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God’s Word for You

Susanna 1:22-24 Susanna shouts

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, July 15, 2023

22 Susanna groaned and said, “I am hemmed in on every side. If I do this, it will mean death for me. If I resist, I cannot escape your hands. 23 I choose not to do it! I will fall into your hands rather than sin in the sight of the Lord.” 24 Then Susanna cried out with a loud voice, and the two elders shouted against her.

The Law of Moses provided a woman with legal protection against rape. For although the penalty for adultery was severe (“both the man who slept with her and the woman must die,” Deuteronomy 22:22), there was a provision to protect a woman who was raped.

God said: “If a man happens to meet in a town a woman pledged to be married and he sleeps with her, you shall take both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death—the girl because she was in a town and did not scream for help, and the man because he violated another man’s wife. You must purge the evil from among you” (Deuteronomy 22:23-24). In this case, the qualification about the status of the girl implies that she is old enough to be married, since she is “pledged to be married.” For the purposes of the sin, she is equivalent to a married woman. This was first, morally, to uphold the Sixth Commandment. The vow of a marriage is a binding vow to be faithful, for the two are one flesh (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:5-6).

Second, this was also as an illustration of the faithfulness God commands in the First Commandment, for God often compares the First Commandment with the Sixth, as in Jeremiah 3:6-10; Ezekiel 16, and so on. “The land is guilty of the vilest adultery in departing from the Lord,” Hosea 1:2. God shows his revulsion over idolatry by comparing it to the betrayal a spouse feels when there has been infidelity.

Third, this was to serve the Ninth Commandment, for a man’s inheritance went to his children, and there could not be any question about the parentage of his wife’s children.

There is also a reminder here about God’s sovereign choice in selecting Mary and her fiance Joseph to raise Jesus as a baby and throughout his childhood. Consider Joseph’s compassion and love as he chose not to bring the full force of the law down on Mary’s head when it was discovered that she was pregnant with a child that was not his (Matthew 1:18). Instead, “because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace [and death!], he had in mind to divorce her quietly” (Matthew 1:19).

The provision about the woman being pledged is not the heart of the law in Deuteronomy 22. The woman’s scream is the focal point. Jehoiakim’s house is set in Babylon, and although the story is a pious fiction, the setting in the city or one of its suburbs is important: Her scream should have been enough to have proved her innocence. However, the two young elders chose to conceal their own guilt by shouting “against her” (exclamaverunt… adversus eam).

Our author illustrates the fallen nature choosing to compound one sin with another. The wicked elders go from lust to leering to conspiring to a wicked proposal to entrapment and now giving false testimony (with their shouts—and there will be more to come).

Susanna makes the only godly choice by refusing to sin. Her words and actions reflect those of Joseph when he was sexually assaulted by Potiphar’s wife (Genesis 39:12). She even tried claiming that she had screamed (39:14-15), but not one servant attested that they heard her. Her husband, perhaps used to his wife’s actions, removed Joseph as quietly and as efficiently as he could, without any accusation recorded had him jailed, and Joseph prospered there.

Notice that Susanna’s words are similar to those of David, who said, “Let us fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is great, but do not let me fall into the hands of men” (2 Samuel 24:14). The circumstances there were different, but both David and Susanna placed themselves at the Lord’s mercy rather than in the power of a human opponent.

One of the mysteries of the Bible for modern readers is the seemingly abrupt change between the final chapter of Malachi and the very next page, the first chapter of Matthew. Even in the final Old Testament books, the temple is in place, the priests are offering sacrifices, and prophets are speaking to God’s people. There are no factions in Israel, and Israel has an Israelite governor, if no longer a king. Then, in Matthew, there is an emperor in Rome that the Jews are subject to. There are Roman troops in every city and town, even the little fishing village of Capernaum (Matthew 8:5). The Jews have teachers from various groups or factions: the Pharisees and Sadducees (Matthew 3:7), the Zealots (Mark 3:18), and outside sources such as Josephus also name the Essenes, a separatist group who shunned marriage (believing that “none of them [that is, women] preserves her faithfulness to one man”) but adopted orphans to grow their numbers (Josephus The Wars of the Jews II, 8,2,119-121). By reading the Apocryphal books, we get a few hints as to the origins of these various groups, especially the Pharisees and Sadducees. In the two books about the Maccabees, the priestly family of warriors who give their name to the books were either associated with or the origin of the new conservative group of Jews that became the Pharisees and that led, through a later division, to the theologically more liberal but socially conservative Sadducees.

How does this relate to our story? If the two young “elders” are typical of the leaders that the Jews had in or after the captivity, then it is easy to see why reform movements such as the Pharisees had some popularity. Even if these characters are not necessarily typical, but only unsurprising, the same thing could be said. “When the wicked rise to power, men go into hiding” (Proverbs 28:12), and “the people groan” (Proverbs 29:2). This is why we pray that God would send us faithful leaders, or at least just rulers.

In this incident, we have a chance to see some of our sins reflected at us when we think of times when we did not make Susanna’s choice. Perhaps our temptations and troubles have been quite a bit smaller than hers, less life-changing, but temptations all the same. Did we seek a sinful solution as an easier way out instead of a godly one? When we have been “hemmed in on every side,” trapped like the Israelites between the desert and the sea (Exodus 14:3), did we trust in God, or did we stumble and fall? For these sins, as with all our sins, there is forgiveness and the love of Christ. And “God is faithful. He will not let you be tested beyond your ability. But when he tests you, along with the test he will give you an outcome that you will be able to bear” (1 Corinthians 10:13). Bear up! The cross you carry has been carried already by Christ, and he will be with you always.

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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