Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; but blessed is he who keeps the law. (NIV)
Where there is no prophecy the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law. (NRSV)
Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he. (KJV)
– Proverbs 29:18
The last version is the best known, though we generally leave off the last part. Since the Psalms heavily rely on Hebrew parallelism, we do them a disservice if we don’t quote the whole proverb, which isn’t hard really, since a verse generally contains the entire proverb.
The latter half of the proverb makes the point that following the law, staying within bounds, makes a person blessed or happy. The first part of the proverb addresses why people don’t keep the law.
Let’s look at the word vision. In Hebrew, it literally means vision, though there are different types, including divine communication. In different Bible versions, it is translated vision, revelation, and prophecy. Since these words are too often strictly associated with telling the future, I need to make clear that that is not what it’s talking about. The role of a prophet, according to Brueggemann, is to Criticize and Energize. The first part is to speak truth and break through people’s complacency. The second part is to inspire and rekindle the imagination.
Cast off restraint seems to be the most accurate translation of the rest. It means to loosen, and can even mean ignore. A person who is complacent, self-absorbed, and numb can easily do both.
I’ve been reflecting on the verse this past week, partially because I’ve rediscovered passion for some things that I had forgotten I was passionate about. I strive to be a good person. Admittedly, life sometimes seems like a series of todo lists and to-not-do lists. Knowing what is good for me doesn’t always inspire me to be good though. Sin can have an illusion of life to do, even if only briefly. Sin is the easier path. And when the stories I am sold from Christian vendors don’t stir my heart and help me see into the distance, my reasons to follow the law and restrain my life just aren’t compelling. When trying to do just what others tell me I should do, I feel like I lose a self of myself and who God created me to be in this world.
And when this visionary doesn’t have a real vision to take hold of, I descend into mediocrity…and stay there.
Apparently stepping out in faith towards a vision that resonates with my heart is a way to rise above mediocrity and get unstuck. So, another day on the journey…