“Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people” (Prov. 14:34). This verse was not written just for the people of Israel and their neighbors in Old Testament times. It was written for all generations of people, of all nations, for all time, until the Lord returns. It was written for us in our nation, right now. The message of this verse is profound. It speaks God’s wisdom, and we need to take great care to understand and live by what it says.
“Righteousness” in this verse is not the notion of a few people doing some good deeds here and there within the nation in which they live. It is not sporadic or non-directed righteousness. The concept of righteousness portrayed in this verse is that of prevailing righteousness. It is the thought that the people of a given nation practice righteousness on a common and ordinary basis. Within that nation righteousness is not just a way of life for some people, it is the prevailing way of life for the people of that nation in general. While people on an individual basis might make mistakes, the nation as a whole is perceived to be righteous because its people generally strive to live righteously.
Righteous living elevates. The one who lives righteously is elevated by the noble standard by which he strives to live. Those who live around him are also elevated by his example. As more and more people within a nation live by the elevated standard of righteousness, so that nation will become elevated. Thus, “Righteousness exalts a nation...” A nation wherein corruption, degradation, depravity, immorality and evil are the general norm will not long stand strong. Its people will come to not enjoy living within it. History shouts forth this lesson repeatedly. On the other hand, a nation that is known for its righteousness will be exalted.
“Sin” in this verse also speaks of a great deal more than just a few accidental sins committed by the citizens of a nation. Everyone sins (Rom. 3:23). Every person alive makes mistakes, does things he wishes he hadn’t done. Every nation has some people within it who are wicked, whose lifestyle bespeaks unrighteousness. Some of them try to hide their lifestyle, others don’t really care who knows how they live. They’re going to do whatever they feel big enough to get away with. But when such people take over a nation, that nation is in big trouble! It is on its way down. This is the idea behind what is described by the word “sin” in this verse. It is when sin becomes the norm, the common mindset, the basic character of a nation. When sinfulness is what is ordinarily expected and experienced, and righteous deeds are the exception, then sin has taken over that nation, and that nation can be described in a succinct way by the word “sin.”
“But sin is a reproach to any people.” The thought behind the word “reproach” is “disgrace,” or “shame.” A nation in which sin is no longer thought of as being sinful is a nation that has disgraced itself. It is a nation in shame, whether or not it realizes that truth. If our nation does not already fit this description, then surely we have gone far down that road. When our lawmakers have to debate over the wrongfulness of lying publicly to the citizens of the nation, when adultery is excused as something everyone does, when the one who exposes the wrong doer is portrayed as the villain, then we need to look long and hard at what we are becoming as a nation. Such has nothing to do with politics. It has everything to do with morality. It is time for the moral among us to stand up for morality...
Gary L. Hutchens