Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war

Cliff’s Sermon from 15 August 2018

Readings:
2 Samuel ch 18:

David mustered the men who were with him and appointed over them commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds. David sent out his troops, a third under the command of Joab, a third under Joab’s brother Abishai son of Zeruiah, and a third under Ittai the Gittite. The king told the troops, “I myself will surely march out with you.”
But the men said, “You must not go out; if we are forced to flee, they won’t care about us. Even if half of us die, they won’t care; but you are worth ten thousand of us. It would be better now for you to give us support from the city.”
The king answered, “I will do whatever seems best to you.”
So the king stood beside the gate while all his men marched out in units of
hundreds and of thousands. The king commanded Joab, Abishai and Ittai, “Be gentle with the young man Absalom for my sake.” And all the troops heard the king giving orders concerning Absalom to each of the commanders.
David’s army marched out of the city to fight Israel, and the battle took place in the forest of Ephraim. There Israel’s troops were routed by David’s men, and the casualties that day were great—twenty thousand men. The battle spread out over the whole countryside, and the forest swallowed up more men that day than the sword.
Now Absalom happened to meet David’s men. He was riding his mule, and as the mule went under the thick branches of a large oak, Absalom’s hair got caught in the tree. He was left hanging in midair, while the mule he was riding kept on going.
When one of the men saw what had happened, he told Joab, “I just saw Absalom hanging in an oak tree.”
Joab said to the man who had told him this, “What! You saw him? Why didn’t you strike him to the ground right there? Then I would have had to give you ten shekels of silver and a warrior’s belt. ”
But the man replied, “Even if a thousand shekels were weighed out into my hands, I would not lay a hand on the king’s son. In our hearing the king commanded you and Abishai and Ittai, ‘Protect the young man Absalom for my sake.’ And if I had put my life in jeopardy—and nothing is hidden from the king —you would have kept your distance from me.”
Joab said, “I’m not going to wait like this for you.” So he took three javelins in his hand and plunged them into Absalom’s heart while Absalom was still alive in the oak tree. And ten of Joab’s armor-bearers surrounded Absalom, struck him and killed him.
Then Joab sounded the trumpet, and the troops stopped pursuing Israel, for Joab halted them. They took Absalom, threw him into a big pit in the forest and piled up a large heap of rocks over him. Meanwhile, all the Israelites fled to their homes.
During his lifetime Absalom had taken a pillar and erected it in the King’s Valley as a monument to himself, for he thought, “I have no son to carry on the memory of my name.” He named the pillar after himself, and it is called Absalom’s Monument to this day.
Now Ahimaaz son of Zadok said, “Let me run and take the news to the king that the Lord has vindicated him by delivering him from the hand of his enemies. ”
“You are not the one to take the news today,” Joab told him. “You may take the news another time, but you must not do so today, because the king’s son is dead.”
Then Joab said to a Cushite, “Go, tell the king what you have seen.” The Cushite bowed down before Joab and ran off.
Ahimaaz son of Zadok again said to Joab, “Come what may, please let me run behind the Cushite.”
But Joab replied, “My son, why do you want to go? You don’t have any news that will bring you a reward.”
He said, “Come what may, I want to run.”
So Joab said, “Run!” Then Ahimaaz ran by way of the plain and outran the Cushite.
While David was sitting between the inner and outer gates, the watchman went up to the roof of the gateway by the wall. As he looked out, he saw a man running alone. The watchman called out to the king and reported it.
The king said, “If he is alone, he must have good news.” And the runner came closer and closer.
Then the watchman saw another runner, and he called down to the gatekeeper, “Look, another man running alone!”
The king said, “He must be bringing good news, too.”
The watchman said, “It seems to me that the first one runs like Ahimaaz son of Zadok.”
“He’s a good man,” the king said. “He comes with good news.”
Then Ahimaaz called out to the king, “All is well!” He bowed down before the king with his face to the ground and said, “Praise be to the Lord your God! He has delivered up those who lifted their hands against my lord the king.”
The king asked, “Is the young man Absalom safe?”
Ahimaaz answered, “I saw great confusion just as Joab was about to send the king’s servant and me, your servant, but I don’t know what it was.”
The king said, “Stand aside and wait here.” So he stepped aside and stood there.
Then the Cushite arrived and said, “My lord the king, hear the good news! The Lord has vindicated you today by delivering you from the hand of all who rose up against you.”
The king asked the Cushite, “Is the young man Absalom safe?”
The Cushite replied, “May the enemies of my lord the king and all who rise up to harm you be like that young man.”
The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said: “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you—O Absalom, my son, my son!”
Ephesians ch 4v25 – 5v2
Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Sermon:
“Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war”
The military order Havoc! was a signal given to the English military forces in the Middle Ages to direct the soldiery (in Shakespeare’s parlance ‘the dogs of war’) to pillage and chaos.
The ‘let slip’ is an allusion to the slip collars that were used to restrain dogs and were easily ‘let slip’ to allow the dogs to run and hunt.
What’s the origin of the phrase ‘Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war’?
The Black Book of the Admiralty, 1385 is a collection of laws in French and Latin that relate to the organisation of the English Navy. In the ‘Ordinances of War of Richard II’
Shakespeare was well aware of the use of the meaning of havoc and he used ‘cry havoc’ in several of his plays. The ‘cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war’ form of the phrase is from Julius Caesar, 1601. After Caesar’s murder Anthony regrets the course he has taken and predicts that war is sure to follow.
ANTONY: 
Cry ‘Havoc,’ and let slip the dogs of war; 
That this foul deed shall smell above the earth 
With carrion men, groaning for burial.

The warlike words of Shakespeare’s plays reflect the blood thirsty attitudes of Elizabethan England. And those times were ruthless, especially for those in power, if they sought to remain in power. Treachery and skulduggery were often the order of the day.
But, the glory of war soon loses its lustre when it ceases to be a story on a page or performance on the stage.
Michael Morpurgo’s poetic, heartfelt wisdom shed an enlightened word in our direction this week in the Radio 4 edition of A Point of View aired on Friday evening and this morning at 8.45am.
He reminds us of the utter wastefulness and futility of war, and how it robs us of loved ones, fathers, brothers and uncles, and now also mothers, daughters and sisters.
Even in the so-called just war, there will be unintended casualties and ‘collateral damage’ to use the modern, sanitised phrase as politicians try to disguise their uncaring acceptance of another tragic loss or mistake in news briefings.
By the time David was a father and a grandfather, he understood the utter futility of war. And, in spite of his great prowess as a fighter, he would rather flee his estranged son Absalom than fight him to the death. However, David too was surrounded by treachery. Not only did Absalom seek to kill him and take his throne, but his own general Joab, the commander of his army, was so ruthless and unscrupulous that he would switch sides at the drop of a hat to take the best advantage for himself. One minute, he was with David, the next with Absalom. But, as soon as he saw his chance to further his selfish ambition, he took it, even if it meant disobeying the explicit orders of his king.
King David tried to protect his son, Absalom, because he loved him with a father’s love, even though the son was trying to kill him. He expressly said to all his generals including Joab and all their forces that Absalom was not to be harmed. And yet, Joab blatantly ignored that order, and killed with his own hands. Deviously, he had even tried to get someone else to do the deed.
But, when the those loyal to David refused to kill Absalom, Joab took it upon himself to begin the process. And then got his armour bearers to finish the job. No doubt, to implicate them and make David think it was someone else.
It was a cowardly deed they performed, because Absalom who was famous throughout Israel for his head of hair was caught in the tree by it. And instead of displaying mercy as David had commanded, they despatched him while he hung helpless in the tree.
It is clear by his actions, that Joab had no respect for his king David, or for the royal blood line.
The source of David’s mercy was his love for Absalom, but for those who have no love little mercy is in their hearts. Where there is love, there will be mercy and forgiveness, but without love evil will find a way to raise its ugly head.

Sin within the human heart will also rear its ugly head, when God’s loving grace in Christ Jesus is not our mainstay. In Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus he addresses specific sins including lying, anger, stealing, corrupt speech and bitterness.
Many who champion the modern trend for self-expression and free speech are quick to disguise hateful lies as free speech. But, sadly the freedom to print lies, or slander has gone too far.
‘Fake news’ has become a popular phrase for those who seek to deny the truth and repackage their own version in tweets, or emails and even press releases. And because their poison has a ready audience who will believe what they want to hear, their lies gain traction before the truth can be heard. Often these untruths are also used to capitalise upon and amplify prejudice and fear, which gives rise to fascism and xenophobia.
The Bible, which contains the truth about God through Jesus Christ, is written to be obeyed and not just studied or listened to because we like the poetic language and the stories. This is why words like “therefore” are repeated so often in the second half of Ephesians.
“Paul was saying, “Here is what Christ has done for you. Now, in light of this, here is what we ought to do for Christ.”
We are to be doers of the Word, because of Christ in our hearts, and not merely hearers of the word.
Paul was not content to explain a principle and then leave it. He always applied it to the different areas of life that need to feel its power.
This is why the naming of sins by Paul reminds us that because the members of the church are human beings, they constantly need to throw off the old clothes of their sinful lives and put on the new clothing that Christ has given them.
Spiritual clothing that reflect a change of heart, brought about by God’s presence in our lives.
The second of those sins is anger, and when we harbour anger in our hearts and allow it to fester, we cease to be effective servants of Christ and become the unwitting agents of Satan.
And those who fan the flames of anger and discontent are equally at fault in doing the Devil’s bidding.
In your anger, do not sin. Because there is such a thing as righteous anger, but it is very difficult to prevent it from becoming sinful. If you feel anger towards your brother or sister in Christ, you must speak to them in person and speak the truth gently in love.
If, however you act in the heat of the moment, you will lose control of your anger. It is much better to take a walk and reflect upon it, before expressing your feelings. Then, the red mist will have dispersed that so often blurs the way to see clearly.
By all means put your feelings down in writing with pen and paper, or on the computer, but don’t post it straight away, and don’t press send, until you have revisited what you have put down in anger and moderated them with love and grace. If it does not come across as gracious, don’t send it. For words blurted out in anger are like firing a shot gun or releasing a grenade into a crowded room. The outcome is far more damaging and hurtful than your intended rant.
A woman tried to defend her bad temper by saying, “I explode, and then it’s all over with.”
“Yes”, replied her friend, just like a shotgun, but look at the damage that’s left behind.”
Solomon has a good solution, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but grievous words stir up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1)
Paul urges his readers to be kind and compassionate to one another and forgiving just as God forgave you.
Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly beloved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Amen.

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