By Joe Slater
“So rend your hearts, and not your garments” (Joel 2:13a).
I’m not accustomed to ripping my clothes as a sign of distress. But such was common in ancient times and is still practiced by some Jews mourning their dead.
In the first instance recorded in Scripture, Reuben tore his clothes, being horrified at what his brothers had done with Joseph (Genesis 37:29). A few verses later, a grief-stricken Jacob tore his clothes, mistakenly believing that Joseph was dead (37:34).
Joshua and Caleb tore their clothes in anguish and grief upon hearing their fellow-spies’ pessimistic report. Many years later, Joshua once again tore his clothes as he mourned Israel’s defeat at the first battle of Ai (Joshua 7:6).
Young King Josiah tore his clothes after hearing the words of the Book of the Law (2 Chronicles 34:19). His people’s appalling disobedience to God’s law would result in horrifying punishment. Josiah himself, however, would be spared from seeing it “because your heart was tender, and you humbled yourself before Me, and you tore your clothes and wept before Me” (v. 27).
Joel’s people knew the custom of tearing clothes to signify repentance, but for them it was empty ritual. God wanted broken hearts and changed behavior, not just ripped clothes.
What does God want from you and me? He is still “gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness” (Joel 2:13). But repentance must be from a broken heart, not merely a ritualistic show. As David wrote in Psalm 51:17, “A broken spirit . . . and a contrite heart, these, O God, You will not despise.”
- Joe Slater serves as minister of the Church of Christ in Justin, TX. He may be contacted through the congregation's website: http://justinchurchofchrist.com