Exposition / Extra

Where there is no vision…


In the next issue of Conversation Magazine we’ll be looking at Bible teaching, preaching and prophecy. Here’s something to start us off…

Proverbs 29:18 tells us that ‘where there is no vision the people perish’ (KJV).  What does that mean?  That if our leader is not a great visionary who dreams great dreams of our future we will all ‘perish’ or ‘cast off restraint’ (NIV/ESV)?  That if our church does not have a vision statement we will all go crazy and run headlong down the hillside into the sea like the Gerasene swine?

Well ‘vision’ in the sense of planning and strategy is important, as Proverbs makes clear elsewhere.  But that’s not what 29:18 is talking about.  Do you mind if we do some hard digging into this verse?

The word for ‘vision’ is better translated by the ESV as ‘prophetic vision’.  The Hebrew word is used in the introduction to the prophetic books of Isaiah, Obadiah and Nahum.  It seems that prophecy in the Bible is very closely related to vision.  For Jeremiah the prerequisite of all true prophecy is a visionary experience of standing in the council of the Lord (Jer. 23:18,22 cf. 1 Kings 22:19-23).

So the problem is not a lack of blue sky thinking, it’s a lack of prophecy.  But before we  rush to the conclusion that what our churches desperately need is more exciting new prophetic visions let’s go back to Proverbs 29:18 and read the whole verse (always a good idea).

Where there is no prophetic vision the people perish,
    but blessed is he who keeps the law.

The way Hebrew poetry works is often to say the same thing twice in slightly different ways or a similar thing with some kind of progression of the concept or to give opposite sides of the same coin. What we find in Proverbs 29:18 is that ‘perish’ is parallel to its opposite ‘happy/blessed’ while ‘vision’ is (interestingly) parallel to ‘the law’ (torah).  So perhaps prophecy-vision is not so much a promise of future blessing as something to obey.  If you’re interested, I’ve done a bit of research on the close connection the Bible often draws between law and prophecy. In the Bible Prophecy is often Law and Law is Prophetic.

So what? Well, the point is that if there is an absence of the Word of God / the whole council of God / the prophetic Law and the commands of the Prophets, then our churches will perish.  If the sermon begins with the closing of the Bible then the people will perish.  Even if the Bible remains open but it is used to proclaim only promises of blessing and not the Law of Christ and the grace that trains in godliness, then the people will perish.

Back to Proverbs 29:18 one last time, we also find a progression from presence/absence (‘no vision’) to rejecting/keeping (‘who keeps’).

Where there is no prophetic vision the people perish,
    but blessed is he who keeps the law

The answer to an absence of the word of God is not just having the word of God.  Real blessing (as Jesus says himself – Luke 11:28) is found in having the divinely-revealed commands of the Lord, cherishing them and doing them.

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