The new morality we hear so much about today is really not very new. In fact it was this very concept that turned the course of ancient Israel from an experience of unparalleled victory and blessing to one of defeat and shame.
The last great act of Moses before his death was to gather all of Israel together on the plains of Moab, where he reviewed before them the conditions upon which their success as individuals and as a nation would depend. The words were delivered in three great addresses which make up the book of Deuteronomy.
The conditions were clearly stated: "And it shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe and to do all his commandments which I command thee this day, that the Lord thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth: and all these blessings shall come on thee, and overtake thee, if thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God" (Deut. 28: 1, 2).
These words were repeated again and again. Notice, "And the Lord shall make thee the head, and not the tail; and thou shalt be above only, and thou shalt not be beneath; if that thou hearken unto the commandments of the Lord thy God, which I command thee this day, to observe and to do them" (verse 13).
The message was plain. Obey God's commandments. Follow His instructions. Do His will as revealed through inspiration, and receive His blessing.
The results of disobedience were also graphically portrayed. Verse 15 begins with the contrasting little word "but." "But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command thee this day; that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee."
The alternatives were clear. And they were repeated again and again. Obey and live. Disobey and perish. Obedience would bring blessing. Disobedience would bring a curse.
Not many weeks later, after Israel's victories at Jericho and Al, Joshua, their new commander in chief, gathered all of Israel to Shechem. There before the slopes of Gerizim and Ebal these conditions to God's blessings and their success were solemnly re-emphasized. And the record that follows is one of obedience and faith.
Because of their obedience, God did bless them with unparalleled success. The pages of Joshua give the story of their thrilling victories in conquest. Little wonder that the book of Joshua has been called "the Acts of the Old Testament." "And all these kings and their land did Joshua take at one time, because the Lord God of Israel fought for Israel" (Joshua 10:42).
Thirty years after Shechem, Joshua, knowing he was soon to die, called Israel to a return convocation. Again, before the slopes of the twin mountains hallowed in memory, the history of God's dealings with Israel was rehearsed and the conditions for continued blessing repeated. "And the people said unto Joshua, The Lord our God will we serve, and his voice will we obey" (chap. 24:24). A standing covenant was made, marked by a memorial stone to serve as a constant reminder to them and their children of the terms of blessing and prosperity and their vow of fidelity.
And the Word declares, "And Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that overlived Joshua, and which had known all the works of the Lord, that he had done for Israel" (verse 31).
Turning to the record of Judges, we find this same heartening report repeated: "And the people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great works of the Lord, that he did for Israel" (chap 2:7).
But sadly the story now changes. We see God's people turning aside from the old paths and sinking deeper and deeper into sin. As a result Israel is brought under one oppressive nation after another. It is a commentary that makes the heart ache. Lovingly God raises up deliverers. At times there are hopeful signs. But these are short-lived. The course is a steady decline, far removed from the experiences of Joshua and the generation following.
The reason for this tragic change in the history of God's ancient people is clearly summed up in eleven fateful words, "Every man did that which was right in his own eyes" (chap. 17:6).
There we have the so-called "new" morality. That is "situational ethics."
A Warning to Us
"Now these things happened to them as a warning, but they were written down for our instruction, upon whom the end of the ages has come" (1 Cor. 10:11, R.S.V.).
In the pages of sacred history we have the record of the results of turning aside from divinely inspired counsel to doing that which pleases the natural heart.
No people have ever been more fully instructed by God with the way they are to live than are Seventh-day Adventists. The counsel is based on eternal principles. Principles which are as relevant today as when first penned by the prophets, ancient or modern. Past history can be one of our best teachers.
As ministers of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, let us point out the dangers of the old "new morality" when every man does what is right in his own eyes. Let us lead our people as did Joshua of old to a renewal of the covenant of obedience. We do have a guide. We do have wonderful instruction. This divine counsel is to prepare us to dwell in the heavenly Canaan. Great promises are held out to us. These will be fully realized as the conditions are met.