The melodious Hebraic refrain seemed out of place in the dark prison cell.
“The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer.
I call to the LORD, who is worthy of praise, and I am saved from my enemies.”
The dread of night was a daily pressure on the prisoners - the fear of rats feasting on unshod feet, the slither of creeping things on bare skin, and darkness that could be felt. The prisoners had learnt to quickly escape into sleep as night fell, as it was more expedient not to hear or feel the prison’s night terrors. But the men slept with alert minds - inner torments surfacing in their vivid dreams - some mumbled, others raucously - voicing their anguish, fighting unseen assailants.
But tonight no solace was sought in sleep. The prisoners - the despised, the violent, the deranged - forsook their sleep to listen to the two Israeli men.
The Hebrew’s feet had been secured in the stocks. Aching from a brutal beating, their backs and buttocks throbbed with searing pain. The cell floor was covered in human excrement and not a fitting place to rest their bloodied bodies. The inner cell was unfit for human existence with the rancid stench enough to induce retching and the stifling heat inviting disease and swift death.
Still, the Hebrew men continued singing...
“The cords of death entangled me, the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me.
In my distress I called to the LORD. I cried to my God for help.
From His temple He heard my voice...”
The Hebrew prisoners don’t seem to warrant punishment, Nylus thought. The magistrates accusations don’t fit their character. Things have been different since they entered the cells, they’re not like the other men...at peace, possessing an inner strength that beguiles their dire circumstances.
The jailor slumped down wearily. I’ve encountered men of every stock. Mostly in here I deal with the earth’s scum, the ones that the gods have forsaken. Nylus’ own destiny was as unimpressive as his prison charges. The jailor reflected his own empty existence. There are no gods! Nylus suddenly thought. They have been created to pacify delusional men. These so-called gods are the children of imagination. They are sought out to by men to innoculate themselves from the acceptance of destines to painful to bear.
The words of the Hebrew’s song interrupted his thoughts...
“The earth trembled and quaked, the mountains shook, they trembled because He was angry. He parted the heavens and came down.”
Nylus heard the sound of the night watchmen changing the guard. Midnight, and still the Hebrew prisoners call on their god in prayer and song. A smile reflecting his inner sarcasm formed on Nylus’ face. Huh! As if the gods would condescend to hear the sound of men singing! Hmmm, anyway...how can these men sing in their agony and in knowing they face the courts in the morning? Strange forces are at work, Nylus concluded.
The jailor’s eyes heavy from the day’s burden finally slipped into slumber as the Israelis continued their song of petition...
“The LORD thundered from heaven, the voice of the Most High resounded.
He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me.
He brought me out into a spacious place. He rescued me because He delighted in me.”
“What’s happening?” Nylus cried out in the delirium of sleep. Wild shaking - half in dream, half in reality - he couldn’t fathom in which realm he dwelt. Finally the earthquake’s heaving flung him from his chair onto the floor. Fully awake, Nylus quickly assessed the damage the earthquake had wrought to the building. Dust filled the cells causing the light from his torch to cast grotesque patterns on the prison walls.
Alarm struck the jailor. “Guards! Bring the torches! Hurry! Nylus bellowed.
What manner of work is this - an earthquake that loosens ONLY prison doors!? Nylus starred in stark terror. “The prisoners have escaped!” he gasped, realizing that his doom was sealed. Preferring suicide rather than public execution, the jailor drew his sword to end his own life.
In the strange, surreal silence Nylus heard a thunderous voice, "Don't harm yourself! We are all here!" The sword dropped from his trembling hand. Stupefied from the strange events he groped for answers. Was there a hidden power in the singing? Somehow Nylus understood the miraculous intervention was from the hand of the Hebrew’s God!
Adapted from Acts 16:16-34, and 2 Chronicles 20:21, Psalm 18. NIV.
Karen Elengikal is an inspirational, published writer from Sydney, Australia. Karen's first book 'Kidz Battle Zone' was released in 2007. (see FW Book Review).