Vol. 9, No. 4
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"Where there is no vision, the people perish; but he that keepeth the law, happy is he" (Proverbs 29:18 KJV). The usual connotation of the term 'vision' in this verse coincides with a definition given by Webster: "The ability to perceive something not actually visible, as through mental acuteness or keen foresight (a project made possible by one man's vision); force or power of imagination (a statesman of great vision)." The understanding of the word 'vision' colors one's interpretation of this verse. Thus, many suggest that when the leaders of a congregation have vision, projects and programs will be introduced into the work; otherwise, where there is a lack of such, the church will suffer greatly. This may in fact be true in principle; however, this is not the correct meaning of the passage under consideration. Let us examine carefully the scriptural exegesis of this verse.
The New King James Version renders the first part of Proverbs 29:18: "Where there is no revelation." The Revised Standard Version reads: "Where there is no prophecy." The Douay Version has: "When prophecy shall fail." The Hebrew word for vision as used in this verse is haza. It is defined in the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, as follows: "The revelatory vision granted by God to chosen messengers, i.e. prophets. Such apparently was the experience of Balaam the son of Beor (Numbers 24:4, 16). This vision of the prophet took place sometimes in the waking state, but also in 'the spirit' (Numbers 24:2). Sometimes the experience of seeing a revelatory dream is designated by haza and hazen (Aram). (See Dan. 2:16, 4: 5:9)" (Harris et al. 1: 274-275). Thus a vision was one of the ways by which God revealed his will to certain people. We learn this fact in Hebrews 1:1, "God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets." The source of their messages was the Spirit of God: "For prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit" (2 Peter 1:21).
The revelation of ancient prophecy was not continuous and uninterrupted, but came in flashes; between them were intervals of darkness. Sometimes those intervals were long and most distressing to a people that had learned to draw its chief lessons from Divine Oracles. The following passages bear out this fact. First Samuel 3:1 records: "And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no widespread revelation." Second Chronicles 15:3 reads: "For a long time Israel has been without the true God, without a teaching priest, and without law." Lamentations 2:9 has: "The law is no more, And her prophets find no vision from the Lord." Ezekiel 7:26 records: "Disaster will come upon disaster, And rumor will be upon rumor. They will seek a vision from a prophet; But the law will perish from the priest, And counsel from the elders." There were some 400 years of silence from the closing of the Old Testament until the opening of the New Testament when God did not give any revelatory messages to his people. The absence of such was like the vanishing of the cloud and pillar of fire from the children of Israel. They were lost without divine guidance.
In the absence of divine revelation, false prophets often deceived the people. "And the Lord said to me, 'The prophets prophesy lies in My name. I have not sent them, commanded them, nor spoken to them; they prophesy to you a false vision, divination, a worthless thing, and the deceit of their heart'" (Jeremiah 14:14, see also 23:16).
Today, God has not left us without a guide, to grope about in darkness; rather divine light has fallen from heaven to men in the form of the Holy Scriptures. God speaks to us in this era through his Son Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1-2). We are to "Hear Him" (Matthew 17:5)! When Christ left earth to ascend back to the Father, God sent another comforter to guide the apostles into all the truth (John 14:26; 16:13). Paul declared that what he received he received by revelation (Ephesians 3:3, 5). The Holy Spirit reveled all the truth to the apostles and inspired men enabling them to speak that "which the Holy Spirit teaches" (1 Corinthians 2:10-13). These inspired Holy Scriptures once delivered, guide us unto all good works (2 Timothy 3:16-17; Jude 3). It is the duty, therefore, of Christians to study the Sacred Writings, to circulate them throughout the world, and to teach them to their children and to those yet in their sins.
Let us also observe the end result when there is no revelation from God or when men refuse to follow his revealed Word: "The people perish," or "The people cast off restraint." It was said of Ahaz: "For the Lord brought Judah low because of Ahaz king of Israel, for he had encouraged moral decline in Judah and had been continually unfaithful" (2 Chronicles 28:19). The prophet Hosea informs us that the people of God in his days were destroyed because of the lack of knowledge of God, and that they committed various sins because they hearkened not to the commands of the Lord (Hosea 4:1-6). In Paul's time, the heathen world "did not like to retain God in their knowledge." As a consequence, "God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting" (Romans 1:18-32). The fatal effect of the absence of divine revelation is confusion, disorder and rebellion; the people are uncontrolled, and they fall into grievous excesses, which nothing but high principles can restrain. This explains the reason why so much violence, immorality, divorce, strife and all manner of sin exists today; the vast majority of people desire not to be guided by the Holy Scriptures. They couldn't care less as to what God might have to say on such matters.
"But happy is he who keeps the law" is the promise given by the Lord to those who desire to do his will. The man who is truly blessed is one whose "delight is in the law of the Lord, And in His law he meditates day and night" (Psalms 1:1-2). "He who heeds the word wisely will find good, And whoever trusts in the Lord, happy is he" (Proverbs 16:20). James writes, "But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does" (James 1:25). Those who keep the law of the Lord shall be blessed eternally (Revelation 22:7, 14).
Harris, R. Laird, Gleason L. Archer and Bruce Waltke. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. 2 vols. Chicago: Moody P, 1980.