In ancient times in the near eastern lands, when individuals wished to show mourning or a deep sense of sorrow, they would tear their garments. Jacob mourned Joseph in such a way (Genesis 37:34). Job so mourned the loss of his family and possessions likewise (Job 1:20). 2 Samuel 1:11 records for us David’s response to the death of Saul and Jonathan. “Then David took hold on his clothes, and rent them; and likewise all the men that were with him: and they mourned, and wept, and fasted until even, for Saul, and for Jonathan his son, and for the people of Jehovah, and for the house of Israel; because they were fallen by the sword.” This custom expressed in an external way what was happening inside the suffering individual.
In the day of Joel, the fickle people of Israel had a history of acting one way, but being another. For their sins, God’s prophets proclaimed that God would bring judgment upon them. Joel was one of those prophets. Nevertheless, there was still time for repentance. Referencing this custom, Joel emphasized that it had to be the people’s heart that changed, not merely their outward appearance. He wrote, “Yet even now, saith Jehovah, turn ye unto 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 Jehovah your God; for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abundant in lovingkindness, and repenteth him of the evil” (Joel 2:12-13).
Rend your hearts and not your garments! Joel’s message still rings true today. God has always demanded that we first give to him our heart. David wrote in Psalms 51:17 “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.” So he desired God to “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10). Proverbs 4:23 states, “Keep thy heart with all diligence; For out of it are the issues of life.”
The heart is what God desires from man. It is from the heart that either good or wicked things come. Jesus said, “A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things” (Matthew 12:35). If we give our hearts to God, then good things will come out within our lives. Yes, God wants our heart!
The only question we must answer is, “Will we give it to him?” As the people of Joel’s day were, so also are many today. God calls for them to repent, but the call goes unanswered. How about us? Will we give our hearts to God so that He may make of them what He wills? Will we, in humility and lowliness, kneel before the Father of all men and give Him what is due to Him? “Rend your hearts and not your garments” means that we must look inward to make changes before that which we do on the outside will be seen as a legitimate exercise to serve. Are our hearts torn?