To provoke someone is to incite them to action by arousing a strong emotion, usually anger (Oxford English Dictionary).
Psalm 95 describes a provocation. The children of Israel provoked the wrath of God by following Moses reluctantly out of Egypt, by complaining incessantly during their journey, and finally by refusing to enter the promised land because of fear. In response, God declared that they would wander in the wilderness for forty years instead of enjoying the peace and rest which they could have obtained if they had been more obedient.
To day if ye will hear his voice,
Harden not your heart, as in the provocation, and as in the day of temptation 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).
As Alma taught the people in the city of Ammonihah, he used terminology from Psalm 95 to describe two other provocations:
The First Provocation
One of the rulers of the city, a man named Antionah, asked Alma a combative question. Alma and his companion Amulek had testified that we will one day be resurrected, never to die again. Antionah asked why God had placed cherubim and a flaming sword on the east side of the garden of Eden to prevent Adam and Eve from eating the fruit of the tree of life. Antionum concluded: “And thus we see that there was no possible chance that they should live forever” (Alma 12:20-21).
This sounds more like a critique than a question. Nevertheless, Alma answered it.
By partaking of the fruit which God had commanded them not to eat, Adam and Eve became mortal: they would eventually die. They also had to leave God’s presence which enabled them to make decisions more independently. They had been “placed in a state to act according to their wills and pleasures, whether to do evil or to do good” (Alma 12:31).
But they were not ready to be held accountable for their use of this agency. So they were given time—time to repent, time to mature before becoming immortal (in the resurrection) and returning to the presence of God to be judged.
This was the first provocation: Adam and Eve broke a commandment which they had been given, and as a result, they became subject to physical and spiritual death.
The Second Provocation
After Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden, God wanted to make sure that they knew what they needed to do to overcome the effects of their fall. So, he sent angels to teach them about His plan of redemption. These angels explained to them how to prepare themselves for their eventual reunion with God. If they repented and kept these new commandments, they would be able to remain in God’s presence and find rest. But if they refused to obey this second set of commandments, they would experience a second death, a permanent separation from the presence of God (Alma 12:32).
Using the language of the psalm, Alma made an appeal to his audience: Will we, like Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, provoke the Lord to wrath, or will we humble ourselves and find the rest we seek?
And now, my brethren, behold I say unto you, that if ye will harden your hearts ye shall not enter into the rest of the Lord;
therefore your iniquity provoketh him that he sendeth down his wrath upon you as in the first provocation [the Fall of Adam and Eve],
yea, according to his word in the last provocation [our own disobedience] as well as the first, to the everlasting destruction of your souls;
therefore, according to his word, unto the last death, as well as the first.
And now, my brethren, seeing we know these things, and they are true, let us repent, and harden not our hearts, that we provoke not the Lord our God to pull down his wrath upon us in these his second commandments which he has given unto us; but let us enter into the rest of God, which is prepared according to his word (Alma 12:36-37).
Today, I will strive to follow Alma’s admonition to humble myself and keep the commandments I have received from God. I will remember that those who grow close to Him will have the privilege of being with Him forever—entering His rest—while those who provoke Him by failing to obey His commandments will be separated from Him in the next life.