Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Week Twenty - Don't Poke the Bear

"Don't poke the bear," my mother would say when I antagonized my sister. It's an expression most often used as a warning to prevent someone from asking or doing something that might provoke a negative response or cause a fight. And we two girls fell easily into a fight.

When the Bible uses the word " provoke, " it means to stimulate or give rise to a potentially negative or positive reaction. Today, we're going to do a short study on this word, then I want to share one quote from Gentle and Lowly by Dane Ortlund that prompted my exploration. By the way - this is a great read on the attribute of compassion.

The word provoke is used forty-one times in the Bible. Only two times is it used in a positive light - provoking others to love and good works. Thirty-one times the provoking is done by man toward God - man provoking God to anger or jealousy.

Why would I be interested in provoking God to anger?  Well, I'm not, but let me share with you what I read about God's mercy and this idea of provoking or poking the bear.

"'Slow to anger." The Hebrew phrase literally "long of nostrils." Picture an angry bull pawing the ground, breathing loudly, nostrils flared. That would be, so to speak, "short-nosed." But the Lord is long-nosed. He doesn't have his finger on the trigger. It takes much accumulated provoking to draw out his ire. Unlike us, who are often emotional dams ready to break, God can put up with a lot. This is why the Old Testament speaks of God being "provoked to anger" by his people. But not once are we told that God is "provoked to love" or "provoked to mercy." His anger requires provocation; his mercy is pent up, ready to gush forth. We tend to think divine anger is pent up, spring-loaded; divine mercy is slow to build. It's just the opposite. Divine mercy is ready to burst forth at the slightest prick...

Yahweh needs no provoking to love, only to anger. We need no provoking to anger, only to love."

Isn't that thought-provoking? We are like the bear, ready to fight at the slightest provocation, but our Lord is defined by mercy and longsuffering. He doesn't sit around looking for things that upset him. Jeremiah 29:11 says, "For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil." 

Unlike my sister and me, God isn't waiting for an opportunity to fight. He doesn't fall into anger at the slightest word or sideways glance. Mercy is the definition God gives of his name as he speaks to Moses in Exodus 34:6."And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin."

Dear friend, this challenged me to look at my short-nosed-ness. Do I respond quickly in anger? Or do I have patience? Am I looking for a fight, or do I have an attitude of loving thoughts and grace? 

I also had to look at my idea of God. He is mercy. He is love. He does not willingly afflict or punish. It is his desire to grant goodness and patience. Do I see him that way? How much joy there is for us as we accept and rest in this attribute. And, what an example for us to follow.

Ask yourself. Which way are you? More easily provoked to love and mercy or a bear too easily poked to anger?

"Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God."  James 1:19, 20

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