171O Lord, your acts of judgement are marvellous and hard to explain; that is why people who had not been taught about them went astray. 2When lawless people imagined that they had your holy nation in their power, they were themselves imprisoned in a long night of darkness. They lay in their own houses, shut off from your eternal care. 3They thought that their sins had been secret and unnoticed, shielded from view by a dark curtain of forgetfulness, but now they were horribly afraid, confused, and terrified by ghostly forms. 4Not even the dark corners where they lay could protect them from fear. They were surrounded by horrible noises; grim ghosts with gloomy faces appeared before their eyes. 5No fire had power to give them light, and the brilliant stars could do nothing to relieve that deathly darkness. 6There was only a dreadful fire, lit by no human hand, that shone on them, and in their terror they believed that the real world was even worse than the things they imagined. 7The illusions produced by their magic tricks were put to shame, and all the wisdom they had boasted of came to nothing. 8They had claimed they could drive away all the fears and illnesses of sick minds, but now they themselves were sick with silly, groundless fears. 9Even though nothing dangerous had actually happened, they were terrified by hissing snakes and animals advancing on them. 10And so they died, shaking with fear, afraid even to open their eyes, yet unable to keep them shut.
11Wickedness is cowardly in itself and stands self-condemned.17.11 Wickedness… self-condemned; Greek unclear. Someone with a guilty conscience will always imagine things to be worse than they really are. 12Fear is nothing but the failure to use the help that reason gives. 13When you lack the confidence to rely on reason, you give in to the fears caused by ignorance.
14All night long those people slept the same restless sleep, even though the night held no power over them, since it came from the powerless depths of the world of the dead. 15They were chased by hideous forms and lay paralysed as they surrendered themselves to the sudden, unexpected fear that came over them. 16People would suddenly collapse and lie locked in the chains of their own fear. 17Farmers, shepherds, and labourers out in the countryside were captured by the same inevitable fate and bound in the darkness by the same invisible chain. 18-19They were panic-stricken by the sighing of the wind or by the singing of birds in the trees or by the roar of rushing water or by the rumble of falling rocks or by the sound of unseen creatures running about or by the savage roaring of wild animals or by the echoes from the mountains. 20In the full light of day, the rest of the world went about its business undisturbed. 21Only those people were covered by this heavy night, a foretaste of the darkness of death that was waiting for them. They were a burden to themselves that was even heavier than the darkness.