I've heard Proverbs 29:18 used to teach that we must have vision for our lives. I agree with the point, but not with the passage pressed to support the idea. What are your thoughts?

Certainly there's something to be said for having faith in ourselves, as long as our faith is coming from God. And who can argue that, if we are crushed in our spirits, and lacking hope, we are likely to do poorly spiritually (Proverbs 13:12, 15:13, 17:22, 18:14)? But is that what the passage is saying?

To begin with, we need to establish the text. That will help us determine how "vision" (chazon in Hebrew) is being used in this proverb. We begin with the popular NIV version: "Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; but blessed is he who keeps the law." What do other versions say?

"Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained" (NAS). "Where there is no prophecy, the people cast off restraint'" (NRS). The word chazon has been rendered "vision," "prophecy," and "revelation." It is clear we are not talking about vision in the sense of a personal dream for one's life, but vision in the sense of a message from God, a prophetic oracle.

Numbers 12:6 reads, "Listen to my words: 'When a prophet of the LORD is among you, I reveal myself to him in visions, I speak to him in dreams.' " The Lord gave visions to prophets through their dreams--that was how he gave messages to his people, messages which invariably challenged them to return to the law of the Lord.

The point of Proverbs 29:18 is that without a powerful prophetic or preaching presence, the people God tend to default to self-will and sin. What an important point! And yet the Bible nowhere affirms that to do well spiritually, we need to have a "dream" or "vision" for our lives. That sounds more like a corporate marketing pitch, or a refrain from prosperity theology, or classical American individualism, than the call to deny ourselves and carry our cross daily.

In short, Proverbs 29:18 does not teach the need for a personal "vision" for our lives. Not that goals and "vision" for how God can use us are a bad thing; they're a great thing!