325) ‘He said, She said;’ Susanna and the Elders (part one)

Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox tradition include this story as an additional chapter in the Old Testament book of Daniel.  Protestants and Jews do not include it in their Scriptures.  It is a wonderful little story about trusting God and doing what is right.  From the Oxford Annotated Bible Apocrypha introduction:  “Of the cycle of traditions concerning Daniel which were added to the book of Daniel when it was translated into Greek, the story of Susanna is undoubtedly the gem.  One of the finest short stories in world literature, it is based on the familiar motif of the triumph of virtue over villainy, and the narrow escape from death of an innocent victim.  While inculcating lessons of morality and trust in God, the story is a model of artistic fiction.  Plot, surprise, struggle, and unfolding character are present in just the right proportion, and the whole is told succinctly and pungently.”

    There lived in Babylon a Jew named Joacim, who had a wife Susanna, the daughter of Chelcias.  She was a very fair woman, and one that feared the Lord.  Her parents also were righteous, and taught their daughter according to the law of Moses.  Joacim was a great rich man, and had a fair garden by his house.  He was visited by many of the Jews because he was more honorable than all others.  In that year there were appointed two of the elders of the people to be judges, but the Lord had said of these men that they were from Babylon and were wicked.  These men were often at Joacim’s house, and all that had any lawsuits came to them.

     Now when the people had departed Joacim’s house at noon, Susanna went into her husband’s garden to walk.  The two elders saw her walking there every day, and their lust was inflamed for her.  And they perverted their own mind, and turned away their eyes from righteousness, and did not look unto heaven, nor remember just judgments.  Though they both were consumed with passion for her, yet each dared not let the other know.  For they were ashamed to make known their lustful desire to have her. 

    They watched eagerly every day to see her.  One day, the one said to the other, “Let us now go home, for it is dinner time.”  So they parted, the one from the other.  But then, turning back again, they both came to the same place.  They then asked one another the cause, and each admitted their lust.  And then together they said they would look for a time when they might find her alone.

    And it so happened that one day the opportunity presented itself.  Susanna went with two maids into the garden, and she wanted to bathe herself, for it was hot.  Nobody else was there, except for the two elders who were hiding and watching her.  Susanna said to her maids, “Bring me oil and soap, and shut the garden doors, so that I may bathe.”  They did as she asked them, and then closed the garden doors, but they did not see the elders.  When the maids had gone, the two elders rose up and ran to Susanna, saying, “Behold, the garden doors are shut, and no one can see us.  We are in love with you, and we want you to agree to lie with us.  But if you will not, then we will bear witness against you, and say that a young man was here with you, and that was why you sent your maids away.”

    Then Susanna sighed and said, “Oh, what can I do?  If I agree to do this thing, it is death unto me; and if I do not do it, I cannot escape your hands.  But it is better for me to not do it and fall into your hands, than to sin in the sight of the Lord.”  With that Susanna cried out with a loud voice, and the two elders cried out against her.  When the servants of the house heard the cry in the garden, they rushed in to see what was done to her.  But when the elders told their story, the servants were greatly ashamed, for such a thing was never said about Susanna.

    The next day, when the people were assembled at Joacim’s house, the two elders came with their lies against Susanna in order to have her put to death.  They said before the people, “Send for Susanna, the daughter of Chelcias, Joacim’s wife.”  She came with her parents, her children, and all her kindred.  Susanna was a delicate woman, and all who saw her wept.  She, weeping, looked up toward heaven, for her heart trusted in the Lord.   (continued…)

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn: Susanna and the Elders

Susanna and the Elders, 1647, by Rembrandt (1606-1669)

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Exodus 20:14   —   You shall not commit adultery.   (The 6th commandment)

Proverbs 6:32   —   But a man who commits adultery lacks judgment; whoever does so destroys himself. 

Matthew 5:27-28   —   (Jesus said), “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’  But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 

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A Prayer by Martin Luther on the Sixth Commandment:
Dear God, in this commandment you teach and command me to be pure, orderly, and respectful in all my thoughts, words, and deeds.  You forbid me to disgrace any other man’s wife or daughter, certainly not by any wicked deed, but also not by any idle talk that would rob them of their decency and degrade me.  Rather, I should do what I can to help them maintain their honor and respect, just as I would hope they would do for my family.  For we are responsible for each other– we should not do anything that would bring our neighbor’s family into reproach, but should do what we can to preserve their honor and goodness.  Amen.