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A Time to Tear and a Time to Sew

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A Time to Tear And a Time to Sew

When history is written, I believe our century will be called "the age of communication." Technology has made possible the transmission of the Word through various media. Unquestionably, one of the most powerful of these at the present time is television. Here we are concerned with pictures, fiction, and fact. All of this properly harnessed can help us greatly in understanding biblical concepts, for the Bible is a book of pictures. God constantly speaks through visual aids. We have dramatic stories, fascinating parables, and of course the beautiful symbolism throughout the Old and New Testaments. This has been obvious as we have worked our way through Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, and will become particularly evident as we consider the words, "There is ... a time to tear, and a time to sew" (Eccl. 3:7).

It is generally understood that these words refer to the tearing and mending of a garment. In Bible times, the act of tearing or mending a garment had a deep significance. When used in reference to God, the figure of tearing had to do with judgment, on the one hand, or salvation on the other. In relation to man, it symbolized bereavement, chastisement, and repentance. In like manner, the mending of a garment had both a divine and a human connotation. And so, as we shall see, our text is not just a repetition of the exhortation "to weep, and ... to laugh," "to mourn, and ... to dance" (Eccl. 3:4). Rather, it has a message of its own to sinner and saint alike.

The Time to Tear

In the Old Testament, there are at least seven words that are translated by the word "tear." Of these seven, the particular word in this text occurs no almost sixty times. To expound each one in its context would be quite a study! However, a general idea runs right through each mention of the word "tear," whether in the Old or New Testaments.

We discover, for instance, that there is a tearing which is divine. As paradoxical as it may seem, God tears in judgment as well as in His acts of mercy. His tearing in judgment is illustrated again and again in the Old Testament. Perhaps the most familiar example is that of King Saul, the son of Kish (1 Sam. 15:22-28). You will remember that even though Saul was the choice of the people, God, in His goodness, approved of the man—provided he obeyed the mandates of heaven. When Saul was put to the test, however, he failed miserably. Instead of fulfilling the commandment of the Lord he "feared the people and obeyed their voice." So Samuel had to remind him that "to obey [God] is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams." And then he added: "Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He also has rejected you from being king.... The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today, and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you." So there is a tearing of divine judgment.

But equally true is the tearing of divine salvation. For this we move from the Old to the New Testament. Recalling the story of our Lord's passion, Matthew tells us that "behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split" (Matt. 27:51). While there is a difference in the language, the idea of tearing is identical. Matthew is telling us here that when Jesus died on Calvary's cross, the veil of the temple was torn, and the rocks of the earth were torn. These two "tearings" gloriously set forth the redeeming character of Christ's death and resurrection. When Jesus cried, "It is finished!" (John 19:30), He fulfilled all the types and shadows of the Old Testament and met all the demands of God's holy law. So the veil of the temple was torn from top to bottom. Henceforth, the way into the holiest was made available for everyone who would come to Jesus Christ, the "one Mediator between God and men" (1 Tim. 2:5). We are thus bidden to come boldly into the holiest "by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh" (Heb. 10:20). Through the tearing of that veil we now may know that Jesus is "the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through [Him]" (John 14:6).

At the same time, the tearing of the rocks dramatizes the triumphant resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ; for just as the graves were opened on that occasion, so the tomb of our Savior was opened three days later to show that He had risen from the dead to be our justifying, sanctifying, and glorifying Lord and Life.

So we see that there is "a time to tear," and when redemption's moment came, God acted in saving grace and power.

But we must also understand that there is a tearing which is human. While the significance of this tearing might be multiplied, there are three clear interpretations that apply to people of all times and places. There is the tearing of bereavement. When Reuben returned to the pit and found that his wicked brothers had removed Joseph and sold him to the Ishmaelites, we read that in grief "he tore his clothes" (Gen. 37:29). And later, when the father Jacob was informed of the fate of his beloved Joseph, we are told that he "tore his clothes, put sackcloth on his waist, and mourned for his son many days" (Gen. 37:34).

David's bereavement over the death of Saul, and especially of Jonathan, made him take hold of his clothes and tear them in two, and so did all the men that were with him (2 Sam. 1:11).

So we see that there is the human tearing of bereavement. Convention and culture may have changed in our day, but we still know what it is to have our hearts torn in bereavement.

There is also the tearing of chastisement. Without doubt, one of holiest men who ever lived was Job. Because of this, God allowed him to be tested by the devil to prove that a man can trust God, even to the point of death. And the story relates that as one calamity after another fell upon him, "Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshiped" (Job 1:20). Here was a man who accepted the attacks of Satan as the chastening of the Lord, and instead of being bitter, he tore his mantle and worshipped God. Even in those early days of unfolding revelation, Job knew that "whom the Lord loves He chastens" (Heb. 12:6).

In the third place, there is the tearing of repentance. Think of the words of the prophet Joel as he calls for national repentance, "'Now, therefore,' says the Lord, 'Turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.' So tear 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" (Joel 2:12-13). This is the kind of tearing which God demands of all men, irrespective of time, age, race, or creed. No one can know the salvation of God without repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Anything less than repentance God refuses; but where there is repentance, there is forgiveness with God, that He might be feared (Ps. 130:4). How true are the words, "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart—these, O God, You will not despise" (Ps. 51:17).

There is "a time to tear." Let us make sure that we understand the divine as well as the human aspects of this tearing. What determines judgment or salvation is our willingness to tear our hearts in true penitence, faith, and obedience.

But with the time to tear there is likewise:

The Time to Mend

It is a curious thing that with the exception of one Scripture, the only other reference to sewing takes us into the Garden of Eden at the point in history where Adam and Eve disobeyed the word of God and brought upon themselves the curse of sin, death, and judgment. So in graphic terms we learn the meaning of the human, as well as the divine, aspect of sewing. Consider, first of all, the sewing which is human. In that famous passage in Genesis 3, we read that after their sin the eyes of Adam and Eve "were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings" (Gen. 3:7). This is the first recorded instance of man's attempt to remedy, by his own device, his condition of sinfulness, nakedness, and fearfulness.

It certainly was a condition of sinfulness. Adam and Eve had deliberately disobeyed the word of the Lord. God had clearly commanded that they should not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:17), but in disobedience Adam and Eve ate of the fruit and suffered the consequences. Centuries later, Paul could write, "Just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned" (Rom. 5:12).

With the sinfulness there was the nakedness. Adam said, "I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself (Gen. 3:10). Up until then both Adam and Eve were clothed with the garments of light. The glory of God shone through their mortal bodies, but the moment they sinned they became naked. And even though they sewed aprons of fig leaves, they were still naked; and this is how it has ever been. No man is clothed before God until he is clothed with the righteousness of Christ. His attempts to try and substitute the garments of his own making are both foolish and futile.

With the sinfulness and nakedness there was also the fearfulness. Adam confessed, "I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself (Gen. 3:10). John reminds us: "If our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God" (1 John 3:20-21). Up until this time Adam had known God's perfect love, and "there is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear" (1 John 4:18). But the moment he sinned, he experienced the "fear [that] involves torment" (1 John 4:18).

And so it is with you and me. No one can be happy in the presence of God with an apron of fig leaves. And yet, people within the church, as well as outside of it, are busier than ever sewing fig leaves! By this means or that they imagine they will earn divine acceptance! But once again, nothing could be more foolish or futile. Like the guest with the wrong wedding garment, all who are not clothed in the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ will never appear before God in a favorable light, whether in time or in eternity (Matt. 22:11-13).

In view of this, it is both comforting and instructive to know of the sewing which is divine. In the third chapter of Genesis we read that "for Adam and his wife the Lord God made [sewed] tunics of skin, and clothed them" (Gen. 3:21). It is interesting to note that the verb in this verse is exactly the same for the making of the aprons. The only contextual difference is that in this instance it is God who supplied the covering.

There are few pictures in the Bible which set forth the doctrine of divine righteousness as this one. Consider, first of all, the provision of the covering. We are told that "the Lord God made tunics of skins" (Gen. 3:21). This was not something Adam thought out; on the contrary, it was wholly and solely a provision of God.

It is true that scholars, such as John Calvin, maintain that God commanded Adam to slay the animals and prepare the skins. But be that as it may, the fact remains that the provision was of God; the thought, the word, and the action were divine. And it is noteworthy to observe that the term "clothed" is rooted in the Hebrew idea of "atonement."

But with the provision there was the price of the covering —"tunics of skins" (Gen. 3:21). Before Adam and Eve could wear those coats, a life had to be sacrificed. From the very beginning, Adam learned that "without [the] shedding of blood there is no remission" (Heb. 9:22). So we see in this picture God's righteousness as set forth in the cross-work of Christ, whereas man's righteousness is set forth in the sin-stained works of his own hands. In the coat of skin, Adam was no longer naked, nor had he any occasion to hide himself.

In like manner, we can only be at rest when we know that God has clothed us. And we must never forget that the righteousness which is imputed to us involved the shedding of the precious blood of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Thus with John Elias we have to say: "Oh! the wretchedness of those without Christ! They are naked without clothing! sick without a Physician! famishing without the bread of life! guilty without righteousness! unclean without a fountain! lost without a Savior! damned without atonement" (Edward Morgan, 105).

But once again, there was the purpose of the covering —"the Lord ... clothed them" (Gen. 3:21). It is generally acknowledged that the purpose of their covering was twofold. First and foremost, it set forth the only basis on which man can approach a holy God. Until he is clothed with the righteousness of the Lord Jesus he can never be at ease in the unapproachable light of God. This is why the Lord Jesus says, "I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed" (Rev. 3:18).

In the second place, the clothing of Adam and Eve forever set the standard of deportment for human beings here upon earth. Until man is glorified at the coming again of our Lord Jesus Christ, he will be possessed of a sinful nature. Therefore, his nakedness will be something to cover and hide. And any attempt of civilized man to uncover himself is an evidence of serious degeneracy.

As far back as November 13, 1967, Newsweek published a cover story entitled "Anything Goes: Taboos in Twilight," which concerned itself with the remarkable explosion of sexual permissiveness in the arts and in the fabric of society itself. The story touched off an unprecedented response from thousands who were outraged by the new permissiveness of our modern day. Since that story appeared, the situation that it described and analyzed has become a matter of national concern. Today there are more erotic films, more blunt-spoken novels, more nudity on stage, and more sex appeal in advertising than ever before. This blatant permissiveness is having an unbelievable influence upon the arts, culture, and the community at large. We have superceded the day of Noah; we are now living in the day of Lot, with all that that implies.

I heard Montague Goodman, a British lawyer and preacher, once say, "When men and women display their nakedness it is a sure sign that a country is going to the devil." You will remember that when the sons of Sceva attempted to take the name of Jesus in vain, the evil spirit they were attempting to exorcise "leaped on them, overpowered them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded" (Acts 19:16). God always clothes; the devil always denudes.

This, then, is something of the inner meaning of this remarkable text. We have learned that there is a time to tear, and there is a time to sew. God has taken the initiative in tearing the veil of the temple, in making a new and living way into the holiest of all. He has torn the tomb and exalted His Son to the place of power and glory. Now He calls us to tear our hearts in repentance and submission to the Lordship of Christ. In response to this challenge there is a time to mend; but as we have been warned, aprons of sewed fig leaves will not do before a holy God. We need the garments of righteousness, which have been made for us through the sacrifice of the Son of God. Only the Savior's "sewing" has acceptance in the presence of God. Let us, then, tear our hearts in repentance toward God, and then, by His grace, mend our hearts in obedience to Jesus Christ as Lord—knowing that if with all our hearts we truly seek Him, we shall surely find Him (Jer. 29:13).

Think on These Things (Phil. 4:8)

Tearing and mending may appear to be a contradiction in human terms, but in Christ and His cross it is a concurrence. Opposites unite in His reconciling death. The psalmist expresses it in poetry when he sings: "Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed" (Ps. 85:10). The same God who tears can mend.

— Time for Truth, A

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