Tuesday, July 2, 2024

Gettysburg Day 2 (and the Importance of Obedience)

Jonah was a prophet, called of God. But Jonah was a rebel prophet. That doesn't mean he hated God. But it does mean that he hated where God was sending him. Jonah has often been called a reluctant prophet. Actually, it was worse than that. He was a disobedient prophet.

On July 2, 1863, Lee had decided to send Longstreet on a movement to take the Federal left. Longstreet would swing around the Union army and then push up along the Emmitsburg Road. The problem was that Lee didn't exactly know where the enemy's left was. Neither did the Union commander, George Meade.

Meade had ordered General Dan Sickles to take up a position to the left of Hancock's II Corps and extend his troops to the low rise now called Little Round Top. 

Meade already had to chasten Sickles for blocking the roads during the movement towards Gettysburg. So he must have been livid when he discovered that Sickles' corps was not where it should be. Instead of extending the Union position in a straight line southward, Sickles wanted to move his corps to the west and take up a position along the Emmitsburg Road. Without authorization from Meade, Sickles moved his troops forward, thus forming a "salient" -- a bend in the line that was particularly vulnerable to attack. 

Meade's temper was rising. He examined Sickles' line in person and ordered him to move his men back. At that very moment, Confederate artillery opened up from the front and left. Longstreet's attack had begun. Meade, knowing it was now too late to turn Sickles' troops around, ordered him to hold on as best he could while he sent in reinforcements. 

Longstreet's assault on Sickles' corps was furious. Today you can witness the scene of the fighting at such places as the Peach Orchard and the Wheatfield. Sickles himself was a casualty, his leg being smashed by a cannonball. Eventually, despite Sickle's insubordination, the Union forces regrouped. Their line held. As darkness descended on the battlefield, Meade said to an aid, "It's all right now. It's all right." 

Obedience matters. It matters for an Old Testament prophet. It matters for a Union general. It matters for an aging 72-year old whose years are slowly drawing to a close. Happily for believers, God is on our side. What he requires, he also enables (see Phil. 2:12-13). Hence Paul urges the Philippians to "work out" in obedience what God has worked "in them." We can obey precisely because God by his Spirit is present within us both to give us the desire and the ability to do what pleases him. 

Note well: God's enablement does not destroy our own responsibility to obey him. The point is that what we can't do in our strength, we can do, we must do, in the strength of the Lord. Were it not for the fact that God is working in us, we would not be able to obey him.