Breakfast with Solomon - Proverbs 14:34
"Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people"
righteousness: This is the Hebrew word sedeq which means conformity to an ethical standard. I have said at other points in this devotional commentary that righteousness means living within the boundaries of God's Ten Commandments. It does mean this, but it also entails loving God and loving your neighbor within those boundaries. It means doing what humans are supposed to do -- say no to themselves at one level and say yes to God and helping others.
exalts: This is the Hebrew word rum which means to be high, lifted up, lofty. The idea is that those nations that practice righteousness will be exalted and looked upon with honor by other nations. God will have the reputation of that nation be great. The nation must be known for self-restraint, not selfish intrusion of its own interests.
Solomon is talking as much about what happens in the nation as he is nation to nation. In other words, the more the people within a nation engage in the self-discipline of righteousness, the more exalted the nation will become. But when the people begin to move into selfish expressions, the nation is on a slippery slope down.
sin: This is the Hebrew word hataa which means sin misses the mark. This would be specifically sins of omission. They should have done something but they failed to do it because it was hard or inconvenient or forgotten, etc. Yes, helping others does involve sacrifice and it is inconsistent, but it is the right thing to do.
When instead of doing the right thing we allow our selfishness to take over, we sin. The root of a violation of God's standard either to do the good or avoid the bad is always selfishness.
disgrace: This is the Hebrew word chasad which means to reproach or be shamed. Solomon says that while selfish behavior is typical, it is still abhorrent. When we behave naturally we become a disgraceful people. If I only check what I feel like doing then I descend into the pit of doom, acting and reacting like a savage.