Question: : Where is the passage that says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”
Answer: Proverbs 29:18 in the King James Version says what you are thinking about. The New International Version translates it, “Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; but blessed is he who keeps the law.”
In Exodus 32:25 the people of Israel are described as “running wild” (the word translated “perish” in the KJV of Proverbs 29:18, and “cast off restraint” in the NIV). Moses has been on Sinai receiving the Law and the people have forged a golden calf and engaged in a religious orgy. There is a contrast here between the glorious word of revelation from God to direct the people’s lives in holiness and their desire instead to be governed by their own lusts and by the religions that support their lusts.
1 Samuel 3:1 describes the lack of “visions” or revelations in Samuel’s day. They had the Law, but there were too few prophets who were hearing from the Lord and preaching the intent of the Law to the people. When we tire of listening to God and responding to the convicting of the Holy Spirit, God pulls back from speaking to us. But to those who have an ear to hear, He is most willing to speak.
To use this passage as it is sometimes used, to describe the need groups of people have for a compelling “vision” or picture of the future, a concept in numerous leadership messages, is a reading into the passage of a modern meaning for the word “vision.” It also does not seem to fit the context to suggest that “vision” means only or primarily a divinely given picture from God of what He wants to communicate to His people.