We see cute little whimsical says all of the time; on bumper sticker, in holiday and birthday cards, on billboards and lots of other places to catch our attention. They are the “sound bites” of wisdom no matter what era in which we happen to live.
Unfortunately, these sayings are nowhere to be found in the Bible. Even though they are easy to remember and sound wise, they are unbiblical. If one takes the time to read the Bible and compare what it says against the saying, mostly what they teach is opposite to what the Bible really teaches. Solomon wrote in his book of Proverbs this: “Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom. Instead, fear the Lord and turn away from evil.” [Proverbs 3:7 NLT] Dallas Willard translates this verse as: “I don’t know what I need to know and must now devote my full attention and strength to finding out.”
Here is the 1st of twenty:
“God helps those who help themselves.”
As with so many misstatements from the Bible, this statement is actually about self-reliance and self-righteousness. It’s point is simple: if we have an attitude of trying harder and doing better, then God will step in and help us and not before. However, this attitude actually gets in the way of the work of God.
It is hard to nail down where this saying originated but most historians say that it seems to first appear in the Aesopian fable Hercules and the Wagoneer. Aesop lived from about 620–564 BC. Like most fable of its genre it is brief so here it is in its entirety:
A Waggoner 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 Waggoner 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 them that help themselves.”
Benjamin Franklin, known for being a deist and author of Poor Richard’s Almanac, 1736 wrote: “God helps them that help themselves.” Franklin did not believe that God was playing any active role in the affairs of men. He of the Yankee mindset common to the New England states at that time that if a man was not willing and able to help himself, then that man was without hope and not to be pitied. Ben’s attitude was if men were without hope and felt helpless were just out of luck. The Bible teaches something very unique. Ben Franklin was very much aware of this difference from hearing and commenting on great preachers such as George Whitfield and D.L. Moody, both who preached in Boston. God’s message to us is this: “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly….But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” We are not left without help. We just need to look in the right direction to find the solution that God has provided: “Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength, and whose heart turns away from the LORD.”