326) ‘He said, She said;’ Susanna and the Elders (part two)

     (…continued)  The elders stood up in the midst of the people and said, “As we walked in the garden alone, this woman came in with two maids.  She shut the garden doors and sent the maids away.  Then a young man, who there was hid, came unto her, and lay with her.  Then we, standing in a corner of the garden and seeing this wickedness, ran to them.  The man we could not hold:  for he was stronger than we.  He opened the door and leaped out.  But having taken this woman, we asked who the young man was, but she would not tell us.  These things do we testify.” 

     Then the assembly believed them, since they were the elders and judges of the people, and so they condemned Susanna to death.  Then she cried out with a loud voice, and said, “O everlasting God, you know all that is secret, and you know all things before they come to be.  You know that these men have borne false witness against me.  And now, I must die, even though I never did such things as these men have maliciously invented against me.”  And the Lord heard her voice. 

     Therefore, when she was being led away to be put to death, the Lord raised up a young man named Daniel, who cried out with a loud voice, “I must be innocent of the blood of this woman.”

     Then all the people turned them toward him and said, “What do you mean by these words that you have spoken?”  Standing in the midst of them, he said, “Are you such fools, you sons of Israel, that without examination or knowledge of the truth you will condemn a daughter of Israel?  Return again to the place of judgment, for they have borne false witness against her.” 

    So all the people returned again in haste, and they said to Daniel, “Come, sit down among us, and explain it us, seeing God has given you the honor of an elder.”

    Then Daniel said to them, “Put these two accusers aside, one far from the other, and I will examine them.”  So when they were thus separated, Daniel called one of them, and said to him, “O, you that have grown old in wickedness, now the sins which you have committed in earlier days will come to light.  For you have pronounced false judgment and have condemned the innocent and have let the guilty go free.  But the Lord has said, ‘The innocent and righteous you shall not slay.’  Now then, if you really saw what you said you saw, tell me, under what tree did you see them together?”

     The old judge answered, “It was under a mastic tree.” 

     And Daniel said, “Very well, you have lied against your own head, and the sentence of God will be to cut you in two.”

     So he put him aside, and commanded that the other be brought out, and said to him, “Beauty has deceived you and lust has perverted your heart.  You have done this to other women, and they, for fear, would lie with you.  But this daughter of Judah would not abide your wickedness.  Now therefore tell me, under what tree did you see them together?”

      And the second judge answered, “It was under an oak tree.”

     Then said Daniel to him, “Well, you also have lied against your own head, and the angel of God is waiting with the sword to cut you in two, that you may be destroyed.”
     With that, all the assembly cried out with a loud voice, and praised God, who saves those that trust in him.  And they arose against the two elders, for Daniel had convicted them of false witness by their own mouth.  And so, according to the law of Moses, the assembly did to the judges what they had maliciously intended to do to Susanna, and they put them to death.  Thus, the innocent blood was saved.  Therefore Chelcias and his wife praised God for their daughter Susanna, with Joacim her husband, and all the kindred, because there was no dishonesty found in her from that day forth.
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Exodus 20:16  —  You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.  (The 8th commandment)
 
Proverbs 12:22  —  The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in those who are truthful. 
Proverbs 6:16-20  —  There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him:  haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies, and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.
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A prayer by Martin Luther on the 8th commandment:
I confess and ask for your grace, because I have so often in my life sinfully spoke with malice and contempt against other people. They depend on me for their honor and reputation, just as I depend on them for the same. Help us all to obey this commandment, giving our neighbor the benefit of the doubt, and explaining their actions in the kindest way. Amen.  

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.

48) The Old Man and His Grandson

By The Brothers Grimm (early 1800’s), from a story told as early as 1535

     There was once a very old man, whose eyes had become dim, his ears dull of hearing, his knees trembled, and when he sat at table he could hardly hold the spoon, and spilt the broth upon the tablecloth or let it run out of his mouth.  His son and his son’s wife were disgusted at this, so the old grandfather at last had to sit in the corner behind the stove, and they gave him his food in an earthenware bowl, and not even enough of it.  And he used to look towards the table with his eyes full of tears.  Once, too, his trembling hands could not hold the bowl, and it fell to the ground and broke.  The young wife scolded him, but he said nothing and only sighed.  Then they bought him a wooden bowl for a few half-pence, out of which he had to eat.

     They were once sitting thus when the little grandson of four years old began to gather together some bits of wood upon the ground.  “What are you doing there?” asked the father.  “I am making a little trough,” answered the child, “for father and mother to eat out of when I am big.”

     The man and his wife looked at each other for a while, and presently began to cry.  Then they took the old grandfather to the table, and henceforth always let him eat with them, and likewise said nothing if he did spill a little of anything.

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Exodus 20:12  —  Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

Isaiah 11:6  —  The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.

Matthew 7;12  —  (Jesus said), “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. 

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Look with mercy, O God our Father, on all whose increasing years bring them weakness, distress or isolation.  Provide for them homes of dignity and peace; give them understanding helpers, and the willingness to accept help; and, as their strength diminishes, increase their faith and their assurance of your love.  This we ask in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.   —Book of Common Prayer