“Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” — John 7:38
Rising to the Occasion
by Randall D. Kittle

We see in the book of Esther an amazing story of God’s people being rescued from extermination by the brave and bold efforts of one young, Jewish woman. Following some rather unusual circumstances, this beautiful, Hebrew woman had married Xerxes, the King of Persia, (perhaps the most powerful man on earth at that time) and becomes the queen. At this point her story sounds more like a fairy tale than the Bible … until we discover that a wicked man named Haman, who despises the Jews, has become second in command of the kingdom. Because of his deep hatred for the Jews, he devises a plan to have all the Jews in the land killed. After discovering that the king has signed the decree, Esther must decide to either risk her life to try to save her people, or deny her faith and try to save her skin. The man who had helped raise her, Mordecai, challenges her by asking, “Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14). Esther, rising to the occasion, risks her life and saves her people.

The story of Esther shows us that God can use anyone who follows Him to accomplish amazing things when they trust the Lord and lean completely upon Him. We also learn that the outcome of history is often shaped and changed by those who are willing to rise to the occasion and go beyond ordinary measures to do heroic deeds that will long be remembered and leave a legacy.

The High Water Mark
Certain events in U. S. history are etched so solidly upon our memories as a testimony to how critically important they were to our country. Such events as: the unprovoked bombing of Pearl Harbor, the assasination of President Kennedy, the small step Neil Amstrong took upon the moon for mankind, and the tragic Tuesday of September 11, 2001 when terrorists broke the hearts of Americans as they watched the innocent die.

Another one of these most-historic times was the Battle of Gettysburg. In less than three days, a small, relatively-unknown city in southcentral Pennsylvannia became a name that nearly everyone in the United States recognizes. This ferociously vicous battle is referred to as “the high water mark” of the Civil War, both because it was the farthest north the Confederate army penetrated and because it was the turning point of the war. As the turning point of the bloodiest war in U. S. history, Gettsyburg has been studied, celebrated, and eulogized. But without certain men deciding to rise to the occasion and do immeasurably more than they even knew they could, it might have turned into just another brilliant victory for General Robert E. Lee.

Hold the High Ground
On June 30, 1863, General John Buford led his 3,000 men into the town of Gettysburg, looking for the enemy. Late in the afternoon his scouts found them advancing toward the town. If years of combat experience had taught Buford anything, it was the importance of having the high ground. His small force stood alone between the rebels and the hills outside the town. Buford realized that if he withdrew and allowed Lee to claim the high ground, the battle — and quite possibly the war — could be over. The only course was to fight a delaying action against an overwhelmingly superior force, no matter the cost. Buford sent a messenger to General Meade, who had just taken command of the Union Army, informing him of the situation. Meade replied that Buford was to hold the line and await infantry support the next day.

With the rising sun the next day, a long column of Confederate soldiers marched eastward toward Buford’s position. Rebel skirmishers and some federal soldiers fired a few haphazard rounds — thus beginning the Battle of Gettysburg. Buford dismounted his men and stationed them along a ridge just a few miles from town, in the path of the oncoming rebels. One man in four stood to the rear holding the horses for the others. The line was anything but formidable, with Buford’s men taking cover as best they could behind trees, bushes, and fence posts.

Buford surveyed the battle from the tower of a Lutheran seminary on a nearby ridge. It seemed there was no end to the Rebel forces that were coming his way, and without infantry support, he knew his delaying action was doomed. He sent messengers to apprise General Reynolds of his situation, and to encourage him to hurry to his aid. Meanwhile, the numerically superior Confederate riflemen and artillery were hammering Buford’s thin line and taking a heavy toll.

When he received word from Buford, Reynolds galloped on alone, ahead of his infantry. Once he arrived, Buford filled him in on the situation. Immediately, Reynolds sent off a note to his troops to quick-march and arrive as soon as possible. General Buford’s men fought with all they had, falling back and regrouping several times, but never breaking or giving up the field until, at long last, the Union infantry arrived. It was a hard-fought struggle, involving bitter hand-to-hand fighting that decimated General Buford’s troops as well as losing General Reynolds to a sniper’s bullet.

After that first day of battle, Buford wrote of his small force,
“A heavy task was before us; we were equal to it, and shall all remember with pride that at Gettysburg we did our country much service.” Buford had deprived the Confederate army of the high ground, and in so doing, contributed immeasurably to slanting the outcome of the battle toward the Union.

Hold Till the Last
On the second day of fighting at Gettysburg, the Confederates began an attack against the Union’s left flank after sensing a vulnerability of the Union forces. Sent to defend the southern slope of Little Round Top, Colonel Joshua Chamberlain found himself and his troops, the 20th Maine, at the extreme left end of the entire Union line. If they failed to hold off an attack, the Confederates would certainly capture the hill. Chamberlain’s orders were to “Hold till the last.” Meaning, hold at all cost until the last man is gone. Upon seeing the situation, he quickly realized the strategic significance of the small hill, and the need for his troops to hold the flank at all costs.

The 385 men of the 20
th Maine waited for the confederate troops to charge up the hill and attempt to flank their position. Time and time again the Confederate soldiers (who numbered about 850) attacked, until the 20th Maine was almost folded back upon itself. Chamberlain kept his men in good spirits and ready to meet each new onslaught. Eventually, he found himself running out of ammunition and men! Realizing that another Confederate attack might succeed, Chamberlain called his officers together and ordered a bayonet charge down the hill, sweeping the Confederates to their left toward the front slope of the hill. Chamberlain screamed “Bayonets!” and the 20th Maine began their infamous charge down the hill.

As the 20
th Maine charged down the hill, they created a simultaneous frontal assault and flanking assault by having their left wing “wheeling” continually to make the charging line swing like a hinge. His men (often only carrying unloaded rifles) captured more than 100 Confederate soldiers and successfully saved the flank. Chamberlain sustained two slight wounds in the battle, one when a shot hit his sword scabbard and bruised his thigh, and another when a spent bullet or piece of shrapnel hit his right foot. For his tenacity at defending Little Round Top, Chamberlain became known as the Lion of the Round Top. Later, for his “daring heroism and great tenacity in holding his position on the Little Round Top against repeated assaults, and carrying the advance position on the Great Round Top,” Chamberlain was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.[1]

I Will Not be Moved
General Winfield Scott Hancock was a brilliant field commander whose decisions in the heat of the battle often helped to hold the ground or turn the tide. On the first day of battle, he had been sent ahead after General Reynolds was killed to take command of the units on the field and assess the situation. Arriving at Gettysburg as the more numerous Confederate forces drove the Union troops back through the town, Hancock organized the Union defenses on Cemetery Hill on the other side of the town. Although he had been given the authority to withdraw the forces from Gettysburg, Hancock supported General Buford’s decision to stand and fight there. On the second day of fighting, it was his unceasing repositioning and deployment of the troops under his command on Cemetery Ridge, roughly in the center of the Union line, that avoided the Union’s lines being broken in the Battle of the Wheatfield, and then halted the advance of Confederate General A. P. Hill’s troops who pressed strongly toward the center of the Union’s position.

But it was for his gallant service on July 3, the third and final day of fighting at Gettysburg, that Hancock later received the thanks of the U. S. Congress for
“… his gallant, meritorious and conspicuous share in that great and decisive victory.” General Hancock continued in his position on Cemetery Ridge, and thus bore the brunt of the infamous onslaught that would later come to be known as Pickett’s Charge. During the massive Confederate artillery bombardment that preceded the infantry assault (the most ferocious barrage that had ever been known), Hancock was prominent on horseback reviewing and encouraging his troops. When one of his subordinates protested, “General, the corps commander ought not to risk his life that way,” Hancock is said to have replied, “There are times when a corps commander’s life does not count.” During the infantry assault, Hancock received a severe wound caused by a bullet striking his saddle and then entering his inner right thigh, along with wood fragments and a large bent nail from the saddle. He was helped from his horse and a tourniquet was applied to halt the bleeding. He removed the saddle nail himself as he sat upon the ground he was working so desperately to hold.

Many of his officers encouraged him to be evacuated from the battle and receive proper treatment, but Hancock replied,
“I will not be moved from the field until this engagement is decided.” His refusal to save himself and abandon his men was an inspiration to his troops. Throughout the rest of the battle, he continued to direct the troops — repositioning units and determining when and where the reserves should be employed. While General Hancock’s wound would never completely heal and affected him for the remainder of his life, his self-sacrificing bravery changed the outcome of Gettsyburg — perhaps America’s most important battle.[2]

Following the Cloud of Witnesses
Many times during the battle of Gettysburg, Union soldiers rose to the occasion and thwarted the enemies invasion, turning the tide and helping bring victory … a victory that helped both maintan unity and bring many who were held captive by slavery into freedom.

Biblical history is replete with those who rose to the occasion in their day and, because they took a stand for God, His kingdom was advanced, His name was glorified, and they are still remembered to this day.

There was
Moses, who told the Lord that the children of Israel would not go forward unless His presence went with them. There was Rahab, who risked her life to help the people of God defeat Jericho … not only saving her life but putting her in the linage of Christ. Even at the end of his days, Joshua challenged the people of his day by declaring “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15). In the story of Ruth, we see that, despite the sorrows that befell her, she would not turn her back on Naomi or the God of Israel. And in the New Testament, we see Peter affirming his dedication to the Lord even when the crowds walked away, as he declared, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).

The Bible surrounds us with a great cloud of witnesses who testify of what God can do through the life of one person willing to rise to the occasion when the circumstanes arise. As circumstances arise in the days ahead that call us to do immeasurably more than we believe we can and serve the Lord “at all cost,” will we be willing to answer the call of the Lord and serve Him in spite of overwhelming odds and heated opposition? We must decide to live lives that align with Daniel 11:32,
“… but the people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits.”


[1] Stand Firm Ye Boys from Maine: The 20th Maine and the Gettysburg Campaign, by Thomas A. Desjardin

[2] Winfield Scott Hancock: A Soldier’s Life, by David M. Jordan

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