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Rend is an uncommon word in the Bible, but one with a rather specific use, which actually sharpens its meaning and enhances its significance. In Scripture, to rend is the opposite of to sew (Eccl. 3:7), and refers almost exclusively to the tearing apart of fabrics, or, occasionally, items with textile-like qualities. Being woven like textiles, nets can be rent (John 21:11); or altars that are constructed with interlocking stone (I Kings 13:5). And because the heavens act as a cloak shielding God from view, the prophet prays God to rend them and come down (Is. 64:1), a prayer fulfilled vividly the day our Lord appears by tearing apart the fabric of the universe and causing men to flee His presence (Rev. 6:14).

Rending is no ordinary division. Whereas such things as water and wood, spoils and inheritances, lands and lots are divided, rending divides something that has been deliberately interwoven with warp and woof precisely so that it does not rend. Rending, therefore, also destroys the benefits and purpose of this union. This idea underlies the Old Testament practice of rending one’s garments in times of deep distress and sorrow. It signified outwardly the inner ripping apart of the heart by overwhelming grief over sin or circumstance, and to such an extent, the garment was deemed unfit or useless. In such despair, Jacob, Joshua, Job, and David rent their clothes (Gen. 37:4; Josh. 7:6; II Sam 1:11). So did Ahab, Athaliah, and Mordecai. In fact, one great evil in Israel was that, with regard to sin, this practice became only an outward show. The Lord demands true repentance: “Rend your heart and not your garments” (Joel 2:13).

This consistent biblical association of rending and fabric adds significance to the one notable exception—the division of the kingdom of Israel after Solomon. With precision, it is described as a rending. “I will rend the kingdom…,” the Lord repeatedly declares, and then reiterates the point by sending a prophet to rend the garment of Jeroboam into twelve pieces (I Kings 11:11-31). This particular description of that event, therefore, emphasizes the true character of rending any covenant body, particularly the church, the New Testament reality of the kingdom of Israel.

Significantly, the New Testament Greek word for rend is schism. With good reason, schism bars from the Lord’s table and makes officebearers worthy of deposition. For schism is the sin of rending the covenant fabric of the church that God has carefully knit together in love, peace, and faith. It is rebellion against the rule of God through His officers, which is why the ten tribes cried out, “What portion have we in David?,” a chilling word that echoed through the judgment hall of Pilate (John 19:15). To rend in this sense involves selfish pride that callously disregards and destroys the blessings, benefits, and purposes God intends through that covenant union. And therefore, rending any covenantal fabric, whether the covenant church, home, family, or marriage is destructive and makes that wonderful garment essentially useless. All twelve tribes found this out—being rent, they all quickly lost the wisdom, sovereignty, riches, and blessed peace enjoyed during Solomon.

Rending is also a judicial act of God. God rent the kingdom of Israel. But He does not sin. It is His kingdom to rend. And rending is the fitting judgment of God for not rending the heart in repentance, especially while making a show of it outwardly. Besides, God rent Israel that He might unite them spiritually through Jesus Christ. Significantly, at His baptism the heavens are rent (Greek, schism) and the Spirit descends on Him as a dove (Mark 1:10). By that Spirit He teaches that simply patching up the old kingdom will only make the rent worse (Mark 2:21). When crucified, the veil is rent from top to bottom (Matt. 27:51), but His garment stays whole (John 19:24). By rending His own body (Heb. 10:10), He obtains eternal redemption (Heb. 9:12). By His resurrection, that body rent by the sin of its members and just judgment of God is made whole, and all nations are also woven into its fabric. All the more reason to love the covenantal fabrics the Lord weaves, and to rend our hearts, and especially not these garments given us.