Where [there is] no vision, the people perish
That is, "no prophecy", as the Vulgate Latin version renders it; and which is often the sense of the word, as the vision of Isaiah is the prophecy of Isaiah; and, in the New Testament, prophesying is often put for preaching; and here vision, or prophecy, signifies the public ministering of the word and ordinances, and want of persons to administer them; no expounder, as the Septuagint version; or interpreter, as the Arabic. This was the case in the latter end of Eli's life, ( 1 Samuel 3:1 ) ; in Asa's times, and before, ( 2 Chronicles 15:3 ) ; in the Babylonish captivity, ( Ezekiel 7:26 ) ( Lamentations 2:9 ) ; in the times of Antiochus, ( Psalms 74:9 ) ; when John the Baptist and Christ first came preaching the word, ( Matthew 9:36 ) ; and now is the case of the Jews, and will be till the time of their conversion. So it was in the Gentile world, before the Gospel was brought into it, ( Acts 17:30 ) ; and so it now is in those places where the seven churches of Asia were; and in all Asia, which once heard the word of the Lord, even all that large country; and now it is not heard at all in it, but covered with Mahometan darkness. And this is the case in all Popish countries, subject to the see of Rome, where the word of God is not preached to the people, nor suffered so much as to be read by them; and even in reformed churches, for the most part, only a little morality is preached, and not the Gospel of Christ; so that here the people are perishing for lack of knowledge, ( Hosea 4:6 ) ; and when the witnesses will be slain, who now prophesy in sackcloth, there will he an entire stop put to prophesying or preaching for a while; but, when they shall rise, the earth will be filled with the knowledge of God, through the ministry of the word. Now, where there is no preaching, men perish in their sins; the word being the ordinary means of grace, of regeneration, conversion, faith, and salvation; without which, men know nothing of Christ, of peace, pardon, righteousness, and eternal life by him: and where there is preaching, yet it not being of the right kind, there is no spiritual knowledge spread by it, no food for souls under it; they perish with hunger, as the prodigal did, or are in starving and famishing circumstances; no comfort for the people of God, who perish in their comforts under such a ministry, ( 1 Corinthians 8:11 ) ; and poison is spread among others; false doctrine eats as a canker, and destroys souls. Again, where there is right vision and prophecy, or true preaching of the word, and that is despised and neglected, men perish notwithstanding; as the Jews of old, and all deniers and contemners of the word now, ( Acts 13:41 ) ( Hebrews 2:3 ) ; and this seems to be intended here, as appears by the following clause. The word translated "perish" has various senses, which agree with the text. It may be rendered, "the people become idle", or "cease" F19; from the performance of good works, grow dissolute in their manners, and licentious in their practices: or "they become refractory" F20; fierce, obstinate, and ungovernable, and rebel against their superiors: or they are "made naked" F21; stripped of their ornaments; of their privileges, civil as well as religious, which is often the case where no vision is; as well as of all virtue and morality, and of the blessing and protection of God; but he that keepeth the law, happy [is] he:
not the moral law, which no man can keep perfectly, but the law of faith. It may be rendered, "happy is he that observes doctrine" F23; the doctrine of the Gospel, where it is preached; that attends to it, values and esteems it, receives it by faith, and with meekness; blessed is he, blessed are his eyes and ears; he sees wondrous things out of this law or doctrine, and he hears and knows the joyful sound, which brings salvation and eternal life unto him!
F19 (erpy) "feriabitur", Montanus.
F20 "Rebellis erit", Pagninus; "retroagitur", Mercerus; "defecit, recedit", Vatablus; "refractarius", Gejerus.
F21 "Nadatur", Junius & Tremellius, Piscator, Michaelis; "denudatur", Cocceius; "cessabit et otiosus erit, deficiet et retrocedit atque denudatur", Baynus.
F23 (hrwt rmv) "qui observat legem", i. e. "verbum Dei", Cocceius; "doctrinam", Amama.