Do you have a dream? Something you really want to do? A plan? A course of action to follow that will lead you to a better life? Perhaps you don’t. Perhaps you are just taking one day at a time, working, trying to make ends meet. I know of people who have been given a terminal diagnosis by their doctors. They aren’t doing much planning for the future; they are just living each day to the fullest and being thankful for every moment. Some people use Proverbs 29:18, which in the King James Version reads, “Where there is no vision, the people perish…”, to suggest that if you don’t have a dream, a plan for the future, your life is worthless, or at least not meeting its potential. If you’re not the type to plan ahead, this might be quite discouraging.
Here’s the good news. That is not what this verse means. Other versions, including the New King James, more clearly translate the Hebrew word “hazon” as revelation. The NET Bible and the English Standard Version clarify it by specifying that it is a prophetic vision. In other words, where there is no guidance from God, transmitted through someone on the Earth, the people… well, “perish” isn’t the best translation there either. Most versions now say “cast off restraint”, but what it generally means is to live in chaos. They are living without structure. There are other verses in Proverbs 29 that say very similar things. (e.g. Proverbs 29:2, 6, 8, 11, 16) The overriding theme is that there is much more benefit when we live according to God’s mandates than according to our own selfish desires.
There is some debate among Bible scholars as to whether the “law” in the second half of the verse, refers to the written law only, the Torah, or whether it includes prophetic revelation. As I see it, either way, following God’s principles is required. We have so much more revelation than the people did when this proverb was written. We have Jesus and His teachings to guide us as well. Having the revelation is not enough. Following the revelation is what will bring blessing and help us to avoid chaos.