedure of the Gospel
It’s lovely to think of God giving us a new heart and putting a new Spirit within us. But it is terrifying to admit to the diagnoses that would lead to such a radical procedure.
Read More about Where Our Hearts Are
No matter how distracted we become, and no matter how often we misplace our hearts—serving gods of mammon, fashion, and culture—God won’t forget us. He stands ready for us to return to him.
Support our Work
Each month over 22,000 Park Forum email devotionals are read around the world. Support our readers with a monthly or a one time donation.