Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel logo

God’s Word for You

Susanna 1:60-64 The status of the condemned

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Sunday, August 6, 2023

60 Then the whole assembly raised a great shout and blessed God, who saves those who hope in him.  61 And they rose up against the two elders, because out of their own mouths Daniel had convicted them of bearing false witness. they did to them as they had wickedly planned to do to their neighbor. 62 Acting in accordance with the law of Moses, they put them to death. Thus innocent blood was spared that day. 63 Hilkiah and his wife praised God for their daughter Susanna, and so did her husband Jehoiakim and all her relatives, because she was found innocent of a shameful deed. 64 And from that day onward Daniel had a great reputation among the people.

Our story ends happily as far as Susanna herself goes, along with her family. She is vindicated, and the people are content with the result. Her parents praise God, as does her husband.

The two elders are said to have been put to death “in accordance with the law of Moses.” A man was guilty of death for committing adultery with another man’s wife (Leviticus 20:10). Even though Susanna resisted and was innocent, the two elders had propositioned her and tried to force her, and even lied about her. But the actual law in question is Deuteronomy 19:18-20, which says, “If the witness proves to be a liar giving false testimony, then do to him as he intended to do to his brother (or sister). You must purge the evil from among you.” Since these wicked elders had wanted to put Susanna to death, they were put to death themselves.

This leaves us with a question about the guilty when they are punished, and especially when they are executed for their crime. Does their guilt remain on their heads? Are they damned because they were put to death for a crime?

The answer is not to be found in any of the laws that required or that still require a death sentence. The death sentence itself is a civil punishment, and it does not touch the realm of God’s forgiveness or whether God might refrain from forgiving someone. What matters, and all that matters, is whether the condemned person repents. Jesus said, “Every sin of blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven” (Matthew 12:31). A sin, even the terrible sin of blasphemy (including taking the Lord’s name in vain) can be forgiven, and if a person repents, that sin will indeed be forgiven. This is God’s promise to us. On judgment day, that sinner’s faith will be counted as righteousness, and his sins will be forgotten by the Lord. While this isn’t the place to get too deeply into the sin against the Holy Spirit, Jesus is talking about rejecting the possibility of being forgiven, or dismissing the need for forgiveness and the work of the Holy Spirit altogether. If a man turns his back on forgiveness itself, how can he be forgiven?

But sins such as murder, rape, and other terrible things will be forgiven when a person turns to God for forgiveness. The thief on the cross said, “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42). That man was forgiven even though he was being killed on account of his sin. He was a sinner, but he put his trust in Jesus, and so he was saved. Jesus assured him, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). So as far as the sinner’s soul is concerned, the death sentence might have the benefit of hurrying along their repentance, or by helping them to see the seriousness of their soul’s status.

Our Lutheran Confession teaches that our sins are truly forgiven when forgiveness is pronounced to us, “according to the statement of Christ, ‘He who hears you, hears me’ (Luke 10:16). Therefore we must believe the voice of the one absolving no less than we would believe a voice coming from heaven” (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, XII:40). So whether or not a person has actually committed a shameful or sinful deed, what matters in the eyes of God is our repentance. For to ask a judge to be lenient might lesson a punishment by months or years in prison, but to throw ourselves on the mercy of God for the sake of Christ will remove all punishment in hell forever, as we are forgiven for the sake of Christ, not on account of our innocence or guilt at all, but on account of his blood, shed on the cross for us. Then we will know, even as we close our eyes in death, that Jesus’ words are for us as well: “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

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.


Browse Devotion Archive