By Joel Ryan, Crosswalk.com
Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he (Proverbs 29:18, KJV).
The book of Proverbs is one of the most practical books in the Old Testament. With its thought-provoking wisdom and memorable epigrams, the writings of King Solomon have provided inspiration and instruction to generations of God’s followers looking to practice righteousness in every area of life. In fact, many of the principles touched on in Proverbs offer warning, correction, encouragement, and practical steps for godly living.
What Is the Book of Proverbs All About?
In the first few verses of Proverbs 1, Solomon outlines the purpose of Proverbs, by saying that the Proverbs are written:
for gaining wisdom and instruction; for understanding words of insight; for receiving instruction in prudent behavior, doing what is right and just and fair; for giving prudence to those who are simple knowledge and discretion to the young — let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance — for understanding proverbs and parables, the sayings and riddles of the wise (Proverbs 1:2-6).
The theme of Proverbs is then laid out in the following verse, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7).
Throughout the Bible, we see that this is part of God’s plan for humanity. He wanted his creation and the jewel of that creation, humanity, to thrive by being in relationship with Him. But in order for that relationship to exist and for us to develop the disciplines required to live the life He wants for us, a life free from sin, we must be equipped with proper knowledge and instruction.
This knowledge provides a new vision that allows us to see God and His plan for our lives more clearly.
Without this vision, as Solomon writes in Proverbs 29, we are left to wander in the dark down a path that ultimately leads to destruction.
As the prophet Isaiah wrote, “We hope for light, but behold, darkness, for brightness, but we walk in gloom. We grope along the wall like blind men, we grope like those who have no eyes; we stumble at midday as in the twilight, among those who are vigorous we are like dead men” (Isaiah 59:9-10).
This is why, through His prophets, poets like Solomon, the apostles of the New Testament, and His son Jesus Christ, God provided perfect, life-giving instruction, which He expects us to live by (Romans 2:13) and share with others (Matthew 28:20).
What Is God’s Law?
For a lot of people, the word “law” has the connotation of a system of stiff rules and regulations that say what we can and cannot do in our society. Law implies oppression, not freedom. While this understanding of the law has some merit, especially in areas of the world where unjust laws are oppressive and cruel, it doesn’t accurately convey what God had in mind when He communicated His instructions to His people.
Throughout the Old Testament, God spoke through the prophets to communicate spiritual instruction and sometimes even warning or correction that would bring His people back to Him, and in the process, the abundance of life that can only be found in Him (Amos 3:7).
This is the “law” of God that was given to guide people to the truth that, apart from God, there is no life, or hope, or meaning to life. And if God is good and just and true and invested in our spiritual health and well-being, His instructions are also good, just, true, and designed for our benefit.
The Apostle James wrote, “but the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17).
And while God’s law is also written on our hearts, we as humans are still sinful and need to be reminded of who God is and what is best for us. This is why God provides the guidelines outlined in Scripture, which Paul wrote is, “is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).
God didn’t want us to decide for ourselves what was good or true or just. We’ve seen what happens when we do, and it isn’t good. We rely on our wisdom and skewed sense of justice instead of His and often end up making ourselves God and judge, which only hurts ourselves and others in the process.
Without God’s law, founded on His character and concept of goodness, never ours, humanity has the tendency to rebel or stagnate. We become like “sheep without a shepherd,” inventing our own answers and meaning to life. We are also more vulnerable and exposed to sin’s devastating consequences.
This is what Solomon meant when he wrote, “Without vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18). And as the prophet Hosea wrote, speaking as a mouthpiece for God, “My people are destroyed from a lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6).
God provided the vision. His prophets relayed this vision to the people. The people (i.e. us) then have the choice of whether or not we want to actually apply it.
What Do Other Translations Say about Proverbs 29:18?
When there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but the one who keeps the law, blessed is he (ESV).
Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained, but happy is he who keeps the law (NASB).
Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint, but blessed is the one who heeds wisdom’s instruction (NIV).
Where there is no understanding of the Word of the Lord, the people do whatever they want to, but happy is he who keeps the law (NLT).
Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; but happy is he who keeps the law (NKJV).
If people can’t see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves; but when they attend to what he reveals, they are most blessed (The Message).
Why Is it Important to Follow the Instructions of the Bible?
While the law of God is good, Matthew Henry writes in his commentary that “it is not having the law, but obeying it, and living up to it, that will entitle us to blessedness.”
Salvation can only come from God. We are not transformed or saved by our works or the law, but by God’s power and grace. However, those who love the Lord and have submitted to His authority, will be more inclined to obey His commands and instructions. And in doing so, they are blessed.
Paul writes, “It is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified” (Romans 2:13).
This is why Solomon writes often about following the instructions found in God’s Word. They, he believed, are the life-giving and life-affirming principles that help combat sin, brokenness, and spiritual blindness in one’s life.
The Psalmist wrote, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. I have sworn and I will confirm it, that I will keep Your righteous ordinances” (Psalms 119:105-106).
Having encountered the life and wisdom of God, Solomon encouraged his children and future generations of the benefits of following God’s word.
My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments, for length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you. Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart. So, you will find favor and good success in the sight of God and man. Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths (Proverbs 3:1-7).
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Joel Ryan is an LA-based children’s and young adult author who teaches writing at Life Pacific University. Joel is passionate about fueling young people’s passion for the Lord through storytelling and the arts. In his blog, Perspectives Off the Page, he discusses all things writing, the creative process, and what makes movies, comic books, and great stories so impactful.