At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore (Ps. 16: 11)
Where there is no vision, the people perish: But he that keepeth the law, happy is he.Proverbs 29:18
This is a proverb that is referred to frequently, but unfortunately it is often found in the mouths of assorted vision-casters for various disparate visions. Unless the people catch a vision for “our new sanctuary,” or for “our ministry team objectives,” or for “paying down our debt on the fellowship hall,” then the people will perish.
Now however worthy some of these tasks may be, such things are not what this proverb is about.
The word for vision (hazon) refers to a word of revelation. Unless the people have a Word from the living God, they are sunk. We were not created to function as autonomous beings imagining “there’s no heaven . . . above us only sky.” If we do not serve and worship the true God, then we will try to get by with makeshift gods. There has never been a consistently atheistic society. Those that have seriously attempted it have found their public square has way more over-sized icons of Chairman Mao than ancient Athens had of Zeus, and that is saying something. Athens was riddled with idols (Acts 17:16).
This understanding is reinforced by the Hebraic parallelism. We have a contrast set up here. In the first half of the verse, the people perish, and in the second half we have a man who is described as happy. This tells us that we need to contrast the two halves of the verse with regard to the condition that is given. There is the condition of having “no vision,” and this is contrasted with the one who keeps the law.
Put another way, having no vision is defined here as turning away from God’s revelation of Himself in Scripture. The man who keeps the law is happy, and one of the reasons he is happy is that he is not among those who have no vision. The vision we are supposed to have is assigned to us in Scripture.
If we want to know what it means for a people to perish because they have no such vision, all we need to do is look around. Our chaotic society has come unstuck. This is what it looks and feels like when the center no longer holds. How can the center hold when there is no center? This is why Jesus instructed us to disciple the nations, baptizing them, and teaching them the vision.