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.”