18Without guidance from God
law and order disappear,
but God blesses everyone
who obeys his Law.
19 Even when servants are smart,
it takes more than words
to make them obey.
20There is more hope for a fool
than for someone who speaks
21Slaves that you treat kindly
from their childhood
will cause you sorrow.
22A person with a quick temper
stirs up arguments
and commits a lot of sins.
Google the top ten list on the Book of Proverbs and 29:18 will probably feature along with “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” (3:5). Verse 18 is commonly quoted as “where there is no vision, the people perish’” from the KJV.
I doubt if you’ll find 29:21 on the list. Some passages in the Bible are plain difficult. Sometimes that reflects our own lack of knowledge and we need to call in an expert. But sometimes even the experts can’t agree – and verse 21 is like that. Part of the problem here is that the book of Proverbs was written in Hebrew a long time ago, and the meaning of the words and the grammar in this verse is not clear today. Translators have taken a stab at what they think it probably meant.
What is interesting is that the word guidance in verse 18 (or prophetic vision [NIV]) only appears once in Proverbs. The idea of prophetic vision doesn’t sit easily with the applied ethics and moral codes of behaviour that characterize Proverbs generally. Perhaps, this is the point to reflect on. In the absence of direct revelation from God, our recourse is not to abandon law and order, but to rely on morality and sound ethics.
With that in mind try this paraphrase for size.
Where there is no relevant and compelling spiritual insight, don’t attempt to crowd-source the answer or seek peer approval for a course of action. Instead, take some time to reflect on basic principles – principles about good ways of relating to people; of exercising self-control; of listening rather than speaking; of seeking your approval rating from God’s perspective not your own.
Dear Father, Inspire in me the desire to keep on the right track, especially when you feel far away and I find reading Scripture hard. Amen.