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God’s Word for You

Susanna 1:10-14 Sin compounding sin

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, July 8, 2023

The reader may notice some differences between my translation that follows and others. I have tried to follow the Greek text of the Septuagint as much as possible, making substitutions from Theodotian’s Greek translation and even from the Latin in some cases. I have only done this to flesh out the context; the main pieces of the story are present in every version. We return now to the fictional Babylonian garden of a man named Jehoiakim, whose beautiful wife is subject to the lustful thoughts of two wicked elders of the Jews.

10 Both of them were smitten with her, but they did not tell each other about their distress, 11 since they were ashamed to admit their lustful desire to have her, although the woman knew nothing about all of this. 12 Every day they came quickly and secretly at dawn, each one eager to be the first to be seen by her and to speak with her.  13 [One morning]  she was taking her usual walk through the garden. One of the elders had already arrived when the other arrived, and the one questioned the other, saying, “Why did you come so early in the morning without inviting me along?” [Later on] they said to each other, “Let us go home, for it is mealtime.” 14 And when they left, they parted from each other. But turning back, they happened to meet again. When each pressed the other for the reason, they confessed their lust. And then together they arranged for a time when they could find her alone.

Our apocryphal story has taken a dreadful, sinful turn. The author would have us imagine a sin, lust, in men who should be leaders of God’s people. Their sin compounds and builds, and rather than help each other, the two fictional elders become guilty of what so many real men and women do, or fail to do. They encourage the sin in each other instead of doing the simple, crucial task: to share the gospel of forgiveness and guide one another toward godly living. In this sense the fictional nature of this story helps us to see it while free of a certain outrage, such as we would feel if a real person or pair of leaders were actually mentioned and described.

A Greek addition to verse 11 says that the woman, Susanna, did nothing to encourage their sinful feelings. They were “smitten” with her (the Greek word means “wounded, stabbed”). When a man is attracted by a woman, his first, best thought should be, “This is a woman my Savior died for. Her soul must be my first concern.” If there is any sense of attraction and he is married, he must always think, “I have a wife; this other woman is not for me.” The words of the early Church father are even dangerous. When as a freed slave he once saw his former owner bathing in a river, he thought, “I would be happy if I had a wife with such beauty and character as hers” (Shepherd of Hermas). Such thoughts invite the beauty of a woman that one is not married to into the realm of marital fantasy, and this, too, must be avoided. If a man is not married but the woman is, he must shut down any sinful thoughts by saying, “She is another man’s wife; she is not for me.” This is the only godly path.

If both are unmarried and they are attracted to one another, there is still the matter of sexual sins, since sex is a gift God gives to married couples alone. Paul says: “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified; that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-5).

The root of this evil is the love of one’s own flesh over and above God himself. “We seek,” Luther writes, “that vile pleasure and nothing else than what we feel and what affects us carnally and agreeably and delights us” (Lectures on Genesis). This covetous feeling, which is lust, overwhelms the senses and drives away logic, reason, kindness, sensibility, and morality. This is where original sin (which lives in us from conception) sparks the fires of actual sins. An actual sin is any statement, thought, or deed that is against God’s eternal law. An actual sin transgresses (steps across) God’s law.

The ancient doctors of the church all agree on this definition:

Ambrose says: “Sin is a violation of the divine law and disobedience to the heavenly commandments.”

Augustine says, among other good explanations, “Sin is a turning away from the Creator and a turning toward inferior, created things.”

Chrysostom says: “Sin is not obeying God.”

Anselm says: “Sin is doing forbidden things or not doing what has been commanded.”

All of these are variations or explanations of the inspired words of the Apostle, who says: “Everyone who sins breaks the law. In fact, sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4).

Returning to our story, we see that the two elders, who should have rebuked one another and sought after God’s forgiveness, instead agreed to multiply their sin by conspiring together about this poor woman. This is an example of the extremes that unrepentance sins create. Everything becomes utterly unreasonable when sins are embraced. The sin itself becomes a little god, a little idol that is worshiped. The sin is held up as something that must above all things be satisfied, like an insect bite that needs to be itched. In reality, the bug bite only gets worse when it is itched, so why does the foolish sinner think that indulging in a sin will make anything better in his life? Sin compounds sin. And God warns through the prophet: “They sin more and more… therefore they will be like the morning mist, like smoke escaping through a window” (Hosea 13:2). Those who indulge their sins rather than repent of their sins will be sent away, removed from God’s presence like the morning mist, never to return.

But for all who repent, who are troubled by their sins and ask God’s forgiveness for their sins, there truly is forgiveness. What happened to the woman caught in adultery when Jesus confronted her after her accusers all disappeared? He asked her: “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin” (John 8:10-11).

In Christ, there is forgiveness for all sinners who repent and turn from sin. Ask, and it will be given to you.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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