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God’s Word for You

Susanna 1:42-44 Prayer

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, July 29, 2023

42 Then Susanna cried out with a loud voice, and said, “O eternal God, you know what is secret. You are aware of all things before they happen. 43 You know that these men have given false testimony against me. Now, must I die, even though I have done none of the wicked things that they have charged against me?” 44 And the Lord heard her cry.

In this passage it will be wisest to address the doctrine of prayer. Prayer is, by definition, an act of worship (Daniel 9:3,19; Matthew 15:8-9). God does not hear the prayers of those who do not believe in the true God (Hebrews 11:6). For “God does not hear an empty cry, nor does the Almighty regard it” (Job 35:13). A prayer is therefore whatever a believer wishes to say to the Lord: usually either a request, or giving thanks for something. “Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests” (Ephesians 6:18). A prayer can be made with the believer’s own words, spoken in the moment (1 Samuel 1:10-16; Hosea 14:2) or with words composed by someone else (Matthew 6:9-13). Jesus warns us not to bother “babbling like pagans” (Matthew 6:7), but to say what is in our hearts with clear, simple words. A short prayer is no better or worse than a long one.

The model of Susanna’s prayer is excellent. Her address describes God as eternal and omniscient (all-knowing). She objects to the sin against her, which is against the Eighth Commandment (false testimony). She asks whether she must die on account of their lies, and while she does not claim to be without sin, she does say that she is not guilty of the sin for which she has been accused. The author steps in with the brief assertion: “The Lord heard her prayer.” Here is a place where a Christian should be troubled by the text, since it is not right to falsely depict God’s words or actions in a fiction, and therefore we have here a violation of the First and Second Commandments in the authorship of the text.

Turning back to the doctrine of prayer, we see a difference of opinion on where in theology prayer belongs. Sometimes it is placed within God’s providence under the First Article, because after God gave the general oversight of his creation to the three estates of man (the church, Genesis 2:17; marriage, Genesis 2:24; and the government, Genesis 4:17 and 10:10), God chooses to continue to interact with his creation through four means: prophecy (Hosea 12:10), miracles (Psalm 72:18), the purpose and ending of man’s life (Acts 17:26-27), and prayer. God’s desire is that his people “should always pray and not give up praying” (Luke 18:1). It is in and through prayer that God intervenes in the workings of the world’s governments (Isaiah 37:20,36). Another place where prayer is covered is in the doctrine of sanctification under the Third Article. And properly speaking, it belongs in both places.

“The prayer of a believing man is the key to heaven; as prayer ascends, so God’s compassion descends (as Augustine says). It is another Jacob’s ladder and a certain royal gate by which he is brought to the heart of God. Prayer is the support of the speaker, a sacrifice to God, a scourge of the devil, indeed a very firm protection against the devil, the spring and root of all good” (Quenstedt).

Since we are visiting an Apocryphal book, it would be good to address the question here about prayers to the saints. Prayers to the saints are encouraged by the Roman Catholic Church and other church bodies. The Council of Trent says: “The saints who reign together with Christ offer their prayers to God for men, that it is good and useful humbly to invoke them and to take recourse to their prayers, help, and aid in order to obtain benefits from God through his Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who is our only Redeemer and Savior.” The same Council declares that anyone who thinks otherwise, who (for example) says that the saints are not to be invoked or that they do not intercede for people in prayer, or that a prayer to them is idolatry, “think(s) impiously.” Let us be clear about this error with three essential points:

  1. Scripture does not recommend, command, or even mention this. Even the Catholic theologians admit this (such as Luther’s opponent John Eck, in his Enchiridion). Not one Bible passage can be produced in favor of prayers to the saints. “This,” says our own Martin Chemnitz, “is not a light argument, but one of great moment. For no dogma ought to be placed before the church and accepted concerning which no sure, firm, and clear testimonies are found in canonical Scripture.”
  2. The adoration of saints disagrees with the one, true adoration of God commanded in Scripture, the giver of all gifts through Jesus Christ, the only mediator. According to Catholic doctrine the saints are “givers” as well as “intercessors,” and thus something is ascribed to them that Scripture ascribes only to God and the Lord Christ: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5).
  3. The invocation of the saints disagrees with several clear Scripture passages (Deuteronomy 6:13; Matthew 4:10). The makeshift distinction the papists construct here between ‘latreia’ (λατρεία, “worship”), which belongs only to God, and ‘douleia’ (δουλεία, “veneration”), which is due to the saints, does not help, since Scripture knows nothing of such a distinction.

An invalid proof passage often cited is the apocryphal 2 Maccabees 15:14, which says, “This is God’s prophet Jeremiah” (who had died centuries before), “who loves his fellow-Jews and offers many prayers for our people” (New English Bible). First, the words are taken from an apocryphal book, which cannot establish doctrine. But also the words do not prove anything, since, even allowing that Jeremiah or another dead hero of faith (saint) offers prayers on behalf of God’s people, this is by no means a command that God’s people can, should, or must pray to such a saint.

Let our prayers be to Christ, to his Father, or to the Holy Spirit—the true, triune God who promises to hear the prayers of his people and to answer them. Prayer is a part of the Christian’s life of sanctification. In a sense, prayer should be the whole framework of our life of sanctification, an important part of worship and daily living. We eat, sleep, serve God and one another, beginning and ending with prayer.

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
for his mercy endures forever” (Psalm 107:1).

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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