Most of us are somewhat familiar with Proverbs 29:18. Depending on which Bible translation you use, this verse will read several different ways. The King James Version reads: “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” Newer translations and paraphrases like the New International Version read: “Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint; but blessed is the one who heeds wisdom’s instruction.” The New King James tends to split the difference between these two, reading: “Where there is no revelation, the people cats off restraint; but happy is he who keeps the law,” noting that this revelation literally means prophetic vision. If we look at our contemporary world, it is difficult to avoid recognizing the signs of this lack of prophetic vision everywhere. Our companies are focused on meeting quarterly numbers so that they can maintain their stock prices. Our political leaders, whether elected Congressmen and presidential candidates or appointed court justices, lack any moral seriousness about the repercussions of official corruption and legalized immorality. It is one thing to know that a people needs a prophetic vision, but how are we to do so on a practical level?
Let us note that the verse itself gives us the first clue on how to keep prophetic vision in our own lives, in that it provides an antithetical parallelism between the fate of those who lose prophetic vision and cast off restraint, and those who follow God’s laws and live happily. It ought to come as no surprise that we see this precise moral choice presented over and over again within the Law itself. We may turn to the famous choice placed between life and death and blessing and cursing placed before Israel in Deuteronomy 30, look at the blessings and curses discussed in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28, among many other places, but let us turn to Deuteronomy 6:20-25, which place history, present conduct, and prophecy together, putting the past, present, and future in the same context. Deuteronomy 6:20-25 reads as follows: “When your son asks you in time to come, saying, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies, the statues, and the judgments which the Lord our God has commanded you?’ then you shall say to your son: ‘We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, and the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand; and the Lord showed signs and wonders before our eyes, great and severe, against Egypt, Pharaoh, and all his household. Then He brought us out from there, that He might bring us in, to give us the land of which He swore to our fathers. And the Lord commanded us to observe all these statues, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that He might preserve us alive, as it is this day. Then it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to observe all these commandments before the Lord our God, a He has commanded us.’” The first way that we maintain a prophetic vision, paradoxically enough, is to have a firm understanding of God’s actions throughout history. By better understanding the past, we have a better grasp of the future.
In one of the most densely layered sections of the Bible, the author of Hebrews discusses the present importance of the Sabbath by pointing both to history and to prophecy. Speaking to an audience that was in danger of returning to the safe but empty rituals of past observance in the face of hostility to their beliefs, among the many subjects the author of Hebrews speaks about is the vital importance of the Sabbath in maintaining a prophetic vision. Let us first read the passage in question, Hebrews 4:1-10, and point out the layers discussed here, being aware that the many layers of the Sabbath and its importance to the prophetic vision of God is a large enough subject to cover several sermons  and that this is necessarily a very short treatment of the subject. Hebrews 4:1-10 reads as follows: “Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it. For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it. For we who have believed do enter that rest, as He has said: “So I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest,’” although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. For He has spoken in a certain place of the seventh day in this way: ‘And God rested on the seventh day from all His works”; and again in this place: “They shall not enter My rest.” Since therefore it remains that some must enter it, and those to whom it was first preached did not enter because of disobedience, again He designates a certain day, saying in David, “Today,” after such a long time, as it has been said: “Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.” For if Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day. There remains therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For he who has entered his rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His.”
It is little surprise that Hebrews 4:9, near the end of the passage discussed here , is a classic text demonstrating the importance of keeping the Sabbath today, yet this is only one aspect of this passage’s importance in encouraging prophetic vision. First, the verse reminds us that we are promised as believers entrance into His rest in His kingdom. Then, the author repeatedly quotes Psalm 95 and also Genesis 2 to demonstrate that the rest that was lost by the unbelief of the ancient Israelites was not merely the physical rest from warfare against enemies in Israel after crossing into the Promised land, which was denied to them, but also the greater rest that they could have enjoyed if they had obeyed God in faith. By pointing to the promised rest in the future, as well as to the lessons of the past, the author Hebrews reminds us that there remains a Sabbath for us to cease our own works and to appreciate the working of God in creation and in history, and also the promises that God has made concerning our future, all areas where our society is found wanting.
And it is by pointing our attention to God’s promises and to His kingdom that the Bible ultimately encourages our prophetic vision. Let us turn for our final scripture today to Joel 2:28-29, which helps us understand why our society lacks his prophetic vision so much. Joel 2:28-29 reads: “And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophecy, your young men shall see visions. And also on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days.” Ultimately, if we want to have the prophetic vision that allows us to obey the law and to be happy and blessed in our lives, we need to have God working in our lives. It is not the inherent wisdom or intellect or skills of the people themselves that gives them vision, but the fact that God pours His Spirit on believers, something we should be appreciative for.
Let us review. We live in a world where vision is deeply lacking from the top down. Whether in business or government, our society encourages behavior in the absence of reflection on consequences and repercussions. The results are predictable—we neglect God’s behavior in history, ignore His law, and lose sight of a better future. If we want to build prophetic vision, on the other hand, we remember that God’s laws are made for our benefit, we remember what God has done in the past, and what God has promised in the future, and we show appreciation for what God has given, and we stop from our works and show gratitude for God for what He has done. On this Sabbath, therefore, let us find the prophetic vision that allows us to live godly lives that will be happy and blessed.
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