Saturday, December 09, 2006

whatis vision; whatis perish

How many times have you heard or seen this verse quoted in management seminars?
Where there is no vision, the people perish.
from Proverbs 29.18
This is a great verse, but these management seminars use this to mean that we need "strategic objectives" for the organization or for the department. This drives me batty! First of all, what's the rest of the verse say? And what does it mean? Let's try the NIV:
Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint;
But blessed are those who keep the law
from Proverbs 29.18
The online parallel Bible site has more translations, but that's the gist of the proverb. It was probably in the early 1980s when I first heard this verse explained, at a Christian conference.

But we don't have to go all that far to find out what this means. The structure gives quite a bit of the meaning to us. Because the proverb is a contrast, the interpretation isn't as hard as it might have been. Let's take a look at the old King James version:
Where there is no vision, the people perish;
but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.
If this verse were talking about the importance of strategic objectives, it would have read:
but he that hath a sound corporate mission statement, happy is he.
So that gives us the clue... what's being contrasted is not a Mission (or Purpose) Statement or a Corporate Vision, but something to do with keeping the law.

What else might "vision" mean? Well, here's the verse that came to my mind: 1 Samuel 3.1 says: In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions. The NIV editors came up with the same answer. Not a corporate Mission and Purpose statement, but a revelation, possibly verbal, from the Lord.

And how about "perish"? Well, what's it contrasted with in the proverb? Even in the King James version, what stands out is that its opposite is "keep the law" — which lends support to the NIV editors’ version: "Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint."

Without a word from God, in other words, human society will tend toward disaster — which it has done for the past few thousand years. And the antidote? To pay attention to the light that we have from God — the Bible, godly preaching and teaching, the promptings of his Spirit.

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