Darkness and fire

Your judgments are great and difficult to explain. This is why those who haven’t been well-taught go astray. When lawless people tried to oppress your holy nation, in actual fact they were the prisoners who were being held in a dark place, bound in chains through a long night. They were confined to their own homes as they vainly tried to flee from a plan that had been prepared for all eternity. They thought that they could hide their sins by pulling a blanket of forgetfulness over themselves. But instead they were scattered in every direction, terrified by fear, and spooked by nightmarish visions.

They hid themselves in the deepest corners of their houses, but couldn’t escape from their fears. Even there they heard all around them sounds that terrified them. Mournful ghosts with gloomy faces appeared to them. No fire gave them any light, nor did the stars’ light shine brightly enough to illumine that horrible night. Only once did anything shine through: it was a frightening fire that seemed to have a life of its own. But then, when they lost sight of that light, they were even more afraid than they had been before they had seen it! They began to realize that what they had seen was even worse than what they had thought. They realized that their mocking attempts at magic were too weak and that they had no real power. It became clear to them that they had given themselves far too much credit for understanding what was happening. Those who had thought they could dispel fears and free sick beings from terror became sick themselves with a laughable case of nerves. Even when there was nothing around to frighten them, they were scared by the simple sounds of animals’ movements and hissing serpents. 10 Trembling, they were dying with fright, shutting their eyes even against the empty air, as if they could thus avoid what was scaring them. 11 Wickedness is cowardly, condemned by its own witness. Distressed by conscience, the wicked person thinks everything is worse than it is. 12 Fear betrays our ability to help ourselves by thinking clearly. 13 Expecting the worst, people prefer to remain ignorant of the cause of their torment.

14 The night itself was powerless, rising up from the darkest corners of a hell that didn’t really exist. As they slept the same sleep, 15 monsters from their own imaginations rose up and hunted them down. They were paralyzed with fear as their spirits failed them. A sudden and unexpected fear drenched their whole being. 16 All who fell into that kind of place became like prisoners, locked up in cells without metal bars. 17 Whether they were farmers or shepherds or laborers toiling alone in the desert, the same fate overtook them all, and they were all bound in the darkness as by a single chain.

18 Whether it was the whispering of the wind, or the sound of birds singing in the thick branches of trees, or the rhythm of rushing water, 19 or the crashing down of rocks from a high cliff, or the unseen scurrying of little animals, or the howling of the most frightening of beasts, or an echo from the valleys between the hills; whatever it was, it frightened them so much that they were completely paralyzed. 20 So while bright sunlight lit up the rest of the world, and people and things went about their ordered, active lives, 21 an oppressive night lay all around them, and around them alone. It was a sign of the darkness that was going to receive them, but they were a heavier burden to themselves than even the darkness itself.