Friday, March 28, 2014

Does God really help those who help themselves? Some lessons from Psalm 107

There is a popular saying that "God helps those who help themselves". The mere popularity of this saying is evident in the fact that this proverb has its own Wikipedia page ("God helps those" 2014). However, this saying is not in the Biblical text. The question is, does God really help those who help themselves? My recent Bible study on Psalm 107 may be able to shed some light on this matter.

Psalm 107, in general, is a passage that describes the redeemed of the LORD. When I apply principles of literary or narrative analysis to the text, some interesting ideas emerge. While I shall not go into in-depth coverage here, I sum it all up to say that all the redeemed of the LORD encounter some event of misfortune, danger, affliction or crisis.

In fact, when I analyse the text, I see five groups of redeemed people:
  1. Redeemed migrants/immigrants who get lost in deserted places where they cannot access food or water (verses 2-4).
  2. Redeemed people who are prisoners either literally in chains or mentally as in depressed because they failed to listen to or rebelled against God's counsel or words (verses 10-16)
  3. Redeemed people who are sick or afflicted because of their iniquities or sinful ways (verse 17-18)
  4. Redeemed people who are business travelers (rich guys), who go to sea to conduct business and God decides to humble them by making their journey a scary one (verse 23-30)
  5. Finally, there is a category of redeemed humble, hungry and poor folk, who become oppressed by princes or rulers or governments (verses 36-42).  

From these, I can see four main sources for troubling situations such as disasters. Human beings face troubling situations and circumstances because:

  1. God created it. As in the vast earth with uninhabitable spaces through which the immigrants or migrants have to travel or in terms of the storm at sea that God used to scare business travelers and seamen .
  2. God permits it. As in the case of the oppression by the princes of poor people, so that he can make the princes look bad and rescue the poor people
  3. Our fault a). We do not listen to or rebel against God's counsel and word, as in the case of those redeemed who become prisoners.
  4. Our fault b). We have sinful ways and iniquities that bring about diseases and problems upon us. In this regard, we may unintentionally or willfully do things that cause "hell" in our lives because we can't help sinning.
The good news though, is that despite all these sources for our troubles, when we are at our wits' end and have given up on our own ability to come out of the trouble, then God steps in. This he does so that he can get all the glory as the hero that saves us from our troubles. In the end all, God helps those who are in need, but only after they have exhausted all their efforts and call out to him for help.


God helps those who help themselves. (2014, January 23). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved March 29, 2014, from

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