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Joel 2:12-13

12. Therefore also now, saith the Lord, turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning:

12. Atque etiam nunc dicet Jehova, convertimini ad me in toto corde vestro, et in jejunio, et in fletu, et in planctu.

13. And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil.

13. Et scindite cor vestrum, et non vestimenta vestra, et convertimini ad Jehovam Deum vestrum, quia ipse propitius et misericors, longus ad iram, et multus clementia, et poenitebit eum super malo.


The Prophet, having proclaimed the dreadful judgment which we have noticed, now shows that he did not intend to terrify the people without reason, but, on the contrary, to encourage them to repentance; which he could not do without offering to them the hope of pardon; for as we have said before, and as it may be collected from the whole of Scripture, men cannot be restored to the right ways except they entertain a hope of God’s mercy inasmuch as he who has been ungodly, when he despairs, wholly disregards himself, observing no restraint. Hence the Prophet now represents God as propitious and merciful, that he might thus kindly allure the people to repentance.

He says first, And even now the Lord says, Turn ye to me. The Prophet exhorts the people, not in his own name, but speaks in the person of God himself. He might indeed have borne witness to the favor which he proclaimed; but the discourse becomes more striking by introducing God as the speaker. And there is a great importance in the words, even now; for when one considers what we have noticed in the beginning of the chapter, a prospect of relief could hardly have been deemed possible. God had, indeed, in various ways, tried to restore the people to the right way; but, as we have seen, the greater part had become so void of feeling, that the scourges of God were wholly ineffectual; there remained, then, nothing but the utter destruction which the Prophet threatened them with at the beginning of the second chapter. Yet, in this state of despair, he still sets forth some hope of mercy, provided they turned to him; even now, he says. The particles וגם ugam are full of emphasis, “even now” that is, “Though ye have too long abused God’s forbearance, and with regard to you, the opportunity is past, for ye have closed the door against yourselves; yet even now, — which no one could have expected, and indeed what ought to be thought incredible by yourselves, — even now God waits for you, and invites you to entertain hope of salvation.” But it was necessary that these two particles, even now, should be added; for it is not in the power of men to fix for themselves, as they please, the season for mercy. God here shows the acceptable time, as Isaiah says (Isaiah 49:8) to be, when he has not yet rejected men, but when he offers to be propitious. We must then remember that the Prophet gives not here liberty to men to delay the time, as the profane and scorners are wont to do, who trifle with God from day to day; but the Prophet here shows that we must obey the voice of God, when he invites us, as also Isaiah says, ‘Behold now the time accepted, behold the day of salvation: seek God now, for he is near; call on him while he may be found.’ So then, as I have reminded you, these two particles, even now, are added, that men may be made attentive to the voice of God when he invites them, that they may not delay till tomorrow, for the Lord may then close the door, and repentance may be too late. We at the same time see how indulgently God bears with men, since he left a hope of pardon to a people so obstinate and almost past recovery.

Even now, he says, turn ye to me with your whole heart. The Prophet here reminds us that we must not act feignedly with God; for men are ever disposed to trifle with him. We indeed see what almost the whole world is wont to do. God graciously meets us and is ready to receive us unto favor, though we have a hundred times alienated ourselves from him; but we bring nothing but hypocrisy and disguise: hence the Prophet declares here distinctly, that this dissimulation does not please God, and that they can hide nothing, who only pretend some sort of repentance by external signs, and that what is required is the serious and sincere feeling of the heart. This is what he means by the whole heart; not that perfect repentance can be formed in men, but the whole or complete heart is opposed to a divided heart: for men well understand that God is not ignorant; yet they divide their heart, and when they bestow some portion on God, they think that he is satisfied; and in the meantime there remains an interior and some hidden perverseness, which separates them far from God. This vice the Prophet now condemns, when he says, Turn with the whole heart. He then shows that it is an hypocrisy abominable to God, when men keep the greater part of their heart, as it were, closed up, and think it enough, if only they bring, so to speak, some volatile feeling.

He afterwards adds, fasting, and weeping, and mourning; and by these words he shows how grievously they had sinned; as though he said, that they deserved not only one kind of destruction, but were worthy of hundred deaths; that God therefore would not now be content with any common repentance, and except they came suppliantly and deeply felt their own guilt. It is indeed true, that we ought daily and even constantly to sigh, because we continue almost every hour to provoke God’s wrath against us; but the Prophet here speaks of solemn fasting, because the people had so grievously offended God that there was required some extraordinary confession, such as he here describes. Come then to me with fasting, and weeping, and wailing” that is “Show at length that you are guilty and submissively deprecate the vengeance which ye have through your wickedness deserved.” He speaks like a judge, when he tells the criminal, not to act dissemblingly, but simply to confess his fault. The guilty are indeed wont to weave many excuses to avoid punishment; but when the judge deems a man guilty, and he is abundantly proved to be so, he says, “What good can you do? for these your shuffling and subterfuges make your case worse: for now I hold you bound, and you cannot escape by these shifts, and will only the more provoke my displeasure. If then you wish me to show you favor, own how grievously you have offended, and without any coloring; confess now that you are worthy of death, and that nothing else remains for you, except I mercifully pardon you: for if you try to extenuate your crime, if you attempt by some excuse to seek reprief, you will gain nothing.” So now does the Lord deal with this people: Turn to me, he says; first, sincerely; then with fasting, with weeping, and with wailing; that is, “Let it appear that you suppliantly deprecate the destruction which ye have deserved, for moderate repentance will not do, inasmuch as ye are guilty before me of so many crimes.” We now apprehend the Prophet’s meaning.

He then subjoins, Rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn to Jehovah your God. The Prophet again repeats that we ought to deal sincerely with God; for all those ceremonies, by which men imagine that they discharge their duties, are mere mockeries, when they are not preceded by a pure and sincere heart. But as they were wont under mournful circumstances to rend their garments, he therefore says, “God has become now insensible to these customs; for with regard to men, ye are ceremonious enough, and more than enough: ye indeed rend your garments, and thus draw pity from men, and yet your heart remains whole, there is no rending, no opening; Rend then your heart,” that is, “Leave off thus to mock God, as ye have been wont to do, and begin with your heart.” It is indeed certain that the orientals were given to many ceremonies; but the vice the Prophet here condemns in the Jews is natural as it were to all men; so that every one of us is inclined to hypocrisy, and has need of having his attention drawn to the sincerity of the heart. We must then remember that this truth is to be set forth at all times and to all nations. Let any one search himself and he will find that he labors under this evil, — that he would rather reed his garment than his heart. And since the Jews usually observed this custom, the Prophet does not without reason deride it, and say, that it was of no account with God except they rent their hearts. But when he bids them to rend their hearts and not their garments, though he seems to repudiate that external practice, he does not yet distinctly condemn it, but intimates that it was a lawful thing, provided the heart was rent. Now this expression, Rend the heart, ought not to be deemed harsh, for it is to be referred to the external practice: when they rent the garments, they made themselves naked before God and put off all ornaments; but he wished them to be displeased with themselves, and rather to make bare the heart itself. The heart of hypocrites, we know, is wrapped up, and they ever have recourse to hiding places, that they may avoid the presence of God. Then the similitude is most suitable, when the Prophet bids them to rend the heart. Besides, the passage is clear enough, and needs not many remarks; it means, that God regards the real feeling of the heart, as it is said in Jeremiah [4:14]; he is not content with ocular obedience, such as men exhibit, but he would have us to deal with him in sincerity and truth.

Hence he repeats again, Turn to Jehovah your God. Here the Prophet shows, from what God is, that men foolishly and grossly deceive themselves when they would please God with their ceremonies: “What!” he says, “have you to do with a child?” For the import of the words is this, — “When an offense against man is to be removed, ye anxiously come to him: now when ye perceive that God is angry with you, ye think that he will be propitious to you, if ye only trifle with him; can God bear such a reproach?” We hence see what the Prophet means when he says, Turn to Jehovah your God; that is, “Remember that you have not to do with a block of wood or with a stone, but with your God, who searches hearts, and whom mortals can by no crafts deceive ” The same is said by Jeremiah, ‘Israel, if thou turnest, turn to me,’ (Jeremiah 4:1;) that is, “Pretend not to turn by circuitous courses and windings, but come in a direct way, and with a real feeling of heart, for I am he who calls thee ” So also now the Prophet says, Turn to Jehovah your God

Then follows the promise of pardon, For he is propitious and merciful. We have already said that repentance is preached in vain, except men entertain a hope of salvation; for they can never be brought to fear God truly, unless they trust in him as their Father, as it is stated in Psalm 130:4 ‘With thee is propitiation that thou mayest be feared.’ Hence, whenever the Prophets were anxious to effect anything by their doctrine, while exhorting the people to repentance, they joined to the invitation “Come,” the second part, “Ye shall not come in vain.” This “Come,” comprehends all exhortations to repentance; “Ye shall not come in vain,” includes this testimony respecting God’s grace, that He will never reject miserable sinners, provided they return to him with the heart. The Prophet then now engaged on this second head; God, he says, is propitious and merciful. And this connection is to be observed by us; for as Satan fills us with insensibility when God invites us, so also he draws us away into despair when God denounces judgment, when he shows that it is not time for sleep. “What good will you gain?” Thus Satan by his craft disheartens us, that we may labor in vain, when we seek to be reconciled to God. Hence, whenever Scripture exhorts us to repentance, let us learn to join this second part, “God invites us not in vain.” If then we return to him, he will be instantly inclined to grant forgiveness; for he wills not that miserable men should labor in vain or be tormented. This is the benefit of which the Prophet speaks when he says that God is propitious and merciful.

He afterwards adds, that he is slow to wraths and abundant in goodness. These testimonies respecting God occur often in other places; and all the Prophets, as well as David, have borrowed these declarations from Exodus 34:6; where the nature of God is described; and He is said there to be propitious and merciful, slow to wrath, and abundant in goodness. Though there is no need of dwelling longer on these words, as we perceive the Prophet’s design; yet more extended remarks will not be superfluous since the Prophet so much at large recommends the mercy of God. Though men too much indulge themselves in security, yet when God calls them to himself, they are not able to receive his favor; though he may testify twice or thrice that he will be propitious to them, yet he cannot persuade them but with great difficulty. This is the reason why the Prophet, after having said that God is propitious and merciful, adds, that he is slow to wrath, and abundant in goodness; it was, that the Jews might overcome their distrust, and that however much despair might keep them back, they might not yet hesitate to come to God, seeing that he declares himself to be so merciful.

He at last adds, He will repent of the evil. The Prophet here not only describes the nature of God, but goes further and says, that God, who is by nature placable, will not remain fixed in his purpose, when he sees people returning to him in sincerity; but that he suffers himself to be turned to show favor, so as to remit the punishment which he had previously denounced. And it is a mode of speaking which often occurs in Scripture, that God repents of evil; not that he really changes his purpose, but this is said according to the apprehensions of men: for God is in himself immutable, and is said to turn from his, purpose, when he remits to man the punishment he has previously threatened. Whatever proceeds from God’s mouth ought to be regarded as an inviolable decree; and yet God often threatens us conditionally, and though the condition be not expressed it is nevertheless to be understood: but when he is pacified to us and relaxes the punishment, which was in a manner already decreed according to the external word, he is then said to repent. And we know, that as we do not apprehend God such as he is, he is therefore described to us in such a way as we can comprehend, according to the measure of our infirmity. Hence God often puts on the character of men, as though he were like them; and as this mode of speaking is common, and we have spoken of it elsewhere, I now pass it by more briefly. It follows —

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