If you have been a reader of my blog you know that I emphasize reading and studying the Bible. In particular I caution you be very careful to read everything in its full context. I even suggest that you do some research on the author and the setting in which the scripture was written.
This is the first post of a new series titled “That’s Not In The Bible”. In the series I will take a look at many common phrases that people say or believe are from the bible but aren’t. I’ll try to find the original source of the quote and then compare it with what is actually in the Bible. My goal is to encourage you to study the Bible and to research some of the things that you hear, even if you hear it from your bible study teachers and leaders, and your pastor. I tell those who are in my bible study groups, and when I deliver a message to a congregation, don’t take my word go read it for yourself.
Test Your Knowledge
Let’s start by looking at a few phrases that we hear a lot. Which ones of these do you think are in the Bible. I’ll give you the answer in the next post in this series.
- Ashes to ashes; dust to dust
- The apple of my eye
- Eat, drink, and be merry
- Like father, like son
- Eat sour grapes
- A drop in the bucket
- The Lord’s Prayer
- This, too shall pass
- Confession is good for the soul
- Honesty is the best policy
- The skin of my teeth
A 1990 Gallup poll found that 4 out of 5 people believed that the phrase “God helps those who help themselves” is a direct quote from the Bible. I doubt that those numbers have changed much over the years, they may even higher, closer to 5 out of 5.
The phrase may have originated and evolved over the years. One of its earliest known expressions is from an Aesop fable, "Hercules and the Wagoneer.
A wagoner was once driving a heavy load along a very muddy way. At last he came to a part of the road where the wheels sank half-way into the mire, and the more the horses pulled, the deeper sank the wheels. So the wagoner threw down his whip, and knelt down and prayed to Hercules the Strong. "O Hercules, help me in this my hour of distress," But Hercules appeared to him, and said: "Man, don’t sprawl there. Get up and put your shoulder to the wheel."the gods help those who help themselves.” - Blue Letter Bible
An even earlier form of the phrase may have come from “God loves to help him who strives to help himself” by Aeschylus (6th C BC).
The phrase that we know today, “God helps those who help themselves”, comes from Algernon Sidney, who wrote it in an article titled Discourses Concerning Government in 1698. It was then popularized by Ben Franklin in 1757 in Poor Richard’s Almanac.
No, God Won’t Help Lazy People
This phase is often used as admonishment for laziness or disguised encouragement to have patience and faith. It implies that God will do His part if we, in turn, follow through on our end. There is some truth to the fact that God won’t help a lazy person. The Bible does teach that God doesn’t bless laziness.
2 Thessalonians 3:10-13 (NLT)10 Even while we were with you, we gave you this command: “Those unwilling to work will not get to eat.”11 Yet we hear that some of you are living idle lives, refusing to work and meddling in other people’s business.12 We command such people and urge them in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and work to earn their own living.13 As for the rest of you, dear brothers and sisters, never get tired of doing good.
The book of Proverbs gives us an example of the blessings of work and the consequence of laziness.
Proverbs 6:6-8 (NLT)6 Take a lesson from the ants, you lazybones. Learn from their ways and become wise!7 Though they have no prince or governor or ruler to make them work,8 they labor hard all summer, gathering food for the winter.
What’s Wrong With Self-Reliance?
There is nothing wrong with self-reliance or self-help as long as you realize it’s not the best help.
Millions of dollars are spent on self-help books, seminars, dvd, and downloads. The problem is self-help reinforces a self-centeredness. Self-assurance and self-confidence are good traits when you apply them with the knowledge that the real power to succeed and achieve comes from God.
Deuteronomy 8:18 (NLT)18 Remember the LORD your God. He is the one who gives you power to be successful, in order to fulfill the covenant he confirmed to your ancestors with an oath.
Proverbs 16:9 (NLT)9 We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps.
Without that knowledge it’s possible to become arrogant. There is a story that Muhammad Ali who, when asked by a flight attendant to buckle his seatbelt, said “Superman don’t need no seat belt”. The flight attendant replied, Superman don’t need no airplane either, so buckle up!” The point is that arrogance can cause us to think we can do things on our own without God’s help. We need to remember what it says in the Bible.
Deuteronomy 8:16-17 (NLT)16 He fed you with manna in the wilderness, a food unknown to your ancestors. He did this to humble you and test you for your own good.17 He did all this so you would never say to yourself, ‘I have achieved this wealth with my own strength and energy.’
1 Peter 5:5 (NLT)5 In the same way, you younger men must accept the authority of the elders. And all of you, serve each other in humility, for “God opposes the proud but favors the humble”
Jeremiah 17:5-6 (NLT)5 This is what the LORD says: “Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans, who rely on human strength and turn their hearts away from the LORD.6 They are like stunted shrubs in the desert, with no hope for the future. They will live in the barren wilderness, in an uninhabited salty land.
God promised Abraham that he and his wife Sarah would have a son and he would have so many descendents that you couldn’t number them.
Genesis 15:4-5 (NLT)4 Then the LORD said to him, “No, your servant will not be your heir, for you will have a son of your own who will be your heir.”5 Then the LORD took Abram outside and said to him, “Look up into the sky and count the stars if you can. That’s how many descendants you will have!”
Sarah realizing the both she and Abraham were old folks, decided to help herself and suggest that Abraham and her maidservant, Hagar, “get together”, so she could have a child through her.
Genesis 18:10-12 (NLT)10 Then one of them said, “I will return to you about this time next year, and your wife, Sarah, will have a son!” Sarah was listening to this conversation from the tent.11 Abraham and Sarah were both very old by this time, and Sarah was long past the age of having children.12 So she laughed silently to herself and said, “How could a worn-out woman like me enjoy such pleasure, especially when my master—my husband—is also so old?”
Genesis 16:1-2 (NLT)1 Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had not been able to bear children for him. But she had an Egyptian servant named Hagar.2 So Sarai said to Abram, “The LORD has prevented me from having children. Go and sleep with my servant. Perhaps I can have children through her.” And Abram agreed with Sarai’s proposal.
Abraham eagerly agreed and Hagar had a son and named him Ishmael. Thirteen years later however, when Abraham was 100 and Sarah 90, God kept His promise and Sarah had a son and named him Isaac. So what’s the problem with Sarah helping herself, and helping God out?
Genesis 16:11-12 (NLT)11 And the angel also said, “You are now pregnant and will give birth to a son. You are to name him Ishmael (which means ‘God hears’), for the LORD has heard your cry of distress.12 This son of yours will be a wild man, as untamed as a wild donkey! He will raise his fist against everyone, and everyone will be against him. Yes, he will live in open hostility against all his relatives.”
The Arab Muslims trace their lineage back to Abraham through Ishmael. The Jews trace their lineage back to Abraham through Isaac. Much of the problems between the Arabs and Jews today can be traced back to Sarah helping herself almost four thousand years ago.
When we try to take things into our own hands God will let us but the results are often painful. That’s the danger of the arrogance that can come from misplaced self-reliance.
It’s Really The Helpless That God Helps
Scripture tells us that we can’t do anything about or to obtain our salvation. It’s a free gift. All you have to do is admit that you are a sinner and need help.
Ephesians 2:8 (NLT)8 God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.
If we could earn our salvation by “helping ourselves”, what would be the point of faith in Christ and His sacrifice. The truth is that nothing we can do, no matter how good or noble, can justify us before God Almighty.
Romans 5:6-8 (NLT)6 When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners.7 Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good.8 But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.
Romans 3:20 (NLT)20 For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are.
It is only by faith in Jesus and His sacrifice can we be justified.
Romans 3:28 (NLT)28 So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law.
Here’s something written by Dr. Charles Swindoll, in his book “The Grace Awakening”.
“I consider the most dangerous heresy on earth the emphasis on what we do for God instead of what God does for us. Some are so convinced of the opposite, they would argue nose to nose. They are often the ones who claim that their favorite verse of Scripture is ‘God helps the helpless, the undeserving, those who don’t measure up, those who fail to achieve His standard. Nevertheless, the heresy continues louder now than ever in history. Most people see themselves as ‘masters’ of their own fate, ‘captains’ of their own souls. And why not” It supports humanity’s all-time favorite subject: self.” (Grace Awakening, p.15)
This is what David said about needing God’s help.
Psalm 94:17-19 (NLT)17 Unless the LORD had helped me, I would soon have settled in the silence of the grave.18 I cried out, “I am slipping!” but your unfailing love, O LORD, supported me.19 When doubts filled my mind, your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer.
David often wrote about where his help really came from.
Psalm 121:1-2 (NLT)1 I look up to the mountains— does my help come from there?2 My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth!
We often read this Psalm as if David is making a statement when he looks to the mountains, but he’s really asking a question. He’s asking does my help come from the mountain? He answered his own question. He realizes that help is not coming from the mountains or anything on or in them. His help comes from the One who created the mountains and, because it doee come from Him he could rest in peace.
Psalm 121:3-8 (NLT)3 He will not let you stumble; the one who watches over you will not slumber.4 Indeed, he who watches over Israel never slumbers or sleeps.5 The LORD himself watches over you! The LORD stands beside you as your protective shade.6 The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon at night.7 The LORD keeps you from all harm and watches over your life.8 The LORD keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever.
What To Do The Next Time Someone Says "God Helps Those Who Help Themselves"
The saying, “God helps those who help themselves” should really be (and it’s not in the bible either), “God helps those who cannot help themselves.” The next time you hear somebody say “God helps those who help themselves” you say “No! God helps the helpless.”
I’ll give you the answer to our little quiz in the next post along another popular phrase that many think is in the Bible but isn’t.