The True Vision – Proverbs 28:19

October 4, 2010

by Steve Owen

Proverbs 28:19, A.V. ‘Where there is no vision, the people perish; but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.’

I suppose this must be one of the best known verses in the Bible. Even among those who don’t know the Scriptures, Proverbs 28:19, or at least the first half of it, will ring a bell of recognition. In days gone by, when politicians thought it might be beneficial to quote from the Bible, they used to use this verse. “Mr Speaker, my party has a vision for the future of the Nation. The other party has no vision, and as we all know, where there is no vision, the people perish.”

Today the text is also popular with a certain breed of television evangelist, usually from America. “Send me your money, folks, because I have a vision for saving souls, and where there is no vision, the people perish.” Men like this are just building a monument in their own name using someone else’s money. I notice that various books on church growth also press the verse into service. The authors may use a whole load of different Bible translations in order to try to substantiate their various points, but there is usually only one verse that they will quote from the Authorized Version. You guessed it; it’s Proverbs 28:19. They have the vision; we don’t, and we have to buy their books to get it.

Lastly, there are those who will tell you that visions and ‘tongues’-speaking and extra-Biblical prophecy are all part of a proper church, and the reason that the Church is in the way it is today is because it has rejected these things; and they will tell you, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”

So with all these different ideas of what the Vision is, I started thinking, ‘Well, they can’t all be right,’ so I have done a little bit of study on the Vision, to see if I could understand exactly what it means. If you were to look in a dictionary, it would probably tell you that it means a mental projection, or something like that, and there are places in the books of Ezekiel and Daniel where this is perfectly true. But the Hebrew word translated ‘Vision’ here is chazon, and usually it means something quite different.

Are you sitting comfortably? I wouldn’t want you to fall over from shock. The usual meaning of chazon is the public distribution or proclamation of God’s word; or to put it another way, public preaching. Where God’s word is not being revealed, where there is no preaching, when people do not hear or read the word of God, they are in a perishing condition. If you look at any decent modern translation of the Bible you will see that chazon is translated ‘Revelation.’ I’ll come to the rest of the verse presently.

Let’s look at 1Samuel 3:1 (A.V.). ‘The word of the LORD was precious in those days; there was no open vision.’ The word of the Lord was precious in the sense that diamonds are precious; they’re very rare. In the days of fat Eli and his sons, the word of the Lord was rare, you couldn’t find it, because there was no open vision, no open revelation of God’s truth; the word of the Lord was not being preached. So unfamiliar were the things of God at that time that when Eli saw a woman praying in the tabernacle, he thought she must be drunk.

Now look at Lamentations 2:9. ‘The law is no more, and [Zion’s] prophets find no vision from the LORD.’ The law is no more; it has become a dead letter, it has been forgotten. Why? Because the prophets are finding no vision from the Lord. God’s word, His law, is no longer being proclaimed to the people. There is no public preaching going on; the people are not hearing the word of the Lord and, in this case, they are quite literally perishing.

I’ve mentioned prophets a couple of times and I need to tell you what I mean by ‘prophets’ and ‘prophecy’ and what I don’t. Prophecy, in the sense of someone standing forth, saying, “Thus saith the Lord,” and bringing before the people a message not hitherto found in the Bible, is over, finished, fulfilled. In the past God spoke to our forefathers at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son’ (Heb 1:1). In other words, the days of the prophet in that respect are ended; the words of Christ and His apostle are God’s final word. There is only one sort of prophet today- the false prophet, and there are quite enough of those about, just as there were in Jeremiah’s day.

‘Thus says the LORD of hosts: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, they make you worthless; they speak a vision of their own heart, not from the mouth of the LORD. They continually say to those who despise Me, ‘The LORD has said, “You shall have peace;’” and to everyone who walks according to the dictates of his own heart, they say, ‘No evil shall come upon you.’

The prophet who has a dream, let him tell a dream; and he who has My word, let him speak My word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat?” Says the LORD. “Is not My word like a fire?” Says the LORD, “And like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?”’ (Jer 23:16-17, 28-29. Read the whole chapter).

The prophecy that remains today is not foretelling, but forthtelling; in other words, public preaching. This is how the Reformers and Puritans understood prophecy. There is a handy book in the Banner of Truth Puritan paperback series, The Art of Prophecy by William Perkins. Occasionally, charismatics buy it, hoping to learn how to speak ‘words of knowledge’ or how to foretell coming events. They are always disappointed; it is a book (and a very good one) about public preaching, the telling forth of the word of God.

So let us return to the word chazon, ‘vision,’ and look at three more examples of its use.

‘According to all these words and according to all this vision, so Nathan spoke to David’ (2Sam 7:17). Nathan told David the message, the word that the Lord had given him.

‘Now the rest of the acts of Hezekiah, and his goodness, indeed they are written in the vision of Isaiah the prophet’ (2Chron 32:32). They are written in the message, the revelation, the word of God that Isaiah preached.

‘Write the vision and make it plain on tablets that he who runs may read it’ (Hab 2:2). Now there’s a song that goes, “I can sing a rainbow,” but how do you write a vision? ‘Write down the revelation, write down the word of God which you received from Him.’

So, if the ‘vision’ is actually public preaching, the public proclamation of God’s word, and if where there is no vision, the people perish, you may ask, what hope is there for the heathen who have never heard the word of God? The answer is, none, without the preaching of the word. ‘How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent?’ (Rom 10:14-15). Does this not bring home to you the desperate need for Biblical missionary work? The word of God must be preached all over the world (Matt 24:14). But if the heathen in India or Africa are perishing through the lack of hearing the Gospel, the heathen in Exmouth, in England and in America will perish just as well. There are millions of men and women out there in so-called Christian countries who are perishing because they know nothing of God, of sin, of judgement to come or of the Lord Jesus Christ. ‘My people are destroyed through lack of knowledge’ (Hosea 4:6). It’s not that people today believe nothing; they believe anything! They will study their horoscopes, decorate their rooms in accordance with Feng Shui, go to yoga classes; almost anything except go and hear the word of God which alone can save them.

You may say to me, “Steve, what can we do for our neighbours? We can’t preach to them.” Maybe you can’t, but you can bring them to someone who can. Invite your friends, your neighbours, your relatives to come to church with you and let someone preach the word to them. When Andrew met the Lord Jesus (John 1:40-41), the first thing he did was to bring his brother, Simon Peter to meet Him. Bring someone along with you next week. You might save a soul from hell, for be in no doubt, if they are not hearing the word of God, that is where they are heading. Where there is no vision, where there is no public proclamation of God’s word, people are perishing. Proverbs 11:20 says, ‘He who wins souls is wise.’

One more word before I move on. My church and your church, may not be very big and maybe sometimes you think to yourself, if I belonged to a bigger church there would be more going on- more social events, more for the young people. I have known people who have left solid Biblical churches ‘for the sake of the children’ as they have put it, and gone to larger churches where there may be big ‘youth groups’ and lots of social activities, but no expository ministry, just a five or ten minute homily. Let me be clear. This is giving up one’s children’s birthright for a mess of potage. The most cruel thing anyone could do for their children or themselves, is to wilfully deprive them of the public proclamation of the word of God, because where there is no vision, no preaching of the word, the people perish.

Now someone may say, “Hang on, Steve, in the N.I.V. and the N.K.J.V. it doesn’t say, ‘The people perish,’ it says’ ‘The people cast off restraint.’ Maybe things aren’t quite as bad as you’re making out.” Well, it does say that. Other translations say, ‘The people are made naked’ or ‘The people are let loose.’ In Exodus 32 we learn that when Moses went up the mountain to receive the Commandments, the people were deprived of his prophetic ministry, of hearing the word of God, for forty days. What happened? They were let loose from God’s word, so they made a golden calf for themselves, stripped off their clothes and danced round it. They cast off restraint (v25) and 3,000 of them perished in a day (v28). It all amounts to the same thing.

In these days of central heating and duvets, not many people still use a good old hot water bottle. Yet they can be very comforting on a cold winter’s night. You have to replace hot water bottles regularly though, because the rubber has a tendency to perish. It becomes rotten, worthless and is then good for nothing but to be thrown away. So it is with many people today. They have forsaken the words of the true and living God, cast off restraint, and made themselves worthless in God’s sight and He has given them over to their sins (Rom 1:28). Is there no hope for them? Of course there is hope! The words that brought Lazarus out from the tomb can give life to dead sinners even today. ‘”Son of man, can these bones live?” So I answered, “O LORD God, You know.” Again He said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, “O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD!”’ (Ezek 37:3-4). Where there is no vision the people perish, but where there is the preaching of the word of God, the dry bones live!

Now I want to come to the appropriation of the Vision. It is not enough to hear the vision, to be in a church where the of God is regularly and faithfully preached; you have to obey it too. The second part of our verse says, ‘But he that keepeth the law, happy is he.’ It’s not always easy for a preacher to tell from a pulpit if the people in the congregation are all hanging on his every word, or if half of them are wondering if they remembered to switch the cooker on before they left home. But the point is this: maybe you hear the word of God preached every week- exposition, exegesis, application. I wonder, do some of you think at times, Gosh! It’s all a bit heavy; couldn’t we lighten it up a little with a bit of drama or dancing or humour? Don’t ever think that! To hear the word of the living God is the most amazing privilege. What could be more wonderful than that?

But just being in the presence of the preached word doesn’t do you a penny’s worth of good unless you take it to heart and practise it. ‘For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be counted righteous’ (Rom 2:13). The word must go from head to heart to hand. First to the head to understand it; next to the heart to approve it; then to the hand to carry it out.

Someone will say, “Hang on! I thought that salvation is by faith alone.” To be sure, salvation is by grace alone, through faith. We are not saved by obeying the law, but if we are not following God’s commands, what reason do we have to suppose that God is saving us? The Lord Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” Keeping God’s commandments is not the Christian’s righteousness, but it is his rule. ‘I say then, walk in the Spirit and you shall not fulfil the lusts of the flesh’ (Gal 5:16). If you, the reader, believe that you are a Christian, then the proof of this must be that you are actively seeking to live a life worthy of such a wonderful Saviour and such a gracious God.

‘Where there is no vision, the people perish; but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.’ Calvin wrote, ‘The smallest, meanest [poorest] Christian church where the Gospel is truly preached is greater than a king’s palace, for there the King of kings is present in the midst.’ If you are in such a church, you are more greatly blessed than you can imagine. Don’t lose the vision; don’t despise the faithful preaching of God’s inspired word.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: