Proverbs 29:18 (KJV) 18 Where there is no vision, the people perish
This verse is most often used to suggest that since the people perish due to a lack of vision what they need to survive is a pastor who casts visions or a prophet who shares visions. The first problem with this notion, is that nowhere else in scripture (that I’m aware of) is this idea supported. The idea that without a vision-casting pastor or a prophet the people perish. Neither the ability nor the responsibility to cast a vision is listed in any of the criteria for an Elder, Pastor, or Deacon. Prophetic vision is a good thing, when it comes from the Lord God. Prophetic Visions always point back to God, whether they are of blessing, of punishment, or of promise. The problem comes when self-proclaimed NAR prophets/apostles focus their teaching/preaching/training on their visions over what is written in Scriptures, the Word of God. We’ll get to this point in a bit, but don’t worry, this will be a short post.
First, let us take a look at the full verse (yes… a major portion is left off of the end) in the KJV and in 3 translations that I consider to be solid translations of the Bible.
Proverbs 29:18 (KJV) 18 Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.
Proverbs 29:18 (NKJV) 18 Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; But happy is he who keeps the law.
Proverbs 29:18 (NASB) 18 Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained, But happy is he who keeps the law.
Proverbs 29:18 (ESV) 18 Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law.
That’s the thing about reading a proverb, most of them present dualistic thought. If a verse starts out doomed, you don’t have to guess what the opposite is, just keep reading. The opposite of “perish/unrestrained” is to keep the law and be “blessed/happy”. To keep the law. What is the law? Well, we know what the Apostle Paul had to say in his instruction to Timothy:
2 Timothy 3:10-17 (ESV) 10 You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, 11 my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. 12 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
So then, even when we are without a Prophet of God sharing Visions from the Lord God, we are not truly without prophetic vision because we have the Scriptures. We are actually at a distinct advantage over the children of Israel who heard the word of the Prophets, for we not only have their writings, we also have the Gospel of Grace, the revealed Promised One of Abraham, of the seed of Eve who crushed the head of the devil and laid down His life as the atoning sacrifice for our sin. This is why neither the Apostle Paul nor the Apostle Peter included “casting vision” in their establishment of the office of Elder/Pastor. Peter especially was told to “feed God’s sheep” and Paul exhorts Timothy to “preach the Word“.
We’ve already taken a hard look at the test of a Prophet of God found in Deuteronomy, but I’d like to visit a couple of examples in the Old Testament of clear abuses of “vision casting” and how much it angers God when people follow after visions rather than the Word of God.
Jeremiah 23:23-32 (ESV) 23 “Am I a God at hand, declares the Lord, and not a God far away? 24 Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the Lord. 25 I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying, ‘I have dreamed, I have dreamed!’ 26 How long shall there be lies in the heart of the prophets who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart, 27 who think to make my people forget my name by their dreams that they tell one another, even as their fathers forgot my name for Baal? 28 Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let him who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? declares the Lord. 29 Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces? 30 Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets, declares the Lord, who steal my words from one another. 31 Behold, I am against the prophets, declares the Lord, who use their tongues and declare, ‘declares the Lord.’ 32 Behold, I am against those who prophesy lying dreams, declares the Lord, and who tell them and lead my people astray by their lies and their recklessness, when I did not send them or charge them. So they do not profit this people at all, declares the Lord.
Ezekiel 7:23-27 (ESV) 23 “Forge a chain! For the land is full of bloody crimes and the city is full of violence. 24 I will bring the worst of the nations to take possession of their houses. I will put an end to the pride of the strong, and their holy places shall be profaned. 25 When anguish comes, they will seek peace, but there shall be none. 26 Disaster comes upon disaster; rumor follows rumor. They seek a vision from the prophet, while the law perishes from the priest and counsel from the elders. 27 The king mourns, the prince is wrapped in despair, and the hands of the people of the land are paralyzed by terror. According to their way I will do to them, and according to their judgments I will judge them, and they shall know that I am the Lord.”
Zechariah 10:1-5 (ESV)
10 Ask rain from the Lord
in the season of the spring rain,
from the Lord who makes the storm clouds,
and he will give them showers of rain,
to everyone the vegetation in the field.
2 For the household gods utter nonsense,
and the diviners see lies;
they tell false dreams
and give empty consolation.
Therefore the people wander like sheep;
they are afflicted for lack of a shepherd.
3 “My anger is hot against the shepherds,
and I will punish the leaders;
for the Lord of hosts cares for his flock, the house of Judah,
and will make them like his majestic steed in battle.
4 From him shall come the cornerstone,
from him the tent peg,
from him the battle bow,
from him every ruler—all of them together.
5 They shall be like mighty men in battle,
trampling the foe in the mud of the streets;
they shall fight because the Lord is with them,
and they shall put to shame the riders on horses.
These Prophets were speaking to the children of Israel during the time of the Babylonian Exile. There was much evil done in the sight of the Lord during that time, a time that had befallen them as punishment for their sin. My point here is to highlight the danger in relying on the dreams of dreamers and self-proclaimed prophets without exercising discernment, and without knowing the Word of God. Notice the language here, “My anger is hot against the shepherds” for they have neglected their duties. This is where Jesus is so angry with the Pharisees, for even after God relents and ends the Exile and even uses Cyrus the Great to rebuild Jerusalem, they once-again grow cold in the things of God and do what is evil in God’s sight, they forget their role as shepherds and preach themselves.
I know that for many of the younger pastors, their desire is to do the right thing and I want to say that their heart is in the right place. But this whole notion of “vision casting” is dangerous and unbiblical. A young pastor should first seek to emulate Timothy and Titus by doing that which they were told to do. Those of us who have been blessed with the Word of God are not in jeopardy of perishing or casting off restraint if we remain in God’s Word. There is no fear of falling away to false doctrines if we remain in the Word of God above all else.
I do believe that the gift of Prophecy is still available today because it is a gift of God the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 14), but God the Holy Spirit will never give a prophetic vision that will conflict or draw away from His own divinely revealed, God-breathed, Scriptures. He won’t. There was a time in my life when I longed for a personal, prophetic word to be spoken over my life… and that longing became its own idolatry, because I wasted years of my Christian life NOT reading and studying God’s Word. Anything that rises above the Word of God draws believers away from God.
It is my prayer that each of you reading this attends a good church of the Titus 2 variety, with faithful leadership and a deep commitment to the Word of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. May the Lord bless you and keep you.