This well known proverb is often quoted without an understanding of what it actually means when read in context. In this blog post we unravel its true meaning.
“Where there is no vision, the people perish:
But he that keepeth the law, happy is he.”
(Proverbs 29:18 KJV)
“Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint;
But happy is he who keeps the law.”
(Proverbs 29:18 NKJV)
The first part of this Bible verse is often quoted to suggest that each individual must have a vision for their life, or that an organisation must have a vision. But is that what this proverb is really saying?
The Hebrew word for “vision” (hazon) refers to a prophetic revelation, the kind of “vision” a prophet would see.
The Hebrew word for “perish” (para) means to make someone go out of control, to run wild, to “cast off restraint” (NKJV).
In other words, where there is no revelation from God, people do their own thing instead of what God wants them to do.
But what is the specific “revelation” that this proverb is referring to?
It is referring to the revelation of God’s law that was given to Moses. That’s why the proverb continues, “But happy is he who keeps the law”. The proverb is using a Hebraic poetic device called “antithetical parallelism”, in which the second clause is a contrast to the thought in the first clause. In other words, the proverb is simply saying this: those who do not have the revelation of God’s law live their own way instead of God’s way; but those who have and keep God’s law are happy and blessed.
The lesson for us is simple: instead of living life our own way, we should ensure we are living according to what God has revealed in His Word. His Word is the “vision” we are to be led by. This proverb has nothing to do with creating our own vision; instead, it is about following God’s.
Verses marked NIV are from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. Verses marked HCSB are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers. Verses marked NKJV are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Verses marked NLT are from Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved. Quotations marked NEB are from The New English Bible: The New Testament © ‘The
Delegates of the Oxford University Press and the Syndics of the Cambridge University Press 1961, 1970.