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God’s Word for You

Susanna 1:50-59 Evidence and Greek puns

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, August 5, 2023

50 Then all the people hurried back. The rest of the elders said to him, “Come, sit with us and talk to us, for God has given you the right to do so.” 51 Daniel said to them, “Separate them far away from one another, and I will examine them.” 52 When they were separated from each other, he called one of them over and said to him, “You old relic of wicked days, your sins, the sins you committed in the past, have come home today. 53 You have pronounced unjust verdicts, you condemned the innocent and acquitted the guilty, even though the Lord said: ‘Do not put those who are innocent and those who are righteous to death.’  54 Now then, if you really saw this woman, tell me this: Under what tree did you see them being intimate with each other?” He answered, “Under a shinnon tree.”  55 So Daniel said, “Very well! This lie has cost you your head, for the angel of God has received the sentence from God and will immediately slice you in two.”
    56 Then, ordering him to be taken aside, he ordered them to bring the other man. Daniel said to him, “You offspring of Canaan and not of Judah, beauty has beguiled you and lust has perverted your heart. 57 This is how you have been treating the daughters of Israel, and they were intimate with you through fear; but a daughter of Judah would not tolerate your wickedness. 58 Now then, tell me: Under what tree did you catch them being intimate with each other?” He answered, “Under an oak.”  59 Daniel said to him, “Very well! This lie has cost you also your head, for the angel of God is aching to split you in two with his sword, so as to destroy the pair of you.”

As we approach the conclusion to our apocryphal mystery tale, young Daniel has a brilliant idea: Listen to the evidence, but dig just a little deeper to see if the testimony holds up.

God also told the prophet Ezekiel, “If you warn the wicked man and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his evil ways, he will die for his sin; but you will have saved yourself” (Ezekiel 3:19). This was a command to Ezekiel and to preachers in general to uphold God’s word, both the law and the gospel, for the good of people’s souls. Here in the book of Susanna, saving souls is not really part of the story, but saving an innocent woman’s life is very much the point of the account, as well as exposing these two wicked men.

Before we get to Daniel’s tactic, notice the extra accusation he makes: “This is how you have been treating the daughters of Israel, and they were intimate with you through fear; but a daughter of Judah would not tolerate your wickedness” (verse 57). Daniel makes it sound as if these wretched men were like the sons of old Eli, who were sleeping with the women who worked in the tabernacle of the Lord (1 Samuel 2:22). They were forcing themselves on the women of the northern tribes, Israel, but this “daughter of Judah” would not tolerate their wickedness. Does he mean that women with loose morals or women who fell into temptation and sin were known as “daughters of Israel” as opposed to “daughters of Judah,” or has he made a mistake in the chronology and the geography of the exile, implying that the Jews in Babylon were somehow intermixed with the Israelites of the Assyrian exile, even though they were carried off long before (in 722 BC, more than a century before the Jews were deported) and to different places. The people of the north were marched away to Halah, and to Gozan on the Habor River, and to the towns of the Medes (south of the Caspian Sea, 2 Kings 17:6). History does not record their return or what happened to them in those places. Sargon II claims that he took more than 27,000 captives from Israel and settled other people in their vacated towns in Samaria. This kind of error occurs in other places in the apocryphal books, and it almost seems like a wink from the writer that this is obviously a made-up story, like saying “This happened the same year that President Nixon signed the Declaration of Independence.”

Let’s return to this Daniel’s search for the facts. When the first Elder says he saw the tryst happen under a shinnon tree,” Daniel rhymes the tree name with a punishment. The Greek word schinnon (σχίνoν) “mastic tree” sounds like the verb schizei (σχίζει) to “cut in half.”

Then, the other man says he saw the tryst taking place “under an oak tree.” The Greek word prinon (πρίνoν) “oak tree” sounds a little like the root of the compound verb kataprisei (καταπρίσῃ) “to cut to pieces.” The play on words is not easy to carry into English. I have alliterated “oak” with “aching” in the translation, and I have combined the Greek tree name “shinnon” with “slice,” although it might have been better to say the tree was a “spice tree” and that this meant he would be “sliced” in two.

This verdict is the punishment for a crime. The crimes of all our sins deserve a much more serious punishment. Rather than a swift death, our sins merit hell. As Johann Gerhard said: “Death is terrible, judgment more terrible, but the hell that will follow the death and judgment of the ungodly is the most terrible.” With the many threats God gives in the Scriptures, God shows his highest mercy. God is in the habit of warning sinners through his threats of punishment that they should flee from their sins in repentance, and carry their pleas for mercy to God’s mercy seat. “The Redeemer will come to those who repent of their sins” (Isaiah 59:20). And then the Lord teaches us to be generous with each other as well: “If your brother sins against you and comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him” (Luke 17:4).

The forgiveness he offers to us is the same forgiveness he wants us to show to one another. He teaches us this in the Lord’s Prayer, and he teaches us this with the way our parents raised us, they way our teachers kept the peace, and we can demonstrate this to our children and to each other. Show the love of Christ with your life, and do what is so singularly lacking in the apocryphal books. Forgive, as you have been forgiven.

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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