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Chapter 17

Fourth Example: Darkness Afflicts the Egyptians, While the Israelites Have Light[a]

For great are your judgments, and hard to describe;
    therefore the unruly souls went astray.(A)
For when the lawless thought to enslave the holy nation,
    they themselves lay shackled with darkness, fettered by the long night,
    confined beneath their own roofs as exiles from the eternal providence.(B)
For they, who supposed their secret sins were hid(C)
    under the dark veil of oblivion,
Were scattered in fearful trembling,
    terrified by apparitions.
For not even their inner chambers kept them unafraid,
    for crashing sounds on all sides terrified them,
    and mute phantoms with somber looks appeared.
No fire had force enough to give light,
    nor did the flaming brilliance of the stars
    succeed in lighting up that gloomy night.(D)
But only intermittent, fearful fires
    flashed through upon them;
And in their terror they thought beholding these was worse
    than the times when that sight was no longer to be seen.(E)
And mockeries of their magic art[b] failed,
    and there was a humiliating refutation of their vaunted shrewdness.(F)
For they who undertook to banish fears and terrors from the sick soul
    themselves sickened with ridiculous fear.
For even though no monstrous thing frightened them,
    they shook at the passing of insects and the hissing of reptiles,(G)
10 And perished trembling,
    reluctant to face even the air that they could nowhere escape.
11 For wickedness, of its nature cowardly, testifies in its own condemnation,
    and because of a distressed conscience, always magnifies misfortunes.(H)
12 For fear is nought but the surrender of the helps that come from reason;
13     and the more one’s expectation is of itself uncertain,
    the more one makes of not knowing the cause that brings on torment.
14 So they, during that night, powerless though it was,
    since it had come upon them from the recesses of a powerless[c] Hades,
    while all sleeping the same sleep,
15 Were partly smitten by fearsome apparitions
    and partly stricken by their souls’ surrender;
    for fear overwhelmed them, sudden and unexpected.(I)
16 Thus, then, whoever was there fell
    into that prison without bars and was kept confined.(J)
17 For whether one was a farmer, or a shepherd,
    or a worker at tasks in the wasteland,
Taken unawares, each served out the inescapable sentence;
18     for all were bound by the one bond of darkness.(K)
And were it only the whistling wind,
    or the melodious song of birds in the spreading branches,
Or the steady sound of rushing water,
19     or the rude crash of overthrown rocks,
Or the unseen gallop of bounding animals,
    or the roaring cry of the fiercest beasts,
Or an echo resounding from the hollow of the hills—
    these sounds, inspiring terror, paralyzed them.
20 For the whole world shone with brilliant light(L)
    and continued its works without interruption;
21 But over them alone was spread oppressive night,
    an image of the darkness[d] that was about to come upon them.
    Yet they were more a burden to themselves than was the darkness.


  1. 17:1–18:4 The description of the darkness of the ninth plague is a very creative development of Ex 10:21–29. It betrays a wide knowledge of contemporary thought. For the first and only time in the Septuagint the Greek word for “conscience” occurs, in 17:11. There is no Hebrew word that is equivalent; the idea is expressed indirectly. The horrendous darkness is illumined by “fires” (v. 6), i.e., lightnings that only contributed to the terror.
  2. 17:7 Magic art: the Egyptian magicians who were successful at first (Ex 7:11, 22) and then failed (Ex 8:14; 9:11) are now powerless against the darkness and the phantoms and are totally discredited.
  3. 17:14 Powerless: Hades (or Sheol), i.e., the nether world, is often portrayed in the Old Testament as a hostile power, since all must die (Ps 49:8–13), but it has no power against God.
  4. 17:21 Darkness: of Hades or Sheol; see note on 16:13–14.