Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people. (Prov. 14:34)
Righteousness (Heb. צְדָקָה tsedaqah, Grk. δικαιοσύνη dikaiosune) is understood in two ways in the Bible: First it refers to the standing of those who are God’s people by means of the imputation of His righteousness that is credited to them at the moment of salvation (Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:1-5). God’s righteousness is given as a gift by means of faith, “to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly (Rom 4:5; cf. Rom. 3:24; 5:17; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9). Second, righteousness refers to the high moral behavior that God expects of His people, in which He instructs them “to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age” (Tit. 2:12). “In order for a nation to be great, its leaders and people must have upright, moral characters known for their righteousness.”
The generations and ages have repeatedly proved the truth of this proverb. A nation which conducts itself in righteousness ‘exalts’ itself. The word ‘exalts’ describes the lifting up, or elevating, of the people’s collective life. It is more of a moral term than descriptive of material benefits. This has already been stated in regards to a ‘city’ (Prov. 11:11) and it applies to ‘kings’ (Prov. 16:2; 14:28). In contrast, the people who tolerate and promote sin find it, in the end, to be a disgrace. The word here is rare and unusual…It describes a deep and disgraceful shame of almost unspeakable proportions (Lev. 20:17).
The values of a nation are never neutral. They either conform to God’s character or not. Righteousness is not accidental. When the majority of people in a nation purpose in their hearts to know God and walk in His will, then that nation will reflect righteousness and be morally strong. When leaders and citizens choose righteousness, the nation is lifted up and reflects the highest and best in mankind. But sin destroys a nation; and it does so from the inside out (arrogance, selfishness, greed, hatred, etc.).
Righteousness is taught from one generation to the next. It starts with believers learning and living God’s word, then teaching their children to do the same. Each child must choose to accept the biblical values of the parents, then to walk in those values. When God established Israel as a nation under the leadership of Moses, the Lord commanded the parents to teach His word to the children. God said:
These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. (Deut. 6:6-7)
The blessing and prosperity of Israel depended upon their obedience to God’s word (Deut. 6:8-25). If they feared God and walked in His truth, then there was blessing (Deut. 28:1-14). If they turned away from God and lived in perpetual sin, then there was cursing (Deut. 28:15-68). The cursing of God upon the nation of Israel came in stages (decaying social life, destruction of crops, famine and military defeat), and eventuated in total destruction if they failed to humble themselves before the Lord. When Jewish children asked their parents why they were to learn and obey God’s word, the parents were to say, “the LORD commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the LORD our God for our good always and for our survival” (Deut. 6:24).
Israel is the only theocracy to exist in human history. Today there are no theocratic kingdoms in the world. There is only the spiritual kingdom to which all believers belong (Acts 26:18; Col. 1:13). Believers within a national entity have the power to influence their country and help perpetuate its blessing from God; and like those living in ancient Israel, righteousness must be taught and caught by each new generation. God gives freedom, but freedom must always be seen as an opportunity to do good for others; for God declares, “Surely I will set you free for purposes of good” (Jer. 15:11). And Paul states, “you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another (Gal. 5:13). Each new generation must choose God and His will, for a nation is only one generation away from success or failure; from being righteous or sinful.
Godly parents can raise godly children, and godly children can provide godly influence in their communities and in the nation. In a democracy, where leadership is elected and not inherited, the Lord’s remnant must exert as much influence for righteousness as possible; certainly every believer ought to pray for those in authority (1 Tim. 2:1–8).
National leaders and citizens commit sin (Heb. חָטָא chata, Grk. ἁμάρτημα hamartia) when they deviate from God’s will. At the core of sin is a rebellious heart, a fallen nature, an internal defiance toward God in which a person sets his will against his Creator. Whether educated or uneducated, religious or irreligious, believer or unbeliever, every person has the capacity and propensity to sin. Every nation has its unbelievers who continually produce sin; but only the believer has a spiritual nature (acquired at salvation) which enables him to walk with God in accordance with Scripture. The believer has a choice to follow God or the world, and God calls the believer to forsake sin and live righteously (Rom. 6:11-14; 13:12-14). Paul stated:
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds. (Tit. 2:11-14)
The Christian is chosen by God to be a light in the world, and to call people to God that they might be saved by grace through faith. The whole world lies in darkness, and the Christian is to preach the gospel to the lost, calling unbelievers “to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God” (Acts 26:18). The world, as a whole, will never be reformed or made perfect because it consists of a majority of unbelievers who are guided by sinful values. Absolute perfection only comes when God destroys the current heavens and earth and creates a new heavens and earth (Rev. 21-22). The apostle Peter states, “according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:13). Until that happens, God is calling out a special people to be set apart from the world, sanctified and holy. We live in the world, but we are not of the world. Jesus said, “If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you” (John 15:19). We are in the world, but are called to strive for holiness rather than conformity (Rom. 12:1-2).
Historically, Christians have been a positive influence in society by promoting law and being charitable to the needy (Gal. 2:10; Jam. 1:27). They’ve built schools, hospitals, orphanages, and other helpful organizations that lift man up. They’ve fed the hungry, cared for the sick, housed the homeless, provided for widows and orphans, and visited prisoners with the Gospel. Christians have also promoted art, literature, music and science. Certainly there have been abuses in the name of Christianity; however, the historical record speaks favorably about Christian service. For the most part, believers have obeyed Scripture and become law abiding citizens rather than rebels. Scripture teaches Christians to think of government as a “minister of God” (Rom. 13:4), to obey leaders (Rom. 13:1, 5; Tit. 3:1; 1 Pet. 2:13-15), pay taxes (Rom. 13:6), regard rulers as “servants of God” who do His will (Rom. 13:6), and to pray for them (1 Tim. 2:1-2). We realize there is a legitimate sense in which the leaders of this world accomplish God’s purposes by keeping harmony and promoting justice (Rom. 13:2-4; 6-7). We do not blindly submit to their authority, and should say no to governmental leaders when they command us to go against the commands of God (see Dan. 3:1-18; 6:1-13; Acts 4:19-20; 5:28-29). The Christian obeys or defies human authority only as the Bible directs. Ultimately, those who obey God’s word prove to be a blessing that promotes righteousness within a nation.
Steven R. Cook, D.Min.
 William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 828.
 John A. Kitchen, Proverbs: A Mentor Commentary (Christian focus publications, Germany, 2006), 322.
 Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Skillful, “Be” Commentary Series (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 133.