“Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.” (Joel 2:12–13, ESV)
Lately this verse has been showing up in a lot of different places in some form or another. Though it is a common desire of the Lord since the fall in the Garden of Eden for man to repent and return to the Lord, the message even today seems very strong. Do we hear it? Is this a message that God’s people need to hear as well?
In my blog I have talked a lot about repentance, but today I wanted to focus on what it means to “rend your hearts”. But, before we can understand what it means, we must first have a understanding of what the word “heart” means.
Often we think of the the heart in terms of emotions like love and kindness but a biblical view of the word “lev” (heart) has a much more rich meaning.
First, I really like the ancient word picture we get from the original pictographic definition of the word for heart. Jeff Benner describes it this way:
“The first picture in this Hebrew word is a shepherd staff and represents authority as the shepherd has authority over his flock. The second letter is the picture of the floor plan of the nomadic tent and represents the idea of being inside as the family resides within the tent. When combined they mean “the authority within”. (Jeff Benner, Ancient Hebrew Word Meanings)
I have also heard it described as “that which controls the inside”. This seems to line up with other descriptions that one can find in various OT dictionaries and word study books. A summary of these could read as the heart being the seat of emotions, the seat of thought, with fear, love, anger, joy, sorrow, hatred, all attributed to the heart. Important to understand is that scripture also describes the corruption of our human nature in connection with the heart. You can read of a heart that is hardened, that is wicked, that is perverse, godless, deceitful, and desperately wicked.
In our verse from Joel above the Lord asks us to repent (return to me) with all our heart. So that which is “the authority within” needs to turn back to the Lord. We must submit our authority to the authority of the Lord. But it requires something radical. It requires weeping, mourning, and fasting. It also requires us to “rend our hearts”. The word rend is an imperative verb which suggests a command or instruction with the idea to to break, shatter, smash, crush “the authority within”. Seems that David understood what this means:
“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18, ESV)
But, how can we do this, our heart is deceitful, and wicked. Lucky for us, Scripture does not leave us hanging. Let’s just explore some verses from both the OT and NT.
“Praise the Lord! Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in his commandments! His offspring will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed…..his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord. His heart is steady; he will not be afraid, until he looks in triumph on his adversaries.” (Psalm 112:1–8, ESV)
This verse starts with the fear of the Lord, and relates this awe and trembling reverence to one who delights in the Lords commandments. It then describes the benefits to this delight. One of the benefits is a heart (the authority within) that is firm and trusts in the Lord, and a heart (the authority within) that is steady and is not afraid.
David also knows how this must happen:
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10, ESV)
It is a work that David knew must come from the Lord. Later the Prophet Jeremiah would write about this in terms of a new covenant:
“For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”” (Jeremiah 31:33–34, ESV)
Thus we see in the New Covenant verses that being the same ideas forward…
“For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” (Romans 10:10, ESV)
“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:14–19, ESV)
“And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” (Galatians 4:6–7, ESV)
“And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.” (2 Corinthians 1:21–22, ESV)
Ezekiel describes the removal of a heart of stone and replacing it with a heart of flesh, what does that suggest? (I will let you ponder that one)
“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” (Ezekiel 36:26–27, ESV)
There is a action of God in all of these verses that bring about the end result of a pattern of life that is careful to walk in obedience to the Lord. An interesting question still comes to mind, and the Lords instruction in Deuteronomy may help answer, what comes first – a desire to seek God, or God giving us the desire to seek him?
“And when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the Lord your God has driven you, and return to the Lord your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you today, with all your heart and with all your soul, then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have mercy on you, and he will gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you. If your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there he will take you. And the Lord your God will bring you into the land that your fathers possessed, that you may possess it. And he will make you more prosperous and numerous than your fathers. And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. And the Lord your God will put all these curses on your foes and enemies who persecuted you. And you shall again obey the voice of the Lord and keep all his commandments that I command you today.” (Deuteronomy 30:1–8, ESV)
So, based on this pattern we could lay out this idea:
1. The Lord sets before us His pattern for living. His Word given both written and in the world around us.
“For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:19–20, ESV)
2. We remember who He is, and the promises that He has given. He sets them before us.
“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:14–17, ESV)
3. Return to the Lord (Repent).
“Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:37–38, ESV)
The Holy Spirit is given AFTER they repent!!
4. By God’s Spirit he circumcises our heart and gives us the ability to walk a life of obedience.
“And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. And the Lord your God will put all these curses on your foes and enemies who persecuted you. And you shall again obey the voice of the Lord and keep all his commandments that I command you today.”
“And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” (1 John 2:3–6, ESV)
Part of this whole process is the rending of the heart (the authority within) and then the Lord giving us the power through His spirit to walk in obedience to His commands. But it is a process, and until the Lord returns we must continue to turn to the Lord, and sometimes our old nature will require use to rend the authority within as we fall back into sin. The words our Lord had to the church of Sardis should be a sobering reminder that even the church must seek to “rend its heart”
“And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. “ ‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.” (Revelation 3:1–3, ESV)
Lord, help me to put away pride and self, and to submit “the authority within” to your will.