Sennacherib’s stunning story told in Poem by Lord Byron and in Bible history.

In my last year of high school in Australia, I took an English class for a whole year. Poetry wasn’t my favorite thing but two different poems caught my attention and verses keep popping into my mind over 50 years later.

One poem was The Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (click here for the full poem):
The ice was here, the ice was there,
The ice was all around.
It cracked and growled and roared and howled
Like noises in a swound.

The second poem was called The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes (click here for the full poem):
The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees,
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
And the highwayman came riding –
Riding – riding –
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.

In one other poem, all I recall was the first line:
The Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold.
The English teacher used this example to teach us about similes. I got that, but I never did find out who the Assyrian wolf was. For 50 years, I never knew.

Just recently, turning pages in my little book of English Ballads, I came across a poem called The Destruction of Sennacherib, by Lord Byron. Here are the first three verses (click here for the full poem):
The Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold.
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold,
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,
When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.

Like the leaves of the forest when summer is green,
That host, with their banners, at sunset were seen;
Like the leaves of the forest when autumn hath blown,
That host on the morrow lay withered and strown.

For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,
And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed,
And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill,
And their hearts but once heaved, and forever grew still.

But I still didn’t know who Sennacherib was! I should have googled on the name, but it wasn’t on my priority list.

Then I happened to come across the man in a history book – the Bible. He showed up in the second book of Chronicles, chapter 32. He wasn’t just a man, he was the king of Assyria. And he had a powerful army who fought their way across Judah, overcoming smaller towns, until they reached Jerusalem.

The king of Judah, Hezekiah, plugged all the water sources outside the city, to make the siege of Jerusalem more difficult. To encourage his people, Hezekiah called on God.
Be strong and courageous;
be not afraid for there is Another with us greater than all those with him.
With him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the Lord our God to help us and to fight our battles.

Sennacherib sent messengers and letters to Hezekiah, belittling God and insulting Hezekiah.
No God of any nation was able to deliver his people out of my hand…
How much less will your God deliver you out of my hand!…
And they shouted it loudly in the Jewish language to the people of Jerusalem who were on the wall, to frighten and terrify them, that they might take the city.

This reminds me of the recent Russian missile attacks on electrical power plants in Ukraine, ostensibly to undermine the people’s confidence.

Back to the story. Hezekiah wasn’t intimidated. He met with the prophet Isaiah, one of the most famous prophets, and together “they prayed and cried to Heaven.” An amazing thing happened.
The Lord sent an Angel, who cut off all the mighty warriors and commanders in the camp of the Assyrians.
So the Assyrian king returned with shamed face to his own land.
And when he came into the house of his god, they who were his own offspring slew him there with the sword.

After 50 years, the Assyrian wolf and the poem have become clear to me. Obviously, Lord Byron was familiar with the Bible record of Sennacherib, and based his poem on the story.

The date of Sennacherib’s attack on Judah was 701 BC, and is well established by history in the book of Chronicles, in Assyrian records, as well as the famous Lachish relief.

I find the story fascinating, with its spiritual implications. This was a miracle at a very high level – when an entire country was facing destruction. I can’t help but think of Ukraine.
The Gray Nomad ….. I want to spend a little less time watching TV, and a little more time reading poetry.
Out of my distress I called upon the Lord and He answered me and set me free…
The Lord is on my side and takes my part. He is among those who help me;
Therefore shall I see my desire upon those who hate me.

[Book of Psalms, chapter 118.]

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