Letters from the MIA Shepherd's Council
By John Conrad
Where there is no vision, the people perish. (Proverbs 29:18 KJV) Pastors often hurl this verse at their congregations to stimulate people to identify goals and faithfully pursue them. The proclamation of this verse galvanizes congregants to build new buildings, send missionaries to Africa, feed the poor, and expand the choir. While setting goals and implementing plans to accomplish them can be beneficial, this is not the primary meaning of the verse.
Let’s look at the entire verse. Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law (Torah), happy is he. What does Torah have to do with goals and objectives? The word translated “vision” in this verse is chazown. It more properly speaks of revelation or vision in the sense of a dream. It is the word translated vision in 1 Samuel 3:1 (NASB) Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the LORD before Eli. And word from the LORD was rare in those days, visions were infrequent. Here the passage associates vision with a word from the Lord or a message from YHWH.
A classic Hebrew language technique to create emphasis is repetition or doubling--saying the same thing twice. For the law will go forth from Zion, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. (Isaiah 2:3 NASB) The Ruach speaking through Isaiah emphasizes the power of the word of YHWH in the last days by stating it twice and equating the terms “Torah” (instruction or teaching) and “dabar” (word) and also Zion and Jerusalem. Similarly in Proverbs 29:18 the same idea is expressed twice. Thus the foremost meaning of the passage in Proverbs revolves around receiving the instruction of Torah and keeping its dictates. Without Torah the people perish—when the Torah is kept and obeyed the people are happy or blessed.
Let’s examine the word perish. In this text it is parah. It means to expose, make bare or naked, perish, set at naught, to loosen. In the story of the golden calf it is the word used in Exodus 32:25 And when Moses saw that the people were naked; (for Aaron had made them naked unto their shame among their enemies:) (KJV) The same verse in the New American Standard Bible (NASB) Now when Moses saw that the people were out of control — for Aaron had let them get out of control to be a derision among their enemies -- provides new insight into the word. Note the translators translated parah as out of control—to be exposed or made bare is to be “out of control” or to break through the boundaries. A quick check of other translations reveals that many render parah in this way. It is termed “unrestrained,” “out of control,” “out of hand,” etc.
Biblically, Torah prescribes the limits of our practice or halacha. Inside the boundaries of Torah we are safe and experience YHWH’s blessing. When we force our way out of His defined boundaries we expose ourselves or become naked before him and become vulnerable to judgment and cursing. In Lamentations 2:8-9 Israel falls into this trap. The LORD determined to destroy the wall of the daughter of Zion. He has stretched out a line, He has not restrained His hand from destroying; and He has caused rampart and wall to lament; they have languished together. Her gates have sunk into the ground, He has destroyed and broken her bars. Her king and her princes are among the nations; the law(Torah) is no more; also, her prophets find no vision (chazown) from the LORD. (NASB)
Our example in Exodus 32 forcefully reminds us we must obey His words. YHWH had come to his people and spoken audibly his ten words or Ten Commandments. Approximately 40 days later the people threw off the yoke of Torah and became unrestrained and out of control. It is necessary to combine the word of Torah with faith—i.e. belief will always evidence as obedience. In the New Covenant Yeshua gives us new hearts and new spirits. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. (Ezekiel 36:26-27 NASB) The purpose of the new heart and new spirit is to produce obedience to His Word. As so many instances in scripture attest, the old nature cannot please God. “There is none righteous, not even one; There is none who understands, There is none who seeks for God; All have turned aside, together they have become useless; There is none who does good, There is not even one." (Romans 3:10-12 NASB)
In Israel we have the freedom to live and prosper. Yeshua has saved us from the penalty of Torah through his death and resurrection. But we do not have the freedom to abandon Torah. Rejecting YHWH’s instruction would be similar to a group of astronauts hurtling through space on their way to the moon deciding that their space ship is too confining and limiting. In their yearning for liberty they escape their “prison” and are free in space. They are also dead—they have perished because they were out of control. There is a parallel between the Torah and the oxygen delivery system. They are both necessary to deliver spirit or oxygen to the traveler. In a similar way Israel threw off the bonds of Torah. For long ago you broke your yoke and burst your bonds, and you said, "I will not serve!" On every high hill and under every green tree you sprawled and played the whore. (Jeremiah 2:20 NASB)
Nature furnishes many examples of the devastation produced when something good breaks out of boundaries or channels. A flood results when a river escapes its banks and randomly destroys homes, cars and other property. A forest fire can consume millions of acres and rob thousands of animals of life and habitat. Yet we cannot live without water, it is the single most important nutrient necessary to sustain life. And fire under control runs our automobiles and heats our homes.
Our Father has blessed us with his Holy Spirit, the Ruach Ha Kodesh, and a physical body full of life and energy to serve Him. When our behavior escapes the banks of Torah, and breaks out of the hedge of His instruction, our unrestrained actions lead to annihilation. We become naked and exposed to judgment. In this day of restoration the full meaning of Proverbs 29:18 is becoming evident. Truly, Where there is no revelation of Torah from YHWH, the people run amok, they are unrestrained. But happy and blessed are those people who obey and keep Torah. Together we can join our voices with King David and proclaim: The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; Indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me. (Psalm 16:6 NASB)