This saying came to mind this week as I was reading Genesis in our daily Bible. The story of Abraham is both inspiring and thought provoking. He was a man that manifested faith in God from the moment he was first called out of Ur, yet he was also a man who struggled to walk by that faith at many points in his personal history. Each time I read Abraham’s story, I see reflections of my own frailties. Each time I read Abraham’s story, I am also moved by the grace and faithfulness of God.
According to Barna research, a majority of self-identified Christians believe that the saying, “God helps those who help themselves” is a quote from the Bible. In reality, it is a saying coined by Benjamin Franklin who was not a Christian, but a Deist. However, we do see biblical figures seemingly living as if this statement were inspired.
In Genesis 15, We have God speaking to Abraham in a vision to once again confirm His covenant. Abraham had experienced many blessings of God, but from his perspective, the most important promise seemed painfully out of reach. God kept telling Abraham that He would give him numerous offspring, that He would bring forth a great nation through Abraham, but Abraham remained childless, and he and his wife were well past child-bearing years.
Genesis 15:1-6 says, “After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you; your reward shall be very great.” And Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what wilt Thou give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “Since Thou hast given no offspring to me, one born in my house is my heir.” Then behold, the word of the LORD came to him, saying, “This man will not be your heir; but one who shall come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir.” And He took him outside and said, “Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.
As we can see, this part of the narrative ended well. God said it, Abraham believed it, and in the rest of chapter 15, God sealed His covenant with Abraham by passing through the midst of sacrificed animals which He had commanded Abraham to prepare. This is once again a beautiful picture of grace through divine promise.
But then everything goes wrong in chapter 16. Abraham and Sarah are impatient. They seem to be buying into the false belief that “God helps those who help themselves.” Genesis 16:1-2 says, “Now Sarai, Abram’s wife had borne him no children, and she had an Egyptian maid whose name was Hagar. So Sarai said to Abram, “Now behold, the LORD has prevented me from bearing children. Please go in to my maid; perhaps I shall obtain children through her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai.
We all know what happens from here. Hagar gives birth to Ishmael, and we have millenia of conflict (right up through today!) as the descendants of Ishmael are constantly in conflict with the descendants of Isaac and Jacob. Sarah thought God needed a helping hand to keep His promise, and Abraham listened to the voice of his wife Sarah instead of looking to God in faith. Their sin of presumption and lack of faith did not deter God’s promise. Sarah did later give birth to Isaac, the child of promise. However, their sin did introduce severe consequences that are still being born out in the world today.
As I close this article, I would leave us with a critical realization: God does not help those who help themselves; God saves those who cannot help themselves. And ALL of us are “those” kind of people — the helpless kind. We cannot save ourselves from our bondage to sin nor from the wrath of God. Our own wisdom and our own strength will always fail us. To believe that God somehow needs our help or to believe that we can somehow pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps is pride.
Ephesians 2:4-5 says, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).”