One day as I was praying and meditating about America’s place in world affairs, our vain efforts to bring order out of chaos and our dilemmas in the face of overwhelming problems, I ran across a passage of Scripture that I believe has a message for the American people today.
“So the Lord said to Joshua: ‘Get up! Why do you lie thus on your face? Israel has sinned, and they have also transgressed My covenant which I commanded them. For they have even taken some of the accursed things, and have both stolen and deceived; and they have also put it among their own stuff’” (Joshua 7:10-11).
In this passage God is speaking to Joshua. A few days earlier, Joshua had led the victorious armies of Israel against the mighty city of Jericho. With the help of God, the city had fallen, and there had been nights and days of celebrating the mighty triumph.
Then followed an attack on the little village of Ai, which was considered a pushover. Instead of trusting God to give them the victory, they were trusting their own physical prowess. And God had allowed them to suffer a humiliating defeat.
Not only were the people of Israel guilty of pride, but another act of disobedience against God had taken place. Before they had attacked Jericho, God had commanded that no one should take any spoils of silver or gold. They were not to fight for material gain but for spiritual principles; and if anyone were to take of the spoils, he and all of Israel would be judged. God called the material substance of Jericho “the accursed things.”
But a soldier named Achan could not resist the temptation, so he stole gold and silver from the enemy camp and hid it in his tent. When he was found out, he was thrown from the camp and executed, because he had broken a solemn covenant of God and had caused the death of many Israelites in the battle. He had yielded to the secular rather than the spiritual. He had declared his love for gold over the love for God, and by that act of greed he had jeopardized the safety of the whole nation of Israel.
Today, thousands of Americans have shifted their loyalties from God to gold and from the spiritual to the secular. As a nation once dedicated to the worship of God and the pursuit of the Christian life, we have lost the respect of the world because we have forsaken the principles on which our nation was founded.
We cannot believe that a person can be happy without a refrigerator or a television. We cannot believe that there are moral and spiritual principles more important than even a plate of food.
The rest of the world reads about our mad scramble for material things, our preoccupation with pleasure and our obsession with sex. They read about our crime rate and racial tensions. They do not think of us as a nation that acts on the basis of moral principle, but rather on expediency. They think of our military bases around the world as a plan to save our own skin rather than to protect that which is morally right.
We have given place to the accursed thing of materialism. We have made the mistake of putting prosperity, security and comfort ahead of the spiritual ideals upon which our nation was founded.
In the late 1700s, Edward Gibbon wrote “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.” Rome was a nation that held a striking parallel to America today. Once the leader in world affairs, her leadership was eventually threatened. She was rich and prosperous, with an economy that defied collapse. Her armies were respected by the nations, and her sprawling interests covered vast areas of the world. But Rome fell! Proud, vaunted, clever, sophisticated and shrewd, Rome fell to a barbarian horde that had far fewer material things than Rome had.
Those vandals from the north were a dedicated, disciplined, hard, atheistic people. The Romans used to laugh at their ignorance, superstition and lack of military equipment. Gibbon showed in his book that Rome did not fall because of the military power of the barbarians but rather because of decadence within the Roman culture. He gave five reasons why Rome fell, and I would like to give them to you today because these same five things are apparent in American life.
First, the rapid increase of divorce. A nation never falls until it starts to decay at the center, and the home is the very center of our society. When the dignity and sanctity of the home, which is the basis of society, is threatened, the whole structure is destined to fall.
Today in this country our morals would put Sodom and Gomorrah to shame. We make jokes about the moral defection of men and women, and we call anyone a prude who raises his voice against our obsession with sex.
This has become our attitude toward the sanctity of the home. It seems that the star who can have the most husbands or wives is the biggest box office attraction. This is a sad commentary on the American people. Our children are paying the price for their parents’ folly.
Second, Gibbon said Rome fell because of higher and higher taxes, and the spending of public monies for free bread and circuses for the populace. The average American is now so used to deficit spending that he cannot possibly realize that we are on the broad road that leads to the destruction of our national economy.
Many of our leading economists have warned that it is only a question of time before our deficit financing will reach the end of its rope. It will lead to higher and higher taxes. This was one of the basic reasons that our forefathers left the old country—they wanted to escape the high taxes of Europe. The historian Gibbon listed mounting taxes as one of the reasons for Rome’s collapse.
Third, Gibbon listed the mad craze for pleasure. When a nation spends far more for pleasure than it does for religious and welfare benevolences, it is on shaky foundations. Billions of dollars are squandered every year on nonessentials while the church and benevolent organizations often have difficulty meeting their expenses. We Americans have become obsessed with pleasure and entertainment.
Rome in its decline demanded more artificial stimulants and more exciting and brutal sports. On weekends the arenas were jammed with revelers who found their greatest pleasure in drinking, gluttony and the sadistic thrills of the gladiator contest.
Fourth, Gibbon listed the building of gigantic armaments as a contribution to the fall of Rome. As Rome’s international influence became less and less, she had to arm more and more. As her enemies increased and her prestige fell to an all-time low, she had to find her security in armed might.
As American prestige around the world has come to a new low, we spend more and more on armaments. We no longer trust in God as a nation to spare us, help us and save us as we have trusted in the past. We are now trusting in our bombs and missiles. I tell you, this is not enough! I think most Americans would agree that we must have military power, but to depend on it alone for our protection is a folly that historians of the future will wonder at.
Last, Gibbon listed the decay of religion. Today, we are like Voltaire, the agnostic who tipped his hat when a religious parade went by. “Have you found God?” asked his companion. “Oh, no,” said Voltaire, “we salute, but we don’t speak.”
As in the last days of Rome, Christianity to many people today has faded into mere form, lost its relevance to life and holds no central allegiance in our lives. When a nation loses its faith, it loses its character. When it loses its character, it loses its purpose for living. And when it loses its purpose for living, it loses its will to survive.
I am convinced that America stands at the crossroads of her national destiny. One road leads to destruction, and the other leads to prosperity and security. Most are going down the broad road that leads to destruction. We are going the way of Rome rather than the way of the cross.
Many will blame the Republicans or the Democrats. But it is the American people as individuals that should take the blame. We backslide as individuals before we begin to decay as a nation. Fortunately, there is time to repair the breach. We are still on this side of judgment, though time is quickly passing by. God is sounding the warning: “Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts” (Hebrews 3:15). “Now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2). “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’” (Revelation 22:17). “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” (Hebrews 2:3).
Rome’s fate need not be ours if we repent and turn to God. Give your life and your heart to Jesus Christ today. ©1958 BGEA
Scripture Quotations are take from The Holy Bible, New King James Version.