The Calcified Heart or If You Know What’s Good For You, Don’t Provoke God
Updated: Nov 9, 2019
Two concepts that couldn’t be further apart in meaning are often paired together in the scriptures--“provocation” and “rest”. This entry explores these two words and how they apply to the prosaic routine of our lives.
Let’s start with Paul. Hebrews 3:7 “Wherefore (as the Holy Ghost saith), To day if ye will hear his voice, 8 Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness: 9 When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works forty years. 10 Wherefore I was grieved with that generation, and said, They do alway err in their heart; and they have not known my ways. 11 So I sware in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest.)...15 While it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation. 16 For some, when they had heard, did provoke: howbeit not all that came out of Egypt by Moses. 17 But with whom was he grieved forty years? was it not with them that had sinned, whose carcases fell in the wilderness? 18 And to whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not? 19 So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.”
Provocation in the Scriptures. Provocation is a strong word. It is ‘an action or speech that makes someone annoyed or angry, often deliberately’.
In Hebrews, Paul is referring to Moses and the Children of Israel in the wilderness when he mentions ‘provocation’. A wonderfully descriptive account of this ‘provocation’ is found in “The Provocation in the Wilderness and the Rejection of Grace” by M. Catherine Thomas. “Camped in the hot, waterless wilderness of southern Palestine, the Israelites challenged Moses, saying, ‘Wherefore is this that thou hast brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst?’ (Exodus 17:3). This complaint might have been understandable had these people never seen the hand of God in their lives, but this incident occurred after the miraculous Passover, after their passage through the Red Sea dry shod, and after the outpouring of manna and quail from heaven. In response to the Israelites’ faithlessness, an exasperated Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do unto this people? they be almost ready to stone me” (Exodus 17:4). The Lord answered: “Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb (Mt. Sinai); and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink. And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the name of the place Massah (meaning ‘testing’), and Meribah (meaning ‘quarreling’)” (Exodus 17:6–7).”
“Psalm 95 provides the linguistic link that identifies this incident as the Provocation (Paul is referencing Psalm 95 in Hebrews 3:15): “To day if ye will hear his voice, Harden not your heart, as in the provocation (Hebrew Meribah) and as in the day of temptation (Hebrew Massah) in the wilderness: When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my work. Forty years long was I grieved with this generation, and said, It is a people that do err in their heart, and they have not known my ways: Unto whom I sware in my wrath that they should not enter into my rest” (Psalm 95:7–11; emphasis added; see also Hebrews 3:8–11, 15).” https://rsc.byu.edu/archived/sperry-symposium-classics-old-testament/provocation-wilderness-and-rejection-grace
We find another example of ‘provocation’ and ‘rest’ in the Book of Mormon with the words of a faithful brother. Jacob 1:7 “Wherefore we labored diligently among our people, that we might persuade them to come unto Christ, and partake of the goodness of God, that they might enter into his rest, lest by any means he should swear in his wrath they should not enter in, as in the provocation in the days of temptation while the children of Israel were in the wilderness. 8 Wherefore, we would to God that we could persuade all men not to rebel against God, to provoke him to anger, but that all men would believe in Christ, and view his death, and suffer his cross and bear the shame of the world; wherefore, I, Jacob, take it upon me to fulfil the commandment of my brother Nephi.”
Even the Doctrine & Covenants has an entry referring to this ‘provocation’ (although that word isn’t specifically used) and rest. We get a lot of detail about what the people of Israel actually rejected. D&C 84:20 “Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest. (“...To prepare us to enter into the rest of the Lord so that we might “rest with him in heaven” (Moroni 7:3) is what the ordinances of the Melchizedek Priesthood are all about.” Elder W. Craig Zwick Of the Seventy, Feb 2012) 21 And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh; 22 For without this no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live. 23 Now this Moses plainly taught to the children of Israel in the wilderness, and sought diligently to sanctify his people that they might behold the face of God; 24 But they hardened their hearts and could not endure his presence; therefore, the Lord in his wrath, for his anger was kindled against them, swore that they should not enter into his rest while in the wilderness, which rest is the fulness of his glory. 25 Therefore, he took Moses out of their midst, and the Holy Priesthood also; 26 And the lesser priesthood continued, which priesthood holdeth the key of the ministering of angels and the preparatory gospel; 27 Which gospel is the gospel of repentance and of baptism, and the remission of sins, and the law of carnal commandments, which the Lord in his wrath caused to continue with the house of Aaron among the children of Israel until John, whom God raised up, being filled with the Holy Ghost from his mother’s womb.”
“Alma enlarged the implications still further in speaking of the first provocation, or man’s first spiritual death at Adam’s fall, and the second provocation, or man’s continuing spiritual death that comes through rejecting the Lord: “If ye will harden your hearts ye shall not enter into the rest of the Lord . . . as in the first provocation, yea, according to his word in the last provocation. . . . Let us repent, and harden not our hearts, that we provoke not the Lord our God . . . but let us enter into the rest of God, which is prepared according to his word” (Alma 12:36–37; emphasis added).” ibid M. Catherine Thomas
The Fall of Adam and Eve is referred to as the ‘first provocation’. Think of both physical and spiritual death-both entered the world at the Fall. The ‘first provocation’ refers to physical death. The ‘second provocation’ refers to spiritual death-defined as separation from God. Sometimes this estrangement is only temporary. However, the uncertainty of mortality means that, potentially, it is a permanent state. “The first death with all its attendant evils, has extended its ravages among all nations and generations since the first law was broken. If God then has fulfilled his word in the first provocation to the very letter (resurrection), why should any man suppose that He will not inflict the second death as a penalty of the second provocation (continued rejection of Jesus Christ).” “Journal of Discourses”, p. 330 The first provocation was resolved by the resurrection of Jesus Christ; the second or ‘last’ provocation by His Atonement. We, of course, choose whether to believe or not; to obey or not; to choose righteousness or not.
The underlying motivation of Adam’s ’provocation’ compared to that of the Children of Israel diverge pretty strikingly.
Let’s start with Adam and Eve. “After Adam fell, the whole creation fell and became mortal. Adam’s Fall brought both physical and spiritual death into the world upon all mankind (Hel. 14:16–17). The Fall was no surprise to the Lord. It was a necessary step in the progress of man, and provisions for a Savior had been made even before the Fall had occurred. Jesus Christ came to atone for the Fall of Adam and also for man’s individual sins. Latter-day revelation supports the biblical account of the Fall, showing that it was a historical event that literally occurred in the history of man. Many points in latter-day revelation are also clarified that are not discernible from the Bible. Among other things it makes clear that the Fall is a blessing and that Adam and Eve should be honored in their station as the first parents of the earth.” Bible Dictionary
Although Adam and Eve brought both physical and spiritual death into the world, I think their personal ‘provocation’ focused on physical death. Why? Adam and Eve were faithful to God all their days and through obedience labored to overcome the second ‘provocation’, spiritual death, or separation from God. “Truths restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith bring Adam and Eve out of obscurity and into marvelous light, revealing they were noble and great forebears who “fell that men might be” (2 Ne. 2:25)...When Adam learned that the way back to God’s presence was through Jesus Christ and that he should be baptized...he was baptized (see Moses 6:64). God descended upon him, and thus he was born of the Spirit, and became quickened in the inner man….The Prophet Joseph Smith said that Adam stood next to Christ in priesthood authority relative to those who have lived on earth: “How have we come at the Priesthood in the last days? It came down in regular succession. Peter, James, and John had it given to them and they gave it to others. Christ is the Great High Priest; Adam next” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 158)...After Adam’s many, many years of great and noble faithfulness, near the end of his life another great event occurred. The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “I saw Adam in the valley of Adam-ondi-Ahman. He called together his children and blessed them with a patriarchal blessing. The Lord appeared in their midst, and he (Adam) blessed them all, and foretold what should befall them to the latest generation” (Teachings, 158). What was Adam’s motivation for the ‘first provocation’? Adam fell that men might be.
Now for the children of Israel. The words ‘willful rebellion’ as a motivation for the Children of Israel come to mind. "The translations, revelations, and teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith (J. Smith, Jr., Words, Joseph Smith Diary by Willard Richards, 27 August 1843) make it clear that the most serious provocations of Israel had nothing to do with their frequent complainings in the wilderness, as one might otherwise imagine. Rather, they had to do with Israel’s deliberate rejection of “the last law from Moses,” a law associated with the fulness of the priesthood and its blessings. In their rejection of that law, Israel had refused “to sanctify [themselves] that they might behold the face of God” at Sinai. Instead, they prayed “that God would speak to Moses and not to them. In consequence of [their actions, God] cursed them with a carnal law. And, as a result of their actions, the generation of Israelites who left Egypt in the Exodus would neither enter into the promised land nor into “the rest of the Lord” during their mortal lives." (Jeffrey M. Bradshaw, https://interpreterfoundation.org/knowhy-otl14b-what-were-israels-most-serious-provocations-of-the-lord-in-the-wilderness/)
"The Provocation, then, seems to encompass a preference for spiritual death—a preference for a return to Egypt—rather than the demanding trek through repentance to sanctification….the Lord tested the faith of the children of Israel and their willingness to accept His love and grace. Grace is the Lord’s divine enabling power, given to humankind to help them with all the challenges of their lives; grace ultimately empowers them to lay hold on heaven itself. But the Israelites’ response to the Lord’s abundant generosity illustrates a religious paradox: God offers His children grace, but the children will not seek it; God offers His children heaven, but the children will not enter in.” ibid M. Catherine Thomas This is the essence of ‘provocation’! What am I doing in my own life to ‘provoke” God? It’s worth a look.
Rest in the Scriptures. The idea of ‘rest’ starts at the Creation. Genesis 2:2 “And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. 3 And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.” In Hebrews 4:4 “For he spake in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, And God did rest the seventh day from all his works”, the author quotes Genesis 2:2 to point out that the invitation to enter God’s ‘rest’ has not just been there since the time of the Exodus, but has actually been there ever since the creation of the world.
“It is important to note that the primary sense of the Greek word katepausen is that of ceasing from labor and coming to a state of rest. The two most respected Greek lexicons give the definitions ‘(cause to) stop, bring to an end, (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Bauer, Gingrich, and Danker.) and. ‘to cease one’s work or activity, resulting in a period of rest.’” (Louw, J.P. and Nida, E.A., Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament based on Semantic Domains, United Bible Societies, New York, 1988, 1989).
Hebrew 4:9 “There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God. (the Sabbath) 10 For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his. 11 Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.”
The Hebrew word sabbath literally means “to cease.” Shabbat (/ʃəˈbɑːt/; Hebrew: שַׁבָּת [ʃa'bat], "rest" or "cessation") or Shabbos (['ʃa.bəs], Ashkenazi Hebrew and Yiddish: שבת), or the Sabbath is Judaism's day of rest and seventh day of the week. "Just as God “ceased” from His creation work, we too are to “cease” from our day-to-day occupations and refocus on what’s really important. It’s a day to push the reset button. Taking a Sabbath rest is an act of faith; it’s a reminder that no matter what we do, God is in control….The Sabbath does not celebrate God’s creation, but celebrates God Himself. The Sabbath is a preview of heaven, where we will cease from labor, striving, and languishing and where we will forever enter into God’s rest. So, the author of Hebrews (which the Church says we should consider as Paul) encourages us to enter into God’s rest rather than falling into disobedience….Finally, we know that this day of devotion and rest is designed to ensure that we do not get too far away from God’s pattern. If one out of every seven days we are anchored by our focus on Him, we are less likely to drift from Him. Since the middle 1970’s, our nation has changed to no longer consider a Sabbath. Stores, businesses, banks, etc., were typically closed on Sundays and most families went to church together. As a result, our nation had an awareness of God in their lives. Most neighborhoods and relationships experienced peace and respect as a result.” Excerpt from book, Created for Purpose, Robert Shaw
The most succinct definition of ‘rest’ is found in D&C 84:24 “... which rest is the fulness of his glory.” Exaltation. Eternal Life. Rest is “the enjoyment of peace and freedom from worry and turmoil. The Lord has promised such rest to His faithful followers during this life. He has also prepared a place of rest for them in the next life”. Topical Guide
Isaiah gives us a peek into what this rest feels like. Isaiah 4:3 “And it shall come to pass in the day that the Lord shall give thee rest from thy sorrow, and from thy fear, and from the hard bondage wherein thou wast made to serve,”. No more sorrow; no more fear. I can’t wait!
Our responsibility is to avoid ‘provocation’ so that we may enter into God’s ‘rest’. “The Provocation, in all its manifestations, implies a refusal to come to Christ to exercise faith in the face of such a daunting call, a refusal to partake of the goodness of God, a refusal to accept the restoration to God’s presence or rest, a refusal to allow the Savior to work His mighty power in one’s life, a refusal to enter into the at-one-ment for which He suffered and died, a refusal to be “clasped in the arms of Jesus (Mormon 5:11). The Provocation is anti-Atonement and anti-Christ.” ibid Catherine M. Thomas
Paul tells the Saints in Hebrews 4:1 “Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it.” How do we fall short? Overwhelmingly, the scriptures advise us to avoid provoking God by not hardening our hearts.
Hebrews 3:8 “Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness:... lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. 15 While it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation.”
Hebrews 4:7 “To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”
Psalm 95:8 “To day if ye will hear his voice, Harden not your heart, as in the provocation... ”
Harden not your hearts unto unbelief. What does that mean? Did you know that the physical heart can literally harden. “...the heart can harden, its soft muscle changing into bone. ... This is a bad development: Calcification in blood vessels can eventually block them up, and in the heart, it can actually block the electric signals that keep the cardiac muscles beating.” smithsonianmag.com
A spiritually hard heart ceases to function, as well. We become rigid, immoveable in our misunderstandings, our opinions, our sins (calcified). We close our hearts and minds to the word, to truth, and to the prophets. We rebel willfully against the living God and block the signals from the Holy Ghost. We focus on doing our own will and not God’s. Any light that we may have had begins to fade to the point that we forget what we once spiritually knew. Our heart muscles atrophy and slowly stop beating.
Nephi, the son of Nephi who was the son of Helaman described it this way. 3 Nephi 2:1 “...and the people began to forget those signs and wonders which they had heard, and began to be less and less astonished at a sign or a wonder from heaven, insomuch that they began to be hard in their hearts, and blind in their minds, and began to disbelieve all which they had heard and seen.”
What are the real-life consequences of a hard heart? “...First, we seek to hide our sins instead of repenting of them. Next, we seek to gratify our pride and vain ambitions rather than seeking the things of God. Finally, we begin to exercise unrighteous dominion over others….In the Liberty Jail revelation, the Lord described the effect of a worldly heart: “Behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and … behold, ere he is aware, he is left unto himself.” Brothers and sisters, in these very “perilous times,” we cannot afford to grieve the Spirit and be left to ourselves.” Gerald Lund, April 2008, General Conference
Softening our hearts requires us “To abide in God’s love--in this sense it means to submit fully to His will. It means to accept His correction when needed, “for whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth.” It means to love and serve one another as Jesus has loved and served us. It means to learn “to abide the law of a celestial kingdom” so that we can “abide a celestial glory. For Him to be able to make of us what we can become, our Heavenly Father pleads with us to yield “to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and [put] off the natural man and [become] a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and [become] as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.” D. Todd Christofferson, October 2016
This reminds me of President Nelson’s statement in April 2018 General Conference. “But in coming days, it will not be possible to survive spiritually without the guiding, directing, comforting, and constant influence of the Holy Ghost.”
The specifics of our journey may vary from person to person, but will always include the Doctrine of Christ at the core --repentance, faithfulness, baptism, sanctification through the gift of the Holy Ghost, enduring to the end, and remembering. 3 Ne 27:19 “And no unclean thing can enter into his kingdom; therefore nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood, because of their faith, and the repentance of all their sins, and their faithfulness unto the end. 20 Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day.”
“When we follow the counsel of living prophets, when we obey the commandments of God, and when we willingly honor our callings, responsibilities, and the priesthood, we will enter into the rest of the Lord...To prepare us to enter into the rest of the Lord so that we might “rest with him in heaven” is what the ordinances of the Melchizedek Priesthood are all about. Today we have living prophets, apostles, and priesthood leaders who are foreordained to their callings. They hold priesthood keys, authority, and power to lead, guide, and direct us so that we might enter into the rest of the Lord. In mortality we can receive a testimony of Jesus Christ in our hearts and enter into the rest of the Lord as we learn and teach the gospel. Enter into the Rest of the Lord.” By Elder W. Craig Zwick Of the Seventy, Feb 2012, Ensign
We can live to experience that ‘rest’ now. We don’t have to wait until the next life. The Savior invites us to Him. Matthew 11:28 “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.”