“Exalt the LORD our God and worship at his footstool; he is holy (Psalm 99:5).”
Last night a visiting historian visited the university where I work to speak on a particular Civil War general. As an avid history buff and student of the war, I didn’t want to miss the lecture.
The historian’s subject was Joseph E. Johnston, the general mostly known for defending Atlanta (unsuccessfully) against the onslaught of Union forces under the command of the ruthless general William T. Sherman. I learned from the lecturer that Johnston was from southwest Virginia, the area in which I now live. So this piqued my interest even further.
The small audience and I might have been expecting a discussion of the life of this man, but instead we were treated to a discourse on his thinking and character. The professor told us that the theme of the general’s military service before the Civil War was “promotion”. Johnston was obsessed with it, he said. In fact, he waged a 13-year battle with the U.S. War Department over their decision to not give him an advance from lieutenant colonel to colonel.
When the Civil War began, Johnston was the highest ranking officer to leave U.S. military service and join the Confederacy. He expected to be given command of the southern forces. Instead, President Jefferson Davis listed him as the fourth-ranking offer in the Confederate Army.
Johnston was incensed. He spent days writing an irate letter to Davis before he mailed it. The President sent him a short telegram rebuking him. This incident led to a quarrel between the two that continued throughout the war.
Our lecturer told us that in his view the battle between General Johnston and President Davis could have helped lead to the Confederacy’s demise. He said that the lack of communication between the two led to major defeats in Johston’s theater of war in Georgia and Mississippi, and was a major factor in losing the war to the Union.
At the conclusion of his talk, the professor expanded on the theme of “promotion” in Johnston’s character. He said that in fact what it was that Johnston was pursuing was “status”. He craved it. Johnston wanted to be somebody. He saw Davis as his true enemy because the president stood in the way of his ambitions.
I don’t believe God favored Johnston in his pursuits. Indeed, the Scriptures say that He opposes the proud. Even if Johnston had humbled himself before the Lord and asked for what he sought, God probably would have turned him down because of his selfish motives (James 4:1-6).
In God’s value system, status has no place. He’s the only Person in this universe deserving of it. In the future, He will rock heaven and earth as a result of the prayers of His saints who suffered for Him in this life instead of pursuing selfish goals (Revelation 8:4,5).
The wise man of Proverbs says that people who follow the Lord instead pursuing evil are themselves wise. Those who do the opposite are “hotheaded and reckless (Proverbs 14:15,16).
If our professor’s analysis is correct, Joseph E. Johnston’s cravings led to a whole nation’s downfall. How would you like that on your record? It’s better to stay down and be humble than to try and climb the ladder and go down in history this way.