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God’s Word for You

Susanna 1:25-29 They bore false witness

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Sunday, July 16, 2023

We are continuing the apocryphal account of Susanna, who now has refused the indecent and sinful advances of two of Israel’s elders, and is now going to be accused by them of having a rendezvous with a doubly fictional “young man.”

25 Then one of the elders ran and opened the garden doors.

The elders compound their sin by tampering with the evidence: opening the garden doors (the main doors) would make it seem as if the invented lover of Susanna had fled that way; otherwise there was apparently no way out of the walled garden. A plot hole in the story appears here in the eyes of some readers: why not claim he shinnied up a tree and over the wall, or used some other means of escape? But in the heat of the moment, their choice of actually throwing open the doors was the most obvious and clearest path to planting blame.

26 When the servants in the house heard the shouting in the garden, they rushed in at the side door to see what was happening. 27 But after the elders told their story, the servants felt very much ashamed, for nothing like this had ever been said about Susanna.

The servants responded to the shouting, but recall that Susanna’s innocent outcry was matched by the shouts of false accusation from the young Jewish elders. The servants rushed in at the “side door.” Wycliffe’s translation has “postern” for this door, but while postern usually means a private back door to a home or shop, it was also used for a small side door. Many churches have a postern of one kind or other for the minister to enter into the sacristy, the small side-room of a church where gowns and stoles are kept.

Hearing the account of the elders, the servants of the house were shocked. They had never heard or imagined any kind of wrongdoing on the part of their mistress; in fact, they had no reason at all but to take everything she said and did “in the kindest possible way” (Small Catechism, Eighth Commandment). Here the author shows considerable spiritual insight, introducing the appropriate emotion opposite the true sin that has been committed. The servants are upset about their mistress’s reputation more than her supposed actions: “Nothing like this had ever been said about her before.”

“God will not have our neighbor deprived of his reputation, honor, and character any more than of his money and possessions; he would have every man maintain his self-respect before his wife, children, servants, and neighbors” (Luther). Lying before a court will always have a bad outcome. Either a man will be caught lying, and suffer the consequences both in this life and the next, or else he will seem to get away with it, but end up facing his eternal Judge anyway, and be punished for the very thing he thought he had gotten away with.

28 The next day, when the people gathered at the house of her husband Jehoiakim, the two elders arrived. Their minds were full of their wicked plot to have Susanna put to death.  They said before the people, 29 “Send for Susanna daughter of Hilkiah, the wife of Jehoiakim.” And they sent for her right away.

In order to save their own worthless reputations, the Jewish elders decide that Susanna will have to die. They will need to accuse her in such a way that the death penalty will be carried out immediately, in keeping with the Law of Moses (Deuteronomy 22:24), before she could have a chance to defend herself. Another Greek version of this story has Susanna’s case brought before the city’s synagogue, but the other details are similar.

The Eighth Commandment forbids all sins of speech or communication that might injure or offend our neighbor. False witness is obviously an act and a sin of the tongue. Whatever is done with words against a neighbor, then, is forbidden by God. Whether this is done by a false preacher, a false witness, judge, or attorney in a court, or by anyone gossiping with their friends. “It applies particularly to the detestable, shameful vice of back-biting or slander by which the devil rides us… It is a common vice of human nature that everyone would rather hear evil than good about his neighbor. Evil though we are, we cannot tolerate having evil spoken of us; we want the golden compliments of the whole world. Yet we cannot bear to hear the best spoken of others” (Luther).

Here, as always, is a sin in us that Jesus paid for. First, he kept the Eighth Commandment perfectly in our place. “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth. When they hurled insults at him, he did not retaliate. When he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:22-23).  Second, he paid the penalty with his own body and blood that we owed for every sin we have committed against this and the other Commandments: “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. When we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son” (Romans 5:8,10).

Praise God for giving us this author of a fiction, an apocryphal account, who has illustrated with a story such important spiritual truths that touch our lives every day. May God bless this work in our hearts.

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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