“Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” (Prov.29:18)
Years ago, when I first read this verse, I thought the word vision meant an idea, a goal, or an objective. Just as an architect conceptualizes a magnificent building, I thought that this verse was speaking about a church having a vision or goal. However, now I realize that it doesn’t refer to that idea at all. In order to really understand this verse, we need to examine a few of its key words.
To begin with, let’s consider the word “vision”. The Hebrew word that it is translated from essentially means sight or revelation . For one to have “sight” or vision, they must be in the presence of light. Where there is no light, only darkness prevails. Obviously, Jesus is the Light of the world. The world system hates the very name of Jesus. No wonder there is so much darkness in the world today. Even the Church, who is also suppose to be “the light of the world”, has miserably failed in its mission. The Church has fallen prey to the very same sins as that of the world. They, too, have sought after materialism and selfish pleasures. As a Church, as individual Christians, we have become more concerned with pleasing “self” than pleasing God. We have become too “busy” to seek after God. Our lives have become too hectic and, subsequently, even have become chaotic. Like Martha, we are “troubled about many things.”
Just as Moses told the people of Israel to “stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord”, we too need to stand still in the presence of his light in order that we may, again, see clearly. As a nation, the United States has also lost its vision. It has forgotten and forsaken its Christian heritage. We shall discuss this topic more later.
We will now examine the word “perish”. The word “perish” has many applications, and the very same Hebrew word has been translated in a variety of ways. It basically means to loosen , to expose , or to absolve . When one loses vision or sight, they “expose” themselves to danger. In the darkness, they become prey to the pitfalls of sin. The Psalmist David once wrote that “thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.”
When we stray from the light of God’s word, we expose ourselves to the snares and traps of the devil. Peter warned us to “be sober, be vigilant” because the devil is constantly seeking those who have strayed from the path of God’s light. When we are thus exposed, we oftentimes lose our witness to the world. The world can no longer distinguish the difference between “saint or sinner”. It is even as the bumper sticker that reads: “If you were accused of being a Christian and brought before a court of law, would they have enough evidence to convict you?” When this happens, we have wounded the very heart of God. As parents, we too, are saddened when our children do things that we feel are wrong and might be harmful to them.
The third word in this verse that we need to consider is “law”. The Hebrew word is torah . Usually, the torah refers to the first five books of the Bible. They are sometimes known as the “books of Moses”. However, it also encompasses the entire word of God. Although the Jews revered the torah, or the word of God, they oftentimes did not practice its truths and commandments contained in it. They were no longer a “peculiar”, that is, a “separated people”. They had become indistinguishable from the gentile nations around them. Similarly, in the United States, a Bible is found in practically every home in America. Just having the word of God in your home doesn’t mean that you have His word in your heart. The Bible is just as any other book, merely ink spots on a page, unless you read it, and allow it to become words of life to you. Peter told Jesus, “thou hast the words of eternal life”.
Lastly, I would like to consider the word “happy” as found in this verse. This word is not used in this text as we normally use the word today. Instead, the Hebrew word means to be straight , to be level , or to be right . Basically, the word “happy” gives the connotation of structure, of parameters, of bearing. When we read this verse in the context of the meanings of its key terms, we can paraphrase it in the following way:
When a people begin to lose sight, when their vision becomes blurred, when there is not enough light to brighten their way, then they become exposed to the dangers that Satan has laid in their path. Eventually, they will perish. However, if they would only follow the truths and precepts contained in the word of God, then they would find structure and a sure and level foundation for their life.
To further illustrate that the word “vision” refers to the word of God or the scriptures, I will quote a few more passages.
“And the child Samuel ministered unto the Lord before Eli. An the word of the Lord was precious in those days; there was no open vision .” (I Sam.3:1)
“According to all these words , and according to all this vision , so did Nathan speak unto David.” (I Chron.17:15)
“…the law is no more; her prophets also find no visionfrom the Lord.” (Lam.2:9)
Notice that in this last passage, even the ministry has lost its way because they had forsaken the “law” (God’s word) and no longer could “see” to guide the people. Today, many ministers of the Gospel have succumbed to this same optical malady of having no “vision”.
“…for the Lord hath a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land… My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee…seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God …” (Hos.4:1,6)
Here, the prophet Hosea gives us the eventual consequence of a people or nation who have rejected the “law of thy God” (the word of God). In fact, Hosea continues in verse 7 to say that since they had forgotten the knowledge of God and had sinned against him, then God would replace their former glory with shame. From history, we know that Judah went into captivity to Babylon in 605 B.C. During the time of David and Solomon, Israel had enjoyed a time of prosperity and recognition among the nations. But as Israel lapsed into idolatry and sin, their glory eventually turned into shame just as Hosea had prophesied.
Similarly, when the United States honored the Bible, God’s word, the nation prospered and was looked upon with favor by the nations of the world. Sadly, though, since we have rejected His word, we now are oftentimes looked upon with disdain by many of the nations. Also, God has removed His blessings from us. We have now become the greatest debtor nation in the history of the world.
“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.” (Psa.137:1,2)
These Jewish captives had lost their joy because of sin. They had forgotten God’s law, his mercy, and his goodness. Thus, here is the natural sequence of not following the precepts of God as expressed in the word of God. As we stray from the light of God’s word, we lose sight of that which is right. Our judgment becomes blurred and confused. We no longer can see the boundary of right from wrong or truth from error. Thus, we begin to sin and transgress the law of God. As we do this, we lose the joy that we once experienced in our Christian life. With the loss of joy, we become weak and ineffectual in our walk with the Lord.
“…for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Neh.8:10)
Regrettably, we, as a Church, as a nation, have forsaken God and have neglected His Word which allows us to “see” correctly and enables us to discern right from wrong. We have lost our bearing. We have lost our moral compass. Just as an example of this, a recent survey showed that two-thirds of Americans say that gay or lesbian relations between consenting adults should be legal. Even in the latest issue of the Baptist Standard, an editorial tried to minimize the Christian heritage of the United States. In fact, the article went so far as to ridicule those historians who quote from the Founding Fathers those quotes that support the idea of ours being a Christian nation.
For almost 200 years, it was an accepted premise that our nation was founded upon Christian principles. In fact, John Adams, the second President of the United States, made this declaration:
“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
Although many people believe, unwittingly, that the Constitution contains the phrase “separation of Church and State” or “wall of separation”, these phrases are to be found nowhere within the Constitution or the Bill of Rights. We find their origin, however, in a letter written by Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802. In this letter, Jefferson uses the phrase, “a wall of separation between Church and State.” Contrary to the popular opinion of today, Jefferson’s use of the phrase meant that the Church should be protected from the State or government, and not, that the State must be protected from the Church. It was President Thomas Jefferson, in 1803, that recommended Congress appropriate funds “for civilizing the Indians and promoting Christianity.” Actually, he signed appropriation bills to Christianize the Indians three different times during his presidency.
For over 100 years, the Bible was used as a textbook in our public schools. Sadly, though, this tradition of a Christian America was dealt a serious blow by the Supreme Court in several consecutive rulings beginning in 1962 and culminating in June, 1963. It was through these rulings that both prayer and Bible reading were removed from the public school system. This Supreme Court decided its decision with a 8 to 1 ruling. The majority, in writing its opinion, stated that their ruling was one of “wholesome neutrality”. They further stated that their decision would in no way be deemed as a victory for “secularism”. We know now that it did have this “unintended consequence”.
As a result of these rulings, our nation began to lose its vision and sight. We no longer can distinguish between good and evil. Just a few years after this Supreme Court ruling, Joseph Fletcher in 1966 wrote a book titled Situation Ethics . In the book, Fletcher argues that there are no moral absolutes, everything is relative. Infidelity, stealing, lying and a myriad of other moral turpitudes might be acceptable depending on the situation. In the Old Testament, during the period of the judges, the Bible records that “every man did that which was right in his own eyes.”
Since our nation’s founding, the Bible has been used as the rule of law and has acted as the guide for our country’s morality. Obviously, our moral conscience as a nation has deteriorated and crumbled. We have forsaken the only moral compass that has ever been given to mankind.
Is there any hope left for America, for the Church? The answer is yes. With regard to the Church, we must individually and corporately confess that we have sinned and failed in our duty and responsibility to God. We must again turn to the Bible and let God’s Word lead us and guide us in all aspects of our life. After we have done this, we can then stand on the promise of God as quoted in 2 Chron.7:14.
“If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”