Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Like the Wolf on the Fold

Tom Clancy's novel The Sum of All Fears begins with these words:

"Like the wolf on the fold." In recounting the Syrian attack on the Israeli-held Golan Heights at 1400 local time on Saturday, the 6th of October, 1973, most commentators automatically recalled Lord Byron's famous line.

The allusion is to a poem that Lord Byron published in his Hebrew Melodies (1815). The Destruction of Sennacherib recounts the assault on Jerusalem by King Sennacherib told in 2 Kings 18-19. It is a striking monument to the awesome wrath of God, the defender of his people, against his and their enemies. Though his army was immense, and there seemed to be no hope for Hezekiah and his people, Sennacherib's destruction by the Lord in the end was so complete that, like the overthrow of Sodom, it is become a byword. There is no greater retelling of the story outside of Scripture than Byron's vivid poem. Read on, dear reader, and remember that "Some trust in chariots, and some in horses: but we will remember the name of the LORD our God" (Ps. 20.7) and "For the LORD is our defence; and the Holy One of Israel is our king" (Ps. 89.18).

The Destruction of Sennacherib
by Lord Byron

The Assyrian came down like the 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 pass'd,
And the eyes of the sleepers wax'd deadly and chill,
And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still!
And there lay the steed with his nostril all wide,
But through it there roll'd not the breath of his pride;
And the foam of his gasping lay white on the turf,
And cold as the spray of the rock-beating surf.

And there lay the rider distorted and pale,
With the dew on his brow, and the rust on his mail:
And the tents were all silent, the banners alone,
The lances unlifted, the trumpets unblown.
And the widows of Ashur are loud in their wail,
And the idols are broke in the temple of Baal;
And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword,
Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord!

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