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Chapter 18

But your holy ones had very great light;
And those others, who heard their voices but did not see their forms,
    counted them blest for not having suffered;
And because they who formerly had been wronged did not harm them, they thanked them,
    and because of the difference between them,[a] pleaded with them.
Instead of this, you furnished the flaming pillar,
    a guide on the unknown way,
    and the mild sun for an honorable migration.(A)
[b]For they deserved to be deprived of light and imprisoned by darkness,
    they had kept your children confined,
    through whom the imperishable light of the law was to be given to the world.(B)

Fifth Example: Death of the Egyptian Firstborn; the Israelites Are Spared

When they determined to put to death the infants of the holy ones,
    and when a single boy[c] had been cast forth and then saved,
As a reproof you carried off a multitude of their children
    and made them perish all at once in the mighty water.(C)
That night was known beforehand to our ancestors,
    so that, with sure knowledge of the oaths in which they put their faith, they might have courage.(D)
The expectation of your people
    was the salvation of the righteous and the destruction of their foes.(E)
For by the same means with which you punished our adversaries,
    you glorified us whom you had summoned.(F)
For in secret the holy children of the good were offering sacrifice
    and carried out with one mind the divine institution,[d]
So that your holy ones should share alike the same blessings and dangers,
    once they had sung the ancestral hymns of praise.(G)
10 But the discordant cry of their enemies echoed back,
    and the piteous wail of mourning for children was borne to them.(H)
11 And the slave was smitten with the same retribution as the master;
    even the commoner suffered the same as the king.(I)
12 And all alike by one common form of death
    had countless dead;
For the living were not even sufficient for the burial,
    since at a single instant their most valued offspring had been destroyed.(J)
13 For though they disbelieved at every turn on account of sorceries,
    at the destruction of the firstborn they acknowledged that this people[e] was God’s son.(K)
14 [f]For when peaceful stillness encompassed everything
    and the night in its swift course was half spent,
15 Your all-powerful word from heaven’s royal throne
    leapt into the doomed land,(L)
16     a fierce warrior bearing the sharp sword of your inexorable decree,
And alighted, and filled every place with death,
    and touched heaven, while standing upon the earth.(M)
17 Then, at once, visions in horrible dreams perturbed them(N)
    and unexpected fears assailed them;
18 And cast half-dead, one here, another there,
    they revealed why they were dying.
19 For the dreams that disturbed them had proclaimed this beforehand,
    lest they perish unaware of why they endured such evil.

20 The trial of death touched even the righteous,
    and in the desert a plague struck the multitude;
Yet not for long did the anger last.(O)
21 For the blameless man[g] hastened to be their champion,
    bearing the weapon of his special office,
    prayer and the propitiation of incense;
He withstood the wrath and put a stop to the calamity,
    showing that he was your servant.
22 He overcame the bitterness
    not by bodily strength, not by force of arms;
But by word he overcame the smiter,[h]
    recalling the sworn covenants with their ancestors.(P)
23 For when corpses had already fallen one on another in heaps,
    he stood in the midst and checked the anger,
    and cut off its way to the living.(Q)
24 For on his full-length robe was the whole world,
    and ancestral glories were carved on the four rows of stones,
    and your grandeur[i] was on the crown upon his head.(R)
25 To these the destroyer yielded, these he feared;
    for this sole trial of anger sufficed.(S)


  1. 18:2 The difference between them: God’s distinctive manner of treating the Israelites and the Egyptians according to their respective deeds. Pleaded: perhaps, for their departure.
  2. 18:4 The discussion of physical light climaxes with a reference to the “imperishable light” of the torah.
  3. 18:5 Single boy: Moses.
  4. 18:9 Divine institution: the Passover. Ancestral hymns of praise: possibly the Hallel psalms, the psalms sung at the end of the Passover meal; cf. Mt 26:30; Mk 14:26.
  5. 18:13 People: the Israelites (cf. Ex 4:22).
  6. 18:14–16 These verses attribute to the personified “word” the actions of the Lord mentioned in Ex 12:13–17 (note the role of the “destroyer” in Ex 12:23 and compare Wis 18:22, 25).
  7. 18:21 Blameless man: Aaron, acting according to his office of high priest and intercessor (cf. Nm 17:9–15; Ex 28:15–21, 31–38).
  8. 18:22 Smiter: the destroying angel; cf. v. 25.
  9. 18:24 Glories…grandeur: the name of God and the names of the tribes were inscribed on the high priest’s apparel.