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A Practical Commentary On Holy Scripture by Frederick Justus Knecht D.D.

[Daniel 13]

AMONG the captive Jews in Babylon there was a man named Joakim, whose wife, Susanna, was very beautiful, and feared God. Now Joakim being very rich and influential, it happened that many of his countrymen resorted to his house. Among these were two of the ancients who had been appointed judges for that year. The two old men were considered by the people as wise and virtuous, but in reality they were very wicked.

Now the visitors that came to Joakim generally left at noon, and then Susanna would walk forth into the orchard near by to refresh herself in the shade. The two old men knew this, and one day they went into the orchard and hid themselves behind the trees. A little later Susanna came in and fastened the gate, believing herself alone. Then the wicked old men came forth from their hiding-place and tried to make her commit sin.

Susanna was horrified at their proposal; but they said that if she did not consent to their wishes, they would publicly accuse her of a great crime. Then Susanna raised her pure and beautiful eyes to heaven, sighed and said: “I am straitened on every side, for if I do this thing it is death to me, and if I do it not I shall not escape your hands. But it is better for me to fall into your hands, without doing it, than to sin in the sight of the Lord.”

She then cried out with a loud voice; but the elders cried out against her. One of them ran to the orchard-gate, and opened it that the people might enter.

Then he and his companion falsely accused Susanna of the very crime they had proposed to her. Next day, accompanied by her parents and children, and other relatives, Susanna was brought before the tribunal of justice, where she was condemned and sentenced to death. But she, weeping, looked up to heaven, for her heart had confidence in God.

And the Lord heard her prayer. As she was led out to death, Daniel, inspired from above, exclaimed: “I am clean from the blood of this woman.” Then all the people began to ask him: “What meaneth this word that thou hast spoken?” He told them to return to judgment, because the elders had borne false witness against Susanna. Then the people went back in haste. But Daniel ordered the two accusers to be brought in separately.

This being done, he said to the first that came: “O thou that art grown old in evil days, now are thy sins come out. Tell me, under what tree thou sawest them conversing together?” He said: “Under a mastic-tree.” Daniel replied: “Thou hast lied against thy own head.” Then he sent him away, and had the other brought in, whom he asked: “Tell me, under what tree didst thou take them conversing together?” He answered: “Under a holm-tree.” Daniel replied: “Thou hast lied against thy own head.”

The people saw by the contrary statements of the old men that their testimony was false, and rising up against them, they put them both to death. Susanna was restored to her joyful husband and children, and they and all the people blessed God, who always saves and protects those who place their hopes in Him. Whereupon Daniel became great in the sight of the people.

The Omnipresence of God. The old sinners “perverted their own mind and turned away their eyes that they might not look into heaven, nor remember just judgments” (Dan. 13:9). They intentionally banished all thought of the ever present and most just God, and said to Susanna: “No one seeth us.” But on the other hand the holy woman did remember Him, and said: “It is better for me to fall into your hands without sinning, than to sin in the sight of the Lord.”

The Omniscience of the Eternal God. “O Eternal God, who knowest hidden things, who knowest all things before they come to pass, Thou knowest that they have borne false witness against me.” God knows everything that is hidden, what is past, and what is still to be. He revealed to Daniel that the two elders had borne false witness against Susanna; and it was the thought of God’s omniscience that gave Susanna courage and comfort in her hour of peril.

The Justice of God. He brought to light the innocence of Susanna, and the guilt of her accusers, in the most wonderful manner, in order that she might be rewarded, and they punished. God often manifests His justice in this way, even upon earth.

Fortitude. Susanna was a valiant woman, a very heroine of virtue. She preferred to die rather than sin. St. Chrysostom says of her: “Susanna stood as a lamb between two wolves. She was left alone between these two beasts, with no one to help her but God alone. He looked down from heaven, and suffered the dispute to make clear both the chastity of Susanna, and the wickedness of the elders; so that she might become a glorious example to women of all times. Susanna endured a severe fight, more severe than that of Joseph. He, a man, contended with one woman; but Susanna, a weak woman, had to contend with two men, and was a spectacle to men and to angels. The slander against her fidelity to her marriage-vow, the fear of death, her condemnation by all the people, the abhorrence of her husband and relations, the tears of her servants, the grief of all her household, she foresaw all this, and yet nothing could shake her fortitude.”

The way to preserve chastity. Susanna’s example shows us how we ought to act when tempted to sin against holy purity. She not only reminded herself of the Presence of the Just and Holy God, but she called loudly for help to drive away the two wicked tempters. Thus, if we were to find ourselves in a similar position, we ought to think of God and crave His help, and besides this (if we cannot flee, as Joseph did in the house of Putiphar), we should seek the help of others.

Consequences of want of chastity. The two elders committed sin upon sin. They coveted their neighbour’s wife; they intentionally sought her out, and by threats tried to drive her to sin; they calumniated her to her maids; they bore false witness against her in the court of justice; and, finally, by their wicked lies, caused her to be condemned to death. The source of all these sins was want of chastity. They allowed impure desires to rise in their hearts, and these unresisted desires drove them to further sins. Their sin was all the more grievous, because both these men were judges, and therefore bound to give a good example, to protect virtue, and to punish vice and crime. See, then, what evil consequences follow on impure desires! They lead to many sins, to deadness of conscience, injustice, and even to murder.

The beauty of virtue. In the same way that we detest the hateful crime of the elders, we love Susanna for the beautiful and honourable virtues which she exhibited. Her body was beautiful, but her soul was a thousand times more so. She was chaste and faithful, because she feared God. She dreaded sin as the greatest of all evils, and preferred dishonour in the eyes of the world, and loss of life, to the committing of a grievous sin. She has therefore been praised and honoured for centuries as a model of holy fear, fortitude, fidelity and chastity. We can apply to her the words of the Holy Ghost: “O how beautiful is the chaste generation with glory: for the memory thereof is immortal, because it is known both with God and with men” (Wisd. 4:1).

The prayer full of confidence offered up by Susanna was heard, and God made known her innocence.

To set prisoners free is a work of mercy. Daniel did this, for, by the inspiration of God, he obtained the liberty of Susanna, who had been unjustly put in prison and condemned to death.

The shame of sinners at the Last Judgment. What shame and terror must those two old sinners have felt when their lies and wickedness were revealed before all the people, who had hitherto esteemed them to be just men! Such will be the experience of many Christians who have succeeded in hiding their secret sins and evil doings from men, when, at the Last Day, they find their hypocrisy unmasked before the eyes of the whole world, and they themselves covered with confusion and ignominy, and sentenced to everlasting death!

APPLICATION. Is your holy fear of God strong enough to enable you to stand firm as Susanna did, in the midst of severe temptations? Do not suffer either flattery or threats to lead you into sin. Pray for the gift of holy fear.

Resist the beginnings of evil. Do not let any impure thought or dishonourable desire take hold of you. Recollect immediately the Presence of God, and commend yourself to the protection of the most pure Virgin-Mother of God.








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