Pro. 29:18 says:
“Where there is no vision the people perish: but he that keeps the law, happy is he.”
This is the verse we here quoted when the pastor launches the building program. Seriously, it is usually interpreted to stress the importance of foresight in the work of God – the ability to “envision” what is possible but not yet visible – the idea that without a “kingdom dream” significant ministry cannot be accomplished.
While the necessity of foresight and vision in this sense is undeniable, it should be recognized that this particular verse does not address this important principle.
Crucial to a proper understanding of this passage are the meanings of the words “vision” and “perish” in the original Hebrew text, apart from modern, cultural connotations.
The word “vision” is from the Hebrew word hazon (sometimes transliterated chazon). It refers, not to human foresight, but to prophetic revelation divinely given by God. It has reference to prophecy in its widest sense; the revelatory vision granted by God to chosen messengers.
This evident from 1 Sam. 3:1:
“… and the word of the Lord was precious in those days; there was no open vision.” This is classic Hebraic synonymous parallelism. The “word of the Lord” in the first instance is equal to “vision” in the second.
This passage makes it clear that the absence of vision is equated with the scarcity of revelation – God’s word; that “vision” and God’s revealed Word are one and the same (see also Ps. 89:19; Ezk. 7:26; Is. 30:10).
Further evidence is seen in the fact that the word “seer,” another word for “prophet,” is the Hebrew word hozeh which is derived from the same root as the word hazon – “vision.”
The prophetic book of Isaiah is referred to as his “vision”:
“The vision (hazon) of Isaiah the son of Amoz concerning Judah and Jerusalem …” Is. 1:1
Consider how “vision” is related to “prophesy” in the words of Jeremiah:
Then the Lord said to me, “The prophets are prophesying falsehood in My name. I have neither sent them nor commanded them nor spoken to them; they are prophesying to you a false vision, divination, futility and the deception of their own minds.” Jer. 14:14
The word “perish,” from the Hebrew word parah, means “to loosen; to let run wild; to cast off restraint.” The word is used in Ex. 32:25 to describe the revelry of Israel with the golden calf:
“Moses saw that the people were running wild (parah) and that Aaron had let them get out of control.”
In their idolatrous worship the people threw off all restraint to the point of being completely out of control and unmanageable.
The writer of Proverbs is teaching that this same condition of lawlessness will prevail without the restraint of God’s word; seen clearly in the NIV translation:
“Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; but blessed is he who keeps the law.”
The proverb acknowledges the importance of God’s word and will in regulating the life and religion of the people. The fatal effect of the absence of such revelation is said to be confusion, disorder, and rebellion.
The last portion of the verse is a classic example of Hebraic antithetical parallelism: “… but blessed is he who keeps the law.”
In contrast to the lawlessness and ruin of the people uninfluenced by divine guidance is the blessed state of those keep the word of God – those who have “vision.”
Hosea the prophet emphasizes the same concept:
“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being My priest. Since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.” Hos. 4:6
In this instance it is not the absence of knowledge but the rejection of knowledge that destroys the nation. The point is clear: a deficiency of God’s word (“vision”; hazon), either because of its absence or rejection, will ultimately result in ruin (“perish”; parah).
To see this principle “fleshed out” one need look no further than the daily American newscast.
Since this kind of ruin is possible within an individual as well as a nation, we would do well to heed the wise words of the Psalmist:
“How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to Your word.” (Ps. 119:9; NIV)