Where there is no vision the people will perish… really?

Proverbs 29:18 and all that

Whilst studying a different passage (1 Samuel 3:1-4:1) I had cause to reflect on how the choice of word in a translation can really hamstring our understanding of a verse.

Consider the first half of Proverbs 29:18.  The KJV (which is the translation which for many shapes their understanding of this verse) reads:

“Where there is no vision, the people perish:”

“Vision” is the translation adopted by JPS and NAS too.  The trouble is, in English ‘vision’ seems to carry quite a different shade of meaning from the Hebrew word ‘hazon.’  So the ESV and NET translations add ‘prophetic’ to the phrase to establish that it is not simply vision in the sense of casting direction, but it is revelatory vision we are talking about here.  Similarly NAB and RSV go for ‘prophecy’, presumably with the same intent.

But most helpful, I think, are those translations (HCSB, NIV, NKJV) which use the word ‘revelation’ here.  This makes it clear that we are talking about a word from God (hence the parallel use of vision in the second half of 1 Sam 3:1).

And if we understand this specific aspect of the meaning, it makes clear that a comparison is being made with the second half of the proverb which reads (HSCB):

“but one who keeps the law will be happy.”

Thus Proverbs 29:18 is another verse that teaches us the danger of abandoning God’s word, and the flourishing which flows from following it (cf. Psalm 1 etc.).

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