“’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
People often question why God’s wrath and judgment are so prominent in the Old Testament. Even many believers are uncomfortable reading or discussing it. The book of Joel is a perfect example. It details God’s harsh judgment on His disobedient people, Israel. Today’s passage reveals a bit of prophetic wisdom, “Return to the Lord.” God desired Israel’s repentance in order to restore close fellowship. So, His aim was to discipline His children, not to punish them.
Joel’s description of the Lord as, “gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness” was not new to Israel. It’s how God described Himself to Moses after the Israelites sinned by worshipping the golden calf (Exodus 34:6). And, this phrase is repeated throughout the Old Testament (Nehemiah 9:17, Psalm 103:8, and Jonah 4:2) as a reminder that God always desires the repentance of His people.
His character has not changed from the Old Testament to the New. Even today, His perfect love cannot look the other way when believers blatantly disobey. His infinite grace and compassion mean He is always ready to forgive when we repent of sinful thoughts, attitudes, and actions.
We need to be careful, though, not to confuse repentance with mere regret. While regret focuses on how we feel about our actions, repentance understands that we’ve offended a holy God. That’s why Israel was urged to, “rend your heart and not your garment.” God equates mourning over personal sin with heart-wrenching grief. Regret is so rampant today because repentance is so rare.
As a child of God, what area of your life is drifting away from the Father’s instructions? Do you simply regret it? Or, does that sin bother you to the point of, “fasting, weeping, and mourning?” God’s grace extends an open invitation to, “Return to Me with all your heart.” He’s not waiting for a chance to punish you. He wants to restore the intimate fellowship of parent and child. Will you embrace whole-hearted repentance today?