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Grace Notes

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“VAIN IS THE HELP OF MAN”
by Philip Owen

 

            David is the quintessential “man’s man”—a bold, strong soldier and king who, whether facing a bear or a lion, a giant or an alien army, knew how to fight and how to win. We ought to take special note then, when it is this man who declares that “vain is the help of man” (Psa. 60:11), a fact that he reiterates in Psalm 108:12 and that is paraphrased in at least two other psalms (118:8, 9; 146:3).
 
            The evidence of the rest of Scripture makes it clear that David’s statement was not intended to rule out the possibility of employing the aid of other people. For example, God Himself observed that “it is not good that the man [Adam] should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him” (Gen 2:18). The manifold exhortations given to the New Testament church to demonstrate charity in practical ways toward others (e. g., “let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth” [I John 3:18]) prove this point as well. Furthermore, David himself was not loath to employ the aid of others. The examples are many. He used his four hundred mighty men in strife with Saul, a large army in his constant battles with alien armies, Joab as the commander of his hosts, his wife, Michel, in a ruse to escape Saul, Hiram, the king of Tyre to help build his palace in Jerusalem and on and on. What, then, did David, under the tutelage of the Spirit, mean when he wrote that “vain is the help of man”?
 
            First, he meant that we should rely on God. Our text as quoted above includes only the second half of the verse. The first half of the verse is a prayer to God: “Give us help from trouble.” Psalm 108:12 begins with the identical prayer. The truth expressed in Psalm 118 offers a comparison: “It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man. It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in princes” (vv. 8, 9). Of course, the comparison is given, not to suggest that relying on God is the best way, but that relying on men is a satisfactory alternative; it is given as a demonstration that we are to avoid what is natural for us, namely, to trust in the arm of flesh, to rely on what we can see rather than on the invisible, but gracious and omnipotent God. There is a vast difference between properly employing the natural help of others under the guidance of God and looking to and trusting in that natural help for our deliverance. The former is right; the latter should be eschewed.
 
            Second, then, he meant that we should not rely on men. Psalm 146:3 clarifies the meaning of the comparison that David has given us in Psalm 108. In this psalm, we are told emphatically: “Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help. His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish” (vv. 3, 4). Some things only God alone can or must do. Other things may be done through the instrumentality of men. Regardless, we are not to rely on men, but on God.
 
            Third, therefore, God alone can save.    “Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for help, whose hope is in the Lord his God: Which made heaven and earth . . . . [The Lord] giveth food to the hungry. The Lord looseth the prisoners: The Lord openeth the eyes of the blind: the Lord raiseth them that are bowed down . . . The Lord preserveth the strangers; . . . [the Lord] relieveth the fatherless and the widow” (Psa. 146:5, 7-9).   Sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly, God is the Savior. Paul reminded Timothy that “we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe” (I Tim. 4:10). How blessed is the invitation to trust, how foolish the one who looks to anyone or anything else.

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