In order for a nation to be great, its leaders and people must have upright, moral characters; they must be 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 is also stated in regards to a ‘city’ (Prov. 11:11a).
In contrast, the people who tolerate and promote sin find it, in the end, to be a disgrace. The Hebrew word used here describes a deep and disgraceful shame of almost unspeakable proportions. 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). One episode in the life of the nation Israel that illustrates this biblical truth is in Joshua 6 and 7. In Chapter 6, Joshua and the army of Israel experienced the glorious conquest of the fortress at Jericho.
Joy and rejoicing flooded their hearts, for they had witnessed the power of God acting in their behalf. They had seen the walls of Jericho crumbling under the miraculous power of God. The future looked bright, for it seemed as though God would be with them as they marched forth to conquer the Promised Land. But then it happened: when the army launched an attack against the second city of the enemy, the soldiers were routed and soundly beaten.
Defeat was now staring the Israelite army in the face. And through this experience, a strong warning is issued to succeeding generations: sin will always lead to defeat in spiritual warfare. The cause of the failed assault against Ai was sin, terrible sin. A soldier had stolen some things that had been given to the Tabernacle, that had been set apart and devoted to God and His service. The soldier's name was Achan. His very name means "trouble," and he is known as the man who brought trouble upon Israel (Joshua 7:25).
The trouble he caused had far-reaching consequences: his sin affected the whole community of Israel. It caused the first military defeat of God's people. But note this important fact: all Israel was charged with the crime, not just the individual man. There was a corporate responsibility. Therefore, there was corporate, community guilt. God looked upon the community as one body of people who should love, care for, and look after one another.
Israel was one body of people, one nation, one community of people who were to build up one another and build a strong, righteous, moral, and just society. The point is striking: within communities, neighbours are to look after one another and take care of one another. In God's plan and purpose for Israel (and for all other peoples), neighbours are to love one another and be responsible and accountable for one another.
Therefore, when Achan committed the sin of stealing from God, the whole community of Israel became guilty before God. Consequently, God charged the Israelites with corporate, community guilt. As a community, they were corporately responsible for one another; therefore, there was corporate guilt. God charged the Israelites with committing a "trespass", with being unfaithful to Him. The word means to cover up, to act in secret, to act treacherously; to be unfaithful; to break faith; to break or violate a trust.
God holds a very serious view of sin and requires that all citizens of a nation that would be great to flee from all appearances of sin and live righteous lives.