Pearls From Proverbs
Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he (Prov. 29:18).
The first part of this proverb is quoted frequently and pretty generally misapplied.
The "vision" under consideration is not an object of imaginative contemplation or foresight. Sometimes when a preacher is trying to awaken brethren to the need for looking ahead, planning wisely, and showing some power of discernment, he reminds them that where there is no vision, the people perish. Admittedly, we need foresight and insight; we need to look ahead and think ahead; we need to try to envision what can be done by determination and faith.
However, the "vision" of this passage is divine revelation. The Hebrew word is chazon, meaning "vision, night-vision, or dream; prophetic vision; oracle or prophecy" (Wilson's 0. T. Word Studies). It is synonymous with the word of the Lord. Note how the word is used in 1 Samuel 3:1. "And the word of the Lord was precious in those days; there was no open vision" (cf. 2 Chron. 32:32; Isa. 1:1).
The New International Version renders it, "Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint . . ."
Revelation Is Needed
The following are some of the reasons why mankind needs revelation from God:
(1) To understand the character of God. We would know nothing of God's personal attributes and qualities of character if He had not revealed Himself. "In nature are clearly seen, God's existence, wisdom, and power, but not his moral attributes. A knowledge of the true God has ever been the most pressing need of our race" (H.W. Everest, The Divine Demonstration, p. 29). We cannot "discover" God as one might find some scientific fact through experiments in a lab.
(2) To be in fellowship with God. By divine revelation we learn that sin separates us from God. We must depend on His word to learn how to obtain forgiveness of sins and be brought into spiritual union with Him. We cannot rely on personal fancies and feelings. "A religion based on mere feelings is the vaguest, most unreliable, most unstable of all things" (James Orr, The Christian View of God and the World, p. 20).
(3) To do the will of God. A servant cannot do his master's bidding unless he knows his master's wishes. We do not serve God out of animal instinct, intuition, or by following human plans. To serve God we must have direction from God. All through the ages Jehovah has revealed to mankind what He requires and expects.
(4) To know our purpose and destiny. Life is an unsolved mystery to people who reject God's unveiling of His plan and purpose for us. The grave does not open its mouth to disclose what lies beyond. We need God's revelation to understand the meaning of life.
Without vision, people perish. The Hebrew word for "perish" is para, meaning "to throw off, to let loose; hence to uncover, to make naked . . . " (Wilson). It is the term used in Exodus 32:25, which says, "And when Moses saw that the people were naked; (for Aaron had made them naked unto their shame among their enemies)." The people had thrown off restraint, let themselves loose, or made themselves naked .
"Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained. . ." (NASB). This means that in the absence of revelation from God there is confusion, rebellion, disorder, strife, vice, and loss of character.
"Where the revealed will of God, as expressed in His word, is not kept constantly in view, His people break loose from their allegiance" (A.F. Walls). "Out of touch with God, man loses his humanness, and thus goes wild, becoming little better than the animal world" (George Kufeldt).
How thankful we should be for the Bible and for faithful teachers! God has not left us to walk in darkness. His revelation is available to us.
It is unfortunate that thousands of souls ignore God's word. They are without divine guidance by their own choice. No wonder they are perishing! No wonder they go wild! No wonder they make themselves naked! No wonder they show no vigilance in conduct! No wonder they plunge deeper and deeper into iniquity!
Key to Happiness
". . . But he that keepth the law, happy is he." The design of God's word is to bless mankind. It is not enough that we have His revelation; we must heed it.
"But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only. . ." (Jas. 1:22).
Guardian of Truth XXXI: 5, p. 134