Our GODLY SORROW produces REPENTANCE leading to SALVATION: "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; and He relents from doing harm. Who knows if He will turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind Him--a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord your God? (Joel 2:12-14)
Through the above passage, the prophet Joel is calling on the people of Judah and the spiritual leaders in particular, to return to God with fasting, weeping and confession. This will be done through solemn assemblies and corporate fasts that should start with confronting the sins of the people, which should lead to wholehearted repentance. The introductory phrase, “Now, therefore,” conveys Joel’s great sense of urgency as God’s judgment was hanging upon their nation like a sword. Though the threatened invasion was near, God’s people still had opportunity to turn back to God with all their hearts. As in the book of Zephaniah (see Zeph. 2:1–3), an opportunity for repentance, remorse, and renewal was offered to the people!
The conventional public expression of sorrow for sin during those days in Israel and Judah involved the tearing of one’s clothes, but this was nothing more than a ritual that they observed (see Josh. 7:6; 1 Sam. 4:12). The tearing of the outer garment was useless, unless the heart was broken in repentance and contrition. So, Joel challenged the people to be broken inside since "the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart" (Ps. 51:17). Their turning back to God was to be with all their heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning (see Ezra 10:1–6; Esther 4:3; Jonah 3:5–9).
When we are dealing with God, we are never without hope. Even in the midst of extreme circumstances, we can turn our hearts to Him and find help and salvation. God is never vindictive, but rather, He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness. God is reluctant to punish and judgment is an ‘unusual’ act for God (see Isa. 28:21) for He wants all to come to repentance. Even at the last moment, God will display His grace if the people would truly repent. Knowing fully well that God’s mercy and blessing was based upon His gracious character and long-suffering (see Exo. 33:19; 2 Sam. 12:22; Lam. 3:29), the prophet Joel is urging everyone to actually experience their hearts that are torn with grief and their mouth confessing their sins to God!
Let us understand that our sins call for serious repentance and mourning on our part (1:13). God’s people should be warned of the consequences of their sin (2:1), and the church should be taught to repent corporately. A time for corporate fasting and solemn assemblies should be declared to identify sin so that prayers for restoration can be made (1:14). When sins are discovered in our lives, we should repent quickly with godly sorrow, and return to God with the assurance that He will hear—and forgive—if we willingly confess our sin (1 John 1:9). When we return back to God, He will heal and restore us!
Remember, God wants no one to fall into condemnation and come under His judgment (2 Pet. 3:9). That is why God warns people ahead of time so that they will recognize their sin and experience the godly sorrow that produces repentance. This in turn leads to salvation for anyone who "calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved" (v. 32). This is exactly what Apostle Paul meant as he writes to the believers at the church in Corinth: