A paraphrased definition of push comes to shove explains it as a critical point in a situation when a shove, rather than a push, is needed. The origin or first use of this phrase is unknown. However, a fun story from the late 1880s illustrates its meaning.

A nameless, entrepreneurial young woman arrived in town only to find its men in deep despair. She inquired about their sad state and was told the town’s only barber had fled during the night, stiffing all but a lucky few of debts he owed. On further questioning, she discovered the men were more concerned about their shaggy and unshaven appearance than the money they’d lost.

This woman jumped at the opportunity. She set up shop in the rogue barber’s establishment and soon needed to hire a few more like-minded women to accommodate her growing (pun intended) business. Her wealth accumulated, and an article in the town’s newspaper called her an “apterous tonsorial angel” (wingless barber angel).*

Ergo, she did what was needed when push came to shove.

Silliness aside, this story reminds me of Paul and Silas. After freeing a fortune-telling slave girl of an evil spirit that brought her masters much wealth, the two believers were beaten and thrown into prison. At midnight, Paul and Silas sat in their cell singing and praising God. Of course, the other prisoners listened! Who rejoices in their pain and misery, especially when death hangs like a thick Roman cloud over their heads?

Suddenly an earthquake shook the building and all the prisoners’ chains were loosed. Now, even if earthquakes happened regularly in that region, one that freed fettered inmates would be enough to cause the jailer to take his life. If he didn’t, Rome would.

This is when push came to shove. No doubt, Paul and Silas, and any one of us, might have been tempted to say, “Wow. Thank you, Lord, for this miracle. I’m outta here!” Instead, the two men reassured the jailer they were all still there.

I love this part! I can’t help but giggle each time I think about it. Ready?

The jailer called for light!

But The Light had already come! At our darkest hour of night, Jesus came to give us eternal life. Our lives, and that of the jailer’s, had already been spared. No different than each of us, this jailer had to see for himself.

And isn’t that so gracious of God to let us grope and wander in the dark until that critical point, until that earth-shaking moment, until we ask for Light. Until we want to taste and see for ourselves that He is good. He is there. And best of all, we don’t have to wait until push comes to shove. We can enjoy His gift of love and eternal life now. All we have to do is ask.

“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” (Acts 16:31, NKJV)

By Author eMarie

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1 year ago

Love this, Erma! Thanks for sharing!

1 year ago

Love it!! Talk about integrity….doing the right thing for God instead of what we might want to do, take the easy way out. Can’t wait to meet Paul and Silas.

1 year ago

I love it. The Light had already come before he even knew it. It’s cool that it’s already there for us, too, and God is so wise. The groping prepares our hearts for the earthshaking moment.

Thank you for sharing this.

1 year ago

Thank you, Erma.:)

Valerie Cullers
1 year ago

Yes, love the story and the segue! So love that Paul and Silas stayed to share the gospel with the jailer!

Thanks, eMarie!

Stacy Simmons
1 year ago

What a wonderful post, eMarie!! Have a great weekend, blessings!


Loved this post! Paul and Silas in prison is one of my favorite stories in the Book of Acts. Thanks for sharing!

1 year ago

Thank you, Erma, for sharing this insight. I’ve used this phrase a lot. Now I will connect Paul and Silas to this phrase!

Colleen K Snyder
1 year ago

Paul and Silas received a “get out of jail free” card when the doors flew open. They chose not to take it, staying so they could serve the jailer. The next day, the officials who jailed Paul decided to let them go. A second “get out of free” card. But Paul and Silas again refused. This time, it was to make a point. “They have beaten and jailed us unlawfully, as we are Roman citizens. Let them come and escort us out.”
What was the point? To show the people of the town the amazing work of Christ. They saw the miracle, heard the miracle, and had to process the miracle as true. Which we must do as well. We see His love. We experience His love. The question is, what will we do with it?

1 year ago

Do thyself no harm…

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