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On the Wisdom of Solomon, Part 26: The Dark of Night
In our last presentation in this commentary on Wisdom, presenting chapter 16, we discussed Solomon’s narrative as a Tale of Two Torments, wherein he made continual analogies which compare the punishment of the Egyptians for their destruction to the frequent punishments of the children of Israel for their correction. Solomon having done this, there must be something of substance to these comparisons which the ancient Israelites of his own time, who were much closer to the actual history of the post-Exodus period, could have understood and from which they could have learned.
In the centuries before and during the approximately 200 years that the children of Israel were in Egypt, it was a great empire which exerted its control or influence far beyond its own borders, and also held subject many of the city-states of the Levant as vassals. But from the time of pharaoh Thutmose III, which is when the Exodus had occurred, to the time of Akhenaten not even a hundred years later, Egypt had rather quickly decreased in power to the point where, as the Amarna Letters fully reflect, it would not even care to defend its vassal states in Palestine against the invading Hebrews.
For several centuries thereafter, throughout the Judges period and until the time of the divided kingdom and the chastisement of Rehoboam, Egypt had not been a threat to Israel, and apparently showed little interest in regaining its dominion over Palestine. During a short-lived revival, Rameses II exerted Egyptian military strength at the battle of Kadesh against the Hittites, where he failed in his attempt to gain the northern Syrian city. However whatever he may or may not have done in Palestine was unnoticed in Scripture and seems to have been of no consequence, as his own inscriptions were boastful and his achievements were overstated.
Then by the time of the prophet Isaiah, Egypt was invaded and was ruled over for a time by Nubians, and its blood was spoiled forever. During another short-lived revival, over a century after the deportations of Israel and apparently soon after the fall of the Assyrian Empire, Egypt once again sent its armies north, in an attempt to gain control of the ancient Hittite capital city of Carchemish for itself, which is when Josiah king of Judah was slain in battle. Shortly thereafter Egypt would fall subject to the Babylonians, and then to the Persians, and continued its decline until it became a colony for both Macedonians and Romans. So while Egypt has not really been Egypt in well over 2,500 years, its decline and inevitable destruction truly did begin with the Exodus.
In our last presentation we also made an analogy for ourselves which was not written, but which may be worth repeating, where Solomon had discussed certain events of the Exodus. We compared the serpents which had beset the children of Israel in the desert to the two-legged metaphorical serpents which have become prevalent, and even politically dominant, throughout the nations of Christendom today. We should not dismiss this analogy lightly. When the Israelites in the desert looked upon the brazen serpent they were delivered from the biting serpents. So Christ had said, as it is recorded in John chapter 3, “14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: 15 That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” Christ Himself had taught us in His Gospel that those who had rejected Him were indeed serpents, and that is how true Christians, who are White Christians, should view all other groups – and especially the Jews. Now that the nations of Christendom are besieged with these serpents, there is no Deliverer outside of Christ, who was lifted up exclusively on their behalf. There is no other cure for the ultimate removal of the serpents, and there is no other path to temporal salvation.
Now as we enter into Wisdom chapter 17, Solomon continues his analogies comparing the torments of Egypt to those of the children of Israel, and he now treats the torment of Egypt at length throughout this chapter, where although he does not mention it explicitly, he is describing the Egyptian experience on the night of the first Passover in Egypt, whereupon all the firstborn of the Egyptians had been slain:
Wisdom 17:1 For great are thy judgments, and cannot be expressed: therefore unnurtured souls have erred.
As we have mentioned frequently while discussing these final chapters of Wisdom, since chapter 9 Solomon has been presenting the prayer which he had made to Yahweh for wisdom upon his having become king, so he addresses Him in the second person.
Man cannot achieve true justice or righteousness in judgment and governance without Yahweh God and His laws, so being without those things, here the Egyptians are called unnurtured souls. The word unnurtured was translated from the Greek adjective ἀπαίδευτος, which is actually uneducated or uninstructed, as a παῖς, or child would be instructed.
We would translate this passage to read:
1 For greater are Your judgments [μεγάλαι γάρ σου αἱ κρίσεις] and hard to explain [καὶ δυσδιήγητοι] for which reason [διὰ τοῦτο] uninstructed souls [ἀπαίδευτοι ψυχαὶ] have wandered [ἐπλανήθησαν].
So we read in Proverbs chapter 9: “9 Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser: teach a just man, and he will increase in learning. 10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding.” Then in Proverbs chapter 16 we see an example of true humility: “19 Better it is to be of an humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud. 20 He that handleth a matter wisely shall find good: and whoso trusteth in the LORD, happy is he. 21 The wise in heart shall be called prudent: and the sweetness of the lips increaseth learning. 22 Understanding is a wellspring of life unto him that hath it: but the instruction of fools is folly. 23 The heart of the wise teacheth his mouth, and addeth learning to his lips.” Even though it is not quite explicit, this demonstrates that Solomon understood instruction, and that the uninstructed were those who did not have the laws of God.
In our last presentation, we had discussed some aspects of the idolatry of Egypt. But in Wisdom chapter 14 we had learned that Yahweh would make “a way in the sea, and a safe path in the waves” even for an idolater upon whom He had mercy, the idolater simply not knowing any better. However now Solomon explains how the Egyptians had deserved their condemnation:
2 For when unrighteous men thought to oppress the holy nation; they being shut up in their houses, the prisoners of darkness, and fettered with the bonds of a long night, lay [there] exiled from the eternal providence.
The word for unrighteous is ἄνομος, which is without law or lawless, and illustrates the reason for Solomon’s earlier reference to them as being uninstructed. The word for thought here is a form of the verb ὑπολαμβάνω, which is literally to take up a thing from underneath, as it had been used by the Greek poets, and therefore also to bear up or support a thing. So here it describes the support of the people for the intentions of the pharaoh to enslave the Hebrews. The word translated as houses is a plural form of ὄροφος, which collectively are the reeds used for thatching houses. Finally, the word for providence is πρόνοια, which is foresight or foreknowledge, and ostensibly refers to the providence of God.
As Paul of Tarsus had stated, which is also evident in Scripture in other ways, it was 430 years from the call of Abraham to the giving of the law at Sinai. As we had first discussed at length here in Part 4 of our August, 2015 commentary on the epistle to the Galatians, which was titled Heirs of the Covenant, after the events of the lives of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the land of Canaan, and the time when Jacob went down to Egypt and died 17 years later, that leaves about 200 years to the giving of the law from the time when Jacob had died.
Sometime during that last 200 years, once Joseph and his generation had also died, we read “8 Now there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph. 9 And he said unto his people, Behold, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we: 10 Come on, let us deal wisely with them; lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that, when there falleth out any war, they join also unto our enemies, and fight against us, and so get them up out of the land.” But from the Scriptures we cannot tell precisely how far into the 200-year period this had happened.
Actually, we only know that the Israelites had already been enslaved some time before the birth of Moses, and after his birth their slavery endured for another 80 years, when he returned to Egypt from exile and was called to lead the Israelites out of their slavery. In any event, the period of slavery suffered by the Israelites was probably somewhere between 80 and 160 years, assuming that from the time when Jacob died, it was at least 40 more years before “Joseph died, and all his brethren, and all that generation”, which we also read in Exodus chapter 1.
Moses must have been born about 120 years after the death of Jacob, and the genealogies of Moses consistently account him as being in only the third generation from Levi. That space of time is not implausible for the era, as we see that Isaac was 60 years old when his first children were born. But our purpose is to demonstrate that where Solomon said “when unrighteous men thought to oppress the holy nation”, describing the time of the judgment of Yahweh upon Egypt for that very deed, we see that Yahweh had taken as many as 160 years to execute that judgment from the time when it was first warranted.
So as subsequent passages shall reveal, the Egyptians were on the night of their judgment “shut up in their houses… prisoners of darkness… fettered with the bonds of a long night” through which they could only hope to survive. Thus he continues:
3 For while they supposed to lie hid in their secret sins, they were scattered under a dark veil of forgetfulness, being horribly astonished, and troubled with [strange] apparitions.
In Wisdom chapter 10, referring to the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah, Solomon had written: “8 For regarding not wisdom, they gat not only this hurt, that they knew not the things which were good; but also left behind them to the world a memorial of their foolishness: so that in the things wherein they offended they could not so much as be hid.” The ungodly sinners believing that their sins are hidden, that their wicked deeds may be covered, the Word of Yahweh says in contrast to the children of Israel in Isaiah chapter 40: “27 For say not thou, O Jacob, and why hast thou spoken, Israel, saying, My way is hid from God, and my God has taken away my judgement, and has departed?”
Having several differences with the King James Version, including the word strange, which is not in the Greek but which appears in the King James Version in parentheses rather than in italics, we would translate verse 3 to read:
For supposing for their hidden sins to be unnoticed [λανθάνειν γὰρ νομίζοντες ἐπὶ κρυφαίοις ἁμαρτήμασιν], with a dim covering of oblivion [ἀφεγγεῖ λήθης παρακαλύμματι] being terribly astonished they were scattered [ἐσκορπίσθησαν θαμβούμενοι δεινῶς] and troubled by hallucinations [καὶ ἰνδάλμασιν ἐκταρασσόμενοι].
The Greek word ἴνδαλμα, which is hallucinations here but in the King James Version it is “[strange] apparitions”, is defined by Liddell & Scott as a form or appearance, citing this passage as well as secular sources, and then also as a mental image, and in the plural as it also is here, as hallucinations, citing secular sources. An apparition is a sight from or of an external source or object, but a hallucination is something in one’s own mind, which is how we would prefer to interpret the word in this context.
From the time of the Exodus, if the Judges period lasted about 450 years until the time of Samuel, as it is stated in Acts chapter 13, then with the events in the lives of Saul and David we have well over 500 years to the ascension of Solomon, when he presumably made this prayer. [In our opinion, the 450 years mentioned in Acts 13 is inclusive of the time of Moses and the early life of Samuel, until Saul became king.] Yet many of these details described by Solomon here are not found in the writings of Moses, and what we may read in the account of Scripture concerning that first Passover.
The record of the event, in relation to the Egyptians, is found in Exodus chapter 12. First there is the warning from Yahweh where He had said “12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt this night, and will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the LORD. 13 And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye are: and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt.” Then we read as a matter of record, later on in that same chapter: “29 And it came to pass, that at midnight the LORD smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the firstborn of cattle. 30 And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he, and all his servants, and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in Egypt; for there was not a house where there was not one dead.” As a digression, the eldest son of Thutmose III had preceded him in death, with no explanation having been recorded in the funerary inscriptions, so a second son succeeded him as pharaoh, a fact which is consistent with our interpretation of the historical background of the Exodus.
In the 78th Psalm, which is attributed to Asaph, we read something which may be interpreted as a partial corroboration of this more detailed description here in Wisdom: “49 He cast upon them the fierceness of his anger, wrath, and indignation, and trouble, by sending evil angels among them. 50 He made a way to his anger; he spared not their soul from death, but gave their life over to the pestilence; 51 And smote all the firstborn in Egypt; the chief of their strength in the tabernacles of Ham…” Then we read in the 135th Psalm, where it speaks of Yahweh: “8 Who smote the firstborn of Egypt, both of man and beast. 9 Who sent tokens and wonders into the midst of thee, O Egypt, upon Pharaoh, and upon all his servants.” So while these may also only be interpretations of the account as it is in Exodus chapter 12, it nevertheless seems plausible that in ancient times there may have been an even greater account of the wonders of Egypt extant than what we have preserved in the book of the Exodus. Now Solomon continues to describe the fear which must have come upon the Egyptians in their houses on that fateful night:
4 For neither might the corner that held them keep them from fear: but noises [as of waters] falling down sounded about them, and sad visions appeared unto them with heavy countenances.
The word for corner, μυχός, typically referred to the innermost part of a house. In reference to wealthier estates, that would have been the women’s quarters, which were customarily the innermost rooms or apartments of a large house, or a manor.
For the sake of clarity we would translate this verse to read:
4 For neither did the innermost room containing them protect them from fear [οὐδὲ γὰρ ὁ κατέχων αὐτοὺς μυχὸς ἀφόβους διεφύλαττεν] but noises agitating them [ἦχοι δ᾽ ἐκταράσσοντες αὐτοὺς] sounded around them [περιεκόμπουν] and obscure apparitions with gloomy countenances [καὶ φάσματα ἀμειδήτοις κατηφῆ προσώποις] became visible [ἐνεφανίζετο].
The word for apparitions here is a plural form of φάσμα related to our English word phantom. Perhaps these are the “evil angels” and “tokens and wonders” sent among the Egyptians as the Psalms had described. But Solomon continues:
5 No power of the fire might give them light: neither could the bright flames of the stars endure to lighten that horrible night.
While the sense of this translation is acceptable, we will nevertheless offer our own:
5 And indeed, not any power of fire had prevailed to give light [καὶ πυρὸς μὲν οὐδεμία βία κατίσχυεν φωτίζειν] neither did the quite bright flames of stars [οὔτε ἄστρων ἔκλαμπροι φλόγες] abide to shine upon that hateful night [καταυγάζειν ὑπέμενον τὴν στυγνὴν ἐκείνην νύκτα].
Here it seems that Solomon had imagined the events of this night to have transpired in much the same way as another event some days following, where on the day that the armies of pharaoh had pursued the Israelites into the divide of the Red Sea, in Exodus chapter 14 we read: “19 And the angel of God, which went before the camp of Israel, removed and went behind them; and the pillar of the cloud went from before their face, and stood behind them: 20 And it came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel; and it was a cloud and darkness to them, but it gave light by night to these: so that the one came not near the other all the night.”
This interpretation of these statements in Wisdom here in chapter 17 is supported by the opening verse of chapter 18, where in contrast to the darkness which enveloped the Egyptians on the night of the death of the firstborn, Solomon writes in respect to the children of Israel and says: “Nevertheless thy saints had a very great light …” while the Egyptians alone were in darkness. But now, returning to his description of the Egyptians:
6 Only there appeared unto them a fire kindled of itself, very dreadful: for being much terrified, they thought the things which they saw to be worse than the sight they saw not.
In other words, what they could not see was actually worse than the things which they saw, however they did not consider what they could not see, which was the presence of Yahweh. This also seems to explain the reference in verse 4 to “obscure apparitions with gloomy countenances”. Now Solomon turns to speak comparatively of the tricks of the Egyptian wizards, which were described in the accounts of Exodus and the days of the plagues of Egypt:
7 As for the illusions of art magick, they were put down, and their vaunting in wisdom was reproved with disgrace.
The Greek word ἔμπαιγμα is defined by Liddell & Scott as a jest, mocking, or delusion, and appears also in the Septuagint at Isaiah 66:4 where the King James Version reads “I will choose their delusions, and will bring their fears upon them”, and to some degree that also corroborates the example, but not the event, which Solomon describes here. The masculine form of the word appears in Hebrews 11:36 as mocking. Perhaps by pursuing such delusions, men are mocking both God and making a mockery of themselves. The Greek verb κατάκειμαι is literally to lie down, but here it is passive, where it may be defined as to lie idle or to be neglected. So we would translate verse 7 to read:
7 But delusions of magic craft were neglected [μαγικῆς δὲ ἐμπαίγματα κατέκειτο τέχνης] and of the pretense for wisdom [καὶ τῆς ἐπὶ φρονήσει ἀλαζονείας] a contemptuous rebuke [ἔλεγχος ἐφύβριστος].
If we were not attempting an interlinear translation, we would write that final clause to read: “… and a contemptuous rebuke of the pretense for wisdom.” The Greek adjective ἐφύβριστος is defined by Liddell & Scott as contemptible where it is used in a passive sense, as it is here. Yet in our opinion the adjective contemptuous is also a correct translation and better fits the meaning here. The definition of contemptible is commonly deserving contempt, while contemptuous is showing contempt.
In other words, the Egyptians, thinking themselves to be wise in their knowledge and their magic arts, the punishment which they received in turn with the neglect of those arts or the fact that they were useless and therefore had laid idle was a contemptuous reproach or rebuke, or perhaps a contemptuous refutation, as the word ἔλεγχος is a reproach, disgrace or dishonour or a disproof, refutation or even a conviction, as for a crime. Rather than merely pretense, the Greek word ἀλαζονεία is more fully a false pretension, imposture or even quackery, as Liddell & Scott define the term. So the punishment which the Egyptians had received was a conviction whereby Yahweh God had showed His contempt for their false pretense of wisdom, or even for the quackery of their thinking as the noun φρόνησις can refer to a way of thinking, as well as an intention, purpose, wisdom or sagacity, among other things.
Now Solomon continues to speak of the Egyptian magicians, or in this context, perhaps sorcerers would be a more appropriate term:
8 For they, that promised to drive away terrors and troubles from a sick soul, were sick themselves of fear, worthy to be laughed at.
While the sense of this translation is acceptable, in the translation some conjecture is introduced into the text, which we would rather translate to read:
8 For they promising [οἱ γὰρ ὑπισχνούμενοι] to drive away terrors and troubles [δείματα καὶ ταραχὰς ἀπελαύνειν] from a sick soul [ψυχῆς νοσούσης], themselves [οὗτοι] were made sick from a ridiculous religion [καταγέλαστον εὐλάβειαν ἐνόσουν].
Here I have actually taken a liberty by translating εὐλάβεια as religion. Liddell & Scott define the word to mean primarily discretion or caution, and then, among other things more appropriately for this context it is, reverence, piety, or godly fear or religious scruple. So the word certainly has a greater meaning than merely fear, as it is in the King James Version. Therefore it is not a stretch here to interpret the word as religion in this context.
Another and more substantial proof of our assertion that Solomon had access to a more detailed account of the plagues of Egypt than what is found in the book of Exodus is found in Paul’s second epistle to Timothy. So we read in 2 Timothy chapter 3 where he speaks of men who are “ 7 Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Then he makes a mention of two of the magicians of Egypt by name: “8 Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith.” As we had explained at length in our December, 2017 commentary on that chapter of Paul’s epistle, titled No Mercy for Narcissists, either one or both of these men were mentioned in Christian apocryphal books and in other pseudepigraphal works, in unrelated documents found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, namely the Damascus Document, and even in Pliny’s Natural History, among other early writings.
Whether Solomon is speaking explicitly of Jannes and Jambres, or whether he was even familiar with the magicians of Egypt by those names, is immaterial. But Paul’s words do show the probability that Solomon did indeed have access to more detailed accounts of the events of the plagues of Egypt from which to draw the analogies and lessons which he had made here.
Now, while he also describes the magicians of Egypt as healers, or perhaps as sorcerers although he does not use that term, he explains that those who had once conjured beasts of their own had died, at least in part, for fear of beasts:
9 For though no terrible thing did fear them; yet being scared with beasts that passed by, and hissing of serpents, 10 They died for fear, denying that they saw the air, which could of no side be avoided.
As a digression, at this point forward the verse numbers in the King James Apocrypha are one off from the Greek editions, and while Brenton’s edition follows the traditional numbering found in the Greek of the Septuagint, his English text is an exact copy of that which is found in the King James Apocrypha. The problem persists throughout the rest of the chapter. For our purposes here, as we have not been offering a review of the critical editions of the text of the Greek in this commentary, while there are differences in the verse numbering in this portion of the chapter we will follow the arrangement found in the King James Apocrypha.
However for the purpose of greater clarity, we shall offer our own translation of verses 9 and 10:
9 For even if nothing terrible frightened them, [καὶ γὰρ εἰ μηδὲν αὐτοὺς ταραχῶδες ἐφόβει] in the passing of beasts and hissing of serpents [κνωδάλων παρόδοις καὶ ἑρπετῶν συριγμοῖς] terrified they had perished being scared to death [ἐκσεσοβημένοι διώλλυντο ἔντρομοι] even refusing to look at the air that from no place could be avoided [καὶ τὸν μηδαμόθεν φευκτὸν ἀέρα προσιδεῖν ἀρνούμενοι].
Here we have taken another liberty, as ἐκσοβέω is literally to scare away, or in the passive as it is here, to be scared away, so in the context of having perished from the fear we have translated it as scared to death.
As we have often seen throughout the Wisdom of Solomon, Yahweh frequently punishes men with their own delusions. We read in Exodus chapter 7 that “10… Aaron cast down his rod before Pharao, and before his servants, and it became a serpent. 11 But Pharao called together the wise men of Egypt, and the sorcerers, and the charmers also of the Egyptians did likewise with their sorceries. 12 And they cast down each his rod, and they became serpents, but the rod of Aaron swallowed up their rods. ”
So here Solomon has described men who once conjured such beasts as having died in the dark of night from fear of beasts quite like the ones that they had once conjured, and of which were evidently not in fear when they had done so.
Now Solomon turns to address the wickedness of the magicians, and ostensibly also the people who had faith in them:
11 For wickedness, condemned by her own witness, is very timorous [or cowardly], and being pressed with conscience, always forecasteth grievous things.
The verb προσείληφεν is a form of προσλαμβάνω, which is to take or receive besides, get over and above, or with an accusative case noun, to take to oneself, in reference to hardships or grievous things as the King James Version has it here. So once again we shall offer our own translation for the purpose of clarity, so that the meaning is better understood:
11 For cowardly is wickedness condemned by her own witness [δειλὸν γὰρ ἰδίῳ πονηρία μάρτυρι καταδικαζομένη] and always takes hardships to herself [ἀεὶ δὲ προσείληφεν τὰ χαλεπὰ] being afflicted in conscience [συνεχομένη τῇ συνειδήσει].
So wickedness itself is a cause of cowardice in a time of judgment, to which Solomon attributes the death of the Egyptian magicians here, and when one is burdened by a guilty conscience, he asserts that it causes even greater hardships. Now he describes the resulting fear:
12 For fear is nothing else but a betraying of the succours which reason offereth.
The Greek word προδοσία is a giving up, betrayal, treason, according to Liddell & Scott, but in this context perhaps forsaking rather than betraying would be appropriate. As for the word for reason, where the Greek word λογισμός appears on six other occasions in Wisdom, it is always used of the errant or foolish reasoning of men, as opposed to the wisdom which is of God. However while here Solomon still used it of the reasoning of men, it is used of sound reasoning, in opposition to the ridiculous religion, as we translated the phrase, which had made them sick and which had ultimately destroyed them as he described in verses 8 through 10. So he continues in that same manner:
13 And the expectation from within, being less, counteth the ignorance more than the cause which bringeth the torment.
Perhaps by not understanding that there is a God who would judge them for iniquity, although they themselves are right only in their own eyes they would rather remain that way, which is ignorance from Solomon’s perspective. The aforementioned wickedness is what provides a cause for punishment, so for the purpose of clarity, we would translate the verse to read:
13 And the expectation from within being weaker [ἔνδοθεν δὲ οὖσα ἥττων ἡ προσδοκία], considers ignorance better [πλείονα λογίζεται τὴν ἄγνοιαν] than that which provides the cause of torment [τῆς παρεχούσης τὴν βάσανον αἰτίας].
So evidently even after the many other plagues which the God of the Hebrews had brought upon the Egyptians, they would rather remain ignorant than imagine that Yahweh is God, for which their continued disobedience was the cause of their torment.
Now Solomon turns back to their punishment which had come in the dark of night:
14 But they sleeping the same sleep that night, which was indeed intolerable, and which came upon them out of the bottoms of inevitable hell,
The Greek word ἀδύνατος is an adjective which is used twice in this clause, to modify the nouns for night and Hades, where the King James translators rendered it alternately as intolerable and inevitable. However according to Liddell & Scott ἀδύνατος means, first, “… of persons, unable to do a thing… 2. absolute without strength, powerless” and then “of things, that cannot be done, impossible”. However speaking of night and Hades here, Solomon is speaking of what power those things had and not what things men could do to them, so the absolute sense of the word is the sense which is applicable here. Therefore we will translate the verse for ourselves:
14 But they on a night that was actually powerless [οἱ δὲ τὴν ἀδύνατον ὄντως νύκτα] and coming upon them from the innermost recesses of powerless Hades [καὶ ἐξ ἀδυνάτου ᾅδου μυχῶν ἐπελθοῦσαν], sleeping in the same sleep [τὸν αὐτὸν ὕπνον κοιμώμενοι]
The sentence continues into verse 15. Here there is another play on words which must be noted. In verse 4 in the context of men hidden away in a house the word μυχὸς in the singular is the innermost room. However here in reference to Hades it is the innermost recesses, as it appears in the plural. Now to finish the statement:
15 Were partly vexed with monstrous apparitions, and partly fainted, their heart failing them: for a sudden fear, and not looked for, came upon them.
While the King James translation is often quite good, on many occasions it departs widely from the original intent of the writer, so once again we will offer our own translation:
15 on one hand were persecuted with the wonders of apparitions [τὰ μὲν τέρασιν ἠλαύνοντο φαντασμάτων] and on the other they were weakened to the forsaking of their lives [τὰ δὲ τῆς ψυχῆς παρελύοντο προδοσίᾳ]. For a sudden and unexpected fear had poured over them [αἰφνίδιος γὰρ αὐτοῖς καὶ ἀπροσδόκητος φόβος ἐπεχύθη].
So here we should see the reason for why Solomon had referred to both the night and to Hades as powerless, where he also said actually, or truly powerless. As Yahweh punishes men with their own delusions, here Solomon explains that these men were punished not by tangible things, but by apparitions which had caused them fear unto death. So now he speaks in reference to their deaths, and evidently also to their descent into Hades:
16 So then whosoever there fell down was straitly kept, shut up in a prison without iron bars,
In his first epistle, in chapters 3 and 4, the apostle Peter had described Hades as a prison, where the spirits of those who died in the flood of Noah had been kept. Ostensibly, nearly all of the dead had been shut up in Sheol, or Hades, a metaphorical or spiritual prison where the departed spirits of the dead had residence, until they were released at the coming of the Christ. That is also the prison to which Solomon refers here. But evidently, for the race of the children of Adam, even the dark of the darkest night does have a dawn.
While we cannot be entirely certain, here there seems to be another wordplay with the use of the Greek word εἱρκτή, which is an enclosure or prison, for which Liddell & Scott cited Herodotus, but which like μυχὸς was also used to describe “the inner part of the house, the women's apartments”, for which they cited Xenophon.
Now, while Solomon did not mention the deaths of the firstborn of Egypt explicitly, that is evidently the event to which he refers. So as we read in Exodus chapter 12 “that at midnight the LORD smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the firstborn of cattle”, Solomon explains in another way that this punishment was without regard for persons, which is, the status or stature of persons:
17 For whether he were husbandman, or shepherd, or a labourer in the field, he was overtaken, and endured that necessity, which could not be avoided: for they were all bound with one chain of darkness.
The Greek word γεωργός, a worker of the soil, is more literally a farmer but also a husbandman. The the word translated as field, ἐρημία is literally wilderness. The translation in the King James Version misplaced or ignored a verb belonging to the description of that laborer. So once again for the purpose of clarity we shall offer our own version:
17 For whether any man was a husbandman [εἴ τε γὰρ γεωργὸς ἦν τις], or a shepherd [ἢ ποιμὴν] or a laborer toiling in the desert [ἢ τῶν κατ᾽ ἐρημίαν ἐργάτης μόχθων] Having been overtaken [προλημφθεὶς] he awaited that inescapable necessity [τὴν δυσάλυκτον ἔμενεν ἀνάγκην]. For with one chain of darkness they all had been bound [μιᾷ γὰρ ἁλύσει σκότους πάντες ἐδέθησαν].
Here it seems that Solomon used the term “chain of darkness”, which appears nowhere else in Old Testament Scriptures, as a grammatical device to describe the misery of Hades. But this does not mean that the term is used in the same way, or that it defines the manner in which it was used by the apostles of Christ. Those to whom the apostles had applied this label were living in their own time. However this does suggest that where the apostles Peter and Jude had used the same term in their epistles, that perhaps they may have also had some lost writing from which they had drawn an analogy, as it was used by each of them to describe the punishment of the angels that sinned.
Now Solomon describes some of the apparitions from which these Egyptians had died of fear. Perhaps he is making merely playful poetic allegories, or perhaps he is describing actual phenomena in wistfully poetic terms:
18 Whether it were a whistling wind, or a melodious noise of birds among the spreading branches, or a pleasing fall of water running violently, 19 Or a terrible sound of stones cast down, or a running that could not be seen of skipping beasts, or a roaring voice of most savage wild beasts, or a rebounding echo from the hollow mountains; these things made them to swoon for fear.
So men whose consciences were already laden with the guilt of their wickedness, as Solomon had described earlier, were for that reason in all the more fear from these unseen things which they had imagined were all around them in the dark of night. For that reason, as Solomon also attests here, did their fear overcome them and they died. But of that which they died, none of it was real – it was all just apparitions or hallucinations, and men who had thought to be wise became fools. Perhaps this was also the inspiration for the words of Paul of Tarsus, who said of the Romans who had turned to idolatry that “professing themselves to be wise, they became fools”, in Romans chapter 1.
Now Solomon once again informs us in another way, that none of the terror which befell the Egyptians was real, but that it was only apparitions that had been made from their own delusions which had come upon them and overtaken their minds:
20 For the whole world shined with clear [or brilliant] light, and none were hindered in their labour:
This refers to the state of the children of Israel during the very time of this same event, as Solomon described them in the next chapter of Wisdom, where even though it was still night they had a sufficient Light, for which reason when we present that chapter we hope to discuss The Light of Day.
Now, concluding his description of the Dark of Night as that fateful night had befallen the Egyptians, in the last verse of this chapter he once again reiterates the fact that such darkness fell only upon them:
21 Over them only was spread an heavy night, an image of that darkness which should afterward receive them: but yet were they unto themselves more grievous than the darkness.
There is yet another wordplay here, where the word βαρύς is literally translated as heavy earlier in the verse, later we see the comparative form βαρύτερος, which is more heavy but which is here translated as more grievous. While the night was heavy, or burdensome, to the Egyptians, they were more even more burdensome to themselves on account of the fear which overcame them as their consciences were laden with guilt. When our own fears overcome us, we should learn from this lesson and consider our own guilt, and repent while we still have an opportunity in this life to come to the Light. This is indeed the Dark of Night, and as we said, when we continue with this commentary on Wisdom we shall see the Light of Day.
For this Paul had written in 2 Corinthians chapter 5: “10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. 11 Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God; and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences.” For this he also wrote in Hebrews chapter 9: “14 How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” Having the apostles and their Gospel in our consciences we repent of sin and relieve ourselves of the burden of guilt.
Finally, for this the apostle John had written in his first epistle, in chapter 4, which is also a good summary of what Solomon had said here in reference to these Egyptians: “18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.” Of course, John had then defined love as a keeping of the commandments of God, in chapter 5 of the same epistle: “2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments. 3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.” That same word, βαρύς, is also grievous in this passage. When we clear our consciences and rid ourselves of the burdens of sin through repentance, then we have nothing to fear, even in the dark of night.