Do People Really Perish for a Lack of Vision?
Reading: Proverbs 29:18; Hosea 4:6
A Culture of Cliches
America has a culture of cliches. We love snappy sayings and enduring epigrams. My observations tell me that Christians are often no different. We even use bible verses to create them. I say, “create them,” despite the fact that we are quoting from something written long ago, because we use them with an entirely different meaning than what was intended long ago.
Two such cliches are similar and often used together. “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” (Almost always quoted from the King James Version of Proverbs 29:18, as here.) And, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” (Hosea 4:6) These two platitudes are used to support, and even lend Christian legitimacy, to two leading aspects of our world’s philosophy today.
The first is used to bolster the notion that if you can only envision it, or if you can communicate such a vision so that others see it clearly also, then you can achieve anything. If you cannot, you will perish (usually taken to mean that you will flounder around in the mundane existence of an average person rather than achieving your full potential).
The second props up the notion that knowledge is power. If a lack of knowledge brings destruction, then the more knowledge, the more power one has to succeed. This can be used to promote everything from reading and education to selling the latest self-help, self-achievement programs.
I Don’t Think It Means What You Think It Means
It doesn’t take much more than a casual reading of either of these verses to realize that, in the words of the fictional character from The Princess Bride, Inigo Montoya, “You Keep Using That Word, I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means.” Since the warnings of these verses are about death and destruction, it is of the utmost importance that we know what they are really saying.
No one would think it harmless to teach children that when they hear a fire alarm it means they are in danger of not being able to eat for 2 days so whatever food they can find they should eat it as fast as they can. No! They need to get out of the building! Not eating is a danger, but that isn’t the danger the fire alarms warns about. These two often quoted statements warn of serious danger so we must take them seriously.
Maybe the reason Proverbss 29:18 is easily misunderstood is that most are familiar with the King James Version of it which is, frankly, unhelpful to us today. A quick look at any other English translation makes the meaning much more clear.
Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law. (Proverbs 29:18 ESV)
“Vision” was speaking of “prophetic vision” – the revealed Word of God being proclaimed to them. The meaning becomes clearer if we look at the second half of the verse. “Blessed is the one who keeps the law.” (ESV) The prophets always pointed God’s people to the Law and called them to repentance. When God’s word is not being faithfully taught so that people understand its claim on their lives, they cast off restraint—they give themselves over to sin unrestrained. This verse has nothing to do with having a vision for your life, or business, or a plan, or being able to communicate it well to others.
I think the reason Hosea 4:6 is often misunderstood is because the minor prophets are neglected in general, and evidently many don’t take time to read it in context.
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children. (Hosea 4:6 ESV)
This verse is similar to the proverb above. The lack of knowledge spoken about is not actually that they are missing information. It is that they have rejected the very knowledge they had received. The second half of the verse is parallel to the first half so it helps explain it. This rejection of knowledge is the same as forgetting the law. Once again, the warning of destruction is related to a people’s relationship to God’s Word.
Hosea 4:6 has nothing to do with knowledge being power. This is about obedience to God’s Word. Yes, we have to know it first, but it is not about knowledge outside of God’s Word.
Whatever our culture does, as Christians we need to rise above living by cliches; especially cliches which twist God’s Word. We should make sure that verse means what we think it means. If not, let’s adjust our thinking.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,