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God’s Word for You

Susanna 1:35-41 They all condemned her

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Sunday, July 23, 2023

35 Susanna wept and looked up toward heaven, for her heart trusted in the Lord. 36 The elders said, “While we were walking in the garden alone, this woman came in with two servant girls, shut the garden doors, and dismissed the girls. 37 Then a young man, who had been hiding, came to her and lay with her. 38 We were in a corner of the garden, and when we saw this wickedness we ran to them. 39 We saw them embracing but we could not hold onto the man, for he was too strong for us, and he opened the doors and ran out. 40 So we seized this woman and asked her who the young man was, but she would not tell us. These things we testify.” 41 The assembly believed them because they were elders of the people, and they were judges. They all condemned her to death.

Since most of this section is simply the lie told by the two elders, we will focus on the legal proceedings of verses 39-41. The two elders want to establish their position in asking for the death penalty for Susanna. The Law of Moses said that two people caught in adultery were guilty and should be stoned to death at once, “both the adulterer and the adulteress” (Leviticus 20:10). In this case, there was no way to produce the fictional (yes, it is a fiction within a fiction) lover, so they added the touch that he was “too strong” for them. And then he escaped through the obviously open doors of the garden gate.

The hole in their testimony—a hole that is not brought up at any point—is how Susanna and a supposed lover would miss the presence of the two elders out for an afternoon stroll in the same garden. How did they get in? This was not public property, but belonged to Susanna’s husband Jehoiakim. What were they really doing there? However, throwing lots of lies in another direction will sometimes cast eyes away from the truth and the real questions that reveal innocence or guilt.

They also stand as two witnesses about the unknown name of the pretend “young man.” It’s her word against theirs, and there are two of them, so they were safe to accuse her of even more wrongdoing.

They use the important legal term, matyroumen (μαρτυροῦμεν), “we testify.” Compare this to the words of Jesus to Nicodemus: “We speak of what we know, and we testify (μαρτυροῦμεν) to what we have seen” (John 3:11). And the Apostle John says “We speak well (testify μαρτυροῦμεν) of him” (3 John 1:12); and “We testify (μαρτυροῦμεν) to you and proclaim to you the eternal life” (1 John 1:2). To testify is an important theological term throughout John’s books. John the Baptist was the witness who testified about the appearance of Christ (John 1:15). Christ himself was the witness and one who testified about God the Father (John 3:31-32), and the Holy Spirit is the one who testifies about the Son (John 5:32). Here, the wicked judges caught up in their own adulterous thoughts think that they can get away with false testimony against Susanna—a direct violation of the Eighth Commandment (Exodus 20:16).

Luther preaches about the sin of false witness with an eye toward the reformation of the sinner: “Thus we have now the sum and general understanding of this commandment, to wit, that no one do any injury with the tongue to his neighbor, whether friend or foe, nor speak evil of him, no matter whether it be true or false, unless it be done by commandment or for his reformation, but that every one employ his tongue and make it serve for the best of every one else, to cover up his neighbor’s sins and infirmities, excuse them, palliate and garnish them with his own reputation. The chief reason for this should be the one which Christ alleges in the Gospel, in which he comprehends all commandments respecting our neighbor, “Do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 7:12).”

In our story, the misled crowd (mostly the woman’s own family and friends) are forced to agree with the lying elder of Israel. There is no hope for her. Since it is a fiction and an apocryphal account, I am free to take the story as an allegory if I wish—something that we must never do with the Bible. But doesn’t Susanna stand here the way that all of the members of the true, holy Christian church stand condemned by the Devil’s lies and the ignorant condemnation of the world? We are hopeless, “harassed and helpless,” as Jesus said (Matthew 9:36). But just as the church has hope in Christ, so also there will be hope for Susanna. For Susanna, the hope is yet to come. In our case however, our hope has already arrived, and he holds out the gospel of forgiveness to everyone.

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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