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The Great Siege

14/08/2021

Hebrews 7:25 Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.

The second Saturday in August is ‘Derry Day’ – and in Northern Ireland many Protestants meet at Londonderry to commemorate an historical event – a siege. Actually, a very important event in our cultural and political history. The siege occurred in 1689, around a year after William of Orange had landed at Torbay, and ‘the Glorious Revolution’ was effectively ending almost a century of rule by the Stuart dynasty, a period that had brought a great burden of suffering upon those who by conscience would not conform to Roman ritual or rule of the church by state appointed bishops.

In Ireland, King James II’s viceroy, Richard Talbot, the Earl of Tyrconnell, a Catholic, had completely restructured the army, with troops loyal to James, and with a Catholic chain of command. His general on the ground at Londonderry at the time of the siege was Conrad von Rosen. Reverend George Walker, who at the time was a governor inside the city of Londonderry, quoted Rosen, who “Swore by the belly of God, he would demolish our town and bury us in its ashes putting all to the sword, without consideration of age or sex and would study the most exquisite torments to lengthen the misery and pain of all he found obstinate, or active in opposing his commands and pleasure.

The Great Siege

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In fact James’ forces were poorly organised and mostly occupied the hills around the city, but the threat of what Rosen would do when he entered the city was like a sword hanging over the population. Some cried for ‘compromise.’ The townspeople would have none of it, and the closing of the city gates by the Apprentice Boys effectively prevented the town from being overrun. That was an act of disobedience to the King and government which saved the city. The real advantage that James had, was that with the city surrounded and the gates closed, the only way to bring supplies into the city was via the River Foyle, and a simple blockade was enough to stop that business. The city soon suffered the effects. Starvation killed many. Inside the city, conditions were appalling. It is reported that up to 4000 people lost their lives during the siege, from both enemy bombardment and hunger.


The use of hunger and starvation to weaken and demoralise an enemy was nothing new when Rosen used it. It has been a tactic from the earliest times. In the Bible there is a passage in 2 Kings 6:24-30, – a horror story about what happens under siege conditions. It occurred around 850 years BC when the king of Syria, Ben

Hadad had besieged Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel.

And it came to pass after this, that Benhadad king of Syria gathered all his host, and went up, and besieged Samaria. 25 And there was a great famine in Samaria: and, behold, they besieged it, until an ass’s head was sold for fourscore pieces of silver, and the fourth part of a cab of dove’s dung for five pieces of silver. 26 And as the king of Israel was passing by upon the wall, there cried a woman unto him, saying, Help, my lord, O king. 27 And he said, If the Lord do not help thee, whence shall I help thee? out of the barnfloor, or out of the winepress? 28 And the king said unto her, What aileth thee? And she answered, This woman said unto me, Give thy son, that we may eat him to day, and we will eat my son to morrow. 29 So we boiled my son, and did eat him: and I said unto her on the next day, Give thy son, that we may eat him: and she hath hid her son. 30 And it came to pass, when the king heard the words of the woman, that he rent his clothes; and he passed by upon the wall, and the people looked, and, behold, he had sackcloth within upon his flesh.

2 Kings 6:24-30

Can you see the effects of the hunger in that story, and the sheer depths of human depravity – how far we will stoop in our sinfulness. And can you see that in such times, the people under siege are utterly helpless. Confined within the city walls, the food supply runs out. Even the king cannot help. He had no food to give. His utter helplessness is demonstrated in that he tore his clothes, – an ancient indication of deep grief. But beneath his torn royal garments and next to his skin he was wearing coarse sackcloth – the king identifying with his people, reminding himself that his people were in torment.

There is another kind of siege and another kind of hunger. The Bible, (and our protestant faith) reminds us that every one of us is under siege, cut off from the God who made us. Starved of life-giving spiritual food, we groan under the burden of our sin, and like in any siege situation, the end result is sure to be death. We are besieged by our own sinfulness, and the wages of sin is death. (Romans 6:23). And the forces that surround us are very powerful indeed. Paul wrote, in Ephesians 6:11-12, Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.

In 1689, as Derry lay in peril and death, a rescue attempt was mounted by order of the Duke of Schomberg. A small flotilla of ships with food sailed into Lough Foyle. Finding the mouth of the city blocked by a boom they anchored in Lough Swilly awaiting further orders. The rescue attempt seemed doomed to fail.

In our state of spiritual siege and hunger, we have a rescuer, who has come to our aid, a king. That king is Jesus, God’s only begotten Son, who rescues us from the self inflicted consequences of our own sin. We have a rescuer who is * Sympathetic to our plight. In the OT siege, the king on the wall was concerned at

the depths of human sin that he was witnessing before his eyes. Beneath his robes he was in garments of sorrow. He sympathised with the people. In a sense that depicts Christ, – not a perfect illustration of course, for this king was every bit as sinful as the people he ruled, whereas our king was sinless and perfect. But look at the depth of his sympathy. 

Hebrews 4:15 For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.

* Able to save us and willing to come to our aid. Jehoram was sympathetic but helpless. Jesus is different. Jesus is ABLE TO SAVE. That Hebrew writer sums it up again for us, Hebrews 7:25 Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives. Jesus can save to the UTTERMOST. No matter how desperate your case, how deep your sin, how awful your spiritual hunger or thirst, -there is no-one who is too far from God, to be behind the reach of the saviour! That’s because He lives! Let’s remember HOW he rescued us…

* Paid for our rescue with his own life. Yes, below Jehoram’s royal robes was sackcloth – but Jesus the King laid aside his kingly splendour, and came down to where we were. Paul wrote  

Philippians 2:5-8 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: 7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: 8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

Jesus died for sinners, died to take upon himself the awful burden of sin, took upon himself our debts, and paid our fine in his own body on the cross.

A Christian poet wrote, He saw me plunged in deep distress, and flew to my relief, for me he bore the cruel cross and carried all my grief.

In July 1689, the rescue mission was resumed. A small ship called the Swallow sailed up the Foyle, enduring fire from the banks, ran alongside the boom and wielding axes, the sailors weakened the boom enough for the Mountjoy, a larger vessel to ram it, and break through. The siege was lifted and the city saved, but not without huge human cost. God has organised a rescue mission for us. There is a way back to God from the dark paths of sin. Remember that verse from Hebrews. He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him.

What did the people inside the City of Londonderry have to DO in order to be rescued – to be saved? That’s the whole point – NOTHING. There was nothing they COULD do – it was all done for them, by someone else. Their responsibility was simply to accept the rescue – it was a gift! Imagine if, when the Mountjoy broke the boom, the citizens had said, – “go away, we don’t want to be rescued!” But they didn’t do that. They simply accepted the fact that rescuers had come, they accepted their freedom and rejoiced.

The rescue mission has been completed!

Don’t turn the divine Rescuer away,
Rest in His finished work – come to God through him!

For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Romans 6:23

© Bob McEvoy August 2021

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