The standard translation of Proverbs 14:34 is along the lines of (ESV, for example) the following:

Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.

But Young's Literal Translation (YLT) has this instead:

Righteousness exalteth a nation, And the goodliness of peoples [is] a sin-offering.

I couldn't find any other similar English rendering (either Christian or Jewish) of this verse, but the 1599 Geneva Bible has the following alternate in the margin, "and the mercy of the people is a sacrifice for sin."

How can the second clause of this verse have two entirely different possible meanings? And why is the YLT rendering given much less frequently among various English translations?


In Prov 14:31, every translation I could find (see https://biblehub.com/proverbs/14-34.htm ) has something similar to the NASB:

Righteousness exalts a nation, But sin is a disgrace to any people.

As noted in the question, the Young's literal is an exception. The Pulpit commentary appears to explain this well:

But sin is a reproach to any people; to peoples. The words for "nation" (goi) and "peoples" (leummim) are usually applied to foreign nations rather than to the Hebrews; and Wordsworth sees here a statement a fortiori: if righteousness exalts and sin degrades heathen nations, how much more must this be the case with God's own people, who have clearer revelations and heavier responsibilities! חֶסֶד (chesed) occurs in the sense of "reproach," in Leviticus 20:17, and with a different punctuation in Proverbs 25:10 of this book. Its more usual meaning is "mercy" or "piety;" hence some have explained the clause: "The piety of the peoples, i.e. the worship of the heathen, is sin; and others, taking "sin" as put metonymically for "sin offering," render: "Piety is an atonement for the peoples." But there is no doubt that the Authorized Version is correct (comp. Proverbs 11:11). Thus Symmachus renders it by ὄνειδος, "shame;" and in the same sense the Chaldee Paraphrase.


If you translate the Hebrew literally it can make sense:

" righteousness lifts up a nation, and kindness to nations is a sin"

Misplaced kindness steals from one and gives to another. Just take a look at the social welfare system and high taxes in the modern world.

Righteousness- i.e. charity- is a great thing.

But misplaced kindness is theft.

If you understand French Hebrew and can read Rashi, check it out.

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