God’s Word for You
Susanna 1:1-2 Once upon a time…
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, June 24, 2023
S U S A N N A
We’re going to take a quick look at a book from the Apocrypha. Susanna is one of the shorter books. It is counted as one of the “Additions to Daniel.” It has been called the first detective story.
The Church rejects the Apocrypha as being part of the word of God. A few years after the death of Martin Luther, the Catholic theologian Sixtus of Siena coined the term “deuteroncanonical” to show that these books were of secondary importance: hidden, secret, or dubious writings. They are no longer hidden or secret, but they remain dubious. Luther took on each apocryphal book head on from long personal association with them. He considered them to be beautiful religious fictions. Susanna and the other additions to Daniel he regarded as “cornflowers” (weeds that upset the growth of wheat, oats and other grains) to be plucked and removed from the field of God’s word. “And yet,” he wrote, “to keep them from perishing, we have put them here in a kind of special little spice garden or flower bed since much that is good is to be found in them, especially the hymn of praise, Benedicte Domino.” Some readers of God’s Word for You may remember that the song Luther is referring to was the first Canticle in the old 1941 Lutheran Hymnal.
Still, it is profitable for God’s people to be familiar with many of these books. First, we should not fear them, as if they contain dangerous magic spells. The false doctrine that sometimes crops up in the apocrypha is usually easy to see. Second, certain Greek words in the New Testament are rare, and knowledge of the apocryphal books can help because they were written in the same Greek dialect. Third, almost everything in the apocryphal books is better and more wholesome reading than practically everything else available in our bookstores, TV, films, or internet today.
Susanna, then, is a fictional story about a woman who is wrongfully accused of immorality and adultery. This little book has two lessons for believers: First, to persevere as Susanna did under false accusations, for to sin in order to retain one’s reputation (as she is almost forced to do) is still a sin. Second, to investigate the truth of a matter as the apocryphal man called Daniel does in the story.
I, Susanna is condemned (1:1-23)
II, Susanna is put on trial (1:24-41)
III, Susanna’s prayer (1:42-44)
IV, The wicked witnesses are put on trial (1:45-59)
V, The wicked witnesses are condemned (1:60-64)
1:1 There was a man who lived in Babylon whose name was Jehoiakim. 2 He married Susanna the daughter of Hilkiah, she was a very beautiful woman and one who feared the Lord.
There were three large groups of exiles who were deported to Babylon. The first was in 605 BC and included young Daniel (Daniel 1:1); the second in 597 included Ezekiel, who was later called to be a prophet (Ezekiel 1:1-2). When the third big group of exiles was about to depart from Judea, Jeremiah was chained up with them but was set free by a Babylonian official (Jeremiah 40:1-5). The author of this story has chosen names consistent with the period of the exile, yet connected also with the earlier Assyrian crisis (2 Kings 18:1). It isn’t relevant to this story about Susanna, but the name Jehoiakim was given to prince Eliakim by Pharaoh Neco of Egypt (2 Kings 23:34).
The names in the apocryphal books have significance. Susanna means “lily” (1 Kings 7:26) or “rose” (Song of Solomon 2:1). She is depicted as a devout believer, and her father’s name is given as with any good Jew of the time of writing. She “feared the Lord,” that is, the true God, something that could not be said of Israel’s last kings (including the historic Jehoiakim). They knew about the Lord and about Israel’s historical connection with God, but they followed their own whims instead. The author’s choice of using Jehoiakim’s name for Susanna’s righteous husband paints that background for the story. The story is set in the days when Judah, the southern kingdom, had been exiled because of their sins and unbelief. “You saw the great disaster I brought on Jerusalem and on all the towns of Judah. Today they lie deserted and in ruins because of the evil they have done. They provoked me to anger by burning incense and by worshiping other gods” (Jeremiah 44:2-3). This background was familiar to the Jews. Many of their stories looked either to the restoration of Judah by the Maccabees or in the time before when their people lived in stange faraway places and lived lives of faith. Our own entertainment today is likewise set in the recent past or the uncertain future, set times and places people seem to prefer thinking about over the present moment.
The heroine of the story, Susanna, is both beautiful and virtuous. Her faith is held up as one of the main points of the story. It is a faith worth comparing to others, such as some of the historic women of the Bible, especially Ruth and Naomi, Deborah, Hannah, and the Lord’s aunt Elizabeth and his mother Mary.
When the sin of idolatry surrounds us in the world everywhere, where death by gun and death by abortion are held up in special honor by political opposites, where the rights of people to take life and the rights of political figures to lie and cheat in order to get their way are the standard and the backdrop for most of what is said and done, the account of Susanna stands as a useful mirror. She is as virtuous as the mature Joseph who tore himself away from Potiphar’s wicked wife (Genesis 39:12). What would a storyteller say about you or me? How would we be judged by our peers? More importantly, and most importantly of all, how will we be judged by our Lord? Have no fear, faithful Christian. Our righteousness is not from our deeds, but from faith in Christ. “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” (Romans 1:17; Habakkuk 2:4).
Pastor Timothy Smith