Proverbs 29:18

Where there is No Vision


1. This proverb has a helpful message. However, the message Solomon intended to convey in this proverb is almost universally ignored.

2. The way Proverbs 29:18 is used (abused) is a classic example of how NOT to interpret the Bible.

3. The wording in our English Bible serves as a convenient springboard for motivational speakers to use to express what they want to say—regardless of what Solomon actually meant.

18a Where there is no vision, the people perish:

A. Where There is No Vision

1. First, let’s consider the meaning of the word “vision.”

a. The Hebrew word translated “vision” means revelation. It was a revelation that often came in the form of a vision or a dream. It was a communication (revelation) from God to a prophet which was intended to be delivered to the people.

b. Usage in the Bible:
• I Sam. 3:1 – “And the child Samuel ministered unto the LORD before Eli. And the word of the LORD was precious in those days; there was no open vision.” In the days of Samuel, God had ceased giving revelation to the prophets. There was no open “vision.”
• I Chron. 17:15 – “According to all these words, and according to all this vision, so did Nathan speak unto David.” God revealed truth to the prophet Nathan, and he delivered it to David.
• II Chron. 32:32 – “Now the rest of the acts of Hezekiah, and his goodness, behold, they are written in the vision of Isaiah the prophet, the son of Amoz, and in the book of the kings of Judah and Israel.”
• Hab. 2:2-3a – “And the LORD answered me, and said, Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it. 3For the vision is yet for an appointed time…”
• The prophets Obadiah, Nahum, and Habakkuk began their prophecies with similar wording: “The vision of Obadiah. Thus saith the Lord GOD concerning Edom.” (Obadiah 1:1)

c. The Hebrew term appears many times in the Old Testament and always refers to a vision or revelation given by God to a prophet.
• It was God’s message or God’s Word to be delivered to the people. God was always the Source of this revelation.
• Jer. 14:14 – Jeremiah speaks of a “false vision.” It was a message that a false prophet proclaimed as a message from God, but God never sent that prophet or delivered that message. It was false.

d. This is not a term that has lots of different meanings or lots of different shades of meaning determined by the context. It means pretty much the same thing in every occurrence.

2. Solomon is depicting a time when there is NO vision.

a. There were often periods of time in Israel’s history when God was silent.

b. “No vision” spoke of a time when there was no revelation coming from God to the prophets.

c. During those times, the people had no word from the Lord.

d. I Sam. 3:1 – The word of God was precious (rare) in the days of Samuel. This was such a time when there was no (or virtually no) vision or revelation from God.

B. The People Perish

1. Again, it is necessary to consider the meaning of the Hebrew word underlying the English word “perish.”


a. To loosen; unbind; to let go; to expose; (used of letting down one’s hair) to go back; to set at nought; perish.

b. It also has another meaning – to be out of control; to have no restraint; to run wild; disorder.

3. Solomon’s meaning is that when there is no revelation or guidance from God, the people run wild… go into disorder… are unrestrained.

a. Why is it translated “perish”?
• Because perish also speaks of something being out of order… something that has run wild.
• A fruit that is perishing is a fruit with the corruption process running wild.
• When a piece of fruit is not being preserved by refrigeration, it will corrupt… perish… the corruption process runs wild and destroys it. The result is that the fruit goes into “disorder.”
• When there is no revelation from God, the corruption process in the nation runs wild too.

b. When God’s revelation ceased in Israel, it had a detrimental effect on the nation.
• It led the people to believe that they could live unrestrained lives.
• Ex. 32:1, 25 – For example, when Moses went up on the Mount with God, and didn’t come back for a while with a message from the Lord, the people felt that he would never come back. They went wild—and built idols and danced naked. They were unrestrained. There was disorder. They became like rotten fruit.

4. Sometimes this proverb is (wrongly) interpreted as a message about missions.

a. Tom Malone: (“The Wisdom of Soul Winning” by Sword of the Lord Publishers.)
• “I think that it speaks of another kind of vision – a work of God in the hearts of men and women.
• He viewed the proverb as a message about evangelism. If the leaders have no vision for missions, then people will perish – meaning, go to hell.
• However, that is not what the term translated “perish” means.
• That was not what Solomon meant. He was not thinking of Christian evangelism at all.
• Even applying this proverb to missions or evangelism is a stretch.
• Those who do, do so because of a misreading of the word translated “perish.”

5. But more often, the passage is interpreted as a motivation for “visionary thinking”… namely, making goals and plans for the future.

a. This interpretation is arrived at because of a misreading of the word translated “vision.” This is a very common understanding of the Proverb. The meaning is something like: “If the leadership doesn’t have a vision for where it wants to go, the people will suffer as a result”—either the people in a church or a business.

b. This passage has become a favorite of the church growth movement and of some mission agencies.

6. Consider these examples:

1. Levi Wright: It’s time for new goals and visions. We just began a new Conference Year 2007 – 2008. B. This is a time to look ahead with confidence. A time to have a vision for what God would have us do during this next year. I. Our vision should build the Church thru EVANGELISM.

a. This man misread BOTH words: vision and perish.

b. His whole sermon was based upon a faulty definition of two terms—something that could have been easily resolved simply by looking the terms up in a Bible dictionary.

c. The man who preached this sermon may be skillful in business techniques—and a great motivator and organizer, but not so much in handling the Scriptures.

2. David Legge: “But inherent within that meaning of the word ‘vision’ there is that idea of having a sight, of having a contemplation, of having a dream for the future. I want to define that word for you this morning like this, that vision is this: a picture of the future that produces a passion within you. What is vision? It is a picture that makes your heart and my heart race as we think of what God can do in future days.

a. His definition of “vision” is a dream for the future.

b. He says “I will define this word for you.” However, I would prefer to look up the term for myself. It does NOT mean a man’s dream for the future.

3. A sermon called “Components of a Focused Life” was based on Prov. 29:18 as the text.

a. He spoke of the overall Life Vision – primary purpose of life

b. Life goals – applying my vision of life to each area of my life (long term goals and short term goals)

4. Rick Warren comments in the proverb:

a. MY IMAGINATION INFLUENCES MY ASPIRATION. In other words, your dreams determine your destiny. To accomplish anything you must first have a mission, a goal, a hope, a vision. “Without a vision the people perish.” Proverbs 29:18.
• He sounds more like Oprah Winfrey or Norman Vincent Peale to me… or one of the motivational speakers on PBS who tell you that you can be whatever you want to be!

5. You get the idea. This proverb suffers abuse on every front.

a. The term is used to speak of a man’s vision in the sense of his dreams for the future, personal goals he has set, goals and plans he has made for the church, or a mission board.

b. Unfortunately, the church growth movement, and much of missions work today is based (at least in part) upon a faulty interpretation of this passage.

6. But there is a big problem with the way the proverb is so often used.

a. First of all, Christian evangelism was certainly not on the mind of Solomon, the King of Israel as he wrote.

b. Secondly, there are those who use the proverb to encourage visionary thinking… and making plans and setting goals.
• But the kind of vision Solomon had in mind was a vision (revelation) whose source was the LORD God.
• The kind of vision the “church growth” folks or the “motivational speakers” have in mind is a vision that originate in the mind and imagination of man.
• Those are two very different kinds of visions.

c. We are certainly NOT saying that it is wrong to plan or set goals. But this is not the passage to base it on.

7. The meaning of the proverb is that without revelation from God, the nation of Israel would become unrestrained—just like all the other nations.

a. There are good applications and faulty applications.

b. I think Christian evangelism is a faulty application – since it is based on a faulty understanding of the term “perish.”

c. But it might be a good application to note that when believers today are not reading God’s Word (His revelation to us), our Christian life could become unrestrained… and go into disorder.

d. We NEED God’s Word for our daily bread.

e. Amos 8:11 – Amos warns of a famine of the Word of God! That will result in chaos among God’s people. They starve spiritually.

f. Hos. 4:6 – “My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge of God.”

g. How awful to see the dead liberal churches of our day. When the Word of God is no longer taught, there is disorder and a lack of restraint among the people.

18b But he that keepeth the law, happy is he.

1. Conversely, he that keepeth the law is happy.

2. The one who keeps (guards; pays attention to; obeys) God’s Word will NOT have a disorderly Christian life. He will not be unrestrained. The Word has a restraining effect in our minds and hearts.

3. Instead of being unrestrained, out of control, and suffering the consequences of such behavior, the one who keeps God’s Word will be blessed.

a. The term translated “happy” is usually translated “blessed.”

b. The one who obeys God’s Word is blessed of God… and thus joyous and happy.

c. The one who obeys the Word has an orderly life—and order brings joy. Disorder brings chaos.

d. Psalm 19:11 – “Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward.”