Tag Archives: Henry V

No Honor Among Thieves

Abimelech ruled over Israel three years. But God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the lords of Shechem; and the lords of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech.
Judges 9:22-23 (NRSV)

I have, of late, been enjoying watching Shakespeare’s Henry IV both parts 1 and 2, starring Tom Hiddleston (who played Loki in Marvel’s Thor movies) as the young prince Henry V. The teenaged heir to the crown has a troubled relationship with his father (King Henry IV, played by Jeremy Irons), and chooses to rebel from his royal life and slum around a seedy area of London known as Eastcheap.

There, in a tavern, young prince Henry (known as “Harry” or “Hal”) parties hard and incessant with a fat, licentious fool of an old knight named Sir John Falstaff. Harry, Falstaff and a band of rogues revel in drunkenness and all around dishonest mischief – sometimes enjoying a dishonest turn against one another. Harry’s friend, Poins, steals Falstaff’s horse from him, causing the old fool to quip, “It stinks when there is no honor among thieves.”

There is no honor among thieves.

That line came to mind when I read in this morning’s chapter about Abimelech’s treachery against his brothers and his grab for power. Not to question the validity of “God sending an evil spirit,” but I wonder if that spirit found it easy work to stir up trouble between Abimelech and his co-conspiritors. There being no honor among thieves, those who deal in treachery and dishonest gain tend to breed conflict and mistrust among their own.

This morning I am reminded of the simple wisdom of keeping good company. When we surround ourselves with those who seek truth, peace, joy, and love then we tend to find our lives rewarded with the fruit of our corporate longing. Young Henry learned this lesson in time. He eventually repents of his folly, restores his relationship with his father, and eventually becomes a legendary hero in Shakespeare’s sequel, Henry V.

Victory Song

Then Deborah and Barak son of Abinoam sang on that day, saying….
Judges 5:1 (NRSV)

For centuries, nations celebrated key military victories with song. Back in the Exodus, Moses’ song was sung after the victory over the Egyptians. Psalms 18, 20, and 118 are examples of songs of victory in David’s day. Today, the practice is more apt to be associated with athletic victories. When our beloved Cubbies win (over 100 times this past season!) I can’t help but break out in the refrains of “Go, Cubs, Go! Hey Chicago whattaya say? The Cubs are gonna win today!”

The practice had several practical elements.

First, it united the people in celebration. There’s nothing quite like everyone joining together in song. We do it in almost all communal events. In church we have hymns. In pubs we have drinking songs. At sporting events we have fight songs. Songs bring people together as one in the moment, and a victory is a key moment for such an event.

Second, it helps assure historic memory. I’m sure most ancient victory songs are forgotten in time, but the victory songs of Moses, Deborah and David have lasted millennia and I myself remember singing the song of Moses in Sunday School. A good victory song was a way that a victory might be memorialized forever.

Third, it would encourage future generations. As victory songs were sung through time, they inspired and encouraged soldiers that victory was possible for them, too. “If them, then why not us?” soldiers would think as they sang the familiar victory songs and shored up their anxious souls.

Also, the victory song could be instructive. Armies feeling good about themselves, basking in the glow of their achievement, could be reminded to be grateful and humble. Battles can go either direction and there’s no sense in gettin’ the big head. Thank God for the victory. There’s a great scene at the end of Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V after the historic battle of Agincourt. Outnumbered 5 to 1, the British pulled out an improbable victory over the French.

Shakespeare penned this dialogue between Henry and his Captain (and cousin) Fluellen:


Come, go we in procession to the village.
And be it death proclaimed through our host
To boast of this or take the praise from God
Which is his only.


Is it not lawful, an please your majesty, to tell
how many is killed?


Yes, captain; but with this acknowledgement,
That God fought for us.


Yes, my conscience, he did us great good.


Do we all holy rites;
Let there be sung ‘Non nobis’ and ‘Te Deum;’
The dead with charity enclosed in clay:
And then to Calais; and to England then:
Where ne’er from France arrived more happy men.

“Non nobis” and “Te Deum” is the latin version of “Not to us, but to Thy name be glory.”

Today, I’m thinking about victory and encouragement and community and humility. I enter today with a handful of songs on my lips.

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Talkin’ Smack

Goliath walked out toward David with his shield bearer ahead of him, 42 sneering in contempt at this ruddy-faced boy. “Am I a dog,” he roared at David, “that you come at me with a stick?” And he cursed David by the names of his gods. “Come over here, and I’ll give your flesh to the birds and wild animals!” Goliath yelled.

David replied to the Philistine, “You come to me with sword, spear, and javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies—the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. Today the Lord will conquer you, and I will kill you and cut off your head. And then I will give the dead bodies of your men to the birds and wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel!
1 Samuel 17:41-46 (NLT)

Every boy who’s ever waged battle on the neighborhood playground knows the ancient art of intimidation. It has to be as old as Cain and Abel and I wouldn’t be surprised if Cain and his brother didn’t exchange a few words before Cain did the dastardly deed. Watch any sporting event and you will see the competitors constantly jawing at one another and exchanging trash talk on the court, the field, or the pitch.

I found it interesting this morning to realize that even David and Goliath talked a little smack. David let his words fly in defense of God before he let his stone fly. What a sight it must have been for the armies watching on as this shepherd boy refused to be intimidated by the nine foot giant warrior and talked right back.

Today, I’m thinking about the ways the world, our enemy, and others may try to intimidate us. Jesus said that we shouldn’t be surprised when people try to intimidate, speak evil and persecute those who follow. The song by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers is flitting through my mind this morning:

No, I won’t back down
No, I won’t back down
You can stand me up at the gates of Hell
but, I won’t back down.

Whose Side Am I On?

English: King Henry V at the Battle of Agincou...
English: King Henry V at the Battle of Agincourt, 1415 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For he breaks the pride of princes, and the kings of the earth fear him.
Psalm 76:12 (NLT)

My personal favorite of Shakespeare’s plays is Henry V. It tells the story of a young man who had spent his early years acting much like the prodigal son. He squandered his youth partying it up with common people and a largely discredited nobleman who was given to indulging his appetites. When his father dies and Henry is suddenly placed on the throne, no one thinks the young prince is up to the task. In leading a war against France, he is underestimated by the enemy, betrayed by friends, and driven to do a lot of soul searching about himself and his role. The play ends with a retelling of the historic Battle of Agincourt. Henry and his Englishmen are outnumbered by the French 5 to 1, but Henry leads his band of brothers to an unlikely victory. In the glow of victory, Henry refuses to take credit for the win:

  • Henry: Come, go we in procession to the village.
    And be it death proclaimed through our host
    To boast of this or take the praise from God
    Which is his only.
  • Fluellen: Is it not lawful, an please your majesty, to tell
    how many is killed?
  • Henry: Yes, captain; but with this acknowledgement,
    That God fought for us.

Today’s psalm was written in time of war. The lyrics reminded people of God’s sovereignty and judgment which the writer proclaimed would ultimately prevail over earthly kings and rulers. Ancient tradition holds that the song was written in response to another improbable victory over Sennacherib‘s army when they threatened Jerusalem.

Over the years I’ve grown increasingly suspicious of those who like to cloak human actions and activities with God’s will. Henry’s humility is noble, but the English motives for invading France were far from godly. God’s will is used to justify all sorts of human tragedies and terrors. Everyone claims God is on their side. God’s will is regularly cited by those who wish to cloak selfish and greedy motives. Shakespeare himself ends his play reminding the audience that while it appears God fought with Henry, He must have switched sides after Henry’s death because France reclaimed all that Henry had fought for. It gets muddy when you humanly start bestowing God’s favor on things that God hasn’t explicitly bestowed Himself.

This morning I’m reminded of Abraham Lincoln’s words when someone asked whether he, like King Henry, believed God was on his side. Lincoln replied: “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side.”

Five Movies I Can Watch Over and Over and Over and…

"Here's looking at you" again and again and again again

Five Things Friday presents a beautiful friendship of the cinematic variety. Here’s looking at the top five movies I can watch endlessly without every getting tired of them:

  1. Casablanca
  2. Henry V
  3. Last of the Mohicans
  4. Lord of the Rings
  5. The Hunt for Red October
Also ran….

Day 21: Something You Can’t Seem to Get Over

Red sky at night, sailor's/shepherd's delight.
Image via Wikipedia

30 Day Blogging Challenge Day 21: Something you can’t seem to get over.

Here’s a short list:

  • The way my heart skips a beat when Wendy gives me that look
  • The love, joy and pride I feel each time I see Taylor or Madison
  • How quickly time flies, especially as you get older
  • The unique beauty of each sunrise and every sunset
  • The profound satisfaction that comes from a simple evening spent with good food, fine wine and pleasant company
  • The way Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus moves me to tears
  • How the St. Crispin’s Day speech from Shakespeare’s Henry V stirs something so deeply inside me, no matter how many times I hear it
  • How God’s grace always reaches deeper than my sin, my shame, and my failures.
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Chapter-a-Day Isaiah 36

Under seige. The three men were silent. They said nothing, for the king had already commanded, "Don't answer him." Isaiah 36:21 (MSG)

It was common in Isaiah's day for conquering armies to send a "mouthpiece" to brag, boast and tear down the confidence of the beseiged city's people. It was a form of psychological warfare. If the city was scared enough, they might surrender and everyone would be delivered from bloodshed, starvation, and, potentially, years of tedious stand-off.  Armies would hurl insults and paint gruesome word pictures to try and convince the citizens of the town to surrender. Isaiah 36 is a great historical record of what this sounded like. We see this same tactic used through recorded history. Shakespeare's King Henry V did a little trash talking of his own outside the city gates of Harfleur:

If not, why, in a moment look to see
The blind and bloody soldier with foul hand
Defile the locks of your shrill-shrieking daughters;
Your fathers taken by the silver beards,
And their most reverend heads dash'd to the walls,
Your naked infants spitted upon pikes,
Whiles the mad mothers with their howls confused
Do break the clouds, as did the wives of Jewry
At Herod's bloody-hunting slaughtermen.
What say you? will you yield, and this avoid,
Or, guilty in defence, be thus destroy'd?

Henry V Act 3 scene III

Today, these same tactics are used through television, radio, and the internet to lay seige to ideas, faith, and world-views. There is a time and place for reasoned conversation and response. I am reminded today by King Hezekiah's command to his advisors that sometimes the best response is to say nothing and let God have the last word.

God's Message says that there is a time to speak and a time to be silent. Wisdom is often required to know which time you are in at any given moment. God, help me to know today when to speak, and when to be silent.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and mharrsch