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.
Yet all the while a brilliant light was shining for your holy people. Their enemies heard their voices, but couldn't see them. They envied the good fortune of your people, who were not suffering. 2Those enemies could at least be thankful that the people they had wronged were not taking vengeance on them now, and so they begged them to leave.18.2 begged them to leave; or begged their forgiveness for their past hostility.
3Then you guided your people as they travelled through a country they did not know. You guided them with a pillar of fire. It was like a sun that would not harm them on that glorious journey. 4But their enemies, who were not allowed to see the light, deserved to be prisoners in darkness, because they had made prisoners of your people. And it was through your people that the eternal light of the Law was going to be given to the world.
5When your enemies were carrying out their resolve to kill the babies of your holy people, there was one child who was abandoned but later rescued. Then you punished your enemies by killing a great number of their own children. You drowned their whole army at one time in the rushing waters. 6But our ancestors had been told in advance of what would happen that night, so that they would be cheered and encouraged by confident trust in your promises to them. 7Your people knew that you would rescue the righteous nation and destroy their enemies. 8With the same act you punished our enemies and did us the glorious honour of calling us to yourself.
9During all this time devout people from this righteous nation were secretly offering sacrifices, giving their word to each other that they would keep God's law and share each other's blessings and dangers. Already they were chanting those ancient hymns of praise. 10But their enemies' pitiful cries of grief echoed everywhere, as they mourned for their dead children. 11Masters suffered the same punishment as their slaves; the king endured the same loss as the common people. 12There were too many dead bodies to count. There were not enough people left to bury them all. In a single moment their dearest children died; all of them met death in the same way. 13These people had paid no attention to any warning, but relied instead on their magical powers. But when their firstborn sons were killed, then they recognized that Israel was God's son.
14The short night was half over, and all was quiet and peaceful, 15when suddenly your threats were carried out! An invincible word of judgement sped from your royal throne in heaven, straight down to that doomed land. It came like a soldier charging to attack, 16carrying out your firm command with a fearful weapon, standing with feet on the ground and head touching the sky, filling the land with death. 17At that moment the people who were about to die had terrible nightmares and were seized by sudden fear. 18All over the land they lay half-dead and let it be known why they were dying. 19They knew why they were dying, because their horrible dreams had told them.
Death also came to the righteous nation, for an epidemic struck many of them while they were in the desert, but your anger did not last long. 21There was a certain blameless man who quickly took action to defend them. Acting as their priest, Aaron offered prayers and burnt the incense used in asking forgiveness of sins. With prayers and incense as his weapons, he withstood your anger and ended the disaster. By doing this he proved that he was your servant. 22He overcame the bitter difficulty,18.22 Probable text bitter difficulty; Greek crowd. but not by his own strength or by military force. Instead, he used prayer to stop the punishment, appealing to the promises you solemnly made to our ancestors. 23Dead bodies were already lying in piles, but he stepped in to hold your anger back and to keep it from harming those who were left alive. 24He wore a long robe decorated with symbols of the universe. In honour of our ancestors he wore four rows of engraved stones on his chest, and your own majesty was represented by the ornament on his turban. 25The Angel of Death was afraid of these things, and gave in. It was only a slight experience of your wrath, but it was enough.
191But the godless continued to feel your pitiless anger until the very end. You knew what they would do before they did it. 2You knew that even though they let your people go and made them leave quickly, they would change their minds and pursue them. 3-4While the Egyptians were still mourning at the graves of their dead, they forgot why all this had happened, and they foolishly decided that the people they had begged to leave were runaways. So they chased after them. They were led into this as part of the punishment they deserved, so that they would suffer the rest of the torments they were due to receive. 5They were to meet a strange death, while your people continued on their miraculous journey.
6The whole nature of the universe was changed at your command so that your people would not be harmed. 7They saw the cloud over their camp and dry land where water had been. There was a grass-covered plain between the stormy waves of the Red Sea, making it easy for them to cross over. 8All your people, under your protection, saw this miracle and went across. 9They pranced about like horses let out to pasture; they skipped about like lambs and praised you, Lord, for saving them. 10They still remembered what life had been like when they were slaves — how the earth bred gnats instead of cattle, how the river produced huge numbers of frogs instead of fish. 11-12Later, when they desperately wanted better food, quails came up from the sea to satisfy their hunger. The quail was a bird they had never seen before.
13But violent thunder gave warning of the punishment that was coming on those sinners. They suffered a well-deserved punishment for their great wickedness. No nation had ever hated strangers so bitterly. 14Other people had been known to refuse welcome to strangers who came to them, but these people made slaves of those who were their guests and who had shown them kindness. 15Any nation will be punished if it does not welcome foreigners, 16but these people, who had earlier welcomed the foreigners with happy celebrations and treated them as equals, later made them suffer cruelly. 17These people were also struck with blindness, like the men of Sodom who came to the door of that righteous man Lot. They found themselves in total darkness, as each one groped around to find his own door.
18On a harp each string keeps its own pitch, but each sound can be combined with others to make different melodies. That is how it was in those days, when the very elements entered into new combinations. Look at what happened! 19Land animals took to the water, and swimming creatures came up on the land. 20Fire burned even in water, which could not put it out. 21And yet the flames could not burn the flesh of the perishable creatures walking in them, and did not melt that heavenly food that would ordinarily have melted like frost.
22Lord, you have made your people great — glorious in all respects. You have never neglected them. You have given them help, always, everywhere.