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The Oxford Study Bible Study Bible supplemented with commentary from scholars of various religions.

Chapter 17

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1Great are your judgements and hard to expound; and this was why unin-structed souls went astray. 2The heathen imagined that they could lord it over your holy nation, but, prisoners of darkness and captives of unending night, they themselves lay immured each under his own roof, fugitives from eternal providence. 3Thinking that their secret sins might escape detection beneath a dark pall of oblivion, they lay in disorder, dreadfully afraid, terrified by apparitions. 4Not even the dark corner that hid them offered refuge from fear, but loud, unnerving noises resounded about them, and phantoms with faces grim and downcast passed before their eyes. 5No fire, however intense, was strong enough to give them light, nor were the brilliant, flaming stars adequate to pierce that hideous darkness. 6There shone on them only a terrifying blaze of no human making, and in their panic they thought the real world even worse than the sight their imagination conjured up. 7The tricks of the sorcerer's art failed, and their boasted wisdom was exposed and put to shame; 8for those who professed to drive out fear and trouble from sick souls were themselves sick with dread that made them ridiculous. 9Even if there was nothing frightful to terrify them, yet having once been scared by the advance of the vermin and the hissing of the serpents, 10they collapsed in terror, even refusing to look upon the air from which there could be no escape. 11For wickedness proves a cowardly thing when condemned by an inner witness, and in the grip of conscience gives way to forebodings of disaster. 12Fear is nothing but an abandonment of the aid that reason affords; 13and hope, defeated by this inward weakness, capitulates in ignorance of the cause by which the torment comes.

14So all that night, which really had no power over them because it came upon them from the powerless depths of hell, they slept the same haunted sleep, 15now harried by portentous spectres, now paralysed by the treachery of their own souls; sudden and unforeseen, fear came upon them. 16Thus someone would fall down wherever he was and be held captive, locked in a prison that had no bars. 17Farmer or shepherd or a labourer toiling out in the wilderness, he was overtaken, and awaited the inescapable doom; the same chain of darkness bound all alike. 18The whispering breeze, the sweet melody of birds in spreading branches, the steady noise of rushing water, 19the headlong crash of rocks falling, the racing of creatures as they bound along unseen, the roar of savage wild beasts, or an echo reverberating from hollows in the hills — all these sounds paralysed them with fear. 20The whole world was bathed in the bright light of day, and went about its tasks unimpeded; 21those people alone were overspread with heavy night, fit image of the darkness that awaited them. But heavier than the darkness was the burden each was to himself.

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