Without a vision, people perish. That maxim is based on Proverbs 29:18, “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he (KJV).” Most of the time when I hear that text, it is used in the context of leadership. It is taken to convey the concept that in order for a church or other group of people to flourish (the opposite of perish), there needs to be a leader who has a plan for what the group needs to become or where the group needs to go. The “vision” is taken to be the leader’s imagination of something that does not yet exist. As long as the leader holds the goal of that as yet unrealized potential in front of people, there is the promise of a successful group. When this doesn’t happen, the group perishes. I think that is generally true, but this text says so much more than that!
Consider for a moment the meaning of the word translated as “vision” in the KJV. The word literally refers to a prophetic revelation. In other words, this is not just referring to a plan for how to build the church or your business or your marriage. This
is referring to something much more important. To find out what that is, we need to look at the remainder of the verse. The word translated “perish” is from a Hebrew word which literally means “to be loose.” The term is used in the context of moral laxity. It means “to run wild.” So, a better translation might be, “Where there is no prophetic vision (“revelation” in the NIV) the people cast off restraint (ESV)….”
What this phrase actually refers to is made crystal clear in the second part of the verse that is not quoted nearly as often as the first, “…but blessed is he who keeps the law (NIV).” The second part of the verse gives us the inverse of what we read in the first part. Those who keep the law are the inverse of those who “cast off restraint.” And who is it according to this text who casts off restraint? Answer: Those who have no vision, no revelation, no prophetic insight.
This leaves us with the question of what kind of revelation keeps people from being “loose?” What kind of prophetic insight restrains people from letting go of their responsibilities and walking out on their wives? What kind of vision keeps pastors leading
churches, husbands leading homes, and Christian business men and women leading their companies? It is not just a vision
or strategic plan for the future. It is ultimately a vision of God! It is a vision of a God who is in control, even when things seem chaotic. It is a vision of a God who loves us even when we are unlovable. It is a revelation of a God who is bigger and greater and more powerful and more beautiful and more glorious and more awe-inspiring than anything else. That’s what this text really means. Where there is no revelation of God, people come unglued! Where there is no prophetic word designed to reveal His character, people are left to the overwhelming ugliness of this world. They run wild because their vision of God is too small and they are more captivated by the world than they are by Him.
When you think of it this way, to say, “…but the one who obeys God’s law is the most successful of all (paraphrase of Proverbs 29:18b)” doesn’t really follow from saying Proverbs 29:18a as we have traditionally understood it, “Without a vision (a strong
leader creating a potential desired reality), the people perish (they are not successful).” But, it makes perfect sense when we think of this in terms of our current series. “Everything we do depends upon our vision of God.” Or, “Every commission is preceded
by a vision.” Or, “When we see the majesty of God, our problems don’t seem so big anymore.” Or, to reflect the wording of Proverbs 29:18, “Where there is no revelation of God, the people come unglued and run wild, but those who pay attention to God (i.e., “keep the law”) are truly happy.”
I hope you will join us for the remainder of our series on Vision. We have an exciting plan for the future. We have a strategy in place that will push the ministry forward, but our vision begins with God Himself. He is at the center of everything we do. When we see Him for who He really is, we will flourish and bear fruit for His Kingdom’s sake. May God be glorified among us, and
may He grant us a vision greater than we have ever seen before!