A Time for Repentence
A time to tear, And a time to sew. ~ Ecclesiastes 3:7
“A time to tear” refers to the rending of garments in an outward show of distress or repentance. Reuben, returning to the pit where Joseph had been held, found him gone and tore his garments in distress (see Gen. 37:29). “Jacob tore his clothes, put sackcloth on… and mourned for his son many days” (Gen. 37:34), believing him dead.
Later, after God had miraculously preserved Joseph and he had become Pharaoh’s right-hand man, his brothers, seeking food for the family, were tricked by Joseph, who had a cup put in Benjamin’s sack. The brothers discovered this, “tore their clothes, and each man loaded his donkey and returned to the city” (Gen. 44:13) to seek the mighty man’s mercy. If the men in that family knew what “a time to tear” was about, surely the women in the clan knew what “a time to sew” was all about! They must have dreaded their menfolk’s coming in for supper!
Seriously though, we are talking about a custom that dramatically demonstrated inward mourning and sorrow. But as is often the case with outward signs of inward things, the ritual eventually took the place of the realty.
Joel, the prophet, had to call Israel to true repentance.
“Now, therefore,” says the Lord, “Turn to Me with all your heart, With fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.” So rend your heart, and not your garments; return to the Lord your God, For He is gracious and merciful, Slow to anger, and of great kindness… (Joel 2:12-13)
Joel knew that when we rend our hearts and not our garments, God sews them up for us with the stitches of forgiveness.