“Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; but happy is he who keeps the law.” Proverbs 29:18

I remember hearing a message or two on this passage when I was in Bible college. It was always a striking verse, especially as it was translated in the KJV, “Where there is no vision the people perish….” It was a great jumping off text for talking about “vision casting” or “rescue the perishing.”

While both ideas are important and biblical, as far as the topics go, the passage has a greater significance. It is far more applicable to assist in diagnosing society’s ills, whether an individual family or church society, a community, a nation, or the world. It also speaks to the resolve for an individual believer, and it has application for every endeavor, including the beginning of each new year.

The verse is situated at an interesting place in the book of Proverbs. King Solomon was responsible for most of the sayings in the book. It may be that he personally wrote and collected the first 24 chapters. Chapters 25–29 are his proverbial statements as well, but they may have been compiled during the reign of King Hezekiah. There are also the words of Agur and Lemuel’s mother in the final two chapters. Ancient Jewish tradition identifies Lemuel with Solomon.

This review of the structure of the book and observing that Proverbs 29:18 leads to the conclusion of the collected sayings of Solomon gives a tone of conclusion and finality to its content. So many of the verses that follow verse 18 sound like a recap of the whole book whereas the verses that precede verse 18 seem to augment the importance of submission to God’s word. Submission to the Word produces blessing and a peaceable spirit.

So, what is it that verse 18 teaches? Our text quoted from the NKJV leads to a different set of conclusions that the KJV translation. The two words upon which the meaning of the text hangs are “revelation” and “cast off restraint.” Part of the reason that the KJV translated revelation as vision was the fact that vision meant something different than we might assume.

We think of something like “men of great vision” when we hear the word vision from anyone other than an eye doctor, or a Pentecostal. It would lead you to think there are specially gifted men who can divine the future and proscribe a course to be taken, whether building a company, building a church, or building a society. Doubtless, without men of selfless vision our country would not have been established. But that is not what was in Solomon’s mind.

The word translated revelation in verse 18 is the Hebrew word hazon, meaning “to see” or “to receive by revelation.” In the Old Testament context it refers to a prophet of God who received a vision from God and has a message to communicate as God’s mouthpiece. It is the same word used by Isaiah in verse 1:1, “The vision of Isaiah…” and in Ezekial 12:22, “Son of man, what is this proverb that you people have about the land of Israel, which says, ‘The days are prolonged, and every vision fails’?” Psalm 89:19 similarly uses the word: “Then You spoke in a vision to Your holy one[s]….” A number of minor prophets begin their books declaring the vision God has commissioned them to communicate with His people.

I am struck by the description of the times in which the prophet Samuel came upon Israel’s scene in 1 Samuel 3:1: “Now the boy Samuel ministered to the LORD before Eli, and the word of the LORD was rare in those days; there was no widespread revelation [hazon].” In other words, God’s word was not widely known and had no influence upon the society. It sounds like we are fast approaching this same situation as the Word of God is taken out of the “driver’s seat” in our own lives or is relegated to the dusty pages of history by our society at large. God’s special revelation found in His word must be retained in its rightful place of prominence in our lives. We must be resolved to that course.

If we, ourselves or our society, do not honor God’s Word then we are doomed to follow Solomon’s other admonition, “the people cast off restraint.” The KJV says “perish,” which is the eventuality when God’s Word is rejected. But the Hebrew word is yippara, meaning to “let go,” “let alone,” or “let loose.” It is used to describe the unwinding of a turban (Leviticus 10:6, 21:10), uncovering, or letting things unravel. Essentially, Solomon observed, “Where there is no revelatory vision the people unravel at the seams.” This is true of any nation, society, family, or church. Where God’s Word is reduced in prominence the people will be unrestrained, as in the absence of Moses at Sinai (Exodus 32:25)!

Conversely, Solomon states, “but blessed is he who keeps the law.” Blessed means happy. It comes from the Hebrew root word ashar, “go straight,” “go on,” “advance.” Uncertain times require steady steps and no steps are surer than those taken in the light of the Word of God! What a blessed circumstance to have God’s Word at the ready, kept, guarded, and stored up when charting life’s course! Without the restraint of God’s Word your life will unravel, just as you see society doing. Travel the course where blessings from God will fall in this New Year. Trust and obey.