Where There is No Vision

Proverbs 29:18 states, “Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained, but happy is he who keeps the law.” Common interpretation of this proverb is disappointing. The last portion of the verse is usually not quoted – probably because it contains that “controlling” L-word. What the interpretation generally comes down to is humanistic, “If people do not have goals, a vision of the big picture, a direction for achievement, or a philosophy or principle to work toward, those people will not be able to hold together, they will not accomplish anything worthwhile and the whole thing will fall apart.” Whatever truth may be attached to that view has nothing to do with Proverbs 29:18 because the wording of the proverb has become victim to equivocation. Equivocation means that one is constructing a meaning by using a definition of a word that is not applicable. In the case of Proverbs 29, the word “vision” is given a definition, a modern one, that is not related to the definition of the word in the text.

The word for “vision” in Proverbs 29:18 is chazown and this word does not have anything to do with setting goals, having a stated purpose, a philosophy for operation, or anything like that. The word is used exclusively in the Bible related to prophecy. “The vision of Isaiah”, “the vision of Habakkuk”, all of Daniel’s and Ezekiel’s and Jeremiah’s use of the word is the “vision” that is referred to in Proverbs 29:18. Immediately we see that the word “vision” is not referring to any conceptualization that comes from man; it is the Word of God. One could restate the proverb simply and immediately the true meaning would jump out of the verse, “Where there is no [Word from the Lord], the people are unrestrained....” This immediately puts the restraint of human passions, intellect, and actions on a higher plane than the world. For God to restrain men, He must speak to them and, by inference, men must listen to His words. A clear meaning of the word is to be found in 1 Samuel 3:1, “Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord before Eli. And word from the Lord was rare in those days, visions (chazown) were infrequent.”

The structure of the proverb is also important in understanding the meaning of it. It is in the form of a contrasting couplet. The first part is negative, containing the word “not” and the second is positive. In the first clause, the result is dissolution while in the second clause the result is blessing. Notice that lack of restraint is the result of operating apart from God’s Word in the first clause, but the Law, which restrains evil, results in happiness. The couplet is also chiastic; it reverses direction and this gives us a striking contrast. Chazown corresponds to Torah (the law) and para`, to be “out of control” corresponds to 'esher, “happy and also, blessed”. And so it reads, “Where there is no vision (chazown), the people are unrestrained (para`: “out of control”), but happy ('esher: also, “blessed”) is he who keeps the law (torah).” It means, – Those who do not regard God’s Word are out of control, but those who are happy and blessed are those who keep the law of God – .

The purpose of prophecy in the Old Testament was to augment the lack of a complete canon of Scripture. The Bible was unfinished throughout this time and so God graciously supplied His specific words along with a broad vision of His divine purposes through prophets who received His words “in many portions and in many ways (including chazown)” as the writer of Hebrews tells us in Hebrews 1:1. The word chazown was often even used to show a misuse, counterfeit, or mishandling of God’s Word as in Jeremiah 23:16, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘Do not listen to the words of the prophets who are prophesying to you. They are leading you into futility (habal: dissolution, vanity, nothingness); they speak a vision (chazown) of their own imagination, not from the mouth of the Lord.’” So, there are true visions and there are false visions. To us, the only true vision is God’s Word as it is written in the Holy Scriptures and this is the Vision Statement of the Church.

There is much talk in our time about what the “vision” of the Church should be and most of that talk has nothing to do with God’s Word and everything to do with human opinions based on human sentiments. The only place where we will find a vision for the Church that brings blessings and happiness and that does not result in unrestrained passion, intellect, or actions is the Book of Vision, the Holy Bible. Jesus instituted and therefore defined the vision of the Church. It is not up to us to redefine the Church and make specialized churches: Home-school Church, Family Integrated Church, Politically Conservative Church, Charity Church, Hospitality Church, Healing Church, Church for the Un-churched or any other such “vision”. Church is what Jesus Christ says it is, no more and no less, and the vision of the Church is to be found in the Bible alone. Sola Scriptura is our only Chazown.