Do You Provoke Others?
NO DOUBT you have observed persons who, under provocation, did and said things they should not have. Perhaps they were even sorry and apologized afterward. Probably you have experienced such anger yourself and have seen the harm that can come by acting rashly when emotionally disturbed.
In the Bible there is an outstanding example of behaving rashly in a provoked state. It is that of Moses, who became provoked to anger with the Israelites on the way to the Land of Promise. These people were agitated and they demanded water from Moses. God told Moses to speak to a rock and water would issue forth. But Moses angrily said to the people: “Hear, now, you rebels! Is it from this crag that we shall bring out water for you?” (Num. 20:10) Here Moses made a grave error. In his provoked state he said “we shall bring out water,” thereby taking glory away from God. As God told him: “You did not show faith in me to sanctify me before the eyes of the sons of Israel.”—Num. 20:12.
Why did Moses sin with his mouth? Why did he behave rashly? Some are quick to put all the blame on Moses and say he just lost his temper. But was Moses an ill-tempered man, always looking for an argument? Just the opposite is true. The inspired Bible record informs us: “Moses was by far the meekest of all the men who were upon the surface of the ground.” (Num. 12:3) No, Moses was not a rash man, but he acted rashly on that occasion because of the unrighteous actions of others. Moses was provoked, yes, pushed into anger by the bad actions of a rebellious people.
That Moses was pushed to provocation is seen by the account at Psalm 106:32, 33, which states: “Further, they [the Israelites] caused provocation at the waters of Meribah, so that it went badly with Moses by reason of them. For they embittered his spirit and he began to speak rashly with his lips.” Yes, they were the root cause for his becoming angry.
On occasion the Israelites even provoked God to anger! “Now the people became as men having something evil to complain about in the ears of Jehovah. When Jehovah got to hear it, then his anger grew hot.” (Num. 11:1) Also, at Deuteronomy 32:21 we read: “They, for their part, have incited me to jealousy with what is no god; they have vexed me with their vain idols.” Yes, God himself was provoked. Why? Because of the bad ways of the Israelites. His anger was perfectly controlled, of course—something that was not true in Moses’ case.
All of this shows that one who provokes another is in the wrong. A person might get provoked and in this condition speak or act rashly, since he does not have the perfect control that Jehovah has. True, the person behaves wrongly. But why has he done so? Because someone provoked him! Things were said or done that stirred up his emotions. Now, then, is the one who causes the outburst innocent? Not at all! If he had not provoked the other, then that person might never have become angered to the point of behaving rashly. It is as in the case of Moses. He, being “by far the meekest of all the men who were upon the surface of the ground,” surely would not have lost his temper if the Israelites had not grossly provoked him.
So while you may recognize that one who becomes unduly provoked is falling short of exercising Christian love, you must also recognize the grave error of the one who causes another to become angered. It is true that in everyday life Christian love “does not become provoked.” (1 Cor. 13:5) But it is just as true that Christian love does not provoke others. Actually, provoking another needlessly is a manifestation of hatred: “Hatred is what stirs up contentions.” (Prov. 10: 12) Of course, there are times when those in positions of responsibility must give counsel or correction to others, which, even though done lovingly, may provoke. But this is not the unnecessary provoking in everyday life that is being here considered.
By speaking unkindly to others, by being critical instead of forgiving, by not considering the human imperfection of others, by continually rubbing people the wrong way, a person becomes provocative. Then he can hardly expect good to come to him, for he goes against the very nature of man, who does not like to have others provoke him unnecessarily. Hence, what is it like when one speaks thoughtlessly? The Bible answers: “There exists the one speaking thoughtlessly as with the stabs of a sword.” (Prov. 12:18) What can this result in? “A word causing pain makes anger to come up.” (Prov. 15:1) So if you provoke others, do not be surprised to see their anger aroused.
Hence, it really is unchristian for one needlessly to provoke others by what one says or does. This violates the great principle, the great commandment Jesus pointed to when he said: “You must love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt. 22:39) It could cause one’s fellowman to be led into error, as was the case with Moses at Meribah. And how does God feel about those who cause others to err? His Word tells us: “He that is causing the upright ones to go astray into the bad way will himself fall into his own pit.”—Prov. 28:10.
Instead of provoking others, the wise person heals with his words and deeds. “The tongue of the wise ones is a healing.” (Prov. 12:18) The wise person realizes that provocative words and actions arouse others to anger, so he avoids saying or doing things that provoke. He works hard to control himself so as to bring benefit to his fellowman instead of bringing him pain. Before taking a course of action that might provoke others, the wise one asks himself: How would I like it if someone said or did that to me?
Be like the wise person. Work hard to avoid provoking others. Apply the principle Jesus laid down in regard to human relationships, when he said: “All things, therefore, that you want men to do to you, you also must likewise do to them.”—Matt. 7:12.
Pleasant sayings are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and a healing to the bones.—Prov. 16:24.