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The Righteous One Is a Guide to Life While the Foolish One Cannot Save His Own Life

Proverbs 10:21 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
21 The lips of the righteous feed many,
    but fools die for want of heart.[1]

The lips of the righteous feed many: Just as lips were used in verses 18-19 to refer to words and speech, so it is with verses 21 here but leaning more specifically toward words of counsel, advice, or instruction. The Hebrew verb (yiru) that is rendered feed means to give food to, to provide food for a flock, or to care for any need for a flock such a grazing pasture, to be a shepherd that has authority over his flock. In this case, the metaphor is basically saying that a righteous person who is in a position of leadership (e.g., a king), who offers words of counsel, advice, or instruction will be of benefit (feed) to those people who hear (obey) them.

but fools die for want of heart: Fools: (Heb. kesîl) hate knowledge as they lack good judgment. Their character is stupidity, rudeness, that is, one who completely lacks understanding, who is rebellious in his ways. Foolishness: (Heb. ivveleth) The foolishness of the foolish one, who has the trait of acting stupidly or rashly because he is devoid of wisdom or understanding, the Hebrew noun focusing on the evil behaviors which occur in this state. The fool is incapable of taking care of himself or others because he has want (lack) of heart, that is, he lacks good sense and understanding, so he dies, as does anyone who would be so stupid to listen to him.

The righteous one is a blessing to those who heed his words of counsel, advice, or instruction. How does the righteous one feed (guide) many? The Hebrew verb (yiru) that is used here conveys the idea of shepherding. It has the thought of guiding as well as nourishing, just as the shepherd of ancient times took care of his sheep. (1 Samuel 16:11; Psalm 23:1-3; Song of Solomon 1:7) This metaphor perfectly represents how a righteous person with his words of counsel, advice, or instruction can guide others to the path of righteousness as well. His speech nourishes (feeds) those who listen to (obey) him. This results in many people hearing his voice and so leading happier, more satisfying lives. Later inspired words of the Son of God and New Testament authors speak of these righteous ones receiving eternal life.

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What, though, of the foolish one? Because he is in want of heart, meaning he lacks good sense, judgment, and understanding, which results in his having no good motive or concern about the consequences of his decisions that impact his life. He simply does whatever he wants, unaware or uncaring about the consequences of his decisions until they are upon him; then, he says, “why me.” Hence, he himself is a revolving door of selfish, self-centered bad decisions, which cause him to suffer the penalties of his actions. While the righteous one is busy guiding others to life with his words of counsel, advice, or instruction, the foolish one being in want of heart, he is not even able to keep himself alive.

[1] Or sense; understanding

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